The Queen in Government
The Queen In Government
As Head of State, Her Majesty the Queen is must remain in a strictly neutral position with respect to all matters political, where she is unable to vote or stand for election. However, the Queen does hold a key position in our nation, which is to fulfil the important and formal ceremonial roles in relation to the Government of the United Kingdom. The British Legislature is best described by the formal phrase ‘the Queen in Parliament’ which consists of the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Her Majesty is responsible for duties which include the opening of each new session of Parliament, while dissolving Parliament before a general election, and also approving Orders and Proclamations through the Privy Council. Her Majesty has a very special relationship with the Prime Minister which is secured by the constitution, where she retains the right to appoint and also meet with him or her on a regular basis, usually every Tuesday evening at Buckingham Palace. Not only is the Queen’s role highly specified in the Parliament of the whole of the United Kingdom, she also has additional, formal responsibilities within the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Queen has a clear and concise relationship with Parliament that is supported by the constitution. Though this role is comprised mostly of ceremonial duties, Her Majesty also has many key powers that make her more than a mere figurehead. The term ‘Crown in Parliament’ is most closely associated with the British legislature, which consists of the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, but the most powerful political body of these three different factions, is the House of Commons, which usually consists of a majority of MP’s (Members of Parliament) whom normally support the elected Government of the day, which has the dominant political power.
The role of the Sovereign in the enactment of legislation today, is purely formal, but vital in the workings of our government. Although The Queen has the right to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn through regular audiences with the Prime Minister and her ministers, she is not an institution which can be ignored or brushed aside, as she acts as a checks and balances system to protect her people from an unjust and oppressive Parliament if the political party in power becomes tyrannical. As a constitutional monarch, Her Majesty (the Sovereign) is required to ratify (Royal Assent) all Bills which are passed by Parliament. Her Majesty does this on the advice of Government ministers. The Royal Assent (consenting to a measure in which the Sovereign signs and bill into law) has not been refused since the creation of the United Kingdom in 1707.
Crown In Parliament
The opening and dissolving of Parliament is one of the most important roles the queen must fulfil. The State Opening of Parliament is a ceremony, which is the greatest show of British pomp and pageantry, while holding several underlying and symbolic examples of the Sovereigns power. Her Majesty opens Parliament in person, complete with legendary regalia including the main symbol of the monarch’s power, The Imperial State Crown. Her Majesty addresses both Houses in the House of Lords’ chambers, while outlining her governments programme in The Queen’s Speech. Neither the House of Lords, nor the House of Commons can proceed to public business until The Queen’s Speech has been read.
The Queen’s speech is read aloud by Her Majesty but is composed by the Government and not by the Queen herself. It outlines her Government’s policy (as the government makes laws in her name) for the oncoming session of Parliament which she has declared open by personally appearing within the Palace of Westminster (Parliament). The main focus and purpose for The Queen’s Speech is to indicate forthcoming legislation from Her Majesty’s government. In addition to opening Parliament, it is only The Queen who can summon Parliament, and prorogue (discontinue without dissolving it) or dissolve it. When a Prime Minister wishes to end the Parliamentary session and call for a general election, he or she is must seek the permission of the Queen to do so. It is for this purpose that the Prime Minister usually travels to Buckingham Palace (other than for his Tuesday night meetings with the Queen) for permission to hold and announce a general election.
The Parliament Act of 1911 sets the term of, or the life of the United Kingdom Parliament to a five year term, unless it is dissolved sooner by the Sovereign at the request of the Prime Minister. This was amended only during World Wars I & II when the life of Parliament was extended annually to avoid general election during war time. In the United Kingdom, each modern Parliament has been dissolved before its term has expired. When Parliament is summoned by the Sovereign, and also after a Royal proclamation, there must (since the Representation of the People Act 1918) be a period of at least twenty days before Parliament is allowed to convene. According to the Prorogation Act 1867, this period can be extended, but only for a term of fourteen days
There is one and only one occasion on which Parliament is allowed to meet without a Royal summons, and that is when the Sovereign has died. In these such sorrowful circumstances, the Succession to the Crown Act of 1707 provides that, if Parliament is not already sitting in session, it must immediately meet and sit. The Meeting of Parliament Act 1797 provides that, if the Sovereign dies after the Parliament has been dissolved, the immediately preceding Parliament can sit for up to six months at a time, if not prorogued or dissolved before then.
The Queen’s role in Parliament is:
Assenting to Bills passed by Parliament, on the advice of Ministers;
Giving audiences to Ministers, at which Her Majesty may be consulted, encourage and warn.
Opening each new session of Parliament;
Proroguing or dissolving Parliament before a general election.
The Queen And Prime Minister
Her Majesty has a very unique and special relationship with her Prime Minister, who is the senior political figure in the British Government, regardless of their political party. Her Majesty is a constitutional monarch, which allows her to remain politically neutral, while her Prime Minister contends within the political arena. When a potential Prime Minister to be is called to Buckingham Palace to be presented to Her Majesty, The Queen will then and only in person ask him or her whether he or she will form a government in the Queen’s name. To this question, there are only two responses that are realistically possible. The most usual is a response of acceptance. If the situation is uncertain, as it was with Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1963, a potential Prime Minister can accept an exploratory commission, where later in time returning later to report either failure or, as occurred in 1963, success.
After a new Prime Minister has been appointed by Her Majesty, the Court Circular will record that “the Prime Minister Kissed Hands on Appointment”. This is not literally the case, but in actual fact, the literal kissing of her Majesty’s hands will take place later, in private Council. To date, there have been twelve British Prime Ministers during Queen’s Elizabeth II’s reign stating when she first ascended the throne with Sir Winston Churchill from 1952- 1955. Following her first Prime Minister, these others have followed in succession:
Sir Anthony Eden 1955-1957
Harold Macmillan 1957-1963
Sir Alec Douglas-Home 1963-1964
Harold Wilson 1964-70 and 1974-1976
Edward Heath 1970-1974
James Callaghan 1976-1979
Margaret Thatcher 1979-1990
John Major 1990-1997
Tony Blair 1997-2007
Gordon Brown 2007-2010
David Cameron from 2010
Her Majesty, the Queen has the right to retain the ability to give a regular audience to a Prime Minister during his or her term of office, and Her Majesty plays a role in the mechanics of calling a general election. The Queen gives a weekly audience to the Prime Minister at which she has a right and a duty to express her views on Government matters of the day. If either party of this unique relationship are not available to meet in person, then the Queen and the Prime Minister they will speak by telephone.
The famed Tuesday evening meetings between Her Majesty and her Prime Minster, as with all communications between The Queen and her Government, remain strictly confidential. Having expressed her views and thoughts to the Prime Minister, Her Majesty abides by and acts on the advice of her ministers. The Queen as previously stated plays a part in the calling of a general election, where the Prime Minister of the day may request the Sovereign to grant the dissolution of Parliament at any time. A dissolution can only occur with the Sovereigns approval. In normal circumstances, when a single-party government (not a coalition government as we have today) enjoys a majority in the House of Commons, the Sovereign would not refuse dissolution, for the government would then resign as the ongoing government, as the Sovereign would be unable to find an alternative government capable of commanding the confidence of the elected House of Commons. After a general election has occurred, the appointment of the Prime Minister is solely the prerogative of the Sovereign. In appointing a Prime Minister, the Sovereign is guided by constitutional conventions that must be adhered to. The main requirement is to find someone who can command the confidence of the House of Commons. This is normally secured by appointing the leader of the party with an overall majority of seats in the Commons, but there could still be exceptional circumstances when The Queen might need to exercise discretion to ensure that the Government that bears her name is carried on.
The Queen In Scotland
“Since 1999 Scotland has had two Parliaments: one in Edinburgh for devolved, domestic matters, and the other at Westminster for UK-wide issues. Scotland had its own Parliament until the Act of Union of 1707, when the Parliament in London took responsibility for legislation in Scotland. In a referendum on 11 September 1997, a majority of the Scottish public voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament. The first session was held on 12 May 1999 and the Scottish Parliament was officially opened by The Queen on 1 July 1999 in its temporary building on the Mound in Edinburgh. The new Scottish Parliament building was formally opened by The Queen on 9 October 2004. The building is sited opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Queen’s Gallery in Edinburgh.
With 129 members (including the Presiding Officer) elected every four years, the Scottish Parliament can introduce primary legislation and is responsible for a portfolio which includes education, health, law, environment, economic development, local government, housing and police. It also has the power to vary the basic rate of income tax by up to three pence in the pound. Under legislation which established the Scottish Parliament, Members of the Scottish Parliament take the oath of allegiance to the Crown. The Queen also receives a weekly report from the Scottish Parliament on its business, given its specific legislative role. The Queen appoints the Scottish First Minister and has regular audiences with him or her to keep up to date with Scottish affairs (http://www.royal.gov.uk/)”.
The Queen In Wales
“A referendum in 1997 saw the public vote in favour of a National Assembly for Wales. The first elections were held on 6 May 1999, and elections are held every four years. The Assembly was officially opened on 26 May 1999 in Cardiff, a ceremony in which The Queen and The Prince of Wales played prominent roles. Both The Queen and The Prince of Wales spoke at the opening ceremony in the temporary Assembly building. During the ceremony The Queen symbolically signed a document on which was written the opening words of the Government of Wales Act. On 1 March 2006, The Queen opened the permanent home for the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. The Welsh Assembly has 60 members (including the Presiding Officer). It can introduce only secondary legislation, covering areas including legislation, health, training, environment, housing, tourism and agriculture. It has no powers to alter income tax, but it does allocate the funds made available to Wales from the Treasury of the UK. Wales remains within the framework of the United Kingdom, and laws passed in Parliament in Westminster still apply to Wales.
The Government of Wales Act 2006, which came into force in May 2007, assigned to The Queen new ceremonial functions of formally appointing Welsh ministers and granting Royal Assent to Acts of the Assembly. In addition, the Assembly staff are members of Her Majesty’s Home Civil Service. The Queen holds audiences from time to time with the First Minister to keep abreast of business in Wales. However, the formal advice on which Her Majesty acts in relation to Wales is provided by her UK ministers (http://www.royal.gov.uk/)”.
The Queen In Northern Ireland
“The Northern Ireland Assembly was established as part of the Good Friday Agreement of 10 April 1998 as the prime source of authority for all devolved responsibilities. A total of 108 members were elected to the Assembly on 25 June 1998 by Proportional Representation (Single Transferable Vote) from the existing 18 Westminster constituencies. The Assembly was given full legislative and executive authority in respect of those matters previously within the remit of six Northern Ireland government departments: the Departments of Agriculture, Economic Development, Education, Environment, Finance and Personnel, and Health and Social Services. The Queen met members of the Assembly when she visited the Assembly building at Stormont as part of her Golden Jubilee tour of the United Kingdom in 2002, and again in 2005 (http://www.royal.gov.uk/)”.
“The Queen is Head of the Privy Council. This is the oldest form of legislative assembly still functioning in the UK, responsible for a number of executive responsibilities. Its origins date from the court of the Norman kings, which met in private – hence the description ‘privy’. Until the seventeenth century, the king and his Council were the Government, with Parliament’s role limited to voting funds. Today, in a system of constitutional monarchy, the Privy Council retains some limited, formal functions. For example, the Privy Council is concerned with the affairs of Chartered Bodies, the 400 or so institutions, charities and companies who are incorporated by Royal Charter.
The Privy Council also has an important part to play regarding certain UK statutory regulatory bodies covering a number of professions (mainly in the healthcare field) and in the world of higher education. The Privy Council is involved in the arrangements for the appointment of the High Sheriffs of England and Wales, except for the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall, and for many Crown and Privy Council appointments to governing bodies. The Privy Council also has certain judicial functions. It is the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and for those Commonwealth countries that have retained the appeal to Her Majesty in Council, including Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize and Tuvalu.
The Privy Council meets on average once a month, at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, or, occasionally, Balmoral. Councils are held by The Queen and are attended by Ministers and the Clerk of the Council. At each meeting the Council will obtain The Queen’s formal approval to a number of Orders which have already been discussed and approved by Ministers, much as Acts of Parliament become law through the giving of the Royal Assent after having been debated in Parliament. In addition, The Queen approves Proclamations through the Privy Council. These are formal notices which cover issues such as the dissolution of Parliament, coinage and the dates of certain Bank Holidays.
Privy Council meetings are reported in the Court Circular, along with the names of Ministers attending (usually four in number). The Orders made at each Council are in the public domain, and each bears the date and place of the Council at which it was made. There is therefore nothing at all ‘secret’ about Privy Council meetings today. There are 400 Privy Counsellors. They consist of all members of the Cabinet, a number of middle-ranking government Ministers, leaders of the opposition parties, senior judges and some appointments from the Commonwealth (http://www.royal.gov.uk/) “.
Counsellors of State
“Counsellors of State are members of the Royal Family who temporarily carry out some of the Sovereign’s official duties in the absence of The Queen. This situation may arise if The Queen is suffering from temporary illness or is absent abroad for more than a few days. She may delegate certain functions of the Sovereign in Britain, the dependencies, and other territories to her Counsellors of State. Commonwealth matters go straight to The Queen, wherever she may be. Any two Counsellors of State may attend Privy Council meetings and they may sign routine documents. But their role is limited. For example, they cannot dissolve Parliament, except on The Queen’s express instructions, nor create peers. Counsellors of State are appointed from among the following: The Duke of Edinburgh and the four adults next in succession (provided they have reached the age of 21). These are currently The Prince of Wales, Prince William of Wales, Prince Harry of Wales and The Duke of York (http://www.royal.gov.uk/) “.
“The Queen and her family never vote or stand for election to any position, political or otherwise. This is because The Queen’s role is to provide continuity and the focus for national unity and the Royal Family’s public role is based on identifying with every section of society, including minorities and special interest groups. Although the law relating to elections does not specifically prohibit the Sovereign from voting in a general election or local election, it is considered unconstitutional for the Sovereign and his or her heir to do so. As Head of State, The Queen must remain politically neutral, since her Government will be formed from whichever party can command a majority in the House of Commons. The Queen herself is part of the legislature and technically she cannot therefore vote for members of another part of the legislature.
With the removal of hereditary peers from the House of Lords in 1999, the Royal Dukes (The Dukes of Edinburgh, York, Gloucester and Kent) ceased to be members of the House of Lords and therefore became eligible to vote in elections, and to stand for election, but members of the Royal Family do not exercise these rights. To vote or hold elected positions would not be in accordance with the need for neutrality. Under the Maastricht Treaty, The Queen and other members of the Royal Family would be entitled to vote for the European Parliament, or to stand for election to that Parliament. However, The Queen would only exercise these rights on the advice of her Ministers. Their advice would invariably be that she should neither vote nor stand for an elected position so as not to compromise her neutrality. Other members of the Royal Family do not act on ministerial advice, but they also are required to preserve their political neutrality so as not to embarrass The Queen. Therefore, they too would not vote nor stand for election for the European Parliament (http://www.royal.gov.uk/).
“When travelling overseas, The Queen does not require a British passport. The cover of a British passport features the Royal Arms, and the first page contains another representation of the Arms, together with the following wording: ‘Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.’
As a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is unnecessary for The Queen to possess one. All other members of the Royal Family, including The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales, have passports. In realms (Commonwealth countries where The Queen is Sovereign), a similar formula is used, except that the request to all whom it may concern is made in the name of the realm’s Governor-General, as The Queen’s representative in that realm. In Canada, the request is made in the name of Her Majesty by the Minister of Foreign Affairs (http://www.royal.gov.uk/ ).”