Privy Council Office

The Privy Council Office (PCO) is the Secretariat to the Privy Council, which has responsibility for certain functions assigned to The King (as Head of the Privy Council), and the Council, by Acts of Parliament or by Royal Prerogative.

The PCO is the mechanism through which interdepartmental agreement is reached on those items of Government business which, for historical or other reasons, fall to Ministers as Privy Counsellors rather than as Departmental Ministers.

The Lord President of the Council has Ministerial responsibility for the PCO, which has six staff.

The PCO is responsible for delivering all aspects of Privy Council business, including arrangements for nine scheduled Privy Council meetings per year and any ad hoc emergency Councils which are held by The King. Key functions include preparation of briefing for His Majesty and the Lord President; and administrative formalities connected with all appointments of new Privy Counsellors; the procedural formalities both preceding and following a general elections and government reshuffles including the appointment of Secretaries of State and other Cabinet Ministers; all Royal Proclamations; approving Channel Island legislation; and, the appointment of High Sheriffs in England and Wales.

The PCO is responsible for managing the process for appointments to a number of statutory bodies and for arranging for the approval of rules and qualifications giving entry to the professions. There are some 1,000 Chartered bodies, and any changes to their governing instruments (their Royal Charters and the Bye-laws made under them) require Privy Council approval. This in turn amounts to a form of government regulation of the professions, and in the case of some sectors (such as health, finance and engineering) Government policy can be taken forward through Charter and Bye-law amendments.

The PCO also has responsibility for coordinating the Privy Council’s role in Higher Education throughout the United Kingdom, through its responsibility for the Charters and Statutes of the pre-1992 Universities (amendments require Privy Council approval) and the instruments of government of the post-1992 Universities in Scotland and Wales. Universities including Oxford, Cambridge and London are governed by their own Acts of Parliament and the Privy Council has a role in recommending whether to approve amendments to the Statutes made under them. The Scottish Universities Committee of the Privy Council also regularly considers proposed statutory Ordinances of the four ancient Scottish universities.

The PCO is also responsible for managing the process leading to the making of recommendations to The King in Council to approve the Laws of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

In addition, the PCO also manages the casework in relation to the Lord President’s and Lord Chancellor’s role as the Visitor of various Universities, whereby they have responsibility for determining issues relating to the interpretation and application of University Statutes brought by members of academic staff.