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The Queen at 90: The Changing Role of the Monarchy, and Future Challenges

Hazell, R; Morris, B; (2016) The Queen at 90: The Changing Role of the Monarchy, and Future Challenges. (Constitution Unit Reports 170 ). UCL Consitution Unit: London, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

Some prerogative powers still remain in the hands of the monarch. These are known as the Queen’s reserve powers, or the personal prerogatives. The most important of the personal prerogatives are the power to appoint the Prime Minister; to summon and dissolve parliament; and to give royal assent to bills. In exercising these powers the monarch no longer has any effective discretion. The constitutional conventions about the appointment of the Prime Minister have been codified in the Cabinet Manual, which explains that it is for the parties in parliament to determine who is best placed to command the confidence of the House of Commons, and communicate that clearly to the monarch. The prerogative power of dissolution was abolished by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Parliament is now dissolved automatically after five years, or earlier if two thirds of MPs vote for an early election, or the government loses a no confidence motion and no alternative government can be formed. Royal assent to a bill has not been refused since 1707. It would only be withheld now (as then) on the advice of ministers. That might happen with a minority government which could not otherwise prevent the passage of legislation against its wishes. The Queen might still have to exercise discretion in very exceptional circumstances: for example, if the Prime Minister suddenly dies. So the monarch remains the ultimate constitutional longstop. Important prerogative powers exercised by ministers (to make war, to make treaties, to regulate the civil service, and to make public appointments) have also been restricted or brought under tighter parliamentary control. Some prerogative powers, notably the power to create peers, have not yet been fully regulated and remain controversial. Until this situation is rectified, there remains some risk that the monarchy may be drawn into controversy. The constitutional powers of the monarch are exercised as part of the official duties of head of state. But the monarch has other functions: to provide a focus for national identity and unity, and stability in times of change; recognise achievement and excellence; and encourage public and voluntary service. These functions can be analysed by looking at four different aspects: the national monarchy, the international monarchy, the religious monarchy, and the welfare or service monarchy. The discussion identifies aspects of these functions that may require further review. The loss of discretion in exercising the monarchy’s ‘hard’ constitutional functions has not necessarily diminished its standing; indeed its acceptance by the political class may depend on its powerlessness and complete neutrality. But for the general public its popularity will depend on its wider roles, in particular the welfare monarchy, and its contribution to celebrity culture, which may prove a two-edged sword.

Type: Report
Title: The Queen at 90: The Changing Role of the Monarchy, and Future Challenges
ISBN-13: 978-1-903903-74-2
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/sites/cons...
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Constitution Unit, UCL 2016.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Political Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10040140
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