Members of British parliament fight to abolish oath of allegiance to the Queen

The queen and her royal consort presiding over the House of Lords

This would allow MPs to “swear allegiance to their constituents and the nation and to pledge to uphold the law” rather than pledge “personal allegiance to the serving monarch”.

WalesOnline.co.uk | Aug 9, 2008

Rebel MPs seek new oath

by Tomos Livingstone

THE oath of allegiance to the Queen should be scrapped and MPs required to pledge to serve their constituents instead, according to a cross-party group.

MPs and AMs have to swear an oath to the monarch, and although several have raised objections to the system in the past, there has never been a mainstream campaign for change.

Now a group of 22 MPs, including Newport West’s Paul Flynn and Gower MP Martin Caton, have signed a Commons motion calling for the oath to be reformed.

But traditionalists, including former Tory party chairman Lord Tebbit, said the campaign was “an attack on the State”.

Lord Tebbit said he thought the MPs would “rather be swearing allegiance to Brussels”.

He said: “This seems to me to be an attack upon the state itself. The monarch is the one embodiment of the state which is outside the political, partisan process.

“The people behind this campaign must either oppose the idea of anyone who is non-partisan having a role in the affairs of state, or they would rather be swearing allegiance to Brussels.”

The Early Day Motion, tabled by Lewes MP Norman Baker, “recognises that some honourable Members would prefer to swear an oath of allegiance to their constituents and the nation rather than the monarch”.

He called on the Government to “bring forward legislative proposals to introduce an optional alternative parliamentary oath”.

This would allow MPs to “swear allegiance to their constituents and the nation and to pledge to uphold the law” rather than pledge “personal allegiance to the serving monarch”.

Mr Baker’s motion has attracted the support of Lib Dem and Labour MPs, and one Conservative, Peter Bottomley.

The current oath states: “I … swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

MPs can choose a slightly amended version which removes the references to God. They can also take the oath in Welsh if they wish, and in 1997 Lib Dem Andrew George became the first MP to take the oath in Cornish.

An alternative oath suggested by the campaign group Republic read: “I will work honestly and conscientiously and to the best of my ability to discharge the responsibilities which I have and do so without fear or favour in accordance with my convictions.”

In the Assembly the oath is taken privately, rather than in public as is the convention in Westminster and the Scottish Parliament. Some AMs have taken the oath while dressed in shorts, while others have claimed to have said the words with their fingers crossed.

In 2006 Plaid Cymru attempted to amend the Government of Wales Act to bring in a new oath, which AMs could choose instead of swearing fidelity to the Queen. It read: “I do solemnly swear to discharge the responsibility required of me to the best of my abilities and faithfully serve the people of Wales, whom I here represent.”

That proposal was defeated in a Westminster vote.

Graham Smith, from Republic, an organisation which wants the monarchy abolished, said: “This is about democracy. People too often complain that MPs aren’t responsive to their electorates, perhaps it’s time their allegiance to the people was made official. We welcome the support of Tory Peter Bottomley, who quite rightly says provision should be made for republicans in Parliament. It is absurd that republican MPs should be forced to swear allegiance to the Queen.

“In a democracy, allegiance should be to the people and the nation, not to a monarch. Republic is calling on all MPs to support the option of a non-royal oath of allegiance for everyone, whether Members of Parliament, new citizens, judges or other public officials.”

Mr Flynn, one of the MPs who signed the motion, said: “There are plenty of other preoccupations at the moment.

“This [campaign] is no change, really, it is old news, about 20 years old.”

Lembit Opik, Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, said: “I’ve always been happy to swear allegiance to the Queen, I think the monarchy has a traditional and attractive place in British society. I will always vote against abolition of the monarchy.

“Other people get rather obsessed with the whole question. It’s been a very long time since a king or queen sentenced anyone to death, so I don’t think they present a clear and present danger.

“I would be disinclined to campaign for a change. There are other important questions, like the health service, the risk of flooding and so on.”

In March, former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith suggested that school-leavers should swear an oath to Queen and country to strengthen their sense of Britishness. He said wide-ranging measures to strengthen the significance of British citizenship were needed because Britain had become a “divided country” with failing national pride.

Several professions, including the police and Bishops in the Church of England, require an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

Facts about the oath of allegiance

The requirement for MPs to take the oath of allegiance was established by the Parliamentary Oaths Act of 1866.

At Westminster the oath must be taken in English, although MPs can repeat it in Welsh, Gaelic or Cornish if they wish.

Members of Sinn Fein refuse to take the oath, and are therefore barred from taking their seats in Parliament.

Some members of the Scottish Parliament use a preamble before taking the oath. Dennis Canavan began the trend by saying, “Can I make it clear that I believe in the sovereignty of the people of Scotland rather than a monarch” when the Parliament met in 1999.

The late Tony Banks was seen crossing his fingers while taking the oath at Westminster. Another veteran Republican, Dennis Skinner, is alleged to have added the words “and all who sail in her” to his oath.

Who has to swear an oath to the Queen?

MPs, AMs, and MSPs
Archbishops and bishops
Members of the clergy (Church of England)
Armed services (excluding the Navy)
Police constables
Aliens upon naturalisation (foreign citizens wishing to become British citizens)

And who doesn’t?

Members of the Royal Navy
Northern Ireland police
Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly
Magistrates in Northern Ireland
Civil servants
Councillors
Local government officials

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