As Head of State The Queen has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters. However, Her Majesty does have important formal and ceremonial roles in relation to the Government of the UK
The formal phrase ‘Queen in Parliament’ is used to describe the British legislature, which consists of the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
As Head of State The Queen has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters, and is unable to vote or stand for election.
The Queen’s duties include opening each new session of Parliament, dissolving Parliament before a general election, and approving Orders and Proclamations through the Privy Council.
The role of the Sovereign in the enactment of legislation is today purely formal, although The Queen has the right to be consulted, to encourage and to warn through regular audiences with her ministers.
As a constitutional monarch, the Sovereign is required to assent to all Bills passed by Parliament, on the advice of Government ministers. The Royal Assent (consenting to a measure becoming law) has not been refused since 1707.
The Queen also plays an important role in the ceremonial opening and dissolving of Parliament.
In the annual State Opening of Parliament ceremony, The Queen opens Parliament in person, and addresses both Houses in The Queen’s Speech. Neither House can proceed to public business until The Queen’s Speech has been read.
The speech is drafted by the Government and not by The Queen. It outlines the Government’s policy for the coming session of Parliament and indicates forthcoming legislation.
In addition to opening Parliament, only The Queen can summon Parliament, and prorogue (discontinue without dissolving it) or dissolve it.
The Queen has a special relationship with the Prime Minister, the senior political figure in the British Government, regardless of their political party.
Although she is a constitutional monarch who remains politically neutral, Her Majesty retains the ability to give a regular audience to a Prime Minister during his or her term of office, and plays a role in the mechanics of calling a general election.
The Queen gives a weekly audience to the Prime Minister at which she has a right and a duty to express her views on Government matters. If either The Queen or the Prime Minister are not available to meet, then they will speak by telephone.
These meetings, as with all communications between The Queen and her Government, remain strictly confidential. Having expressed her views, The Queen abides by the advice of her ministers.
The Queen also plays a part in the calling of a general election. The Prime Minister of the day may request the Sovereign to grant a dissolution of Parliament at any time. After a general election, the appointment of a Prime Minister is also the prerogative of the Sovereign.
There have been twelve British Prime Ministers during The Queen’s reign:
Winston Churchill 1951-55
Sir Anthony Eden 1955-57
Harold Macmillan 1957-63
Sir Alec Douglas-Home 1963-64
Harold Wilson 1964-70 and 1974-76
Edward Heath 1970-74
James Callaghan 1976-79
Margaret Thatcher 1979-90
John Major 1990-97
Tony Blair 1997-2007
Gordon Brown 2007-2010
David Cameron from 2010
In addition to playing a specific role in the UK Parliament based in London, The Queen has formal roles with relation to the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.