Peerage Act 1963

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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.
Citation 1963 c. 48
Territorial extent England and Wales; Scotland; Northern Ireland
Royal assent 31 July 1963
Other legislation
Amended by Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1974, House of Lords Act 1999
Status: Amended
Text of statute as originally enacted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 women peers 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 the 2nd Viscount Stansgate.[1] Under British law at the time, peers of the United Kingdom (who met 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 ascertained that the heir apparent, his eldest son Michael, did not plan to enter the House of Commons. However, within a few years of acceptance of the title, Michael Benn was killed in action in World War II. Tony Benn, his younger brother, instead became the heir to the peerage. The younger Benn was elected to the House of Commons in 1950, and did not wish to leave it for the other House, so he campaigned through the 1950s for a change in the law.

In 1960, the 1st 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. An election court ruled that he could not take his seat, instead giving it to the runner-up, the Conservative Malcolm St Clair.[2] In 1963, the Conservative Government agreed to introduce the Peerage Bill allowing individuals to disclaim peerages; it received Royal Assent on 31 July 1963.[3] 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, had accepted the office of Steward of the Manor of Northstead the previous day,[4] thereby disqualifying himself from the House (outright resignation is prohibited), and Benn was then re-elected at the ensuing by-election.

Disclaiming peerages[edit]

To disclaim a hereditary peerage, the peer must deliver an instrument of disclaimer to the Lord Chancellor within one year of succeeding to the peerage, or within one year after the passage of the Act, or, if under the age of 21 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, a 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 peerage may be conferred upon the person, but a life peerage 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 one-year window after the passage of the Act soon proved to be of importance at the highest levels of British politics, after 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 took advantage of the Act to disclaim their titles, despite having inherited their titles in 1950 and 1951 respectively.[1] 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 their retirements from the House of Commons, Ancram and Hogg entered the House of Lords as life peers, while Thurso was elected as an excepted hereditary peer after losing reelection as an MP. Since the chief purpose for the Act ended in 1999, only one disclaimer has occurred — Christopher Silkin disclaimed the title 3rd Baron Silkin in 2002.

The Act only applies to titles held in the Peerage of England, the Peerage of Scotland, the Peerage of Great Britain, and 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 became 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 stand for election to the House of Commons.

Other provisions[edit]

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 women peers (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:

  1. The Countess of Erroll
  2. The Countess of Sutherland
  3. The Countess of Loudoun
  4. The Countess of Dysart
  5. The Countess of Seafield
  6. The Lady de Ros
  7. The Lady Zouche
  8. The Lady Darcy de Knayth
  9. The Lady Berkeley
  10. The Lady Berners
  11. The Lady Lucas of Crudwell
  12. The Lady Kinloss

List of disclaimed peerages[edit]

In this list peerages which are currently disclaimed are indicated by asterisk (*)

Title Created Disclaimed by Time disclaimed Notes
Viscount Stansgate 1942 The 2nd Viscount, afterwards known as Tony Benn (1925–2014) 1963[1][4] to 2014 extant; inherited in 2014 by the 3rd Viscount
Baron Altrincham 1945 The 2nd Baron, afterwards known as John Grigg (1924–2001) 1963[4] to 2001[5] extant; inherited in 2001 by the 3rd Baron
Earl of Home; Lord Home; Lord Dunglass; Baron Douglas 1605 The 14th Earl, afterwards known as Sir Alec Douglas-Home, KT (1903–1995), later created life peer as Baron Home of the Hirsel 1974 1963[6] to 1995[1] extant; inherited in 1995 by the 15th Earl
Viscount Hailsham; Baron Hailsham 1929 The 2nd Viscount, afterwards known as Quintin Hogg (1907–2001), later created life peer as Baron Hailsham of St Marylebone 1970 1963[7] to 2001[1] extant; inherited in 2001 by the 3rd Viscount
Baron Monkswell 1885 The 4th Baron, afterwards known as William Collier (1913–1984) 1964 to 1984 extant; inherited in 1984 by the 5th Baron
Baron Beaverbrook 1917 The 2nd Baron, afterwards known as Sir Max Aitken, Bt (1910–1985) 1964 to 1985 extant; inherited in 1985 by the 3rd Baron
Baron Southampton 1780 The 5th Baron, afterwards known as Charles FitzRoy (1904–1989) 1964 to 1989 extant; inherited in 1989 by the 6th Baron
Earl of Sandwich; Viscount Hinchingbrooke; Baron Montagu 1660 The 10th Earl, afterwards known as Victor Montagu (1906–1995) 1964 to 1995 extant; inherited in 1995 by the 11th Earl
Baron Fraser of Allander 1964 The 2nd Baron, afterwards known as Sir Hugh Fraser, Bt (1936–1987) 1966 to 1987 extinct 1987
Earl of Durham; Viscount Lambton; Baron Durham 1833 The 6th Earl, afterwards known as Antony Lambton (1922–2006) 1970 to 2006 extant; inherited in 2006 by the 7th Earl
* Baron Sanderson of Ayot 1960 The 2nd Baron, afterwards known as Alan Lindsay Sanderson (born 1931) since 1971
* Baron Silkin 1950 The 2nd Baron, afterwards known as Arthur Silkin (1916–2001) 1972 to 2001 inherited in 2001 by 3rd Baron, who also disclaimed the peerage
Baron Reith 1940 The 2nd Baron, afterwards known as Christopher Reith (1928–2016) 1972 to 2016 extant; inherited in 2016 by the 3rd Baron
Baron Archibald 1949 The 2nd Baron, afterwards known as George Christopher Archibald (1926–1996) 1975 to 1996 extinct 1996
Baron Merthyr 1911 The 4th Baron, afterwards known as Trevor Lewis (1935–2015) 1977 to 2015 extant; inherited in 2015 by the 5th Baron
* Earl of Selkirk; Lord Daer and Shortcleuch 1646 The 11th Earl, afterwards known as Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (born 1942), later created life peer as Baron Selkirk of Douglas 1997 since 1994[8]
Viscount Camrose; Baron Camrose 1941 The 3rd Viscount, Michael Berry (1911–2001). He had been created a life peer as Baron Hartwell in 1968 and inherited the Camrose titles in 1995 after his older brother's death 1995 to 2001[9] extant; inherited in 2001 by the 4th Viscount
* Baron Silkin 1950 The 3rd Baron, afterwards known as Christopher Silkin (born 1947) since 2002[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Disclaiming a peerage". BBC News. London: British Broadcasting Corporation. 14 July 2005. Retrieved 7 June 2008. 
  2. ^ Zander, Michael, QC (11 April 2014). "How to lose a title". New Law Journal (7602). Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  3. ^ "No. 43072". The London Gazette. 2 August 1963. pp. 6533–6534. 
  4. ^ a b c "No. 43072". The London Gazette. 2 August 1963. p. 6534. 
  5. ^ "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. 14 July 1998. p. 81. Retrieved 16 June 2008. Mr. Grigg, who had disclaimed his hereditary peerage as Lord Altrincham in 1963 
  6. ^ "No. 43143". The London Gazette. 25 October 1963. p. 8770. 
  7. ^ "No. 43164". The London Gazette. 22 November 1963. p. 9515. 
  8. ^ "Hansard, Vol 250 Col 931". 28 November 1994. Retrieved 16 June 2008. 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. 
  9. ^ Hart-Davis, Duff (4 April 2001). "Lord Hartwell (obituary)". London: Independent News and Media. Retrieved 16 June 2008. 
  10. ^ "House of Lords Journal 235 (Session 2001–02)". 16 May 2002. p. 724. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2008. 

External links[edit]