Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Royal Assent

Tribunus on his excellent and always well-researched Roman Christendom blog has two valuable and related articles answering the argument that The Queen could have refused to sign into law the 1967 Abortion Act.The first is here, and the follow up one here.

In the discussion there is reference to the situation in Belgium when the late King "abdicated" for the day, but that was under a written constitution. More recently we have seen a constitutional crisis and amendment to the powers of the Grand Duke in Luxembourg over the related issue of euthanasia legislation. The Spanish example is worth talking note of- when the King signed into law a liberalisation of the abortion legislation the Spanish bishops issued a statement clearly distinguishing between the King's position as Sovereign, bound by constitutional laws and norms, and his personal position as a Catholic.

They clearly understood something not always understood by people in this country whom I have heard criticize The Queen for not intervening by refusing to sign or exercising a theoretical veto. Understanding the constitutional position is one of the many benefits of reading Ernst Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies - it really is a "must read" book.

This post raises a further point - how common was it ever for monarch's to veto legislation? It last happened with a Scottish Militia Bill in 1707. I suspect apart from the occasional pesky bill sent up by Puritans in the time of Elizabeth I and the occasional spats of the Stuarts with recalcitrant Parliaments, it did not happen - and it did not happen because Parliament was managed by the Crown. That is why the Treasury bench is in the Commons. Good government is in part about managing Parliament, and has been since the thirteenth century. Legislation is killed off in Parliament, not by a veto. If you have to use the option of Le Roy or La Reine s'avisera something has gone wrong in managing Parliament. In 1967 the Abortion Act was tacitly backed by the government. Had The Queen sought spiritual advice on the matter she would have found that her Archbishop of Canterbury and many of the bishops had voted for the legislation - so no help there.


Sir Watkin said...

her Archbishop of Canterbury and many of the bishops had voted for the legislation

This assertion about Ramsey crops up now and again, sometimes coming from liberals appealing to his alleged example for support, sometimes adduced by conservative critics as evidence that Ramsey was a liberal.

But it is a canard. Although not initially opposed to some change in abortion law, Ramsey did not vote in favour of the 1967 Act.

As for other bishops, I've never been able to find the details of which ones voted for the Act. It seems well established that some did, but many is probably an overstatement

Anonymous said...

Well, the Lord Bishop of Exeter claimed to speak for the bench when he said:

our attitude is that we support the principle which underlies the first clause in this Bill, which would legitimatise abortion where the interests of the mother vitally require it. Where there is a grave threat to her life, to her physical health or to her mental health, we maintain that abortion may be legitimate.


The best opposition came from Roman Catholic laymen like Lord Craigmyle. The Lords Spiritual were as useless then as they are now, blessing the abominable and contributing to the ruin of their nation.