The Royal Prerogative are a set number of powers and privileges held by The Queen as part of the British constitution. Nowadays, a lot of these powers are exercised on Her Majesty’s behalf by ministers – things such as issuing or withdrawing passports that, without the Royal Prerogative, would require an act of parliament each time.
Over time, the prerogative powers have been used less and less though the important thing in our Constitutional Monarchy is that they still exist, they remain a means of protecting democracy in this country ensuring that no one can simply seize power.
Victorian constitutionalist Walter Bagehot defined The Queen’s rights as, the right ‘to be consulted, to encourage and to warn’ – but these rights are not the same as her powers, as we will now see.
The Queen’s prerogative powers vary and fall into different categories…
The Queen’s political powers nowadays are largely ceremonial, though some are actively used by The Queen such as at General Elections or are available in times of crisis and some are used by Ministers for expediency when needed.
- Summoning/Proroguing Parliament – The Queen has the power to prorogue (suspend) and to summon (call back) Parliament – prorogation typically happens at the end of a parliamentary session, and the summoning occurs shortly after, when The Queen attends the State Opening of Parliament.
- Royal Assent – It is The Queen’s right and responsibility to grant assent to bills from Parliament, signing them into law. Whilst, in theory, she could decide to refuse assent, the last Monarch to do this was Queen Anne in 1708.
- Secondary Legislation – The Queen can create Orders-in-Council and Letters Patent, that regulate parts to do with the Crown, such as precedence, titles. Orders in Council are often used by Ministers nowadays to bring Acts of Parliament into law.
- Appoint/Remove Ministers – Her Majesty also has the power to appoint and remove Ministers of the Crown.
- Appointing the Prime Minister – The Queen is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister after a general election or a resignation, in a General Election The Queen will appoint the candidate who is likely to have the most support of the House of Commons. In the event of a resignation, The Queen listens to advice on who should be appointed as their successor.
- Declaration of War – The Sovereign retains the power to declare war against other nations, though in practice this is done by the Prime Minister and Parliament of the day.
- Freedom From Prosecution – Under British law, The Queen is above the law and cannot be prosecuted – she is also free from civil action.
The Queen’s judicial powers are now very minimal, and there is only really one which is used on a regular basis, with others having been delegated to judges and parliament through time.
- Royal Pardon – The Royal Pardon was originally used to retract death sentences against those wrongly convicted. It is now used to correct errors in sentencing and was recently used to give a posthumous pardon to WW2 codebreaker, Alan Turing.
The Queen’s powers in the Armed Forces are usually used on the advice of Generals and Parliament though some functions are retained by The Queen herself nowadays.
- Commander-in-Chief – The Queen is commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and all members swear an oath of allegiance to The Queen when they join; they are Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
- Commissioning of Officers – The Queen’s powers include the commissioning of officers into the Armed Forces and also removing commissions (when members of the Armed Forces salute and officers, they are saluting The Queen’s commission).
- Disposition of the Forces – The organisation and disposition of the Armed Forces are part of the Royal Prerogative; the crown technically controls how the Armed Forces are used.
One of the main prerogative powers that are still used personally by The Queen these days is the power to grant honours. As all honours derive from the Crown, The Queen has the final say on knighthoods, peerages and the like.
- Creation of Peerages – The Queen may create a peerage for any person – whether a life peerage or hereditary one, though hereditary peerages haven’t been issued for decades outside of the Royal Family.
- Font of Honour – It is The Queen’s prerogative power to create orders of knighthood and to grant any citizen honours. From the Royal Victorian Order to the Order of the Garter.
Other powers Her Majesty holds include:
- Control of Passports – The issuing and withdrawal of passports are within the Royal Prerogative – this is often used by ministers on behalf of The Queen. All British passports are issued in The Queen’s name.
- Requisitioning of Ships – This power allows a ship to be commandeered in Her Majesty’s name for service to the realm. This power was used on the QE2 to take troops to the Falklands after the Argentine invasion in 1982.