image caption: Gurmukh Singh

Future Role of the Queen

At 96 years and after 70 years on the throne, the Queen is the longest serving UK monarch. She has not ruled as a monarch but served the country and the people.

For the first time in 59 years, on Tuesday 10 May, the Queen was unable to attend one of the main ceremonies of state, the Opening of the Parliament. This was due to age-related mobility problem. Instead, her eldest son, Prince Charles, read her speech. She is likely to miss other such functions in future. For that reason questions about the her future role have been raised in the media.

Normally, the Queen is expected to perform her role as head of state by doing at least her most important duties like the investitures, Trooping the Colour, the garden parties and opening the Parliament. According to law, two or more counsellors of state must be present to carry out duties on the Queen&rsquos behalf in her absence, and are appointed by Letters Patent to act in her place. The counsellors of state include the Sovereign&rsquos spouse (Duke of Edinburgh who passed away last year) and the next four people in the line of succession who are over the age of 21. Prince Andrew and Prince Harry no longer carry out official duties. That means that of the four Counsellors of State, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry, only Prince Charles and Prince William are available to stand in for the Queen when she is unable attend a state event.

The Queen missed the opening of the Parliament in 1959 and 1963 due to pregnancy. Instead, her speech was read out by the Lord Chancellor at the time, Lord Kilmuir. However, it is constitutionally significant that Prince Charles read the speech this year and not Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab. This is seen as an intentional move by Buckingham Palace to bring the 73-year-old Prince of Wales to the fore as the future monarch.

Catherine Haddon, senior fellow at the Institute for Government think-tank, is quoted as saying that this was a big constitutional moment. It means the duties of the Queen will be gradually transferred to Prince Charles who is 73 years old.

As age catches up with the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince Williams should be able to take on her most important state duties when she is unable to attend personally. This time, the Crown placed next to Prince Charles, represented Her Majesty.

On her 21st birthday, and as recently as February this year in her Accession Day Message when she completed 70 years on the throne, the Queen made it clear that her whole life will be devoted to the service of the country. To quote, &ldquoAs we mark this anniversary, it gives me pleasure to renew to you the pledge I gave in 1947 that my life will always be devoted to your service.&rdquo

A former royal editor of The Sun, David Larcombe, is of the view that the Queen has no option but to step down from all of her royal duties after missing the State Opening of Parliament. Let us hope he is wrong.

Viewpoints about the continuity of the monarchy in UK differ. However, there can be little doubt that Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II is a national institution and asset.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant Retd