HL Deb 22 February 1972 vol 328 cc393-5

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the effect of Section 3(1)(a) of the Peerage Act 1963 is that a person who disclaims any peerage or peerages thereby irrevocably divests himself of all right or interest to or in the peerage or peerages disclaimed, and of all titles, rights, offices, privileges and precedence attaching thereto; and whether this construction can be reconciled with the continued use by such a person of one of the subsidiary titles which he has specifically disclaimed.]


My Lords, the interpretation of the Peerage Act 1963 is for the courts to decide upon when and if the matter arises for consideration. Her Majesty's Government have no authority to make interpretations of Statutes.


My Lords, is my noble friend the Leader of the House not aware that in 1962 the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform reported, among other things, in paragraph 3, that the … Committee considered that it would be objectionable to allow Peers to retain the use of their titles while sitting in the House of Commons"; and that it further recommended, in paragraph 6(n): a Peer who surrenders his peerage should not be entitled to any of the titles, privileges, immunities or precedence attached to peerage and should have in every respect the status of a commoner"? Will Her Majesty's Government invite Her Majesty, under the sign Manual, to regulate the use of subsidiary titles by those who have, for their own reasons, specifically and irrevocably disclaimed them? Furthermore, my Lords, is this not a matter which impinges upon the privileges of your Lordships' House?


My Lords, may I ask the Minister this simple question? Is it not the plain duty of the Speaker of the House of Commons or the Lord Chancellor here to refer to any Member of another place by the nomenclature which is in use there? Is it not also the fact that it is the duty of the Speaker of the House of Commons in another place to refer to anybody who has been returned to Parliament in the terms in which his Writ returned him? I am sorry to be so long, but is it not also a fact that courtesy titles are not titles at all but are merely names, like "Mr. Brown"? Therefore, if a man is returned as "Lord Lambton" in his Writ, that is not a title at all: it is merely a name under which he passes, and must pass, because he is so returned by his Writ.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Napier and Ettrick for reminding me of the import of the 1962 Report of the Joint Committee on the reform of this House. I should not like to give an off-the-cuff answer to the other supplementaries which he put to me, but what I would say in reply to him and to my noble friend Lord Swinton is that, while I have no authority whatsoever to interpret the law, I am advised—and I think this is a matter of common knowledge—that there is a distinction to be made between the title attaching to a Peerage, which is subject to Section 3 of the Peerage Act 1963, and courtesy titles, which are not so subject. In answer to my noble friend Lord Swinton. I think all I can say is that how a Member of another place is referred to in another place is a matter for that other place.


My Lords, would not the noble Earl agree that the Speaker's ruling on this matter is constitutionally valid?


My Lords, do not think it would be right for me either to question or not to question the validity of the ruling of the Speaker of another place, more especially when the matter is due to be debated in another place. But of course I do recognise, my Lords, that this is a matter of unique national importance, and I shall give it my close and continuing attention. Nevertheless, I believe that at this particular time there may be other matters with which this country is confronted which are perhaps of even greater urgency and importance.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that we have had two rulings from another place that are diametrically opposed to each other? Perhaps we had better wait a little before we make up our minds what we want to do.


My Lords, I think that is in the nature of dialectic.