Peerage Act 1963
|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 in the peerages of England, Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom; to remove certain disqualifications of peers in the peerage of Ireland in relation to the House of Commons and elections thereto; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.|
|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|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Revised text of statute as amended|
The Peerage Act 1963 (1963 c. 48) is the Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that permitted peeresses in their own right and all Scottish hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, and which allows newly inherited hereditary peerages to be "disclaimed".
The Act resulted largely from the protests of one man, the Labour politician Tony Benn, then second Viscount Stansgate. 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. However, within a few years of Benn's acceptance of the title Michael Benn was killed in action in World War II. 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. 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.
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, 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. 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 who had made the disclaimer, when it descends to his or her heir in the usual manner.
The Act also allowed instruments of disclaimer to be delivered within twelve months of its passing, thus allowing a peer who had inherited his or her title some years before to disclaim it; this was the means by which Tony Benn was able to disclaim his title. The existence of this provision soon proved to be of importance at the highest levels of British politics, following the resignation of Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister in October 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 were able to take advantage of the Act to disclaim their titles, despite having inherited their titles in 1950 and 1951 respectively. Douglas-Home was chosen as Prime Minister; both men 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 disclaim 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 an MP. On his retirement from the House of Commons, Ancram entered the House of Lords as a life peer.
The Act only applies to titles held in the Peerage of England, the Peerage of Scotland, the Peerage of Great Britain, or the Peerage of the United Kingdom. No provision was made by the Act for titles in the Peerage of Ireland to be disclaimed, as the entitlement of new Irish representative peers to be elected to sit in the House of Lords was considered to have lapsed after most of Ireland had become independent in 1922 (and the last surviving Irish representative peer had died in 1961). Instead, the Act extended to all Irish peers both the right to vote in parliamentary elections and the right to run for election to the House of Commons.
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 (other than those in the Peerage of Ireland) 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 2nd Baroness Ravensdale had already entered the Lords in 1958 through the receipt of a life peerage. The women who took their seats in the House when the 1963 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
In this list peerages which are currently disclaimed are indicated in bold
- Baron Altrincham, by John Grigg, from 1963 to 2001
- 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
- Viscount Stansgate, by Tony Benn since 1963
- Baron Monkswell, by William Collier, from 1964 to 1984
- Baron Beaverbrook, by Max Aitken, from 1964 to 1985
- Baron Southampton, by Charles FitzRoy, from 1964 to 1989
- Earl of Sandwich, Viscount Hinchingbrooke and Baron Montagu, by Victor Montagu, from 1964 to 1995
- Baron Fraser of Allander, by Hugh Fraser, from 1966 to 1987
- Earl of Durham, Viscount Lambton and Baron Durham, by Antony Lambton, from 1970 to 2006
- Baron Sanderson of Ayot, by Alan Sanderson, since 1971
- Baron Silkin, by Arthur Silkin, from 1972 to 2001
- Baron Reith, by Christopher Reith, since 1972
- Baron Archibald, by Christopher Archibald from 1975 to 1996
- Baron Merthyr, by Trevor Lewis, since 1977
- Earl of Selkirk and Lord Daer and Shortcleuch, by Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (later Baron Selkirk of Douglas), since 1994
- Viscount Camrose and Baron Camrose, by Michael Berry (later Baron Hartwell), from 1995 to 2001
- Baron Silkin, by Christopher Silkin, since 2002
- "Disclaiming a peerage". BBC News (London: British Broadcasting Corporation). 2005-07-14. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
- "Proposals for reform of the composition and powers of the House of Lords, 1968-1998" (PDF). Library Note (LLN 98/004). House of Lords Library. 1998-07-14. p. 81. Retrieved 2008-06-16. "Mr. Grigg, who had disclaimed his hereditary peerage as Lord Altrincham in 1963"
- "Hansard, Vol 250 Col 931". 1994-11-28. Retrieved 2008-06-16. "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."
- Hart-Davis, Duff (2001-04-04). "Lord Hartwell (obituary)". Independent.co.uk (London: Independent News and Media). Retrieved 2008-06-16.
- "House of Lords Journal 235 (Session 2001-02)". 2002-05-16. p. 724. Retrieved 2008-06-16.
- Cox, Noel. "The Legal Standing of the Peerage and Baronetage." New Zealand Universities Law Review.
- Peerage Act 1963.