The Nature of the Crown: A Legal and Political Analysis

By Maurice Sunkin; Sebastian Payne | Go to book overview

4
The Royal Prerogative
SEBASTIAN PAYNE

INTRODUCTION

'You usurp upon our prerogative royal and meddle with things far above your reach'. Thus spake James I in answer to a petition of the House of Commons in 1621.1 Ministers of the Crown almost four centuries later can still decline to answer matters above the Commons' reach. As John Major made clear in a written answer to the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen):

It is for individual ministers to decide on a particular occasion whether and how to report to Parliament on the exercise of prerogative powers.2

It might be assumed that the world orders of Jacobean England and the United Kingdom entering the twenty-first Century are totally different. Divine right is not invoked to justify the powers of the Crown and yet most of the powers of the Crown still exist to be exercised by the Crown as it sees fit.

Many well informed critics of the royal prerogative comment on the oddity and inappropriateness of this particular form of power having survived. For instance, Mr. John Garrett M.P. took the government to task in a debate on this issue:

The royal prerogative is an anachronism--an example of the overweening power of government over Parliament. In truth, the purpose of our Parliament is to provide a government and to scrutinise their actions and decisions, but only to the extent that government will allow. That is not good enough. The royal prerogative is a chilling manifestation of the way in which our democracy is deficient, and it should be mapped by the Select Committee on Procedure as soon as possible, and then largely ended.3

Stung by the bland reassurances of the government minister, Mr. Charles Whardle, that Parliament could restrict power exercised by ministers, Mr. Garrett said

____________________
1
See W. S. Holdsworth, A History of English Law ( London: Methuen, 3rd edn., 1945), vol. 6, p. 15, n. 1.
2
Hansard Official Report, 1 March 1993; vol. 220, c. 19.
3
Hansard Official Report 1993; vol. 223, c. 489.

-77-

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