House of Lords Library

Royal Charters and Parliamentary Scrutiny

Published Monday, May 23, 2016

This Library briefing provides information on royal charters, outlining the Sovereign’s prerogative power to grant them, and briefly describing their function. It also provides an overview of two examples of royal charters—the self-regulation of the press and the BBC—and discusses Parliament’s role in their scrutiny.

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Royal Charters: Overview

Royal charters incorporate a body, turning it from a collection of individuals into a single legal entity. They are granted by the Sovereign on the advice of the Privy Council and are within the royal prerogative. They are legally binding documents, and do not require parliamentary approval. Royal charters and the affairs of chartered bodies are not generally debated in Parliament.

The Privy Council advises the Monarch on the exercise of prerogative powers. Those appointed to the Privy Council mostly comprise ministers, other parliamentarians and members of the judiciary. However, its day-to-day business is transacted by those of Her Majesty’s ministers who are Privy Counsellors; that is all cabinet ministers and a number of junior ministers. The Lord President of the Council is the head of the Privy Council Office. The current Lord President is Chris Grayling MP, the Leader of the House of Commons.

Royal Charter of the Self-regulation of the Press.

On 30 October 2013, a Royal Charter on press regulation was granted, which established the Press Recognition Panel (PRP). The PRP is responsible for certifying applications for recognition from press regulators, and to oversee any such body. The drafting of the royal charter was subject to cross-party talks between the three largest political parties at the time. The Charter stipulates that amendment to its provisions is subject to parliamentary approval. This requirement is set out in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, which specifically states that the Royal Charter cannot be altered unless the changes are in accordance with the terms of the Charter.

BBC Royal Charter 

The BBC was established by Royal Charter in 1927, and is subject to periodic reviews. The current Charter expires on 31 December 2016. The Government published its white paper, A BBC for the Future: a Broadcaster of Distinction, in May 2016, which set out its proposals for the new Royal Charter. There has been debate during the renewal process with regard to parliamentary scrutiny of the Charter. There have been calls for Parliament to have an increased role, with suggestions that the draft charter should be subject to parliamentary debate and to a vote, as well as calls for the BBC’s mandate and governance structure to be defined in statute.

Lords Library notes LLN-2016-0027

Author: Sarah Tudor

Topics: Broadcasting, Ministers, Press

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