How the "Mother of Parliaments" Excludes the People's Representatives
"But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.
"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."
1943 United States Supreme Court ruling in favour of a school student who for reasons of religious belief would not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette
The boast is often made that the British parliament is the "mother" of parliaments. But in the twenty-first century the British legislature still puts inherited rights before the rights of the people. Some legislators have inherited their seats for life. Others are appointed for life and are accountable to no one, least of all to the people.
But a republican who is elected fair and square by the people of her or his constituency will not be allowed to represent those people in the House of Commons unless willing to dishonestly and dishonourably swear or affirm allegiance to the Windsor family. This is required by the Parliamentary Oaths Act of 1866. Similar oaths are required from judges, police officers and officers in three of the armed forces.
In April 2001 the Centre for Citizenship's founder John Pratt wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons, hoping for an assurance that if should be elected to parliament he would be allowed to take his seat in the "mother of parliaments". You can read his letter here.
The Speaker did not reply in person but the response was not delayed. This is what his Secretary, "Sir" Nicholas Bevan said:
"The Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866 makes it an offence for a Member to vote in the House or to sit during a debate without having sworn the prescribed oath (or made the solemn affirmation). The prescribed penalty is a fine of £500 and loss of his or her seat. Primary legislation would be required to alter these arrangements.
"Any Member who is successfully elected to Parliament must therefore swear the oath (or make the affirmation). It is, of course, open to any Member to seek to alter the established arrangements through the legislative process."
Nicholas Bevan elaborated on this in a further letter which you can read here.
John Pratt also wrote to the MP for his constituency, Tessa Jowell. She is now also minister for sport, media and culture. Her response? "What's the problem? Other republicans break the law and swear a false oath. Why can't you?" Read her letter here.
So there it is. In Britain there are legislators who inherited a seat in Parliament from their fathers. There are others who were given a seat without the bother of an election, sometimes after acts of generosity to the party of government. But a representative of the people cannot represent those people unless he or she will swear or affirm that their loyalty is to a feudal institution.
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Republican right recognised in Australia
How Canada denies civil rights to republicans
The US Pledge of Allegiance