Work of the Privy Council Office

The Privy Council Office

The Privy Council Office (PCO) is the Secretariat to the Privy Council, which has responsibility for certain functions assigned to The Queen (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 seven 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 Queen. Key functions include preparation of briefing for Her 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.

PCO substantive business includes a major role in regulating the professions, both through statutory bodies such as the General Medical Council, General Dental Council etc, and through the Chartered Institutions, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors etc. 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 major role in Higher Education, 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. Oxford and Cambridge also have their own Act of Parliament and the Privy Council has a role in recommending whether to approve amendments to the Statutes of the Universities and the Colleges. For certain devolved higher education matters in Scotland, the Scottish Universities Committee of the Privy Council regularly considers proposed Ordinances of the four ancient Scottish universities.

The PCO is also responsible for managing the process leading to the making of recommendations to The Queen 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 he/she has responsibility for determining issues relating to the interpretation and application of University Statutes brought by members of academic staff.

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