Peerage Act 1963

Peerage Act 1963

Infobox UK Legislation
short_title=Peerage Act 1963
parliament=United Kingdom Parliament
long_title=An Act to authorise the disclaimer for life of certain hereditary peerages; to include among the peers qualified to sit in the House of Lords all peers in the peerage of Scotland and peeresses in their own right...
statute_book_chapter=1963 c.48
territorial_extent=England and Wales; Scotland; Northern Ireland
royal_assent=31 July 1963
amendments=Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1974, House of Lords Act 1999

The Peerage Act 1963 (1963 c. 48) is a significant act in the history of the British Peerage. It allowed the disclaiming of peerages, and permitted female and Scottish hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords.


The Act resulted largely from the protests of one man, the Labour politician Tony Benn, then second Viscount Stansgate.cite news |url=|title=Disclaiming a peerage|work=BBC News|publisher=British Broadcasting Corporation|location=London |date=2005-07-14 |accessdate=2008-06-07] Under British law at the time, peers of the United Kingdom (meeting certain qualifications, such as age) were automatically members of the House of Lords and could not sit in, or vote in elections for, the other chamber, the House of Commons. When William Wedgwood Benn, Tony Benn's father, agreed to accept the Viscountcy, he ensured that the would-be heir, his eldest son Michael, did not plan to enter the House of Commons. Within a few years of Benn's acceptance of the title, however, Michael Benn was killed in action in World War Two, and Tony Benn, as his younger brother, became the heir to the peerage. The younger Benn was elected to the House of Commons in 1950, and did not intend to leave it for the other House, so he campaigned through the 1950s for a change in the law.

In 1960, the first Viscount died and Tony Benn inherited the title, automatically losing his seat in the House of Commons for the constituency of Bristol South East. In the ensuing by-election, however, Benn was re-elected to the House despite being disqualified. A court ruled that he could not take his seat, instead giving it to the runner-up, the Conservative Malcolm St Clair. In 1963, the Conservative Government agreed to introduce the Peerage Bill allowing individuals to disclaim peerages. Tony Benn was the first peer to make use of the act. Mr. St. Clair, fulfilling a promise he had made at the time of his seating, then accepted the office of Steward of the Manor of Northstead, thereby disqualifying himself from the House (outright resignation is prohibited), and Benn was then re-elected at the ensuing by-election.

Disclaiming Peerages

To disclaim an hereditary peerage, the peer must deliver an instrument of disclaimer to the Lord Chancellor within twelve months of succeeding to the peerage, or within twelve months of passage of the Act, or, if under the age of twenty-one at the time of succession, before the peer's 22nd birthday. If, at the time of succession, the peer is a member of the House of Commons, then the instrument must be delivered within one month of succession, and until such an instrument is delivered, the peer may neither sit nor vote in the lower House. Prior to the House of Lords Act 1999, an hereditary peer could not disclaim a peerage after having applied for a writ of summons to Parliament; now, however, hereditary peers do not have the automatic right to a writ of summons to the House. Irish peerages may not be disclaimed (but Irish peerages did not grant an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords). A peer who disclaims the peerage loses all titles, rights and privileges associated with the peerage; if he is a married man, so does his wife. No further hereditary peerages may be conferred upon the person, but life peerages may be. The peerage remains without a holder until the death of the peer making the disclaimer, when it descends as if it were never renounced.

The timing of the Act had a significant influence on British politics, with the resignation of Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister in 1963. Two hereditary peers wished to be considered to replace him, but by this time it was considered requisite that a Prime Minister sit in the Commons. Quintin Hogg, 2nd Viscount Hailsham and Alec Douglas Home, 14th Earl of Home thus were able to disclaim their titles in the twelve months following passage of the Act. Douglas-Home was chosen as Prime Minister. Both later returned to the House of Lords as life peers.

Since the abolition of the general right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, and the consequent removal of the general disability of such peers to sit in or vote for the House of Commons, it is no longer necessary for hereditary peers to renounce their peerages for this purpose. In 2001, John Sinclair, 3rd Viscount Thurso, became the first British hereditary peer to be elected to the Commons and take his seat. Later that year, Douglas Hogg inherited the peerage his father, Quintin Hogg, had disclaimed but did not have to disclaim it himself to continue sitting in the House of Commons. In 2004, Michael Ancram became Marquess of Lothian on the death of his father and was also able to continue sitting as MP.

Other Provisions

The Act granted Peers of Scotland the same right to sit in the House of Lords as Peers of England, Great Britain or the United Kingdom, thereby ending the election of representative peers. An amendment that would have allowed Irish peers to sit in the House as well was defeated by ninety votes to eight.

The Act also granted "suo jure" hereditary peeresses the right to sit in the House of Lords, which introduced twelve new women to the House. This was not the first time that women were members of the House of Lords; the Life Peerages Act 1958 allowed all life peers (men and women) to sit in the House. The women who took their seats in the House when the Act was passed were:

# The Countess of Erroll
# The Countess of Sutherland
# The Countess of Loudoun
# The Countess of Dysart
# The Countess of Seafield
# The Lady de Ros
# The Lady Zouche
# The Lady Darcy de Knayth
# The Lady Berkeley
# The Lady Berners
# The Lady Lucas of Crudwell
# The Lady Kinloss

List of disclaimed peerages

*Baron Altrincham, by John Grigg, from 1963 to 2001 [cite web |url= |title=Proposals for reform of the composition and powers of the House of Lords, 1968-1998 |accessdate=2008-06-16 |date=1998-07-14 |format=PDF |work=Library Note (LLN 98/004) |publisher=House of Lords Library |pages=pp. 81 |quote=Mr. Grigg, who had disclaimed his hereditary peerage as Lord Altrincham in 1963]
*Baron Archibald, by Christopher Archibald from 1975 to 1996
*Baron Beaverbrook, by Sir Max Aitken, 2nd Baronet, from 1964 to 1985
*Viscount Camrose and Baron Camrose, by William Michael Berry, Baron Hartwell, from 1995 to 2001 [cite news |first=Duff |last=Hart-Davis |title=Lord Hartwell (obituary) |url= | |publisher=Independent News and Media |location=London |date=2001-04-04 |accessdate=2008-06-16]
*Earl of Durham, Viscount Lambton and Baron Durham, by Antony Lambton, from 1970 to 2006
*Baron Fraser of Allander, by Sir Hugh Fraser, 2nd Baronet, from 1966 to 1987
*Viscount Hailsham and Baron Hailsham, by Quintin Hogg (later Baron Hailsham of St Marylebone) from 1963 to 2001
*Earl of Home, Lord Home, Lord Dunglass and Baron Douglas, by Alec Douglas-Home (later Baron Home of the Hirsel) from 1963 to 1995
*Baron Merthyr, by Trevor Lewis, since 1977
*Baron Monkswell, by William Collier, from 1964 to 1984
*Baron Reith, by Christopher Reith, since 1972
*Baron Sanderson of Ayot, by Alan Sanderson, since 1971
*Earl of Sandwich, Viscount Hinchingbrooke and Baron Montagu of St Neots, by Victor Montagu, from 1964 to 1995
*Earl of Selkirk and Lord Daer and Shortcleuch, by Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (later Baron Selkirk of Douglas), since 1994 [cite web
title=Hansard, Vol 250 Col 931 |date=1994-11-28 |accessdate=2008-06-16 |quote=The House has been officially notified today that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West has disclaimed the title under the provisions of the Peerage Act 1963.
*Baron Silkin, by Arthur Silkin, from 1972 to 2001
*Baron Silkin, by Christopher Silkin, since 2002 [cite web |url= |title=House of Lords Journal 235 (Session 2001-02) |accessdate=2008-06-16 |date=2002-05-16 |pages=pp. 724]
*Baron Southampton, by Charles FitzRoy, from 1964 to 1989
*Viscount Stansgate, by Tony Benn since 1963

ee also

* (Wikisource)


External links

* [ Cox, Noel. "The Legal Standing of the Peerage and Baronetage." "New Zealand Universities Law Review".]
* [ Peerage Act 1963.]

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