According to Jennings the functions of the Monarchy may be said to be four. First, appearing in an impersonal fashion as the Crown, the Monarch’s name is the cement that binds the Constitution. Secondly, the Monarch similarly binds the units of Commonwealth. Thirdly, there are political functions of the highest importance which the Monarch performs personally. Fourthly, the Monarch is a social figure exercising important functions outside the political sphere. We begin the elaboration of these functions first taking the personal functions of the Monarch, though it upsets the order in which Jennings enumerates them.
Personal Authority of the King:-
In the actual conduct of the work of government the Monarch still personally performs certain specific acts and the most important of these is that the King must make certain that he or she has a Government in the United Kingdom. The Government is headed by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister selects his own team to make a Government.
The King, thus, chooses a Prime Minister and the latter then prepares a list of Ministers and submits it to the King for his approval. But when choosing the Prime Minister, the King must remember that a Ministry must have the support of a majority of the House of Commons otherwise it will be unable to govern.
Now-a-days, the choice of such a person who is to be-the Prime Minister and can lead the majority in the House of Commons is obvious. The leader of the majority party in the House of Commons is summoned and commissioned to form government.
The essential point, writes Herbert Morrison, is that the new Prime Minister should be able to command a majority in the House of Commons, and not merely be able to form a government, for the government cannot live without a parliamentary majority.
If the Government is defeated on a hostile vote in the . House of Commons, the Sovereign summons the Leader of the Opposition and commissions him to form a new government. Even if the Prime Minister dies in office the choice of his successor can be reasonably obvious, though careful consideration would be given to the likelihood of the person appointed being acceptable to a majority in the House of Commons.
Since Churchill’s War Government has emerged the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, though it has not been constitutionally recognized. When the Prime Minister dies in office says Morrison, the Deputy Prime Minister might be specially considered by the Sovereign, though there would be no obligation to do so especially as I gather, that the Sovereign does not recognize such an office.
In 1951, when Winston Churchill again returned to office, he submitted to George VI the name of Anthony Eden as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister. The King pointed out that the latter office was unknown to the Constitution, and on his instructions it was deleted from the new Foreign Secretary’s appointment.
But if no party commands a real majority, or when a Prime Minister retires and when the majority party has not yet designated its leader, the choice of the Prime Minister is not easy. The Sovereign makes, in such & case, a personal decision to whom to send or, although he ts always careful to follow that course which is least likely to arouse criticism.
The Sovereignty choice in these conditions, writes Morrison, has much constitutional significance. The choice may be a very delicate one and involve embarrassing complications. The Sovereign could, of course, take all relevant considerations to account, and be at great pains not only to be institutional correct, but make every effort to.
See that the correctness is likely to be generally recognized. Its the Sovereign’s undoubted right to seek or not to seck the advice of the outgoing Prime Minister and is also free to receive counsel and advice from such Privy Councillors whom the Monarch may wish to consult.
When the Conservative Prime Minister, Bonar law, resigned because of ill-health on May 20, 1923 King George V passed over the claims to succession of Sir Austen Chamberlain and Lord Curzon and sent for Stanley Baldwin to form the government.
In 1924, no party had a clear majority in the House of Commons. George V sent for Ramsay MacDonald, and not Asquith, to form the Government, although the Labour Party had behind it only about one-third of the members of the House. A minority Labour Government under MacDonald; dependent on Liberal votes, took office again in 1929.
The events of 1931 or the crisis of 1931 as Herbert Morrison described, were more complicated and the act of George V in commissioning Ramsay MacDonald to head the National Government was characterized by Professor Laski it as much the personal choice of George V as Lord Bute was the personal choice of George III.
King George V was, I feel sure, wrote Herbert -Morrison, activated by sincere motives. And certainly the financial and economic situation of the country was serious. Nevertheless I think his judgment was at fault.
The King would have been wise, he adds, to have ascertained what was likely to happen by inquiry of one or more Labour Privy Councillors likely to know. He might have asked the Prime Minister to ascertain the view of the Labour Cabinet; but no action was taken to ascertain the general Labour view. Morrison even questioned the need of the National Government and was of the opinion that a Conservative-Liberal coalition could have done all that the so-called National Government did.
Whenever the Labour Party secured a majority it insisted on the right of the Labour members of Parliament to choose their own leader and the Sovereign’s choice of the Prime Minister was, accordingly, obvious, But the Conservative Party did not follow this practice and the Sovereign had, thus, a choice when the Conservative Party had a majority but no leader, Baldwin became leader in 1923 and Chamberlain in 1937, because they were Prime Ministers.
This practice of the Conservative Party evoked a severe criticism from the Labour Party when Sir Anthony Eden resigned on January 9,1957 and the Queen appointed Harold Macmillan as the new Prime Minister. Until the moment Macrhillan went to the Palace the nation was left guessing whether he or R.A. Butler, the Lord Privy Seal, would become Sir Anthony Eden’s successor.
The Queen sought the advice of Sir Winston Churchill and the Marquess of Salisbury and it was believed that the advice of Churchill was a powerful factor in deciding the issue. The Times in an editorial said that ultimate responsibility for the choice of Harold Macmillan was the Queen’s alone and that time and events would show how wisely she had judged.
Labour Party chiefs at a specially called meeting of their shadow cabinet Parliamentary committee, expressed the fear that the Crown had been brought into party politics in a most undesirable way. James Griffiths, Labour Deputy Leader, in the absence of the leader Hugh Gaitskell, said in a radio interview, on January 11, 1957.
We do not question that the Crown acted with due constitutional propriety, but, he added, we do believe it is important that parties themselves should decide on their leaders and that the Crown should net be put in the embarrassing position of having to make a choice between rival claimants for the Premiership from the same party. Griffiths further asserted that if this position was to recur often there would be a full case for examining the procedure, because this is bringing the Crown into internecine party warfare which is very bad for the Constitution.
The historical method of choosing a leader by the Conservative Party underwent a considerable strain when Sir Alec Douglas-Home was asked to take over from Harold Macmillan in 1963 and eventually led to the retirement from politics of R.A. Butler. In 1965, the party changed its method of selecting a leader.
Today, a ballot is held of all Conservative MPs, and to be elected a leader on the first ballot a candidate has to receive an overall majority of votes, and also he has to receive 15 per cent more votes than his nearest rival. If he or she does not achieve this, as Mrs Margaret Thatcher could not, a second ballot is held two or three days later, for which the contestants have to be renominated and for which new candidates can also be nominated.
To be successful in the second ballot a candidate merely has to secure an overall majority of votes. If this is not still achieved, a third ballot is held. The third ballot is restricted to the three leading candidates of the second ballot and the voters indicate their first and second preferences on the ballot paper.
After the votes have been counted, the third candidate is eliminated, and the votes secured by him are redistributed, according to the second preferences, between the two remaining candidates. The successful candidate is then presented to a party meeting consisting of Conservative MPs, Peers, prospective candidates, and members of the National Union Executive Committee.
This process was first used in July 1965, when Sir Alec Douglas-Home resigned as party leader. The new democratic method, thus, ended the hoary tradition of evolving a sort of consensus after private soundings of Conservative members of Parliament, prospective MPs., Peers and the party executive.
In past when the Conservatives would be in power the retiring Prime Minister had always a big say about his successor. Ali this led to intrigue and wire-pulling in the party. Thus ended the monarch’s conventional privilege of selecting a conservative Prime Minister through informal consultations.
The new method of selecting the Conservative party leader was in line with the method followed by the Labour Party till 1980, and it mitigated the possibility of the monarch’s intervention in active politics, Till 1980, for the selection of a Labour Party leader, a ballot of the Parliamentary party was held in which a candidate for the post was required to receive an absolute majority.
If no candidate receive the request the majority, a second ballot was held doping out the candidate at the bottom of the first ballot, weak latter and this process was repeated until a candidate secure a majority. Since 1980, the party leader elected by the parliamentary party is to be approved by an electoral college consisting of members of Parliament, constituency delegates and trade union representatives.
When the monarch exercises a choice in selecting the Prime Minister he or she is no mere figurehead. The monarch, as Jennings says, does not steer the ship, but she (Queen) has to make certain that there is a man at the wheel. Nor is it always easy to know when the problem will arise.
Neviile Chamberlain in 1937 had a large majority, but by 1940 George VI was looking forward fer a Conservative Prime Minister who could secure Labour as well as Conservative support and found him in Mr. Churchill. It is, however true, Jennings, admits, that these cases are exceptional. Normally the machine runs efficiently, because the Government has a majority and if it loses at an election, the Opposition steps in to form the Government.
The existence today, of the Labour and Conservative Parties procedures for electing their leaders does not in itself effect the constitutional prerogative of the Monarch, in that the Monarch remains free to choose whoever may be regarded as suitable, Nevertheless, in practice it seems inconceivable that the Monarch would choose as Prime Minister anyone who had not first been elected party leader, provided that in a crisis time was allowed for the election to take place. It is possible, however, that the Monarch could still play an effective role in selecting a Prime Minister if it was not clear which party could form a government.
It is sometimes asserted that the dismissal of Ministers and the dissolution of Parliament may be undertaken by the King without the consent of Government. No Government has been dismissed by the Sovereign since 1783, although it is still maintained by many constitutional experts that the King has the right to dismiss Ministers, if he has reason to believe that their policy though approved by the House of Commons has not the approval of the people.
But, as Jennings correctly points out, such an argument is an argument for dissolution and not a dismissal of Ministers. Ministerial dismissal by the Head of the State is not the essence of the Parliament system of Government and no King would venture it, whatever be the legal opinion, unless he is determined to gamble in the most dangerous manner.
The duration of Parliament in ordinary circumstances is for five years, but conditions may arise in which a dissolution of Parliament may be desired before the expiry of its full term of life, There might, for example, be an important difference of opinion within the Cabinet which would make it impossible for the Government to carry on, or a Government may desire to take the verdict of the electorate on an important matter of policy on which it had no mandate, or there might be revolt within the ranks of the Government Party which caused the Government to be defeated in the House of Commons on some matter of importance. In circumstances such as these the Prime Minister might request the Sovereign to exercise his Royal prerogative of dissolving Parliament and direct new elections to be held.
The Sovereign’s right to dissolve Parliament has been a subject of deep controversy. It has been maintained that the Sovereign is not bound to accept ministerial advice on this matter. This, indeed, seems to have been the view of Queen Victoria and some of her contemporaries. Even Keith held similar opinion. The prerogative of the Crown to dissolve Parliament, he wrote, is undoubted. The manner of dissolution does not, as often said, strictly speaking, involve the aid of ministers, for the King could still present himself in the House of Lords, and by word of mouth, dissolve the Parliament, But in practice dissolution takes place by a proclamation under the Great Seal, which is based on the advice of the Privy Council for whose summons the Lord President accepts responsibility.
Consequently, the King cannot secure a dissolution without advice. If the Ministers refuse to give s such advice, he can do no more than dismiss them and we know how hazardous it is for the Sovereign to dismiss Ministers who command the confidence of the House of Commons. A forced dissolution, therefore, is impossible, though one induced by royal pressure is perfectly in order.
There have been two definite occasions during the last eighty years when dissolution took place at the express desire of the King. The first was over the budget in 1910 at the desire of Edward VII and, the second, over the power of the Lords in the same year, at the desire of George V.
In each case, maintained Laski, the ministers, however, reluctantly, acquiesced in the King’s desire and the dissolution was, accordingly amply surrounded by the cloak of ministerial responsibility; though the King took the initiative in pressing a dissolution upon the government. In each case, also, the government accepted the advice. But there are many instances as well, for example, in 1866,1873, 1885, 1895, and 1905 when the Cabinet did not wish to dissolve, in spite of the royal sanction.
The right of the King to dissolve Parliament without advice became a matter of practical discussion in 1913 over the Home Rule Bill. The Home Rule Bill had been passed by the House of Commons in two successive sessions but rejected by the House of Lords in each of these sessions. The Unionists claimed that the Government had received no mandate from the electorate at General Election for such a measure in 1910, and, thus, demanded a dissolution before the Bill was submitted to the House of Commons the third time and passed under the Parliament Act, 1911.
The Unionists realized that Asquith was unlikely to advise dissolution and they discussed the power of the King to dissolve without advice. George Cave argued that the King had an undoubted right to dissolve Parliament and that he should exercise the right on this occasion to satisfy himself that the House does indeed represent the democracy of today.
Sir William Anson admitted that the advice of the Ministers was constitutionally necessary, and that if the Government was not willing to give such an advice, the King would have to ascertain, presumably from the Opposition, whether the alternative Ministry could take office and to accept the responsibility for a dissolution. Dicey agreed with Anson, but Professor Morgan insisted that such independent action on the part of the King would almost inevitably be equivalent to dismissal of his ministers, and that if once a dissolution was effected by the King’s choice, no dissolution would be free from ambiguity, and speculation as to the degree of responsibility of the Sovereign would be a feature of every election.
Commenting on this issue Jennings comes to the conclusion that there cannot be the least doubt that Professor Morgan was wholly in the right. Either the King persuades the ministers to advise a dissolution or ministers resign. In other words, the King cannot exercise his prerogative of dissolution without advice.
During the last more than a hundred years there is no instance of a refusal of a dissolution when advised. Nevertheless, opinion has always prevailed, and there exists a persistent tradition that it could be refused, if the necessary circumstances arose. Summing up the discussion of the right of the King to refuse dissolution, Keith says, the appears that there is some divergence of view among the authorities on the question whether the King can refuse a dissolution to a Prime Minister who asks for it, the better opinion is that the power still exists, but that it could be properly exercised only in exceptional circumstances.
What those exceptional circumstances can be Standard gives one specific instance. The contingency for refusal was there, he says, if Neville Chamberlain had advised a dissolution in May, 1940 when the Germans were crossing the Albert Canal. At such critical moments, he says, the limits of the convention that keeps the Crown out of politics are reached, and the reigning Sovereign must himself decide, in the last resort, where his duty lies.
Similarly, the right to a dissolution, as Keith says, is not a right to a series of dissolution. The King would not give the Ministry, which had obtained dissolution and lost an election, another dissolution. The circumstances are which should enforce the retirement of the Ministry, although it is also true that a defeated Ministry would not ask for a second dissolution.
The conclusion is that dissolution i is normally ordered by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister, but it is quite wrong to infer that the personal opinion of the Monarch is never of any account in matters affecting the dissolution of Parliament. In his biography of George VI, Sir John Wheeler Bennett has vividly described the attitude of the King during the 1950-51 Labour Government when the stability of the Government was severely hampered by the precarious majority of eight votes it held in the House of Commons.
The Opposition, failing to bring down the administration by a series of adverse motions, adopted a system of guerrilla warfare, it was not pleasant, wrote the Prime Minister, to have Members coming from hospital at the risk of their lives to prevent a defeat in the House.
This instable equilibrium was a source of anxiety to the King and on June 24, 1951, he raised question of dissolution with the Prime Minister, who replied that he would ask for one in autumn, Parliament was dissolved on October 24. Attlee denied that he was pushed into asking for a dissolution by some pressure from the King.
There is no substance in this, but, the position of the King was one which I personally had to take into account. Attlee, speaking on B.B.C., television in February 1963, stated that the strain on the health of Labour Members of the House of Commons to maintain the Government slender majority was his predominant motive in seeking a dissolution.
He was no doubt also influenced by the desire to secure the most politically opportune moment for the election. Commenting upon this issue Brasher says, Yet if royal wishes were not decisive in 1951 neither were they negligible. Implicit in Lord Attlee’s attitude is an acceptance of the fact that the monarch still retains a measure of responsibility for the maintenance of political stability. It cannot be merely accidental that the King’s pressures to dissolve Parliament in 1924, 1931 and 1951 have come only to dislodge Labor governments.
The King summons and prorogues Parliament. On the opening of Parliament, the King reads the Speech from the Throne, But the Speech which the Sovereign reads is not his own work and may be read for the King by the Lied Chancellor. The King assents to the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons and here too, he may act by proxy.
Orders-in-Council cannot be passed except for the presence of the King. Similarly, the appointment of the Lord Chancellor and the Secretaries of State are the personal acts of the King, consisting in actual handing of the seals of office to the designated ministers.
The Monarch receives ambassadors in person, though his too is a sheer formality. The King may convoke a conference of party leaders, as did George V in 1914, with a view to avoid a constitutional crisis, though such a step the King can take only upon advice received from his ministers.
The Sovereign is the fountain of honors. It is the essence of honors of any kind says Keith, that they should appear to be the personal gift of the Sovereign, and for this reason all honors are submitted to and formally approved by the Sovereign,and whenever possible the investiture with the insignia or other act in connection with its bestowal is performed by King in person or at least the royal signature is attached to the instrument conferring it.
But the principle in the great majority of cases of the conferment of honors is that the recommendation to the Sovereign goes from a Mister, and normally the Prime Minister. The grant, however, is not entirely on advice. The Sovereign ts able to resist the grant of honors of which he does not approve.
In 1859, Queen Victoria refused to consent to a Privy Councillor ship for John Bright. In 1869, she refused to sanction a peerage for Sir L.de Rothschild; and in 1881, she firmly resisted Gladstone’s advice to make Sir Garnet-Wolseley a Peer. In 1906, Edward VII objected to several peerages and Privy Chancellorship, although on pressure he ultimately gave way.
A few honors, that is, the Order of Merit, the Order of Companions of Honor, the Royal Victorian Order, the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and the Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle, are in the Sovereign’s personal gift