FOR hundreds of years, lords could only lose their title if the monarchy rubber-stamped an Act of Parliament.
It comes as no surprise then to find the last time the long and lengthy process was implemented was almost 100 years ago.
During the First World War, the Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Albany lost their peerages for committing treason by siding with the Germans against the United Kingdom.
King George V set up a committee of the Privy Council to name and report British peers who were seen as enemies of the UK during the war.
The council’s findings were then put before both Houses of the Parliament and, if there was no objection within 40 days, the report was passed to His Majesty.
Since then, if Parliament wanted to revoke a peer’s rights and title, the monarch had to issue a writ.
The issue has now been raised again.
David Finch, Tory leader of Essex County Council, announced he would write to the House of Lords asking them to start proceedings to remove Lord Hanningfield’s peerage.
The disgraced peer, real name Paul White, was sent to jail in 2011 for fiddling his expenses.
Since then, Essex County Council has been considering whether or not to chase him for a further £50,000 that the authority claims he wrongly spent on the council’s credit card.
The letter was the last throwof the dice for the council, which decided it was not worth chasing the money – spent between 2005 and 2010 – as it would probably cost them more money than they stood to recoup.
In recent weeks, Lord Hanningfield has come out fighting, insisting he had done nothing wrong.
However, in light of the fact a peerage has not been revoked in 100 years, what chance does the county council have of getting Lord Hanningfield stripped of his title?
Thanks to a new law, it is more likely than ever.
Among 24 newacts Parliament has passed this year is the House of Lords ReformAct.
It essentially means peers can have their titles removed for two reasons.
Firstly, if a peer fails to attend a whole session of Parliament and, secondly, if a peer is convicted of a serious criminal offence and is given a prison sentence of a year or more.
A House of Lords spokesman said the new rule had changed things considerably.
He said: “The changes brought in now bring the House of Lords into the same lines as the House of Commons.
“Previous to this, the only way a lord could be expelled is by a direct writ from the Queen.
“And it has happened before, as we have seen with the First World War.”
However, the reform act still has stringent measures in place for the house when considering if they should expel a lord.
In 2011, Lord Hanningfield was sentenced to nine months in jail for fiddling his expenses at the House of Lords.
However, he only spent 12 weeks of that sentence behind bars after being granted an early release.
The House of Lords spokesman said it was the sentence they took into account, and not the actual time spent in jail.
But as Lord Hanningfield was not sentenced to a year, the House of Lords Reform Act does not apply.
The spokesman said: “Lord Hanningfield was not sentenced to a year in prison and, as such, it wouldn’t be possible to have his peerage removed on that basis.”
He also added while the reform act had changed the rules, it does not act retrospectively – meaning only prison sentences given to lords from this year onwards would count.
Lord Hanningfield has already been suspended from the House of Lords for the rest of this year for not attending.
As his punishment is being carried out, and was recommended by the House of Lords, he would also not be considered for expulsion for that reason either.
Jamie Huntman, county councillor for Ukip, put forward the suggestion of removing Lord Hanningfield’s peerage to Essex County Council.
He said it was incredibly disappointing nothing could be done, but will still keep pushing for action to be taken.
He said: “It does make you wonder what else we can do.
“You would think it would be common sense that after everything that has happened the man should be removed.
“But this really does just mean he is untouchable.”
However, David Finch, leader of Essex County Council, has said he will continue to pursue Lord Hanningfield to have his title removed.
He said: “I am aware of what the law currently provides for in terms of removing a peerage, but laws can be changed.
“I have asked the Leader of the House of Lords and the Prime Minister to look at what more can be done, including whether it should be possible to strip a Peer of his or her title on the basis of misconduct, or bringing a public role into disrepute.”
Lord Hanningfield said he wants to carry on in his role at the House of Lords. He said: “They can’t strip me of my peerage.
It’s like getting married – you can’t get unmarried.
“It’s not like getting a knighthood or a CBE or something.
“At the moment there’s no way a peerage can be stripped.
“They’ve passed a law that if you spend a year in prison – you can be barred from the Lords.
“Jeffrey Archer was sentenced for four years, but I don’t think it applies to him because that’s in the past. It doesn’t apply to me because I wasn’t sentenced to a year. I want to go back. I’m 73 now and I’m still interested in doing things for people.
“When I was coming up to 70, I was still getting up at seven in the morning and not packing up until 11 or 12 at night. I can’t do that any more. And I’m not a politician any more.
“But I want to work in a more relaxed way and look at various issues.
“For example, I’m concerned about bees. The bee population is being poisoned by sprays. If there’s no pollination, we won’t have any food in the end. I want to look at those kind of issues, things I really care about.”