Recently, it was discovered that Her Majesty The Queen and The Prince Of Wales have used their powers of veto on bills in Parliament more than previously thought. This led us to think, what actually are the Queen’s powers and although some of them can be used in theory, how many can be used in practice.
The Queen’s powers are called ‘Royal Prerogatives’ and are usually exercise on her behalf by Parliament, though she still holds power to use them herself. Let’s start by making a list of The Queen’s actual powers that she holds as Head Of State and explanations of what they mean:
The appointment and dismissal of ministers. MPs are actually called ‘Ministers Of The Crown’, they work for the Queen and can be controlled by Her Majesty likewise.
The summoning and prorogation of Parliament. This means Her Majesty can assemble and suspend Parliament.
Royal assent to bills. This means Her Majesty is responsible for granting her approval for bills to become law, theoretically, she can refuse consent, though this hasn’t been done in the current Queen’s reign.
The appointment and regulation of the civil service. The Queen is in charge of employees of the public sector essentially.
The commissioning of officers in the armed forces. Commission for officers in the British Army is granted through The Queen. When an officer is saluted, they’re actually saluting the Queen’s commission not that officer!
Directing the disposition of the armed forces in the UK. The Queen is still in charge of the armed forces. After all, they are called ‘Her Majesty’s Armed Forces’.
Appointment of Queen’s Counsel. Her Majesty’s Privy Council has the function of advising Her Majesty and helping create orders in council which are almost like mini-laws that can be passed without Parliament.
Issue and withdrawal of passports. Passports in the UK are issued in the name of ‘Her Britannic Majesty’.
Prerogative of mercy. Traditionally, this power would be used to remedy capital punishment cases, though it is now used to correct miscarriages of justice. The Queen is the seat of all justice in the UK and can grant pardon to anyone she sees fit!
Granting honours. Her Majesty is the font of all honour in the UK and has the power to create titles and issue honours as she sees fit.
Creation of corporations by Charter. This means a legal entity inside a company, e.g. The BBC is a company by Royal Charter which is renewed every few years.
The making of treaties. The Queen has the power to create treaties between Britain and other countries.
Declaration of war. Her Majesty holds the vital power of being able to declare war.
Recognition of foreign states. The Queen can use her power to recognise foreign states as is instituted in international law. Once a state has been recognised by another, it can be called a country!
Accreditation and reception of diplomats. Foreign diplomats are welcomed and accommodated by Her Majesty and the Royal Household, they’re accredited to the Court Of St James.
All these powers are great, but they mean precious little if they can’t be used. For example, although in theory, The Queen can declare a war, it wouldn’t be so easy to do so on her own, without Parliament’s support.
Here are some historical powers that have been either been removed from The Queen and her predecessors or is not really considered any more:
Dismiss Parliament. In the 2011 fixed-term parliaments act, Her Majesty lost the power to dissolve parliament, therefore she can no longer call an end to Parliament without Parliament itself’s permission, which is ridiculous if one thinks about it. The point of the Monarch was to regulate Parliament and make sure it didn’t stay on longer than it should!
Press gang men into joining the Navy. This is something that is so ludicrous a royal prerogative, it is not even considered one any more. It is the power to force men to join the Navy, with or without notice. It was last used in 19th century.
The right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans. This is a prerogative that stretches back to the days when swan was a delicacy only expected to be enjoyed by the upper classes. Although it is still technically active, one fails to see someone being arrested for it in the name of Her Majesty. Swan ownership by Her Majesty is still enforced on the River Thames, however.
The Queen’s powers always have and always will be a highly debated topic by all. There are some that believe all the powers should be removed in favour of a tighter-restricted Parliament and some that think powers should be increased to provide a more neutral authority in parliament.
The only way to really see what powers still work and don’t is in practice. It’s a waiting game to see just how much influence Her Majesty does really have as Monarch!