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The Right Honourable
The Right Honourable (abbreviation: The Rt Hon. or Rt Hon.) is an honorific style traditionally applied to certain persons and collective bodies in the United Kingdom, the former British Empire and the Commonwealth of Nations. The term is predominantly used today as a style associated with the holding of certain senior public offices in the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand.
"Right" in this context is an adverb meaning "thoroughly" or "very".
Major current title
The prefix is customarily abbreviated to "The", always capitalised, in many cases, e.g. "The Earl Mountbatten of Burma", short for "The Right Honourable Earl Mountbatten of Burma", but never abbreviated for Privy Counsellors for whom, however, abbreviation to "The Rt Hon." or "Rt Hon." is often used.
The following persons are entitled to the style in a personal capacity:
- Peers below the rank of marquess, i.e. earls, viscounts and barons. The wife of a peer is accorded her husband's style by courtesy. Dukes are styled "The Most Noble" or "His Grace", and marquesses are styled "The Most Honourable". If a duke or a marquess becomes a Privy Counsellor, they retain the higher style but may use the post-nominals of "PC" to indicate their Privy Council membership. (All this applies mutatis mutandis for men and women.)
- Members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, including current and former members of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, as well as some other senior ministers.
- Members of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland
The following persons are entitled to the style ex officio. The style is added to the name of the office, not the name of the person:
- The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of London
- The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Cardiff
- The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Belfast
- The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of York
- The Right Honourable Lord Lyon King of Arms
- The Right Honourable Lord Provost of Edinburgh
- The Right Honourable Lord Provost of Glasgow
All other lord mayors are "The Right Worshipful"; other lords provost do not use an honorific. By the 1920s, a number of city mayors, including the Lord Mayor of Leeds, were unofficially using the prefix "The Right Honourable", and the matter was consequently raised in Parliament. The Lord Mayor of Bristol at present still uses the prefix "Right Honourable", without official sanction. The Chairman of the London County Council (LCC) was granted the style in 1935 as part of the celebrations of the silver jubilee of King George V. The chairman of the Greater London Council, the body that replaced the LCC in 1965, was similarly granted the prefix until the GLC was abolished in 1986.
Privy Counsellors are appointed for life by the monarch, on the advice of the prime minister. All members of the British Cabinet (technically a committee of the Privy Council) are appointed to the Privy Council, as are certain other senior ministers in the government, senior members of the Shadow Cabinet, and leaders of the major political parties. The Privy Council thus includes all current and former members of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, excepting those who have resigned from the Privy Council. The first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also so appointed, as is the leader of the largest opposition party in the Scottish Parliament.
In order to differentiate peers who are Privy Counsellors—entitled to the honorific in both capacities—from those who are not, Debrett's Peerage rules that the suffix "PC" should be added after the name. This is not, however, considered correct by Who's Who.
In the House of Commons, members are not permitted to address each other directly or name other members, but must instead address the Speaker and refer to each other indirectly by their job. A non-Privy Council member is thus "my hon. Friend (the member for constituency)" if in the same party as the person speaking, and "the hon. Member/Gentleman/Lady (the member for constituency)" otherwise. ("Honourable" is abbreviated as "hon." in Hansard.) "Honourable" becomes "right honourable" for those members entitled to this style, in particular Privy Counsellors. Members with government or opposition jobs may be referred to as such, for example "my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer", "the right hon. Lady, the Leader of the Opposition", "his right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Department", "the Secretary of State" (where this is unambiguous, such as while asking questions of a minister), or "the Prime Minister". Other honorifics were used for members in relevant professions until the custom was abolished in 2010 following a recommendation of the Modernisation Committee:
- "(right) honourable and reverend" for clergy
- "(right) honourable and gallant" for military officers
- "(right) honourable and learned" for barristers
Non-British Commonwealth-citizen judges appointed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are also entitled to the honorific, although the appellation may be ignored in the judge's home country.
In the United Kingdom, "The Right Honourable" is added as a prefix to the name of various collective entities such as:
- The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal (of the United Kingdom, etc.) in Parliament Assembled (the House of Lords)
- The Right Honourable the Knights, Citizens and Burgesses (of the House of Commons/Commons House) in Parliament Assembled (the House of Commons) (archaic, now simply The Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom, etc.)
- The Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty (the former Board of Admiralty)
- The Right Honourable the Lords of the Committee of the Privy Council appointed for the consideration of all matters relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations (the Board of Trade)
In Canada, occupants of only the three most senior public offices are styled as "The Right Honourable" (Le/La très honorable in French). Formerly, this was by virtue of their appointment to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. However, Canadian appointments to the British Privy Council were ended by the government of Lester Pearson. Currently, individuals who hold, or have held, one of the following offices are awarded the style of Right Honourable for life:
"The Right Honourable" is not to be confused with "His/Her Excellency", used by governors general during their term of office, or "The Honourable", used only while in office by provincial premiers and cabinet ministers, and for life by senators and members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada (chiefly cabinet ministers, as well as other figures such as party leaders or provincial premiers who may be appointed from time to time).
The title may also be granted for life by the Governor General to eminent Canadians who have not held any of the offices that would otherwise entitle them to the style. This has been done on two occasions: to eight prominent political figures to mark the 125th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 1992,[a] and to longtime Member of Parliament Herb Gray upon his retirement in 2002.
|Justin Trudeau||Ottawa, Ontario||Prime Minister||December 25, 1971||November 4, 2015|
|Stephen Harper||Toronto, Ontario||Former Prime Minister||April 30, 1959||February 6, 2006|
|Paul Martin||Windsor, Ontario||Former Prime Minister||August 28, 1938||December 12, 2003|
|Jean Chrétien||Shawinigan, Quebec||Former Prime Minister||January 11, 1934||November 4, 1993|
|Kim Campbell||Port Alberni, British Columbia||Former Prime Minister||March 10, 1947||June 25, 1993|
|Brian Mulroney||Baie-Comeau, Quebec||Former Prime Minister||March 20, 1939||September 17, 1984|
|Joe Clark||High River, Alberta||Former Prime Minister||June 5, 1939||June 4, 1979|
|Mary Simon||Kangiqsualujjuaq, Quebec||Governor General||August 21, 1947||July 26, 2021|
|Julie Payette||Montreal, Quebec||Former Governor General||October 20, 1963||October 2, 2017|
|David Johnston||Sudbury, Ontario||Former Governor General||June 28, 1941||October 1, 2010|
|Michaëlle Jean||Port-au-Prince, Haiti||Former Governor General||September 6, 1957||September 27, 2005|
|Adrienne Clarkson||Hong Kong||Former Governor General||February 10, 1939||October 7, 1999|
|Edward Schreyer||Beausejour, Manitoba||Former Governor General||December 21, 1935||January 22, 1979|
|Richard Wagner||Montreal, Quebec||Chief Justice||April 2, 1957||December 18, 2017|
|Beverley McLachlin||Pincher Creek, Alberta||Former Chief Justice||September 7, 1943||January 7, 2000|
Over the years, a number of prominent Canadians became members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and thus were entitled to use the style of Right Honourable, either because of their services in Britain (e.g. serving as envoys to London) or as members of the Imperial War Cabinet, or due to their prominence in the Canadian Cabinet. These included all but three of Canada's early prime ministers (Alexander Mackenzie, John Abbott, and Mackenzie Bowell), who governed before the title was used domestically.
In her resignation honours, the former prime minister Helen Clark did not recommend the appointment of any new Privy Counsellors. In 2009 it was announced that her successor, John Key, had decided not to make any further recommendations to the Crown for appointments to the Privy Council.
In August 2010, the Queen of New Zealand announced that, with immediate effect, individuals who hold, and those persons who after the date of the signing of these rules are appointed to, the following offices are awarded the style The Right Honourable for life:
- the Governor-General of New Zealand
- the Prime Minister of New Zealand
- the Chief Justice of New Zealand
- the Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives
This change was made because the practice of appointing New Zealanders to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom had ceased. However, the change had little immediate effect, as all but two of the holders or living former holders of the offices granted the style had already been appointed to the Privy Council.
The living New Zealanders holding the style The Right Honourable as a result of membership of the Privy Council are:
- Sir Geoffrey Winston Russell Palmer (1985) — prime minister
- Jonathan Lucas Hunt (1989) — cabinet minister
- Sir Michael Hardie Boys (1989) — governor-general
- Helen Elizabeth Clark (1990) — prime minister
- James Brendan Bolger (1991) — prime minister
- Sir Donald Charles McKinnon (1992) — deputy prime minister
- Sir William Francis Birch (1992) — cabinet minister
- Sir John Steele Henry (1996) — court of appeal justice
- Sir Edmund Walter Thomas (1996) — supreme court justice
- Dame Jennifer Mary Shipley (1998) — prime minister
- Winston Raymond Peters (1998) — deputy prime minister
- Sir Douglas Arthur Montrose Graham (1998) — cabinet minister
- Paul Clayton East (1998) — cabinet minister
- Sir Kenneth James Keith (1998) — court of appeal justice
- Sir Peter Blanchard (1998) — supreme court justice
- Sir Andrew Patrick Charles Tipping (1998) — supreme court justice
- Wyatt Beetham Creech (1998) — deputy prime minister
- Dame Sian Seerpoohi Elias (1999) — chief justice
- Simon David Upton (1999) — cabinet minister
The living New Zealanders holding the style The Right Honourable for life as a result of the 2010 changes are:
|Sir Anand Satyanand||Former Governor-General||2 August 2010|
|Sir John Key||Former Prime Minister|
|Sir Lockwood Smith||Former Speaker of the House of Representatives|
|Sir Jerry Mateparae||Former Governor-General||31 August 2011|
|Sir David Carter||Former Speaker of the House of Representatives||1 February 2013|
|Dame Patsy Reddy||Governor-General||28 September 2016|
|Sir Bill English||Former Prime Minister||12 December 2016|
|Jacinda Ardern||Prime Minister||26 October 2017|
|Trevor Mallard||Speaker of the House of Representatives||7 November 2017|
|Dame Helen Winklemann||Chief Justice||14 March 2019|
Minor or historic title
Historically, a number of Australians were entitled to the style as members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. Appointment to the Australian equivalent of the Privy Council, the Federal Executive Council, does not entitle a person to the style. Typical appointees to the Imperial Privy Council included senior politicians and judges at state and federal level. Malcolm Fraser in 1976 was the most recent prime minister to accept appointment to the Privy Council and thus to be styled "The Right Honourable". Of his 21 predecessors, only four were not members of the Privy Council – Alfred Deakin (declined appointment), Chris Watson (never offered), Arthur Fadden (accepted after leaving office), and Gough Whitlam (declined appointment). The last Governor-General to be entitled to the style was Sir Ninian Stephen, who left office in 1988. The last active politician to be entitled to the style was Ian Sinclair, who retired in 1998. The few Australian recipients of British peerages were also entitled to the style.
Present-day Australian governments no longer recommend Australians for elevation to the peerage or appointment to the Privy Council. However, some present-day Australian citizens either hold hereditary peerages (e.g. Malcolm Murray, 12th Earl of Dunmore) or have been awarded life peerages on the recommendation of the UK government (e.g. Trixie Gardner, Baroness Gardner of Parkes).
Members of the Privy Council of Ireland were entitled to be addressed as The Right Honourable, even after the Privy Council ceased to have any functions or to meet on the creation of the Irish Free State in December 1922. Nevertheless, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, like some of his counterparts in Great Britain, retained the use of the honorific style as a result of its having been conferred separately by legislation; in 2001 it was removed, as a consequence of local government law reform.
In Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) the British practice was followed with Ceylonese members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom were styled The Right Honourable and were referred to as Mahamanya in Sinhala. Ceylonese appointees to the privy council included D. S. Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala.
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