In the event that The Queen cannot undertake her official duties as Sovereign on a temporary basis due to illness or absence abroad, two or more Counsellors of State are appointed by Letters Patent to act in Her Majesty's place.
By law, Counsellors of State include the Sovereign's spouse and the next four people in the line of succession who are over the age of 21.
Counsellors of State are authorised to carry out most of the official duties of the Sovereign, for example, attending Privy Council meetings, signing routine documents and receiving the credentials of new ambassadors to the United Kingdom. However, there are a number of core constitutional functions that may not be delegated:
- Commonwealth matters
- The dissolving of Parliament, except on Her Majesty's express instruction
- The creation of peers
- Appointing a Prime Minister
History of Counsellors of State
The position of Counsellor of State was provided for in 1937 under the terms of the Regency Act. Prior to 1937, Regency Acts were drafted and passed only in necessity. As such, there had been nine separate Regency Acts to cover various eventualities since 1728. Shortly after George VI came to the throne in 1936, a new Regency Act was passed which provided a rule for all future reigns. It was at this time that the new office of Counsellor of State was created to cover short term absences where a regency would be unnecessary.
Current Counsellors of State
Counsellors of State are appointed from among the four adults next in succession (provided they have reached the age of 21).
The current Counsellors of State are The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge, The Duke of Sussex and The Duke of York.