The Right Honourable (The Rt Hon. or Rt Hon.) is an honorific style traditionally applied to certain persons and to certain collective bodies in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, some other Commonwealth realms, the Anglophone Caribbean, Mauritius and occasionally elsewhere. "Right" in this context is an adverb meaning "to a great extent or degree". It is used only for living people.
"The Right Honourable" is added as a prefix to the name of various collective entities such as:
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 now rare 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.
The prefix is customarily abbreviated to "The" in many situations, but never for Privy Counsellors. The following persons are entitled to the style in a personal capacity:
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:
All other Lord Mayors are "The Right Worshipful"; other Lord Provosts 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 was 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 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. 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:
Governors General also use the style "His/Her Excellency" during their term of office. Members of the Privy Council and Senate receive the honorific "The Honourable". The style of Right Honourable does not apply to any official at the provincial level.
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.
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. These include:
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 New Zealand, the Prime Minister and some other senior cabinet ministers were customarily appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and thus styled The Right Honourable. Senior New Zealand Judges are also often appointed as Privy Councillors.
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:
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:
The living New Zealanders holding the style "The Right Honourable" for life as a result of the 2010 changes are:
In Sri Lanka, the first prime minister of the post-independence Sri Lanka (Ceylon), D.S. Senanayake was honoured with the title "Mahamanya", which is the localized (in Sinhalese) version of the title "The Right Honourable".