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BBC Radio 4: “The Queen Is The Most Powerful Woman In Britain”

BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour has drawn up a list of the 100 most powerful women in Britain. At the top of the list, it placed Her Majesty The Queen. But just how powerful is The Queen, and even though she does have some powers – can she use them?

To start with, the survey, conducted by BBC Radio 4 Programme, Woman’s Hour aimed to look at the most powerful women in Britain. The full list, as we saw it, is available by clicking here. The list placed the 86-year-old Monarch at the top of the list, shortly followed by the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May.

Ms Pollard from Woman’s Hour said: “Most women on our list were judged to have power because they had reached a place where they have control – of policy, of direction, of influence, of staff.” She went on to say that The Duchess Of Cambridge hadn’t been included for one reason. Though she is influential, she is not powerful.

The Queen’s powers originate from what are known as ‘Royal Prerogatives’ and though Her Majesty reserves the right to exercise them herself, the majority are exercised on her behalf by the Ministers Of The Crown.

She reserves 15 primary powers (as we found out in research four our article which listed the Queen’s powers), they are:

  • The appointment and dismissal of ministers. MPs are actually called ‘Ministers Of The Crown’, they work for the Queen and are under Her Majesty’s command 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 used all the time on Her Majesty’s behalf. Royal prerogatives exist to make it an easier and smoother experience in exercising some of the state powers which, otherwise, would require extended legislation or would take much longer.

Even though ministers now mostly exercise the royal prerogatives, some are still exclusively exercised or at least sometimes exercised by The Queen. Her Majesty grants honours on a regular basis and doing so remains her privilege and responsibility in the UK. Her Majesty almost always gives Royal assent to bills herself, she makes her own appointments to the Privy Council and often uses her power to create cities in the United Kingdom. Although all of the aforementioned are powers and they are exercised by The Queen, could she, at least theoretically, exercise any of the perhaps more extreme powers. Could she, for example, declare a war? Well… Yes!

All these powers remain at Her Majesty’s disposal and, whether she exercises them or not, are still available for use. Having said this, using a power such as dismissal of ministers unfairly could result in some kind of backlash, possibly resulting in ministers seeing the Monarch as interfering or misplaced.

So to summarise, The Queen maintains these powers because they are useful to ministers, the fact they can be exercised by Her Majesty is a bonus and means she can maintain huge power.

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