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Hereditary Peers

Volume 731: debated on Thursday 20 October 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following their announcement with regard to succession to the Crown, whether they have any plans to change the law of succession with regard to hereditary peerages.

My Lords, the Government have no current plans to change the laws of succession with regard to hereditary peerages. Changes to the law on succession to the throne can be affected without any change to the legitimate expectations of those in the line of succession. Changes to the rules governing succession to hereditary titles would be far more complicated to implement.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. I am anxious that he should dispel any uncertainty in this matter, which is unsettling for those who will be affected. I am grateful to him for what he has said.

I am not sure that I detected a question. The Government believe that it is time to deal with the issue of succession to the Crown, and there is no simple read-across to succession to the hereditary peerage, which is infinitely more complicated and affects many more families.

My Lords, the noble Lord said that it would be difficult to implement, but will he suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that he perhaps should seek to amend the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel? On that matter, can he tell me whether tomorrow the Government intend to support the noble Lord, Lord Steel?

My Lords, we will continue what successive Governments have done in the many debates on my noble friend’s Bill. There is one very good reason for being consistent, because there is before Parliament a draft Bill that is being examined by a Joint Committee of this House.

My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that while undoubtedly Parliament has the authority to legislate in respect of succession to the throne, according to the learned editor of the fourth edition of volume 8 of Halsbury's Laws of England—which I checked an hour ago—at paragraph 35 and the footnotes thereto, two other powers are germane to the issue? One is the power of Parliament to elect a monarch—a power that has never been withdrawn. Secondly, of course, there are the common law principles of hereditary succession. When the Prime Minister wrote, under the Statute of Westminster 1931, to Commonwealth countries, consulting them on changes in relation to succession to the throne, did he point out this fascinating constitutional conundrum?

My Lords, I rather wish I had checked, because if I had done so I would have had a far clearer answer to the noble Lord’s question. The noble Lord is of course entirely correct about the Statute of Westminster. As to the other parts of his research, perhaps I might have the opportunity of examining that outside the House.

My Lords, odd as it may sound, I congratulate the Government on their proposals to alter the arrangements for the succession to the Crown. The Leader of the House said there was no urgency in the matter, yet if a member of the Royal Family, such as Prince William, were to have a child in the near future, the issue would be affected by this. Will the noble Lord comment on this and accept that there is an urgency to get on with it?

No, My Lords, I did not say there was no urgency in this particular matter; but in the matter of hereditary Peers, which is entirely different. We accept that there is an opportunity here and, as the previous question demonstrated, any amendment to the line of succession involves consulting those member states of the Commonwealth in which the Queen is head of state under the Statute of Westminster. There would also need to be legislation. Next week, there is a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government and in the margins of that we hope to make progress on this issue.

My Lords, in following up the question of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and while undertaking further research, would my noble friend examine whether, if we elect the Monarch, we do so under a proportional system?

My Lords, without having to consult my colleagues, I am pretty clear that that would not be the case.

My Lords, I revert to the question of the succession of peerages. Will the Government please keep it in mind that, where there is already a male heir who has older sisters, a change in the law of succession to the eldest daughter could be damaging to relationships in the family?

My Lords, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is of course the only example in this House of a hereditary Peer who has inherited as a female. Many of us regard it as a good thing that the noble Lady is here. She is right in saying that if there were a more general change to the peerage, this would affect very many families and other people. The Monarchy is the highest office in the land in which we all have a major interest.