The Privy Council dates back to Norman times and is one of the oldest parts of Government.
These days, however, the Privy Council is simply 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.
Although members of the Privy Council are appointed for life, only Ministers of the current Government participate in its day-to-day business and they are accountable to Parliament for all matters conducted through the Privy Council. The Ministerial head of the Privy Council Office is the Lord President of the Council.
Privy Council business falls into two main categories:
- Prerogative business – where there is no legislation allocating the responsibility to a particular Minister, the Privy Council provides a mechanism for Ministerial advice to The Queen, since constitutionally The Queen acts only on such advice.
- Statutory business – where an Act of Parliament has given order making powers to either the The Queen in Council (Orders in Council) or the Privy Council (Orders of Council).
“Prerogative” business taken through the Privy Council means, almost exclusively these days, the affairs of Chartered bodies; the 1000 or so institutions, charities and companies who are incorporated by Royal Charter. Most other historical prerogative powers have been taken over by Parliament, and the Privy Council is not involved for example in declarations of war or the prerogative of mercy.
The Privy Council also has an important part to play in respect of certain statutory regulatory bodies covering a number of professions including health, and in the world of higher education.
Orders “in” and “of” Council are no different from other forms of delegated legislation. Where they are statutory they will usually involve a Parliamentary procedure. Where they are prerogative they will usually be of no particular public interest, other than to the bodies to which they refer.
The details of its past meetings are published on the Privy Council website, along with all Orders “in”, and Orders “of”, Council.
List of Government Ministers (on the GOV.UK website)