Lv 4
leabee asked in Society & CultureRoyalty · 7 years ago

can a British peer give up his title?

For a fictional story, I'd like to have an Earl consider abandoning his title and letting it pass to his heir while he is still living. Is this possible?

9 Answers

  • Anonymous
    7 years ago
    Favourite answer

    They can give up their title but cannot pass it on to their heir until they are dead, Quintin Hogg, Tony Benn and Sir Alec Douglas Home all took advantage of the new act. Tony Benn, unlike Hogg and Home, didn't apply to have his peerage reinstated after he left the House of Commons and is still untitled as Tony Benn.

  • ?
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    The relevant law is the Peerage Act 1963, which allows a peer who has newly succeeded to the title twelve months to "disclaim" it. If he doesn't do it in that first year, he can't do it at all. His heir does not get it then, the title goes into a sort of limbo and can't be used by anyone until the disclaimed peer dies.

    Previous answers mention Tony Benn. He is the reason for the Act. He became Viscount Stansgate when his father died in 1960 and therefore became disqualified from sitting as an MP. There had to be a by-election to elect a replacement, he stood in it, and won. The man who came second was declared elected because Benn was disqualified. He continued campaigning about it and eventually the government gave in and introduced the Peerage Act. Benn is quite a character, as you can imagine! He only gave up being an MP after 50 years, in 2001, as he said, "to spend more time on politics". He's 88 now and still unstoppable. For now there is no Viscount Stansgate, but when he dies, his eldest son Stephen will get the title.

    So that's the whole point of it really: at that time, Lords had to sit in the House of Lords and if they wanted to continue a career in the House of Commons, they couldn't. Benn made it possible. And that's the only reason the Act has ever been used - to allow a Lord to become an MP. Lord Home and Lord Hailsham did it in 1964 to make it easier for them to be considered for the post of Prime Minister. There's no British constitutional rule that says the Prime Minister can't be a Lord, but the last time that happened was in 1902 and it's expected that the Prime Minister should be an elected MP.

    The only other way a peer can be deprived of his title is for the Queen to remove it - what the Queen gives, the Queen can take away. She'd only do this to a traitor. But that's a total removal and his heir still wouldn't get it - so that still doesn't fit your story.

  • 7 years ago


    The Peerages Act 1963 does allow a peer to disclaim their title, but it goes into abeyance rather than being outright abolished. The eldest of the peer's heirs will inherit the title upon the peer's death.

    A good example is Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Lord Home of the Hirsel. He was originally the Earl of Home until he unexpectedly became Prime Minister in 1963. Since Tony Benn's dilemma had caused the Peerages Act 1963 to come into force earlier that year, Lord Home disclaimed his Earldom and ran for election to the House of Commons so that the PM was drawn from the Commons rather than from the Lords.

    He returned to the House of Lords in 1974 as a life peer, being created Baron Home of the Hirsel. When he died, his son became the 15th Earl of Home.

    The only way an Earl could allow his title to pass to his heir while still alive would be for the Queen to revoke the Letters Patent creating him an Earl in the first place and reissue them to his son.

    Peerages usually only pass to the heir upon death. Peers found guilty of treason do have their peerages revoked, that's true, but usually their heirs do not inherit the peerage as it is considered tainted.

    The only other way for your fictional Earl to pass his title while still alive would be to become King. When a holder of a peerage ascends the Throne, their titles are absorbed into the Crown (e.g when William ascends the Throne the Duchy of Cambridge will be resumed by the Crown and won't pass automatically to his son). As King, your Earl could simply pass the title by recreating it.

  • Anonymous
    7 years ago

    No, a peer can give up his title but it will not pass to his heir whilst he's still alive e.g. Tony Benn (aka Anthony Wedgewood Benn) disclaimed his title of Viscount Stansgate in 1963 (on the first day that it became possible), on his death the title will pass to his oldest son - Stephen.

    However, the main reason for giving up a hereditary title was to enter the House of Commons, with the reform of the House of Lords, it is now possible for a herditary peer to be elected to the House of Commons without giving up the title.

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  • Clo
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    Yes. No, the peer still has to die in order for the title to go on to the heir, though, so this scenario would be fictional-- but you are writing fiction. You could place a disclaimer in the front of the book stating how you changed some laws as other writers have done.

  • 7 years ago

    Anthony Neil Wedgwood "Tony" Benn, PC (born 3 April 1925), formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate,

    Benn's campaign to renounce his hereditary peerage was instrumental in the creation of the Peerage Act 1963.

  • Bilbo
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    Certainly can't do it the way you are suggesting, I'm afraid (assuming you are doing this in the UK) - as witness the transformation of Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Viscount Stansgate into Tony Benn MP - a cause celebre at the time (since peeers cannot sit in the commons as MPs) and resulted in the Peerages Act of 1963. The law had to be changed as he was for a time an elected MP who was a peer and so could not take his seat.

    But his eldest son can only succeed to the disclaimed title upon Tony Benn's death.

  • Aggy
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    Indeed they can. In the UK the Prime Minister should be a commoner and sit in the House of Commons. In the 1960 Lord Home became PM and resigned his peerage so he could sit in the Commons.


    Lord Stansgate did a similar thing albeit not to become PM but to sit as an MP.


    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. So in your case the next in line would not inherit the title until after the Peer disclaimng the title had died.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peerage_Act_1963 (see Paragraph "Disclaiming Peerages").

  • 7 years ago

    Kind of. You can disclaim a peerage, but it won't go to the heir straight away. It is basically 'hidden' - the person in question won't be called lord such and such, but he will still essentially BE the lord - his title won't be passed to whoever until he dies. However if the heir was called the honourable whoever they can still be called as such, regardless of their father's title.

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