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Page 1, line 5, leave out second ("a") and insert ("an")

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 20, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 63, 122 and 156. This is a matter of very considerable importance. It is one of a scholastic nature, at which I am not particularly expert. One wonders why one puts "a" hereditary as opposed to "an" hereditary. One talks and writes about "an" hotel and it is a perfectly normal thing to do when the word "a" precedes the letter "h".

Being a prudent kind of fellow, I tried to find the correct way of dealing with this matter. I looked in the second edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage, which states:

Noble Lords: The "h" is silent.

Earl Ferrers: Noble Lords keep saying "silent"; I am speaking.

    "(a history, an hour); an was formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning with h and is still often seen and heard (an historian, an hotel, an hysterical scene, an hereditary title, an habitual offender)". That comes from Fowler's Modern English Usage. I defy even the Government to beat that. I suggest that "an" is a more appropriate word to use than "a". I beg to move.

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Lord Henley: As the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip has made a guest appearance, I wonder whether I can make a brief guest appearance. I moved a similar though slightly different semantic amendment on a Home Office Bill with which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, was dealing. He accepted the semantic point I was making on that occasion. I wonder whether he will accept the semantic point being made by the noble Earl on this occasion?

Lord Newby: This is one of the most important issues we have discussed today. As part of my preparation for the debate I, too, looked up the usage of the words. I looked in Collins Dictionary which said that "an" was formerly often used before words that began with "h" and are unstressed on the first syllable. In British English this usage is now obsolescent. I could not believe that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, would indulge in obsolescent usage. I was therefore extremely surprised that he tabled the amendment. He rather condemned himself out of his own mouth because in his first speech this afternoon he talked about a singular hereditary Peer and he used the phrase "a hereditary Peer". It seems to me that he is more in tune with Collins Dictionary than with Fowler's. This amendment is ill thought through and, in view of his own repudiation of the usage earlier today, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Northesk: Perhaps I may make one brief point. I am gratified to note that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has spent a fair part of today's debate keeping count of how many times my noble friend Lord Ferrers used "a" as opposed to "an".

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I, too, studied Fowler's Modern English Usage--the second edition. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, knows perfectly well that one always ought to give a full citation. He and I were both brought up to do that. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said:

    "A is used before all consonants, except silent h (a history, an hour); an was formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning with h and is still often seen and heard (an historian ... an hereditary title). But now that the h in such words is pronounced the distinction has become anomalous and will no doubt disappear in time".

We do not want to overthrow precedents in this House. The phrase "a hereditary peerage"is to be found in the Peerage Act of 1963 and the Parliament (No. 2) Bill of 1968--I mention that for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne--which was the last attempt at reforming your Lordships' House. The Parliament Act 1911 in its preamble speaks of a second Chamber constituted on "a" popular instead of hereditary basis.

If the noble Earl had asked me for my personal opinion, I would have sided with him on the basis that one does not want to rush forward too quickly in altering the ways of pronunciation. Some people say "an"hereditary Peer. In fact the noble Earl was not as astute as always because on an earlier amendment I did myself fall into the gross error of saying "an" hereditary Peer but I hastily corrected myself so that he should not catch me.

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In all the circumstances, particularly as I am responsible for the amendment--the single word "but"--in the Government of Wales Bill, I think we ought to stick to "a" on this occasion. But it is a point to which we probably ought to return at Report stage and Third Reading!

Lord Goodhart: In view of the reference to something that is "anomalous and will no doubt disappear in time", does the noble Lord accept that "an" hereditary Peer is peculiarly appropriate?

Earl Ferrers: I was interested in the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Newby. The trouble is that he read the wrong book. If he had read Fowler's instead of Collins he would have come to a different conclusion. I was also fascinated that he should have done me the courtesy of counting whether I had used "a" or "an". It is perfectly true that I used "a", because when in Rome one does as the Romans do. The Bill uses "a". But I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, used "an" and I thought, "Hooray, hurrah, now here is a person who will accept my perfectly modest amendment". The noble Lord was generous enough to say that in his heart of hearts he would side with me. I suggest that he does side with me. This is a fairly important matter. The noble Lord continued with the quotation from Fowler's Modern English Usage that:

    "But now that the h in such words is pronounced the distinction has become anomalous and will no doubt disappear in time". That is speculative. The fact is that it is not anomalous at the moment and it suggests that "an" is the correct word, as the noble Lord incidentally and inadvertently used himself. This is an important matter. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

1.9 a.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 20) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 31; Not-Contents, 63.

Division No. 2


Anelay of St. Johns, B.
Annaly, L.
Berners, B.
Blatch, B.
Burnham, L.
Byford, B.
Chesham, L.
Clanwilliam, E.
Clinton, L.
Coleraine, L.
Coleridge, L.
Eden of Winton, L.
Ferrers, E. [Teller.]
Gray, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
Henley, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Iveagh, E.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
Mancroft, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Monson, L.
Mountevans, L.
Norrie, L.
Northesk, E.
Norton of Louth, L.
Stockton, E.
Trefgarne, L. [Teller.]
Trenchard, V.
Weir, V.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bach, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Blackstone, B.
Bragg, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Burlison, L.
Carlisle, E.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Chandos, V.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Crawley, B.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dubs, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Goodhart, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Hacking, L.
Hardie, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
McNair, L.
Monkswell, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Newby, L.
Nicol, B.
Pitkeathley, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sawyer, L.
Simon, V.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Thornton, B.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

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1.18 a.m.

[Amendments Nos. 21 to 23 not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

HFC Bank Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and referred to the Examiners.

        House adjourned at nineteen minutes past one o'clock.

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