Right honourable

The Right Honourable (abbreviated as The Rt Hon., The Rt Hon or The Rt. Hon.) is an honorific prefix that is traditionally applied to certain people in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Anglophone Caribbean, Mauritius and other Commonwealth Realms, and occasionally elsewhere. Examples of this are 'The Right Honourable David Cameron MP' (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), 'The Right Honourable Stephen Harper PC MP' (Prime Minister of Canada), 'The Right Honourable John Key MP' (Prime Minister of New Zealand) and 'The Right Honourable Ed Balls MP' (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer)


The following persons are entitled to the prefix in a personal capacity:

  • Members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and the Privy Council of Northern Ireland.
    • Privy Counsellors are appointed for life by the Monarch, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Conventionally, all members of the Cabinet (which is technically a committee of the Privy Council) are appointed, as well as some other senior ministers in the government and opposition leaders. The Privy Council of the day will thus include all current and former members of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, with the exception of those who have resigned from the Privy Council. The First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also entitled.
    • In order to differentiate peers who are Privy Counsellors from those who are not, sometimes the suffix PC is added to the title.
  • Barons (including life peers), viscounts and earls, and their wives.

In addition, some people are entitled to the prefix in an official capacity, i.e. the prefix is added to the name of the office, not the name of the person:

Collective entities

"The Right Honourable" is also added as a prefix to the name of various collective entities such as the following:

  • 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[5] (the House of Commons) (archaic, now simply The Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom, etc.);[6] and
  • 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)

See also the collective use of "Most Honourable", as in "The Lords of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council" (the Privy Council).

Use of the honorific

The honorific is normally used only on the front of envelopes and other written documents: for example, The Rt. Hon. Ann Widdecombe was correctly otherwise referred to simply as "Miss Widdecombe" before she left parliament at the 2010 election.

In the House of Commons, Members of Parliament refer to members as "the honourable member for ... (constituency)" but as "the right honourable member for ..." if they are Privy Councillors but now hold no ministry. To save recalling places in direct replies, the use of "the honourable lady/gentleman, or the Minister (often, for department)/Chancellor/Prime Minister" is available to refer to members not in their own party (or coalition) where the person referred to has spoken. Similarly, those in their own party are referred to as "my (right) honourable friend", right depending on if they are Privy Councillors. Other honorifics used in addition for those members in relevant professions ("honourable and gallant"[7] and "honourable and learned"[8]) are no longer used, at least in the Commons.

Outside the United Kingdom

Generally within the Commonwealth, ministers and judges are The Honourable unless they are appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, in which case they are The Right Honourable. Such persons generally include Prime Ministers and judges of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand, and several other Commonwealth prime ministers.


In Australia some Premiers of the Australian colonies in the 19th century were appointed members of the UK Privy Council and were thus entitled to be called The Right Honourable. After Federation in 1901, the Governor-General, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Prime Minister and some other senior ministers held the title.

In 1972 Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam declined appointment to the Privy Council. The practice was resumed by Malcolm Fraser in 1975, but Bob Hawke declined the appointment in 1983. The last Governor General to be entitled to the style was Sir Ninian Stephen. The last politician to be entitled to the style was Ian Sinclair, who retired in 1998.

The only living Australians holding the title The Right Honourable for life are:

The Lord Mayors of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart are styled The Right Honourable, but the style (which has no connection with the Privy Council) attaches to the title of Lord Mayor, not to their names and is relinquished upon leaving office. Reginald Withers holds the title Right Honourable for life by virtue of being a member of the Privy Council, not by virtue of being former Lord Mayor of Perth.


In Canada, members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and of the Senate of Canada receive the honorific The Honourable. Only occupants of the most senior public offices being made The Right Honourable, as they used to be appointed to the UK Privy Council. L'Honorable and le Très Honorable are used in French by the federal government. "Right Honourable" does not apply to any official at the provincial level.

Individuals who hold, or have held, the following offices are awarded the style The Right Honourable for life:

(Governors General also use the style His/Her Excellency during their term of office.)

Before the style Right Honourable came into use for all prime ministers, three prime ministers did not have the style as they were not UK Privy Councillors. These were the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie, the Hon. Sir John Abbott and the Hon. Sir Mackenzie Bowell.

Several prominent Canadians (mostly politicians) have become members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and have thus been entitled to use the title 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 include:

1 As Prime Minister.

2 Tupper was appointed when he was no longer Prime Minister and St. Laurent was appointed when he was a cabinet minister under Mackenzie King.

3 Massey became Governor General over a decade later. He was made "Right Honourable" while serving as Canada's High Commissioner to London.

4 As Chief Justice of Canada

5 As Governor General of Canada

6 Duff did not become Chief Justice until 1933

Canadian appointments to the British Privy Council were ended by the government of Lester Pearson. Since then, the style may be granted for life only by the Governor General to eminent Canadians who have not held any of the offices that would otherwise entitle them to the style. It has been granted to the following individuals:

Further information: Canadian honorifics


Members of the Privy Council of Ireland were entitled to be addressed as The Right Honourable until the Privy Council was abolished with the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Nevertheless, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, like his counterparts in the United Kingdom, retained the usage of the honorific after this time as a result of a separate conferring of the title by law; in 2001 the honorific was removed as a consequence of local government law reform.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Prime Minister and some other senior cabinet ministers have customarily been appointed to the UK Privy Council and styled The Right Honourable.[9][10] Senior Judges are also often appointed as Privy Councillors.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark did not recommend any new Privy Councillors. At present, Winston Peters is the sole Privy Councillor in the New Zealand Parliament. Privy Councillors recently retired include Clark, former Speaker of the House Jonathan Hunt and former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.[11] In 2009 it was announced that Prime Minister John Key had decided not to make any further recommendations to the British Prime Minister for appointments to the Privy Council.[12]

In August 2010, the Queen of New Zealand announced that, effective immediately, all Governors-General, Prime Ministers, Speakers of the House, and Chief Justices will be granted the title "The Right Honourable" for life.[9] This change was made because the practice of appointing New Zealanders to the Privy Council had ceased. However, this change was not retrospective as all but two of the living remaining holders of the offices granted the honorific had already been appointed to the Privy Council.[13]

The living New Zealanders holding the title The Right Honourable for life as a result of membership of the Privy Council are:

The living New Zealanders holding the title The Right Honourable for life as a result of the 2010 changes:


"Right" in this context is an adjective meaning "To a great extent or degree".[14]

See also


External links

  • Members of the British Privy Council
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