The Quotidian Side Of The Queen’s Duties

One of my Twitter followers recently pointed me in the direction of this set of documents relating to the Armed Forces Pension Scheme 1975. While the documents comprise several different types of instrument, all of them were formally approved by the Queen.

When we think of the Sovereign’s role as Head of State, we often think of high-profile matters such as the State Opening of Parliament, the appointment of a Prime Minister, or the granting of Royal Assent to legislation. But Her Majesty’s involvement in the process of government runs far deeper. These pension-related documents deal with a number of highly technical matters–they’re not just ceremonial fluff, yet they still had to be sent to the Queen for approval. It’s a nice example of how, instead of explicitly taking power away from the Monarch, the British instead established a convention that royal powers should only be exercised on the advice of responsible ministers.

Some other random observations:

  • The MoD apparently has special stationery for use when submitting documents to Her Majesty. Given the British government’s horror at the prospect of revealing “communications with Her Majesty,” it’s a bit odd that these pieces have been freely published!
  • Pensions for the Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Navy are governed by different types of instrument. For Army pensions, it’s a Royal Warrant, for Royal Navy pensions it’s an Order in Council, while for Royal Air Force pensions, it’s an ‘Order by Her Majesty.’
  • The MoD’s formatting of Royal Warrants is a bit…eccentric. They have an odd habit of putting “Elizabeth R” (or sometimes just “Elizabeth”) at the top of the warrant. While this is often done when a warrant is published later, it makes little sense on the original version that is signed by the Queen! Also, Defense Secretaries tend to countersign in the wrong place. A minister’s countersignature is supposed to go below “By Her Majesty’s Command,” but Defense Secretaries like to sign above the dating formula for some unfathomable reason.
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6 Responses to The Quotidian Side Of The Queen’s Duties

  1. It’s ironic that I’m saying this as an American, but I believe you mean ‘Defence ‘, not ‘Defense’!

    On a more serious note, why is the RAF pension not an order in council (which I thought was the standard form of such orders)? And is the Army using a Royal Warrant related to the limitations regarding the monarch’s command of a standing army of the 1688 settlement (or am I just reading too much into this)?

    • jasonloch says:

      I generally use American spellings on this blog, except in direct quotations. Given that I’m an American, it just felt weird to use British spellings even though I’m writing about British things.

      As for the RAF pensions, they’re regulated by an ‘Order by Her Majesty’ because section 2(1) of the Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917 gives the Sovereign the power to “make orders with respect to the government, discipline, pay, allowances, and pensions” of the RAF “by order signified under the hands of a Secretary of State.” I couldn’t tell you why the law was written that way, though.

      I don’t think there’s any special constitutional significance in the use of a Royal Warrant to regulate Army pensions. That power comes from section 2(1) of the Pensions and Yeomanry Pay Act 1884, which doesn’t seem to specify how the Sovereign must exercise the power conferred by that Act. It’s probably done by Royal Warrant just because that’s a common way for the Monarch to perform executive acts. The fact that these Warrants are countersigned by a minister is also a matter of convention rather than law (though the Great Seal Act 1884 does specify that Warrants for the Great Seal *must* be countersigned by certain individuals).

      • Your spelling policy is quite sensible, given how easy it is to fall into confusion when switching back and forth! The worst are odd exceptions like the Australian Labor party, which leads to bizarre sentences like “The party of organised labour in Australia is Labor”.

        Thank you for your comprehensive answer on the types of orders! Regarding the drafting of the Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917, it seems from a cursory look at Hansard that 1) the intention was to give a wide discretion to the Secretary of State and 2) even MPs were confusing the different types of orders! In a debate on that provision, Col. Gretton (the Hon Member for Rutlandshire) incorrectly refers to it as involving Orders in Council… https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1917/nov/14/clause-2-government-discipline-and-pay#S5CV0099P0_19171114_HOC_358

      • jasonloch says:

        That Hansard reference is interesting; thank you! I’m not sure I understand why a royal order “signified under the hand of a Secretary of State” allows the Secretary of State more latitude than, say, an Order in Council or a Royal Warrant. I would be interested to know what kinds of behind-the-scenes discussions went into the drafting of that section!

      • I wonder if the difference has to do with the categories of the Rules Publication Act 1893 (which, annoyingly, as repealed legislation does not appear to readily be online, proving the limits of the largely able legislation.gov.uk). It could also be parliamentarians being confused with rushed legislation in wartime (as Bagehot said, no one would hire the House of Commons as a solicitor given their tendency to drafting errors).

      • I wonder if the difference has to do with the categories of the Rules Publication Act 1893 (which, annoyingly, as repealed legislation does not appear to readily be online, proving the limits of the largely able legislation.gov.uk). It could also be parliamentarians being confused with rushed legislation in wartime (as Bagehot said, no one would hire the House of Commons as a solicitor given their tendency to drafting errors).

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