Is William (the Earl of) Dartmouth MEP renouncing his peerage and title? - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Is William (the Earl of) Dartmouth MEP renouncing his peerage and title?

Saturday, 13 November 2010
A new blog post appeared on the BBC last Wednesday night penned by the Politics Show South West presenter Martyn Oates in which he discusses the “curious case of the disappearing peerage” and speculates the South West MEP William Dartmouth is renouncing his peerage.

William (the Earl of) Dartmouth MEP - a commissioned portrait as painted by Fanny Rush (fannyrush.com/portraits/dartmouth.html)While often in the shadows of Nigel Farage, his party leader, William (the Earl of) Dartmouth to give his full title, is one of the most flamboyant members in the European Parliament (who can forget his outburst at Catherine Ashton?). But is the 10th Earl of Dartmouth, or the “Earl of Independence” as he calls himself, set to renounce his life peerage, passed down through his family for three centuries?

I’m not so sure; instead I think that he is just referred to in this way for journalistic and linguistic convenience. Certainly in my experience, I recall him being referred to as Mr Dartmouth rather than William (the Earl of) Dartmouth each time and UKIP’s own website lists him as just “William Dartmouth”. That said, he is announced as “the Earl of Dartmouth” when called to speak in parliamentary debates (see here for example).

Martyn Oates’s blog also hints at a potential future turn of career with a campaign to run for the House of Commons with its reference to the House of Lords Act 1999 and the former Labour MP Tony Benn, who plays a key role in this story. But under the current law, Mr Dartmouth is not required to renounce his peerage if he wanted to swap Brussels for Westminster, so it does not qualify as an explanation.

Together with the Peerage Act of 1963, the House of Lords Act 1999 allowed those who inherited hereditary peerages to sit in the lower house of Parliament. Under British law at the time, peers of the United Kingdom were automatically members of the House of Lords and could not sit in, or vote in elections for, the House of Commons.

Mr Benn was elected to the House of Commons in 1950, he was heir apparent to a peerage (Viscount Stansgate) and did not intend to leave it for the other House, so he campaigned through the 1950s for a change in the law. When in 1960 the first Viscount died and Tony Benn inherited the title, he automatically lost his seat in the Commons but in the ensuing by-election was nonetheless re-elected to the House despite being disqualified. This turn of events led to the 1963 Act.

Some years later, and as the Labour Party under Tony Blair attempted to reform the upper House, the House of Lords Act 1999 was passed. This Act meant hereditary peers, such as the Earl of Dartmouth, would be barred from duties in the House of Lords but could stand to become an MP in the House of Commons; or could remain in the Commons if they inherit titles that would once have put them in the Lords.

Serving as proof, John Thurso (full title: John Archibald Sinclair, 3rd Viscount Thurso) the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, today sits in the Commons as did the former MPs Michael Ancram and Douglas Hogg. Indeed, the Electoral Commission when listing what disqualifies a candidate from standing only states that peers “who sit and can vote in the House of Lords” are disqualified.

So do I think Mr Dartmouth is renouncing his peerage? No I don’t. I personally cannot see any reason why he would renounce a peerage that has been passed down within his family for 300 years – especially when he does not even have to in order to run for a seat in the House of Commons, should he ever decide to. But then again this is politics and stranger things have happened


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3 Comment(s):
Blogger Jonathan said...
You are quite correct, but then it's no surprise as the BBC doesn't have a clue when it comes to peerage titles. There's nothing to stop a peer from referring to himself as "Mr" if he so chooses (with whatever "surname" he chooses). It doesn't mean he's renounced his title. For example, Mr Thurso, Mr Ancram, Mr Hogg.

Just one small point I have to pick up on. Tony Benn was the heir apparent to his father viscountcy by 1950 after his brother was killed in action in the war. I see Wikipedia also uses the work "presumptive" but I'm minded to change that now.

Blogger Andrew said...
Thanks for your comment Jonathan. I did indeed read the "heir presumptive" phrase on Wikipedia although I checked in other media and found it there believing it to be the actual way to express this. I shall adapt as you suggest as I prefer it!

Blogger Jonathan said...
After I left the comment, I realised that peerages can only be disclaimed under the 1963 Act up to 12 months after succession. So legally it isn't possible for him to renounce the peerage anyway!

(I could have done with proofreading my comment too!)

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