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University 18 Yrs + | Constitutional Change

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Does the Queen still exercise the Royal Prerogative?

Even where the Queen has legal powers, such as to refuse to agree legislation approved by Parliament, she never actually uses them to take decisions herself, but the exception may be in appointing the Prime Minister.

If a party wins a clear Commons majority at a general election then the precedent is that the Queen appoints its leader as Prime Minister.

If the Prime Minister resigns between elections it is up to the party to choose a new leader who the Queen the appoints as Prime Minister.

Even in more complicated situations, such as the formation of the 2010 Coalition, most academics argue that the Queen will, while keeping in touch with what is happening through her Private Secretary, leave it to the political leaders to sort out the form of the Government and strictly follow any precedents

Some others argue that the Queen will get involved and may exercise the prerogative in periods of crisis or unstable governments.

In the economic crisis of 1931 the Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, went to the Palace with the resignations of his Cabinet. The King, George V, played a part in persuading him to stay as Prime Minister but as head of a mainly Conservative Government.

In the immediate future, with the decline in the vote for the two main parties and a more complicated multiparty system it may become much more difficult to agree a Government.

What are the Royal Prerogatives?

In reply to a Parliamentary question in 1996, the Government minister said that it was not possible to list all the Royal Prerogatives, basically because it would involve complicated legal research. Some are less important such as ownership of swans and any whale that happens to stray into British territorial waters, and others would cause problems if used now such as the right to press gang men into the Royal Navy. But others are very important:-

The so-called personal prerogatives – the right to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister, the right to dissolve and recall Parliament and the right to refuse to sign legislation, although, as we have just seen, it is uncertain whether the Queen would actually decide any of these herself. In any case the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, 2011 regulates the dissolution and recall of Parliament.

The prerogatives exercised by the Government include powers to:-

  • Declare war, sign treaties and appoint ambassadors
  • Maintain law and order
  • Appoint ministers and a wide range of other positions including Bishops of the Church of England and the two Archbishops
  • Appoint judges
  • Reorganise and control the civil service
  • Give or withhold passports and control who enters and leaves the country
  • Start legal proceedings
  • Amend the governing charters of Universities and the BBC
  • Granting pardons and reducing the sentence of those who give information to the prosecution before the trial
  • Give honours including creating peers
  • Control of the foreshore between land and sea
  • Guardianship of infants
  • Hold a public inquiry
  • Powers over markets, harbours, fisheries and wrecks