Letters - Without peerage

Andy McSmith's profile of Hilary Benn (20 October) refers to Hilary accompanying his father on daily visits to the high court when Tony Benn successfully sought to renounce his inherited peerage and hold on to his Bristol South-East seat in the Commons. But the judges do not deserve the credit that McSmith gives them.

What happened was that after Tony Benn succeeded to the Stansgate peerage, a by-election was called. Benn was the clear winner, but his Tory opponent, Malcolm St Clair, successfully petitioned the high court to the effect that Benn was disqualified from election to the Commons and votes cast for him were "thrown away". The court declared St Clair to be the MP for Bristol South-East.

Tony Benn had to wait for legislation - the Peerage Act 1963 - before he could lawfully renounce his peerage. St Clair courteously resigned as MP as soon as the act was passed, and Benn was duly elected once again at the 1963 by-election. When the time comes for Hilary Benn to succeed to the Stansgate peerage, the House of Lords Act 1999 allows him to remain in the Commons whether he renounces his peerage or not.

Gordon Borrie QC
House of Lords
London SW1