HL Deb 06 July 1927 vol 68 cc221-31

My Lords, I beg to move the Address on the Paper for the purpose of giving effect to the Report of the Committee on Peerages in Abeyance to which your Lordships a short time ago gave a general approval. During the discussion upon the Report two points were raised, and it was understood that if approval was given to the Report they could be raised again on this Motion. I will only say a few words about each of those points because I think I may be able to meet them.

The first point referred to the second recommendation of the Committee. That recommendation was:— No Petition should be allowed to proceed, where the Petitioner represents less than one-third of the entire dignity. On that it was pointed out that a Peer holding a Peerage by Writ descending to heirs general might die leaving four daughters or some greater number. The effect of that would be that the Peerage would fall into abeyance and that none of the four daughters could petition to have it called out of abeyance. That state of things might continue, of course, for some generations. That did appear to me to be rather a hardship and I have attempted to meet the point by inserting words in the Address, which your Lordships will find under consideration (ii):— that the Petitioner (not being a child of the last holder of the dignity or a descendant of a parent of the last holder) represents less than one-third of the entire dignity.… The effect of those words would be this: that the four daughters of a Peer holding a Peerage of this kind would not be debarred by that condition as to one-third and would have two generations in which to present a Petition. I think that substantially meets that point.

The other point was taken with reference to the recommendation of the Committee which is numbered 5. That recommendation was in these terms:— In considering whether or not the Sovereign should be advised to extend his grace to the Petitioner for a termination of an abeyance, the like regard should be had to character, position, services and fitness as would be had in the case of a subject, on whom it is in contemplation to recommend that a Peerage should be conferred. It was said that in the case of a Petition for calling a Peerage out of abeyance it was somewhat drastic to require that the Petitioner should not only be fit and of good character, but should have, rendered such services as would be deemed a recommendation for granting a new Peerage. I said, and I still think, that the words ought to be taken together, that all four things should be looked at together, but that it would not be necessary for the claimant to satisfy all these qualifications before a Peerage could be called out of abeyance. But some anxiety was still expressed in the matter and I understand that an Amendment is to be moved—I did not feel justified in altering the recommendation myself—to meet that point by omitting the word "services." I am prepared to accept that Amendment if it is moved—subject to the consent of the House—and I hope that in that way the objection will be removed. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty submitting to His Majesty that if it is His gracious pleasure to place some limitation on claims to Peerages in abeyance, such limitation might be effected if His Majesty would be graciously pleased to issue an instruction to the Attorney-General that if it should appear to him that a claim to a Peerage in abeyance is affected by either of the following considerations:—(i) That the commencement of the existing abeyance occurred more than one hundred years before the presentation of the Petition; or (ii) that the Petitioner (not being a chill of the last holder of the dignity or a descendant of a parent of the last holder) represents less than one third of the entire dignity, he should in his Report to the Crown on such claim call attention to these circumstances, and that in such cases His Majesty should be advised that no further proceedings should be taken except in the cases of Petitions which have already been presented and in the absence of special circumstances or special reasons to the contrary; and that the attention of the Crown should also be called to any Petitions for the introduction of Bills into the House of Lords for restoration in blood to qualify a claimant to the termination of an abeyance to enjoy the Peerage, where such claims are affected by the above-mentioned considerations; further submitting to His Majesty that where the Committee for Privileges of this House is satisfied that any arrange- ment, entered into between a Petitioner for a Peerage in abeyance and any co-heir, is tainted with any impropriety, it would be desirable that the Committee should make no Report to the House except that such arrangement is not shown to have been a proper one; and further submitting to His Majesty that in considering whether or not His Majesty should be advised to extend His grace to the Petitioner for a termination of an abeyance, the like regard should be had to character, position, services and fitness as would be had in the case of a subject on whom it is in contemplation to recommend that a Peerage be conferred.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, perhaps I may justify my intrusion upon your Lordships' indulgence for a few moments by recalling the fact that as Attorney-General I. was in touch with these Peer- age cases and had to consider the recommendations which have to be made by the Attorney-General in such cases. As the Lord Chancellor has pointed out, he has met one of the very serious objections which were taken by those who intervened in the debate on the Select Committee's Report when your Lordships accepted and adopted the Report. The Lord Chancellor has met that objection to a very large extent, but it occurs to me that, taking the Resolution as a whole, there is something incongruous in leaving the last words of the Resolution as they stand. Let me remind the House that, in the case of these Peerages in abeyance, when an abeyance is terminated it is the old Peerage which is revived with the old precedence.

As the Resolution stands the limitation that was contained in the second of the recommendations is modified. The second recommendation was that no Petition should be allowed to proceed where the Petitioner represents less than one-third of the entire dignity. That has been altered to these words:— that the Petitioner (not being a child of the last holder of the dignity or a descendant of a parent of the last holder) represents less than one-third of the entire dignity. Translating this into a possible case, it means that, supposing the last holder of the dignity leaves four daughters or four nieces—this would be covered by the words "a descendant of a parent of the last holder"—then it would be possible for one of them to be a Petitioner to have the abeyance terminated; and, bearing in mind the fact that, if the Petition were granted and the abeyance terminated, one of those four persons, in whichever degree the Petitioner lay, would be entitled from the abeyance of the Peerage to have and to hold the old Peerage with the old precedence, it seems a little incongruous, as I have said, in considering whether or not in that case His Majesty should be advised to extend his grace to the Petitioner for the termination of an abeyance, that— the like regard should be had to character, position, services and fitness as would be had in the case of a subject on whom it is in contemplation to recommend that a Peerage be conferred. Supposing that the Petition of one of the four daughters or of the four nieces of the last holder is acceded to, and thereupon the abeyance is terminated that Peerage would then be the old Peerage with the old precedence. It seems difficult to apply to such Petitioners the test of character, position, services and fitness that would be applied in the case of a subject "on whom it is in contemplation to recommend that a Peerage be conferred."

I can well understand that some such words are necessary. There have been cases, and there may be cases again, where, even in regard to those Petitioners who are near in blood to the last holder, it may be inadvisable to call the Peerage out of abeyance. I will give one illustration. They might have become the nationals of a foreign State, and ft would certainly be wise in that case to bear in mind and have regard to the character, position and fitness of any Petitioner. But when the word "services" is there found, are you not importing a test with which it would be impossible for the Petitioner, in either the one degree or the other degree to which I have referred, to comply? Inasmuch as the Resolution of the Lord Chancellor gives close attention to the system of heredity and intends to give the Petitioner, who may be one of four daughters, the right to ask that the abeyance should be terminated, surely it is not unreasonable to make an alteration so as to eliminate the test of service in that case?

And yet in the Resolution as it stands, the last part ("and further submitting to His Majesty," and so on) applies equally to cases where the Petitioner is near in blood to the last holder of the dignity as to cases where the Petitioner may be petitioning after the lapse of some ninety years. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, speaking when the Report was adopted, pointed out that during a hundred years it, might well be possible that one of the Petitioners would have rendered such service as would enable him to comply with the actual terms of the Report; but those observations do not apply in the case of the nearness of the Petitioner to the last holder of the dignity now provided for in the exception to the second clause. For these reasons it appears to me that some alteration ought to be made.

Although I wish to preserve and in no way to infringe upon the general purpose of the Report, I feel, after much consideration, that the point would be met if, after the word "abeyance" three lines from the end of the Resolution, we left out the Words:— the like regard should be had to character, position, services and fitness as would be had in the case of a subject on whom it is in contemplation to recommend that a Peerage he conferred. and inserted the words:— regard shall be had to the character, position and fitness of the Petitioner. The measure of the regard that is to be had to character, position and fitness which is indicated by giving the case of "the subject on whom it is in contemplation to recommend that a Peerage be conferred" imposes a standard that is certainly of a variable character. I cannot help feeling, speaking from some experience, that the Attorney-General would be able to fulfil all that is necessary and all that is implied in the Report if he were directed that "regard should be had to the character, position and fitness of the Petitioner," leaving him to exercise his discretion upon those three points, and yet at the same time placing the Petitioner under a necessity of fulfilling qualifications that are undoubtedly needed by any aspirant to hold the dignity of a Peerage.

I have had the opportunity of speaking with some of those members of your Lordships' House most concerned and interested in these Peerages in abeyance, and I think I am not going beyond the mark if I say that, if this Amendment were accepted, it, would take into account the objections that were raised on the previous occasion, and would go far—I really think it would go all the way—to meet those objections. For these reasons, which I have endeavoured to sketch quite shortly, I beg to move the Amendment which I have handed in at the Table.


Would the noble and learned Lord be ready to modify his Amendment and to use the words "regard should be had"? This fits in better with the clause.


I had some doubt whether it should be "should" or "shall." I am content with either.

Amendment moved— After the last "abeyance" leave out ("the like regard should be had to character, position, services and fitness as would be had in the case of a subject on whom it is in contemplation to recommend that a Peerage be conferred") and insert ("regard should be had to the character, position and fitness of the Petitioner").—(Lord Hanworth.)


Has the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, any objection to that Amendment?




My Lords, perhaps, as I was Chairman of the Committee that reported in slightly different language, I ought to explain, as I understood it, what was the principle which the Committee thought they were following in suggesting the form of words to which the noble and learned Lord has taken exception. Not having seen the Amendment which he proposes to make, but only having heard and made a note of it as he read it out, I have not had an opportunity of considering to what extent, if at all, it makes a difference, but what was in the mind, I think, of the Committee was this point, which possibly the noble and learned Lord has not considered. The case cannot be looked at solely of daughters or nieces of a recently de- ceased holder, which is the case which is particularly put. In making a recommendation of this kind it has, of course, to be adapted as far as possible to all the cases which can occur, and therefore it ought to be adaptable not only to the case of very recent abeyance but to the case of one which has lasted for a considerable number of years—the case in which the Petitioner, instead of being an actual member of the household of the deceased holder of the dignity, was one somewhat remote in relationship and quite likely of a totally different position in life. You have to make the phrase cover all cases.

The other point is that, in the case of these Peerages, it is not a matter of right to have the abeyance terminated at all. It is purely a matter of the Royal favour, and although it is perfectly true to say that when the abeyance is terminated the Barony which is then revived is the same ancient Barony as before, with the ancient precedence, it is, as far as the particular subject who is thus preferred is concerned, comparable, and strictly comparable, to the case of the creation of a new Peerage, because the Sovereign of his grace, and not of any right of the subject, brings into virtual existence a Peerage which otherwise would remain in abeyance. It appeared to the Committee, after considering the matter carefully, that that reason, and the necessity for securing so far as possible that fit persons alone should be recommended for Royal favour, was a ground for saying there was a case for consideration of the characteristics of the claimant comparable to the consideration given to the characteristics of a person upon whom it is recommended that a Peerage should be conferred. That, and not any idea of interrupting rudely the descent of a family honour, was the reason which I believe was at the bottom of the Committee's recommendation.

I do not myself see that there is very much to be gained by saying that regard should be had to certain qualifications, unless you set a standard in some way to indicate what regard ought to be had. I should have thought that it would have been better, and certainly the Committee I think was of that opinion, that there should be indicated a standard to guide those who have the privilege of advising the Sovereign in the matter. Character, position, services and fitness would be brought into consideration to the extent to which services exist, position exists, and fitness exists. It is not a requirement that there should be public services rendered, or that the person who petitions shall have held some public office, nor was this intended or thought of. The words were chosen so as to cover as wide a field as possible appropriate to both sexes. The regard will be quite sufficiently satisfied by considering any one or all of these matters as sufficient ground for the recommendation. The responsibility and the choice rests upon the Minister who makes the recommendation and the clause about special circumstances we thought provided a sufficient safeguard against any hardship at all.

Of course, if the Amendment commends itself to your Lordships as a good one, I do not desire to stand in the way of it. It is very much better that, whatever form the humble Address should take, it should be unanimous, and therefore if my noble and learned friend presses his Amendment, and it commends itself to the House, I have no more to say about it. But I think it is only fair to the Committee that I should have explained to your Lordships that the words were carefully chosen, with the desire to cover all cases and therefore quite possibly cases where the Petitioner may be different in position in life and in fitness from the last holder, and where, it being virtually, as far as he is concerned, the conferment of a new honour, some regard comparable to that exercised in the case of new Peerages should be recommended—I do not say required but recommended—in his case.


My Lords, when this matter was discussed the other day the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack promised kindly consideration of a case put forward by one or two of us, and notably by the Earl of Ancaster, who, being abroad I believe, is unable to be present to-day. One of those objections has been most fully and fairly met by the Address as it is moved to-day by the noble Viscount on the Woolsack. The other point would be met if the House would accept the Amendment that has been moved by the noble and learned Lord on the other side of the House. I think that the case which has been put by the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken, as to the views of the Committee, was quite a reasonable one; that is to say, that services ought to be considered when dealing with old Peerages that have been in abeyance for a great number of years, and when you might be calling up either a man or a woman, I think it is quite right that services should be put in.

At any rate I can understand how the Committee came to put in the word "services," but I would point out that if this Address is carried there will be practically no more old abeyances to come before the House. The noble Lord said just now: "Why talk of ladies when it may be men?" but it practically cannot be men in the case of new abeyances. If the holder of one of these Peerages dies leaving a son, the son succeeds as of right. It is when he leaves female descendants, and in present circumstances, if a Peer by Writ leaves more than one daughter, one of those daughters is called up. She may be a young girl, and it is likely in the present circumstances that the Prime Minister would have to consider whether the lady in question was a fit and proper person. He quite rightly would have to consider her character, position and fitness. I submit that it would be an absolute hardship if in the case of a young girl, the daughter of a Peer whose title falls into abeyance, the Prime Minister were debarred from considering her case because she could not show services. A young girl could not in the nature of things show services, and yet it might be that the Prime Minister very much desired to call up the daughter of a father who might have done good work and played a great part in this House, or whose family had taken a great part for many generations in the proceedings of this House. I think, therefore, considering that the bulk of the cases that will be dealt with now will probably be the cases of young women, that it is only reasonable that the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord below the gangway should be accepted and that the word "services" should be omitted.


My Lords, I do not know if I can shorten the debate at all. I feel the justice of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Sumner. Nevertheless, I am glad that he does not press any objection to this Amendment. I do not think there would be any objection to the original words and I know why the Committee put them in. But it must be remembered that these Peerages are hereditary. It is not quite the same thing as creating a new Peerage. It would be rather drastic to expect from a Petitioner for a revival quite the same qualifications as from a person on whom a new Peerage is conferred. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will be satisfied to accept the Amendment.


My Lords, would it not meet the difficulty if all the words which follow the word "abeyance" are left out? because it seems to me that in every case which may arise in the future the claimant may be a female. I cannot see why you should bar her right to petition. After all, the position of a Petitioner is a very innocent position, politically and socially. Why should you bar her right to petition by having a rigid rule saying that regard should be had to her character, position, services and fitness? It would simplify the matter to leave out those words entirely.


My Lords, I only wish to point out two matters. In the first place it is quite clear that you can have male claimants. The simplest case is where the holder of a Peerage by Writ has two or more daughters, each of whom predecease him, leaving sons who claim by their mothers' right. I wish to point out, secondly, that this recommendation is no more than an expression of opinion by your Lordships' House as to the lines on which they would wish the advisers of the Crown to act in dealing with these questions. I would also point out that when a Peerage goes into abeyance it is a very similar act of the Prerogative to terminate that abeyance as to create a new Peerage. When a recommendation is made to the Crown by responsible advisers, surely those advisers ought to give due, or some attention to the points raised in the Committee's Report? All we are doing now is to say that, in advising the Crown, the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General should give attention to this point and not treat these abeyances as in the past. Whether they are old abeyances of a century or more ago or recent abeyances, they should give some attention to the character, position and fitness of the petitioner. In considering what advice they should give the Crown, they should take those points into consideration. As the Chairman of the Committee, speaking on behalf of all the members of the Committee, has expressed no objection to the modification of the words of our Report, I for my part, as a member of the Committee, am quite ready to accept the modification.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.