The Privy Council is the ancient executive governing body of the United Kingdom. It is presided over by the Sovereign and exercises many functions, some of which have been entrusted to it by Acts of Parliament, which may be legislative, administrative or judicial. Its decisions are usually embodied in Orders in Council or Proclamations.
Membership is for life, with the style of 'Right Honourable', usually abbreviated to 'Rt Hon' (it is possible to be struck off the list, most recently in the case of Jonathan Aitken).
Privy Counsellors are appointed by the Crown and include some members of the royal family, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishop of London, the Lord Chancellor, many members of the Judiciary such as Lords of Appeal, all Cabinet Ministers, and some overseas Prime Ministers. The Lord President of the Council is usually a senior member of the Cabinet.
A full Council is now only assembled for the Accession of a new Sovereign, and a member does not attend any Council unless specially summoned. Those summoned are generally, though not invariably, members of the Government. A routine Council meeting is usually held at Buckingham Palace by the Sovereign (or in HM's absence abroad, by Counsellors of State), and must be attended by at least three Privy Counsellors and the Clerk of the Council.
As membership of the Privy Council is an appointment rather than an honour conferred, the letters PC follow all honours and decorations awarded by the Crown.
How to address a Privy Counsellor*
*The spelling Privy Councillor is also used, but the Privy Council Office prefers the above spelling.
The recommended (social) style of address is as follows:
|Beginning of letter||Dear Lord Smith/Dear Mr Smith|
|End of letter||Yours sincerely|
|Envelope||The Rt Hon Lord Smith/ The Rt Hon John Smith|
|Verbal communication||Lord Smith/Mr Smith|
|Formal invitation||Rt Hon Lord Smith/Rt Hon John Smith|
|Social invitation||The Lord Smith/Mr John Smith|
|Joint formal invitation*||Rt Hon Lord Smith and Lady Smith/Rt Hon John and Mrs Smith|
|Joint social invitation||The Lord and Lady Smith/Mr and Mrs John Smith|
|Description in conversation||Lord Smith/John Smith|
|List of Directors or Patrons||Rt Hon Lord Smith/Rt Hon John Smith|
|Place card||Lord Smith, PC; Rt Hon John Smith|
*Note that, traditionally, invitations to a married couple, when sent to their home address, are addressed to the wife alone, with both names being inscribed on the invitation card. It has become increasingly acceptable, however, to address the envelope with both names.
Other ranks such as ecclesiastical, ambassadorial, Armed Forces, etc, precede The Rt Hon, eg:
The Rt Hon Sir John Smith, MP
Lt-Col the Rt Hon John Jones
The Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, MP
The Rt Rev and Rt Hon the Lord Bishop of London
His Excellency the Rt Hon Sir Christopher Smith
Ladies who are Privy Counsellors drop the use of 'Miss', 'Ms' or 'Mrs'. For example, The Rt Hon Jackie Smith, MP.