The Cabinet is composed of senior government ministers chosen by the Prime Minister. Most cabinet members are heads of government departments, and therefore have the title ‘Secretary of State’.
Government departments are led politically by a government minister, assisted by a team of junior ministers. The administration of the department is the responsibility of a civil servant known as a permanent secretary.
Non-ministerial departments are headed by senior civil servants, and generally have responsibility for areas where political control is inappropriate – for example regulation or inspection.
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.
Privy counsellors are appointed by the Crown and include the Lord Chancellor, all members of the cabinet, some senior members of the Royal Family, senior judges, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishop of London, the Speaker of the House of Commons, leaders of opposition parties and leading Commonwealth spokesmen and judges.
The Lord President of the Council is usually a senior member of the cabinet.
Membership of the Privy Council is an appointment that is held for life, although it is possible to be struck off the list (for example Jonathan Aitken).
The Privy Council meets, on average, once a month, but most of its business is transacted in discussion and correspondence between its ministerial members and the government departments that advise them. A secretariat is provided by the Privy Council Office for these discussions.
Councils – held by The Queen and attended by some ministers (usually four) and the Clerk of the Council – take place to allow The Queen to give her formal approval to a number of Orders previously discussed and approved by ministers.
The Rt Hon
Privy counsellors have the prefix ‘The Rt Hon’ before their names. ‘Mr’ is dispensed with, but if a privy counsellor is also a knight, his correct style of address would be ‘The Rt Hon Sir Thomas Archer’.
If the privy counsellor is female ‘The Rt Hon’ replaces Mrs/ Miss/Ms in her style of address; if she is also a dame, her style of address would be ‘The Rt Hon Dame Elizabeth Kean’.
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.
Members of Parliament
The UK has members of three different parliaments.
– Members of parliament (MPs) refers to the House of Commons, the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. All members of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom have the letters MP after their names.
– MEPs are members of the European Parliament, the administration of the EU.
– MSPs are elected members of the Scottish Parliament.
Members of the Senedd use the English title Member of the Senedd (MS) or the Welsh equivalent Aelod o’r Senedd (AS).
Northern Ireland Assembly
Elected members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are known as Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA).
The Speaker of the House of Commons is an MP who is elected by other MPs. Politically impartial, the Speaker chairs debates in the Commons Chamber, keeping order and calling MPs to speak. The Speaker also chairs the House of Commons Commission. ‘Mr Speaker’ or ‘Madam Speaker’ is the usual designation on parliamentary matters, otherwise according to his or her rank.
The Lord Speaker presides over proceedings in the House of Lords from the Woolsack. They are politically impartial, and act as an ambassador for the work of the Lords. They are elected by members of the House of Lords for a period of five years and a maximum of two terms.
The post of Lord Speaker was created under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005; previously the Lord Chancellor presided over debates in the House of Lords.
The Lord Speaker is addressed as ‘Lord Speaker’ (even if female) on parliamentary matters, otherwise according to his/her rank.
Life peers, who sit in the House of Lords, are also known as life barons.