Viscountcy of Stansgate

Petition – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 1960.

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Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East 12:00 am, 29th November 1960

Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to present a Petition from Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn. It shows that his membership of this House has been placed in jeopardy by the death of his father, the late Viscount Stansgate. The Petition closes with this prayer: Wherefore your Petitioner most humbly prays that your honourable House will immediately take into consideration your Petitioner's present personal grievance and appoint a Select Committee to examine and report on the submission of your Petitioner that he is and/or should remain a Member of the Commons House of Parliament for so long as he may be elected to serve as a Member of Parliament and to grant him such other relief as it may think fit and proper.And your Petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

I ask that the Petition be read by the Clerk.

The Clerk of the House:

read the Petition, which was as follows:

To The Honourable The Commons of the United Kingdom a Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled:

The Humble Petition of the undersigned Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn

SHEWETH: That the Letters Patent creating the Viscountcy of Stansgate provided inter alia that the heir male lawfully begotten should succeed to the title on the demise of the first Viscount:That the practice under which Peers of the Realm by inheritance have been held to be disqualified from sitting and voting in the Commons House of Parliament even if they have not received writs of summons calling them up to the House of Peers has never been laid down by statute nor has it been judicially determined:That the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the City and County of Bristol have petitioned both the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons House of Parliament humbly praying that the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn may be enabled to continue to serve Her Majesty's loyal subjects, the Burgesses of Bristol, as a commoner in the Commons House of Parliament for so long as he may be elected as one of their representatives according to law:That the heir male, the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, a Member of the Commons House of Parliament, has executed an instrument of renunciation of the Viscountcy of Stansgate:That the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, has inter alia conferred a statutory right on Members of the House of Commons to refuse to accept places which would disqualify them from sitting in the House of Commons:That a writ of summons to attend the House of Peers from the Crown addressed to the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn would raise prima facie questions of privilege in depriving him of his seat in the House:That until Her Majesty by writ of summons calls the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn up to the House of Peers he cannot lose his right to sit in the House of Commons: WHEREFORE Your Petitioner most humbly prays that your honourable House will immediately take into consideration your Petitioner's present personal grievance and appoint a Select Committee to examine and report on the submission of your Petitioner that he is and/or should remain a Member of the Commons House of Parliament for so long as he may be elected to serve as a Member of Parliament and to grant him such other relief as it may think fit and proper.And your Petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.: Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, 12, Holland Park Avenue, London, West 11.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I beg to move, That the matter of the Petition be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Does this mean that the Committee of Privileges will be considering only the narrower issue of privilege, or will it be considering the wider questions raised in the Petition?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have given consideration to this matter. In view of the paragraph in the Petition which states … would raise prima facie questions of privilege in depriving him of his seat in the House it was, naturally, my first reaction that it should go to the Committee of Privileges. The best advice I have received is that that would be correct.

Exactly what happens in the Committee of Privileges in relation to the whole Petition must be a matter for the Committee of Privileges. The fact that it is going to that Committee does not preclude future action in the matter. I am, however, quite clear that constitutionally the right course is that it should go first to the Committee of Privileges in view of this paragraph in the Petition. I hope that we shall get the maximum advice from the Committee, but that must be a matter for the Committee sitting and reporting to this House, after which the matter can be considered by the House.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

In accepting that the matter should go to the Committee of Privileges, I should like to say that we are not ruling out that either there or somewhere else the wider issue should be considered.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

While I am fully in favour of the course which the Leader of the House has proposed, I should like to be satisfied at this stage that the Report of the Committee of Privileges on this matter will be presented in due course to the House of Commons, and that this House will have the opportunity of debating any recommendations which the Committee of Privileges may make.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I should certainly give that assurance. It is clear that we cannot dismiss the matter summarily. There has been a great deal of interest aroused, not only in this House, but elsewhere, and it is quite clear that the only precedent we find for this matter was referred to a Select Committee. In this case, we are referring it to the Committee of Privileges for the reasons I have given, but it is equally clear that the Report of the Committee of Privileges will return to this House and it is on that occasion that there should be an opportunity for proper discussion.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire

I take it from the right hon. Gentleman that the Select Committee will be authorised or able to consult, say, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on the legal questions that will be embodied in the Report?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have no doubt that in examining the matter, the Committee of Privileges will have regard to the Committee of Privileges of another place, which may or may not come in, and would certainly take into consideration the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,That the matter of the Petition be referred to the Committee of Privileges.