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Encyclopedia > Privy Council of Great Britain
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Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council is a body of advisors to the British Sovereign. Formerly, the Council was a powerful institution, but is now largely ceremonial. Most of its power is held by one of its committees, the Cabinet. The Council also performs judicial functions, which are for the most part delegated to the Judicial Committee. This article describes the British monarchy from the perspective of the United Kingdom. ... In the Politics of the United Kingdom, the Cabinet is a formal body comprised of government officials chosen by the kp. ... The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is one of the highest courts in the United Kingdom. ...


The Sovereign, when acting on the Council's advice, is known as the King-in-Council or Queen-in-Council. The members of the Council are collectively known as The Lords of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council (sometimes The Lords and others of...). The chief officer of the body is the Lord President of the Council, who is the fourth highest Great Officer of State, a member of the Cabinet, and normally, the Leader of either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. Another important official is the Clerk, whose signature is appended to all orders made in the Council. The Office of Lord President of the Council is a British cabinet position, the holder of which acts as presiding officer of the Privy Council. ... In the United Kingdom, the Great Officers of State are officers who either inherit their positions or are appointed by the Crown, and exercise certain ceremonial functions. ... This article is about the British House of Lords. ... The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and is now the dominant branch of Parliament. ...


Both "Privy Counsellor" and "Privy Councillor" may be correctly used to refer to a member of the Council. The former, however, is preferred by the Privy Council Office.

Contents


History

During the reigns of the Norman monarchs, the Crown was advised by a royal court, which consisted of magnates, ecclesiastics and high officials. The body originally concerned itself with advising the Sovereign on legislation, administration and justice. Later, different bodies assuming distinct functions evolved from the court. The courts of law took over the business of dispensing justice, while Parliament became the supreme legislature of the kingdom. Nevertheless, the Council retained the power to hear legal disputes, either in the first instance or on appeal. Furthermore, laws made by the Sovereign on the advice of the Council, rather than on the advice of Parliament, were accepted as valid. Bayeux Tapestry depicting events leading to the Battle of Hastings The Norman Conquest of England was the conquest of the Kingdom of England by William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy), in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings and the subsequent Norman control of England. ...


Powerful Sovereigns often used the body to circumvent the courts and Parliament. For example, a committee of the Council—which later became the Court of the Star Chamber—was during the fifteenth century permitted to inflict any punishment except death, without being bound by any rules regarding evidence or the burden of proof. During Henry VIII's reign, the Sovereign, on the advice of the Council, was allowed to enact laws by mere proclamation. The legislative pre-eminence of Parliament was not restored until after Henry VIII's death. The Star Chamber was an English court of law at the royal Palace of Westminster that began sessions in 1487 and ended them in 1641 when the court itself was abolished. ... Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England and Lord of Ireland (later King of Ireland) from 22 April 1509 until his death. ...


Though the royal Council retained legislative and judicial responsibilities, it became a primarily administrative body. The Council was a large body—it consisted of forty members in 1553—which made it difficult to manage as an advisory body. Therefore, the Sovereign relied on a small committee, which later evolved into the modern Cabinet. James I and Charles I attempted to rule as absolute monarchs, contributing to further deterioration of the power of the Council but ultimately of the crown. In the Politics of the United Kingdom, the Cabinet is a formal body comprised of government officials chosen by the kp. ... James VI of Scotland and James I of England and Ireland (Charles James) (June 19, 1566–March 27, 1625) was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland. ... Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. ...


After the English Civil War, Charles I was executed, and the monarchy and House of Lords abolished. The remaining house of Parliament, the House of Commons, instituted a Council of State to execute laws and to direct administrative policy. The forty-one members of the Council were elected by the Commons; the body was headed by Oliver Cromwell, the de facto military dictator of the nation. In 1653, however, Cromwell became Lord Protector, and the Council was reduced to between thirteen and twenty-one members, all elected by the Commons. In 1657, the Commons granted Cromwell even greater powers, some of which were reminiscent of those enjoyed by monarchs. The Council became known as the Protector's Privy Council; its members were appointed by the Lord Protector, subject to Parliament's approval. The term English Civil War (or Wars) refers to the series of armed conflicts and political machinations which took place between English Parliamentarians and Royalists from 1642 until 1651. ... The English Council of State was first appointed by the Rump Parliament on 14 February 1649 after the execution of King Charles I. It was abolished on 25 April 1660 by the Convention Parliament just before the Restoration Charless execution on 30 January was delayed for several hours so... Unfinished portrait miniature of Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper, 1657. ... De facto is a Latin expression that means in fact or in practice. It is commonly used as opposed to de jure (meaning by law) when referring to matters of law or governance or technique (such as standards), that are found in the common experience as created or developed without... The Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland was the title of the head of state during part of the Commonwealth period. ...


In 1659, shortly before the restoration of the monarchy, the Protector's Council was abolished. Charles II restored the royal Privy Council, but he, like previous Stuart monarchs, chose to rely on a small committee of advisors. Under George I, who did not speak English, even more power passed to the body. Thus, the Privy Council, as a whole, ceased to be a body of important confidential advisors to the Sovereign; the role passed to a committee of the Privy Council, now known as the Cabinet. King Charles II The English Restoration or simply Restoration was an episode in the history of Great Britain beginning in 1660 when the monarchy was restored under King Charles II after the English Civil War. ... Charles II or The Merry Monarch (29 May 1630–6 February 1685) was the King of England, King of Scots, and King of Ireland from 30 January 1649 (retrospectively de jure) or 29 May 1660 (de facto) until his death. ... George I (Georg Ludwig) (28 May 1660 – 11 June 1727) was Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) from 23 January 1698, and King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 1 August 1714, until his death. ...


Composition

The Sovereign may appoint all Privy Counsellors, but in practice does so on the advice of the Government. The heir-apparent and the Sovereign's consort are invariably appointed to the Council, as are the Church of England's three highest ecclesiastics—the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of London. Several senior judges—Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, judges of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, judges of the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland and judges of the Inner House of the Court of Session (the highest court in Scotland)—are also named to the Privy Council. The bulk of Privy Counsellors, however, are politicians. The Prime Minister, ministers in the cabinet, some senior ministers outside the cabinet, the Leader of the Opposition and leaders of large parties in the House of Commons are all appointed Privy Counsellors. Although the Privy Council is primarily a British institution, officials from some other Commonwealth realms are also appointed to the body. The most notable instance is New Zealand, whose Prime Minister, senior politicians, Chief Justice and Court of Appeal judges are conventionally made Privy Counsellors. The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England, and acts as the mother and senior branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, as well as a founding member of the Porvoo Communion. ... Arms of the see of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior clergyman of the established Church of England and symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. ... Arms of the Archbishop of York The Archbishop of York, Primate of England, is the metropolitan bishop of the Province of York, and is the junior of the two archbishops of the Church of England, after the Archbishop of Canterbury. ... Arms of the Bishop of London The Bishop of London is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury. ... The House of Lords, in addition to having a legislative function, has a judicial function as a court of last resort within the United Kingdom. ... Her Majestys Court of Appeal is the second most senior court in the English legal system (with only the judges of the House of Lords above it). ... The Court of Session is the supreme civil court in Scotland. ... The Leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom is the politician who leads Her Majestys Loyal Opposition (the body in Parliament recognized as the Official Opposition). ...


The following oath (which was until recently kept strictly secret) is administered to Privy Counsellors before they take office:

You do swear by Almighty God to be a true and faithful Servant unto The Queen's Majesty as one of Her Majesty's Privy Council. You will not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done or spoken against Her Majesty's Person, Honour, Crown or Dignity Royal, but you will lett and withstand the same to the uttermost of your power, and either cause it to be revealed to Her Majesty Herself, or to such of Her Privy Council as shall advertise Her Majesty of the same. You will in all things to be moved, treated and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare your Mind and Opinion, according to your Heart and Conscience; and will keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said Treaties or Counsels shall touch any of the Counsellors you will not reveal it unto him but will keep the same until such time as, by the consent of Her Majesty or of the Council, Publication shall be made thereof. You will to your uttermost bear Faith and Allegiance to the Queen's Majesty; and will assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates. And generally in all things you will do as a faithful and true Servant ought to do to Her Majesty. So help you God.

Senior ministers who lose office and go into opposition remain Privy Counsellors, (although of course no longer summoned to meetings of the Cabinet, which is a Committee of the Privy Council). Confidential discussions between senior politicians of opposite parties may thus be held "on Privy Council terms".


Membership concludes upon the dissolution of the Privy Council, which automatically occurs six months after the death of a monarch. (Formerly, until a statute to the contrary was passed during the reign of Anne, the death of a monarch brought an end to the Council immediately.) By convention, however, the Sovereign reappoints all members of the Council after its dissolution; hence, membership is, in practice, for life. Anne Stuart Oldenburg (6 February 1665 – 1 August 1714) became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702. ...


The Sovereign may however remove an individual from the Council, and individuals may choose to resign to avoid expulsion. The last individual to leave the Privy Council voluntarily was Jonathan Aitken, who left in 1997 following allegations of perjury. He was one of only three Privy counsellors to resign in the 20th century (the others being John Profumo, in 1963, and John Stonehouse, in 1976 ). The last individual to be expelled from the Council against his will was Sir Edgar Speyer, 1st Baronet, who was removed in 1921 for pro-German activities during the First World War. Jonathan William Patrick Aitken (born August 30, 1942) is a former Conservative minister and convicted perjurer. ... Perjury is lying or making verifiably false statements under oath or affirmation in a court of law or in any of various sworn statements in writing. ... John Dennis Profumo, CBE (30 January 1915 – 10 March 2006), often called Jack Profumo, was a British politician and the central figure in the Profumo Affair of 1963, which caused severe damage to the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan and is held to have contributed to its defeat the following... John Stonehouse (1926 - 1988) was a British politician and minister under Harold Wilson. ... Combatants Allies: • Serbia, • Russia, • France, • Romania, • Belgium, • British Empire and Dominions, • United States, • Italy, • ...and others Central Powers: • Germany, • Austria-Hungary, • Ottoman Empire, • Bulgaria Casualties Military dead: 5 million Civilian dead: 3 million Total: 8 million Full list Military dead: 3 million Civilian dead: 3 million Total: 6 million Full...


Meetings

Victoria held her first Privy Council meeting on the day of her accession in 1837.

Meetings of the Privy Council are normally held once each month wherever the Sovereign may be residing at the time. The Sovereign attends the meeting, though his or her place may be taken by two or more Counsellors of State. Under the Regency Act 1937, Counsellors of State may be chosen from amongst the Sovereign's spouse and the four individuals (at least twenty-one years of age) next in the line of succession. Victoria holding a Privy Council meeting. ... Victoria holding a Privy Council meeting. ... In the United Kingdom, Counsellors of State are senior members of the British royal family to whom the Monarch, presently Queen Elizabeth II, delegates certain state functions and powers when she is abroad or unavailable for other reasons (such as short-term incapacity or sickness). ...


Normally the Sovereign is pleased to remain standing at meetings of the Privy Council, so that no other members may sit down, which ensures that the meetings are kept brief. The Lord President reads out a list of Orders to be made, and the Sovereign merely says "Approved." Only a few ministers of the Crown attend such meetings.


Full meetings of the Privy Council are only held when the reigning Sovereign announces his or her own marriage, or when the monarch dies. In the latter case, the Privy Council—together with the Lords Spiritual, Lords Temporal, the Lord Mayor of London, the Aldermen of the City of London and representatives of Commonwealth nations—makes a proclamation declaring the accession of the new Sovereign. The Lords Spiritual of the United Kingdom, also called Spiritual Peers, consist of the 26 clergymen of the established Church of England who serve in the House of Lords along with the Lords Temporal. ... The Peerage is a system of titles of nobility which exists in the United Kingdom and is one part of the British honours system. ... Michael Berry Savory. ... The City of London is a small area in Greater London. ... The Commonwealth of Nations, usually known as The Commonwealth, is an association of 53 independent sovereign states, almost all of which are former territories of the British Empire. ...


Functions

The Sovereign exercises executive authority by making Orders-in-Council upon the advice of the Privy Council. Orders-in-Council, which are drafted by the government rather than by the Sovereign, are used to make simple government regulations. Furthermore, they are used to grant the Royal Assent to laws passed by the legislative authorities of British crown dependencies. Government appointments are also made by Orders-in-Council. An Order-in-Council is an executive order issued in Commonwealth Realms operating under the Westminster system. ... The granting of Royal Assent is the formal method by which the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, or the Sovereigns representative in Commonwealth Realms, completes the process of the enactment of legislation by formally assenting to an Act of Parliament. ... Crown dependencies are possessions of the British Crown, as opposed to overseas territories or colonies of the United Kingdom. ...


Distinct from Orders-in-Council are Orders of Council. Whilst the former are made by the Sovereign on the advice of the Privy Council, the latter are made by members of the Privy Council without the participation of the Sovereign. They are issued under the specific authority of Acts of Parliament, and are normally used to regulate public institutions.


The Sovereign, furthermore, issues Royal Charters on the advice of the Privy Council. Charters grant special status to incorporated bodies; they are used to grant city and borough status to towns. A Royal Charter is a charter given by a monarch to legitimize an incorporated body, such as a city, company, university or such. ... Historically, city status was associated with the presence of a cathedral, such as York Minster. ... A borough is a local government administrative subdivision used in the Canadian province of Quebec, in some states of the United States, and formerly in New Zealand. ...


The Crown-in-Council also performs certain judicial functions. Within the United Kingdom, the Crown-in-Council hears appeals from ecclesiastical courts, the Court of Admiralty of the Cinque Ports, prize courts and the Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, appeals against schemes of the Church Commissioners and appeals under certain Acts of Parliament (eg the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975). The Crown-in-Council also hears appeals from several Commonwealth Realms, British Overseas Territories, Sovereign Base Areas and crown dependencies. The aforementioned cases are theoretically decided by the Crown-in-Council, but are in practice decided by the Judicial Committee, which consists of senior judges who are Privy Counsellors. The Judicial Committee has direct jurisdiction in cases relating to the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Flag of the Cinque Ports Formally, in Kent and Sussex there are five Head Ports making up the Confederation of the Cinque Ports, often pronounced as the anglicised sink ports, and meaning five ports (cinque in French means five and ports is to be connected to the Italian word porto... The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 was an Act of the British Parliament which prohibited certain groups of people from becoming members of the House of Commons. ... The Commonwealth Realms, shown in pink A Commonwealth Realm is any one of the 16 sovereign states of the Commonwealth of Nations that recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their Queen and head of state. ... The UK Sovereign Base Areas are those British military base areas located in countries formerly ruled by the United Kingdom which were retained by it and not handed over when those countries attained independence. ... The Scotland Act 1998 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster. ... The Government of Wales Act, 1998 or, to give it its full title , was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed in 1998 by the incoming Labour government to create a National Assembly for Wales. ... The Northern Ireland Act 1998 is part of the Labour governments constitutional reform programme. ...


Rights and privileges of members

Though the Privy Council as a whole is "The Most Honourable", individual Privy Counsellors are entitled to the style "The Right Honourable". Peers who are Privy Counsellors also append the post-nominal letters "PC", but commoners do not. Peers are already entitled to the style "The Right Honourable", if not a higher style, even when they are not Privy Counsellors; thus, the letters "PC" are necessary to indicate membership of the Council. For commoners, on the other hand, "The Right Honourable" is sufficient identification as a Privy Counsellor. The prefix The Most Honourable is a title of quality attached to the names of marquesses in the United Kingdom. ... The Right Honourable (abbreviated The Rt Hon. ... Post-nominal letters also called Post-nominal initials or Post-nominal titles are letters placed after the name of an individual to indicate that that individual holds a position, educational degree, accreditation, office, or honour. ...


Privy Counsellors are entitled to positions in the order of precedence. At the beginning of each new Parliament, members of the House of Commons who are Privy Counsellors may take the oath of allegiance before all other members except the Speaker and the Father of the House (the most senior member of the House). Formerly, whenever a Privy Counsellor rose to make a speech in the House of Commons at the same time as another member, the Speaker would first recognise the Privy Counsellor. This informal custom, however, was abolished in 1998. The Order of precedence in England and Wales as of 29 October 2004: Names in italics indicate higher precedence elsewhere in the table: e. ... In the United Kingdom, the Speaker of the House of Commons is the presiding officer of the House of Commons, and is seen historically as the First Commoner of the Land. ... Father of the House is a term that has by tradition been unofficially bestowed on certain members of some national legislatures, most notably the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. ...


Privy Counsellors are allowed to sit on the steps to the Sovereign's Throne in the House of Lords Chamber during debates. They share this privilege with peers who are not members of the House of Lords, diocesan bishops of the Church of England, retired bishops who formerly sat in the House of Lords, the Dean of Westminster, the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. This article is about the British House of Lords. ... The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England, and acts as the mother and senior branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, as well as a founding member of the Porvoo Communion. ... The Abbey at night, from Deans Yard. ... Since 1885 the office of Clerk of the Crown in Chancery has been combined with that of Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellors Department. ... The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, generally shortened to just Black Rod, is an official of a figure in the parliaments of a number of Commonwealth countries. ...


Each Privy Counsellor has the individual right of personal access to the Sovereign. Peers also enjoy the same right individually; members of the House of Commons possess the right collectively. In each case, personal access may only be used to tender advice on public affairs.


Other councils

The Privy Council is one of the four principal councils of the Sovereign. The other three are: the courts of law, the commune concilium (common council, or Parliament) and the magnum concilium (great council, or the assembly of all the peers of the Realm). All are still in existence, but the magnum concilium has not been formally summoned since 1640. The Magnum Concilium, or Great Council, was established in the reign of Henry III. It a was meeting held at certain times of the year where church leaders and wealthy landowners were invited to discuss affairs of the country with the king. ...


Several other "Privy Councils" have advised the Sovereign. England and Scotland once had separate Privy Councils, but the Act of Union 1707, which united the two countries into Great Britain, replaced both with a single body. Ireland, on the other hand, continued to have a separate Privy Council even after the Act of Union 1800. The Irish Privy Council was abolished in 1922, when Southern Ireland separated from the United Kingdom; it was succeeded by the Privy Council for Northern Ireland, which became dormant after the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Royal motto (French): Dieu et mon droit (Translated: God and my right) Englands location (dark green) within the British Isles Languages English (de facto) Capital London de facto Largest city London Area – Total Ranked 1st UK 130,395 km² Population – Total (mid-2004) – Total (2001 Census) – Density Ranked 1st... Motto: Nemo me impune lacessit (Eng: No one provokes me with impunity) Scotlands location within Europe Scotlands location within the United Kingdom Languages English, Gaelic, Scots Capital Edinburgh Largest city Glasgow First Minister Jack McConnell Area - Total - % water Ranked 2nd UK 78,782 km² 1. ... The Acts of Union were twin Acts of Parliament passed in 1707 (taking effect on 26 March) by the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. ... The neutrality of this article is disputed. ... Royal motto: Dieu et mon droit (French: God and my right) Capital Dublin Head of State King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Head of Government Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Chairman of the Provisional Government from Jan 1922. ... 1922 Thomas Brown (1879-1944) 1922 Hugh Pollock (1852-1937) 1922 John Miller Andrews (1871-1956) 1922 Sir Edward Archdale, Bt. ... The Parliament of Northern Ireland was the home rule legislature created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which existed from June 7, 1921 to March 30, 1972, when it was suspended. ...


Canada has had its own Privy Council—the Queen's Privy Council for Canada—since 1867. (Note that whilst the Canadian Privy Council is specifically "for Canada", the Privy Council discussed above is not "for the United Kingdom".) The equivalent organ of state in the other Commonwealth Realms and some Commonwealth Republics is called the Executive Council. The Privy Council Office as it appeared in the 1880s The Queens Privy Council for Canada (French: Conseil privé de la Reine pour le Canada) is the ceremonial council of advisers to the Queen of Canada, whose members are appointed by the Governor General of Canada for life on... A Commonwealth Realm is any one of the 16 sovereign states that recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their Queen and head of state. ... An Executive Council in Commonwealth constitutional practice based on the Westminster system exercizes executive power and is the top tier of a government led by a Governor-General, Governor, Lieutenant-Governor or Administrator (all governors). Until the advent of responsible government, Executive Councils existed primarily to advise the governor of...


See also

This is a list of current members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom (year end 2005). ... These are lists of Privy Counsellors of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom from the reorganisation of the Privy Council in 1679 to the present day. ... The Office of Lord President of the Council is a British cabinet position, the holder of which acts as presiding officer of the Privy Council. ... The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is one of the highest courts in the United Kingdom. ... The Board of Trade is a committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, originating as a committee of inquiry in the 17th century and evolving gradually into a government department with a diverse range of functions. ...

References

  • Blackstone, W. (1765). Commentaries on the Laws of England. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Davies, M. (2003). Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 19th ed.
  • "Privy Council." (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
  • Privy Council Office (Home Page). (2004).

 
 

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