3rd Viscount of Brenchley, King of Fantasyland
B. R. Bickmore
Recently, Lord Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley, visited my town (Orem, Utah, USA) to deliver a speech about how global warming isn’t really a problem. Monckton has no scientific credentials, but he is a widely known “climate skeptic” who claims to overturn decades of research in climate science.
After his speech, a biologist who was attracted to Monckton initiated an e-mail conversation that included a number of scientists in the area (including me) and Lord Monckton. This conversation prompted me to do a little research into His Lordship’s scientific claims, including his famous graphs that claim to show that the IPCC predictions of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and temperature are way off. It turned out the “IPCC Predictions” Monckton plots on his graphs are pure fantasy.
This was no big surprise to me, because previous research on the Internet had revealed that Monckton has a reputation for making things up whenever it suits him. He lied about his personal circumstances as a marketing ploy for a puzzle he created. When George Monbiot of The Guardian wrote a column about the fact that climatologists consider Lord Monckton’s claims about climate change to be pseudoscientific gibberish, His Lordship wrote several letters threatening to sue the paper for libel. Nothing ever came of that, except that Lord Monckton (or somebody pretending to be him and using his personal computer) tried to alter his Wikipedia page to say that he had won a £50,000 settlement from the Guardian. Monbiot conducted an interesting interrogation of Monckton about this incident, via e-mail.
The real shocker for me, however, was that His Lordship has gone about falsely claiming to be a member of the House of Lords (the upper house of the U.K. Parliament) to enhance his credibility as a voice in the climate debate. For example, in a 2006 open letter to Senators Olympia Snowe and John Rockefeller, Monckton said, “Finally, you may wonder why it is that a member of the Upper House of the United Kingdom legislature, wholly unconnected with and unpaid by the corporation that is the victim of your lamentable letter, should take the unusual step of calling upon you as members of the Upper House of the United States legislature either to withdraw what you have written or resign your sinecures.” (Click here to read the full text of the letter. You will find the quotation on p. 7.) When Monckton testified before the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2009, he said, “I BRING fraternal greetings from the Mother of Parliaments to the Congress of your ‘athletic democracy’”. As has been pointed out by others, anyone can check the official list of members of the House of Lords, and they will not find Monckton’s name there.
Naturally, I thought it would be fun to bring up Monckton’s false claim to be a member of Parliament in the e-mail conversation we both participated in. His response was, “I am a member of the House of Lords, though without the right to sit or vote, and I have never suggested otherwise.”(1) If you don’t believe me, Monckton made essentially the same claim here.
Here’s a question. If the science behind the scare is as certain as the zombies say, why are they so terrified of a few doubters? Google me and you’ll find hundreds of enviro-loony websites, such as Wikipedia, now an international music-hall joke for inaccuracy, that call me a fraud (for writing about climate science when I’m not a climate scientist), a plagiarist (for citing learned papers rather than making up scare stories), and a liar (for saying I’m a member of the House of Lords when – er – I’m a member of the House of Lords, though, being merely hereditary, I don’t have a seat there).
I had to pause and reflect when I saw this response. Could it be true that there is some class of “honorary” members of the House of Lords who don’t have the right to a seat and a vote? Let’s face facts. I’m no expert on the arcane rules of British nobility.
Lord Monckton was adamant about not answering any further queries about his status in the House of Lords, however. In fact, he lambasted me for resorting to ad hominem arguments and threatened to pull strings to get the president of my university to launch an investigation into my “unacademic behavior.” (2)
I started researching the question, and found that before 1999 there were several hundred hereditary peers (Lords, Viscounts, Barons, and so forth) who were automatically included as members of the House of Lords based on their hereditary titles. However, Parliament passed the House of Lords Act 1999, which reduced the number of hereditary peers with seats in the House of Lords to 92. If one of those 92 vacates his or her seat, the other hereditary peers (including Lord Monckton) can be elected to the seat. Monckton has run for one of these vacant seats in the past, but did not receive any votes. The official British Government explanation of the House of Lords Act 1999 details all of this, but goes on to explain that the hereditary peers excluded from sitting and voting in the House are also excluded from ALL privileges of membership in the House of Lords. Paragraphs 5, 7, and 9 are especially relevant.
5. The main provision of the Act restricts membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. No present or future holders of a hereditary peerage in the peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom, or their heirs, have the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords by virtue of that peerage, or to sit and vote in committees of the House, or to speak in the House, or to receive a writ of summons, unless they are excepted from this general exclusion by section 2 of the Act….
7. The Act deprives excluded hereditary peers of all the privileges of membership of the House of Lords, including the privileges they enjoyed as members of Parliament. Parliamentary privileges cover various matters, many of which relate to the House of Lords as a whole (such as punishing improper conduct within the House itself), but include some that are personal to individual peers. One of the most important personal privileges is that no action can be taken against a peer for what he or she may say in Parliament. Hereditary peers excluded by the Act also lose the right to be paid allowances and to use the facilities of the House that are available to members, such as its library, research and restaurant facilities. The removal of these rights does not prevent the House from deciding to grant some rights to use the facilities of the House to a hereditary peer under the exercise of its own authority….
9. The Act does not affect the rights of holders of a hereditary peerage excluded from the House of Lords to keep all the other titles, rights, offices, privileges and precedents attaching to the peerage which are unconnected with membership of the House of Lords.
In other words, the guy not only isn’t a member, he can’t even get a library card at the House of Lords. Just to be sure, I sent a query to the Information Office at the House of Lords, and got the following reply.
From: House Of Lords Information Office <HOLINFO@parliament.uk>
Date: April 8, 2010 4:47:24 AM MDT
To: Barry Bickmore [Address Removed]
Subject: RE: Lord Monckton of Brenchley - Parliament website feedback
Thank you for your email.
Christopher Monckton is not and has never been a Member of the House of Lords. There is no such thing as a “non-voting” or “honorary” member.
Christopher Monkton’s father, the 2nd Viscount Monckton, was a Member of the Lords until 1999. The House of Lords Act 1999 ended the automatic link between the holding of a hereditary peerage and membership of the House of Lords, and the 2nd Lord Monckton ceased to be a member of the House at that point.
Christopher Monckton is the 3rd Viscount Monckton and inherited the title following his father’s death in 2006. He has never sat in the House.
Since 1999 92 hereditary peers have remained as members of the House; these 92 hereditary peers were originally elected by the House in 1999, and any vacancy arising as a result of the death of one of the 92 is now filled by means of a by-election. All hereditary peers who are not members, including Lord Monckton, are entitled to stand as candidates in such by-elections. Since succeeding to his title in 2006 Lord Monckton has stood, unsuccessfully, in three by-elections.
On your final question, so far as we are aware it is not in itself an offence to pretend to be a member of the House. The House of Lords has no jurisdiction over non-members, unless they are guilty of a “contempt”, that is to say an action which impedes or obstructs the House in the performance of its functions. There is thus no procedure whereby the House could “censure” Lord Monckton.
For more information about the Membership of the House of Lords and the House of Lord Act 1999 please visit the following link to the parliament website:
We hope this information is of use.
House of Lords
London SW1A 0PW
020 7219 3107
Since that last nail was put in the coffin, I haven’t heard a word from Lord Monckton.
The moral of this story is not that amateurs should stay out of the debate about climate change. I have a PhD in geochemistry, but I’m an amateur in climate science, after all. Neither is it that skeptics like Lord Monckton never raise any reasonable points. Rather, the moral is that when you see a complete amateur raising objections about a highly technical subject, claiming he or she has blown the lid off several decades of research in the discipline, you should be highly suspicious. Most people like that turn out to be crackpots, i.e., people who have memorized scads of information, but don’t have the patience or humility to learn how to properly process it. They live in a sort of fantasy world where they have reached the pinnacle of intellectual prowess, and easily defeat their opponents in debate, mainly because crackpots cannot fathom any criticism of their own work.
Many people listen to crackpots like Lord Monckton when it comes to climate science, because a) they don’t trust anything that smacks of environmentalism, and b) they don’t have the background knowledge to tell real science from pseudoscience. However, in this case Lord Monckton has done us the service of making several false claims about non-technical subjects that anyone can easily understand. At least it should be clear to anyone that Monckton should not be treated as a trusted source of information.
1. Lord Christopher Monckton, e-mail to B.R. Bickmore and 21 others, April 1, 2010.
2. Lord Christopher Monckton, e-mails to B.R. Bickmore and 21 others, April 1 and April 3, 2010.