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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Monckton Chronicles or More Moncktongate or the Lord Who Was Not

Lords distance themselves from climate sceptic Christopher Monckton

House of Lords steps up efforts to make Christopher Monckton stop claiming he is a member of the upper house

by Leo Hickman, The Guardian, August 11, 2010

The 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley

Christopher Monckton by his home at Carie Loch Rannoch, Scotland. Lord Monckton argues that the House of Lords Act 1999, which excluded hereditary peers from membership of the House of Lords, is 'defective'. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for The Guardian

The House of Lords has stepped up its efforts to make Christopher Monckton – climate sceptic and deputy leader of the UK Independence party (Ukip) – desist in his repeated claims that he is a member of the upper house. The push comes as Buckingham palace has also been drawn into the affair over his use of a logo similar to parliament's famous portcullis emblem.

Last month, Michael Pownall, clerk of the parliaments, wrote to Lord Monckton, a hereditary peer, stressing that he should not refer to himself as a member of the House of Lords, and nor should he use any emblem representing the portcullis.
official logo of Christopher Walter Monckton  
Official logo of the House of Lords (left) and that used by Christopher Monckton (right)  

In a letter seen by The Guardian, Monckton replied this week to Pownall stating that "the House of Lords Act 1999, which purported to exclude hereditary peers from membership of the House of Lords, is defective". Monckton argued that the act, which debarred all but 92 of the 650 hereditary peers, removed the right to sit or vote in the upper house, but did not remove membership because peerages are granted by "letters patent" which are a personal gift of the monarch. Monckton claimed in the letter that "only a specific law can annul a grant. The 1999 act was a general law."

The House of Lords said today it strongly rejects Monckton's interpretation. A spokeswoman said: "Lord Monckton is not and never has been a member of the House of Lords. The clerk of the parliaments has written to Lord Monckton, confirming that he has no association with the House and advising him to stop branding himself as such." She said Monckton's claim that the 1999 act was a general law was "misleading".

"The 1999 act does not remove letters patent, it just ends the right to be a member of the House by virtue of the hereditary peerage. The Act is pretty clear and uses the term 'membership' not the 'right to sit/vote'," she added.

The Guardian has learned that Pownall is now also seeking advice from the Lord Chamberlain, a key officer in the royal household, on the potential misuse of the portcullis emblem due to it being the property of the Queen.

Monckton argues his use of the portcullis emblem, which has appeared on his letterheads and lecture presentations, does not breach any rules: "My logo is not a registered badge of parliament, and is plainly distinct from parliament's badge in numerous material respects. The Lords do not use the portcullis at all on their notepaper: they use the Royal Arms within an elliptical cartouche."

A House of Lords spokeswoman said: "The emblem is property of the Queen, and Parliament has a Royal Licence granted for its use. Any misuse of the emblem by either members or non-members breaches this licence, and if a person refuses to stop using it the matter is drawn to the attention of the Lord Chamberlain, who is an Officer of the Royal Household. The Lord Chamberlain has been contacted regarding Lord Monckton's use of the emblem, and it will fall to him to follow up on any misuse of the emblem."

The spokeswoman added: "If, following the correspondence, Lord Monckton continues to claim to be a member of the House, then the House authorities would need to consider and assess what options are available to them."

Buckingham Palace confirmed it is "aware of this matter," but said it "can not disclose any details on private correspondence between Buckingham Palace and an individual." It did, though, guide the Guardian towards a document on its website which says misuse of the emblem is prohibited by the Trade Marks Act 1994, meaning Monckton could potentially be liable for fines and a six-month prison term if the Palace pursued the matter and successfully prosecuted him.

Monckton said he has yet to receive any correspondence from the Lord Chamberlain.

Monckton, a former Conservative party policy adviser who joined UKIP last year, has attracted repeated criticism for his claims that he is a member of the Lords. In May, when giving witness testimony upon the invitation of House Republicans to the US select committee on energy independence and global warming, Monckton was mocked by a Democratic congressman when asked whether he had ever served in the House of Lords. This followed an appearance at a congressional energy and commerce committee hearing in 2009 when Monckton began his testimony: "I bring fraternal greetings from the Mother of Parliaments to the Congress of your 'athletic democracy'."

In June, following the death of Viscount Colville of Culross, Monckton, as a qualifying hereditary peer, put his name forward as a candidate at the resulting byelection to find the replacement elected peer. However, he failed to secure a single vote among the 29 crossbench hereditary peers eligible to vote.


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