The Right Honourable (The Rt Hon. or Rt Hon.) is an honorific style traditionally applied to certain persons and collective bodies in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, some other Commonwealth realms, the English-speaking Caribbean, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, and occasionally elsewhere. 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.
Most uses of this style in the United Kingdom now indicate membership of the Privy Council.
"Right" in this context is an adverb meaning "thoroughly" or "very".
"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)
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 or other written documents.
In the House of Commons, Members of Parliament refer to members not 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 having to recall constituency names in direct replies, the use of "the honourable lady/gentleman/member" 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 already spoken. Similarly, those in their own party are referred to as "my honourable friend" or, for Privy Councillors, "my right honourable friend". Other honorifics used in addition for those members in relevant professions (for example, "honourable and reverend", "honourable and gallant" and "honourable and learned") are also used in the Commons.
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. Provided they are Commonwealth citizens, foreign judges appointed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are entitled to the honorific as well, although the appellation may be ignored in the judge's home country.
- Peers below the rank of marquess, that is, earls, viscounts, and barons, and their spouses. Peers who are 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, he retains the higher style. (All this also applies mutatis mutandis for female peers.)
- Members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom
- 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 that 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, but that body, and by extension the office of its chairman, was likewise 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 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.
In order to differentiate peers who are Privy Counsellors from those who are not, the suffix "PC" should be added after the name (according to Debrett's Peerage (2015)). This is not however considered correct by Who's Who (2002).
In Australia some premiers of the Australian colonies in the 19th century were appointed members of HM 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. In 2001, Sir Robert May was elevated to the UK peerage as Baron May of Oxford, which carries with it the style The Right Honourable.
Australians holding certain hereditary peerages in the grades of Baron, Viscount and Earl also use the Right Honourable title. The Lord Mayors of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart are styled the Rt Hon. 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.
In Canada, only occupants of the most senior public offices are styled as "The Right Honourable" (Le très honorable is the French term used by the federal government). 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. Since then, individuals who hold, or have held, one of the following offices are awarded the style of Right Honourable for life:
The style 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. It has been granted to the following individuals:
- Paul Martin Sr. (1992) — cabinet minister (Minister of External Affairs), Member of Parliament, senator and diplomat
- Martial Asselin (1992) — federal cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, senator (Speaker of the Senate) and Lieutenant Governor of Quebec
- Ellen Fairclough (1992) — federal cabinet minister and Member of Parliament; first woman in Canadian politics ever appointed to cabinet
- Jean-Luc Pépin (1992) — federal cabinet minister and Member of Parliament; chair of Anti-Inflation Board and co-chair of unity taskforce
- Alvin Hamilton (1992) — federal cabinet minister and Member of Parliament
- Don Mazankowski (1992) — deputy prime minister, federal cabinet minister and Member of Parliament
- Jack Pickersgill (1992) — federal cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, and senior civil servant (Assistant Private Secretary and special assistant to the prime minister, Clerk of the Privy Council; chair of the Canadian Transport Commission)
- Robert Stanfield (1992) — federal Opposition Leader and Member of Parliament, provincial MLA and Premier of Nova Scotia
- Herb Gray (2002) — deputy prime minister, federal cabinet minister, and Member of Parliament; the longest-serving MP in Canadian history
Governors general also use the style "His/Her Excellency" during their term of office. Members of the Privy Council and the Senate receive the honorific "The Honourable". The style of Right Honourable does not apply to any official at the provincial level.
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.
Before the style of Right Honourable came into use for all Canadian prime ministers, three prime ministers did not have the style as they were not members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. These three were the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie, the Hon. Sir John Abbott and the Hon. Sir Mackenzie Bowell.
Canadians who held the title before the Pearson government's reforms include:
- Sir John A. Macdonald (1879)[C 1] — first prime minister of Canada
- Sir John Rose (1886) — federal cabinet minister (Minister of Finance)
- Sir John Sparrow David Thompson (1894)[C 1] — federal cabinet minister (justice and attorney general), Prime Minister of Canada
- Sir Samuel Henry Strong (1897)[C 2] — Chief Justice of Canada
- Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1897)[C 1] — Prime Minister of Canada
- Sir Richard John Cartwright (1902) — federal cabinet minister (Minister of Finance)
- Sir Henri Elzéar Taschereau (1904)[C 2] — Chief Justice of Canada
- Sir Charles Tupper (1907)[C 1] — federal cabinet minister (Inland Revenue, Customs, Public Works, Railways, Finance-Receiver General), Prime Minister of Canada, Premier of Nova Scotia, diplomat (High Commissioner to the UK)
- Sir Charles Fitzpatrick (1908)[C 2] — Chief Justice of Canada and Lieutenant Governor of Quebec
- Sir Robert Laird Borden (1912)[C 1] — Prime Minister of Canada
- Sir George Eulas Foster (1916)—federal cabinet minister (Trade and Commerce), senator
- Sir Louis Henry Davies (1919)[C 2] — Chief Justice of Canada and Premier of Prince Edward Island
- Sir Lyman Poore Duff (1919)[C 3] — Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and Administrator of Canada (acting Governor General of Canada)
- Arthur Lewis Sifton (1920) — Premier of Alberta and federal cabinet minister (Secretary of State, Public Works, Customs and Inland Revenue)
- Arthur Meighen (1920)[C 1] — federal cabinet minister (Interior, Indian Affairs, Solicitor General, secretary of state, Mines), Prime Minister of Canada and senator
- Charles Doherty (1920) — federal cabinet minister (Justice and attorney general)
- Sir William Thomas White (1920) — federal cabinet minister (Minister of Finance)
- William Lyon Mackenzie King (1922)[C 1] — federal cabinet minister (Labour), Prime Minister of Canada and civil servant
- William Stevens Fielding (1923) — federal cabinet minister (Minister of Finance) and Premier of Nova Scotia
- Francis Alexander Anglin (1925)[C 2] — Chief Justice of Canada
- Sir William Mulock (1925) — federal cabinet minister (Labour and Postmaster General), Chief Justice of Ontario, acting Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
- George Perry Graham (1925) — federal cabinet minister (Defence) and senator
- R.B. Bennett (1930)[C 1] — federal cabinet minister (Justice, Mines, Interior, Indian Affairs, Finance) Prime Minister of Canada, British member of the House of Lords
- Sir George Halsey Perley (1931) — federal cabinet minister and diplomat (High Commissioner to the United Kingdom)
- Ernest Lapointe (1937) — federal cabinet minister (justice and attorney general)
- Vincent Massey (1941)[C 4] — Governor General of Canada and diplomat (United States, High Commissioner to the UK)
- Raoul Dandurand (1941) — federal cabinet minister (Leader of the Government in the Senate of Canada), senator and Speaker of the Senate
- Louis St. Laurent (1946)[C 5] — federal cabinet minister (justice and attorney general), Prime Minister of Canada
- James Lorimer Ilsley (1946) — federal cabinet minister (Finance, Justice (Attorney General), Revenue, Postmaster General) and Chief Justice of Nova Scotia
- Clarence Decatur Howe (1946) — federal cabinet minister (Transport, International Trade and Fisheries and Oceans)
- Ian Alistair Mackenzie (1947) — federal cabinet minister (Veterans Affairs, Immigration and Colonization, Indian Affairs, Health) and senator
- James Garfield Gardiner (1947) — federal cabinet minister (Agriculture) and Premier of Saskatchewan
- Thibaudeau Rinfret (1947)[C 2] — Chief Justice of Canada and Administrator of Canada (acting Governor General of Canada)
- John George Diefenbaker (1957)[C 1] — Prime Minister of Canada
- Georges-Philéas Vanier (1963)[C 6] — Governor General of Canada and diplomat (France), Canadian Army commanding officer, aide-de-camp to Governor General of Canada
- Lester Bowles Pearson (1963)[C 1] — federal cabinet minister (External Affairs), Prime Minister of Canada and diplomat (United States), Secretary of the UN General Assembly
- As Prime Minister.
- As Chief Justice of Canada
- Duff did not become Chief Justice until 1933
- Massey became Governor General over a decade later. He was made "Right Honourable" while serving as Canada's High Commissioner to London.
- Tupper was appointed when he was no longer Prime Minister and St. Laurent was appointed when he was a cabinet minister under Mackenzie King.
- As Governor General of Canada
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 was referred to as "Mahamanya" in Sinhalese. Ceylonese appointees to the privy council include, D.S. Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala.
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 her resignation honours, the former prime minister Helen Clark did not recommend the appointment of any new Privy Councillors, and at present Winston Peters is the sole Privy Councillor in the New Zealand parliament. Privy Councillors recently retired from parliament include Clark, the former Speaker of the House Jonathan Hunt, and the former prime minister Jenny Shipley. In 2009 it was announced that the new Prime Minister 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
- Michael Kenneth Moore (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 Jenny Shipley (1998) — prime minister
- Winston 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|
|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|
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- This did not apply to former Governor-Generals Sir Paul Reeves, Dame Catherine Tizard and Dame Silvia Cartwright and former Speakers Sir Kerry Burke, Sir Robin Gray, Sir Peter Tapsell, Sir Doug Kidd and Margaret Wilson
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