Novel modes of address…

Among my mail today was a letter addressed to ‘Philip Norton M.P., House of Lords’.  Another was addressed ‘Lord Phillip Norton of Louth MP, House of Commons’.   The first was understandable.   Most people do not have a great understanding of Parliament and certainly not of the mode of address for members of the two Houses.  The letter was from an elderly lady writing on a serious point and it was the sort of letter I was pleased to received.  However, the second was from a university, sending its annual report.  Some universities (including, of course, Hull) are well versed in how to make contact with parliamentarians and the correct mode of address.  It appears some, though, may need to send their information officers on a crash course on Parliament.  I did notice that it was one of the minority of universities not to have a peer as its Chancellor!


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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10 Responses to Novel modes of address…

  1. Jonathan says:

    No doubt the university circular was the result of some sort of mail merge. Computers make even more of a mess of titles than many humans. The more puzzling aspect of it is that it was addressed to the Commons. As a separate address with its own postcode, it’s lucky the letter wasn’t returned “Not known at this address”.

    I’m not sure a peer as Chancellor means the university knows how to address him. I’ve seen examples that prove otherwise, just as I know a certain company with a peer as its chairman who don’t know how to address him correctly.

    • franksummers3ba says:

      Lord Norton – Human of Earth,
      Like the line of address abroad this comment will be too long and too broad. It is commendable that Your Lordship is willing to bring up this thankless subject.

      I believe Jonathan is likely right. Someone set up a file to stick “MP House of Commons” on the end of any parliamentarian’s names. But that does not seem to excuse much. The really amazing abuses will come (or may exist) when robot callers uses a few chips to develop their own calls to Your Lordship’s home. “Your Lordship” may be antiquated but is not novel.

      Perhaps you find my form of address on the line above this comment annoying but it is not annoying in usage and wrong in indication. In the case of a category merge where the name does not belong to the later words indicating the category it is both. The only other possibility for MP could apply to the other letter (although it is unlikely, even extremely so) the writer may desire to have both houses recommended as being members of parliament by addressing them as Members of Parliament. Such protests fail 999 times out of 1,000 but do create changes in usage.

      Living in the many secular republics of the world some people resort deliberately to something they hate such as naming an office not used in addresses as better than the alternative of first name address. This at least you need not deal with daily. You are a lord and can be addressed as Lord, are a professor and could have been adressed as Professor. But for many it is an ugly thing more similar to calling you “Peer Norton” on meeting. But overseas the speaker may know that the only real option is something close to Phil. Sometimes, I think Brits have a hard time seeing formalist conservatives anywhere as the underdogs and yet those of such an orientation often have been.

      A group with which my family have had some relations for many years but with whom we differ on many issues as well has put out a number of books which address the function and consequences of such forms in a variety of contexts.
      The truth is that if one accepts the premise of John Cardinal Newman and others that in matters of address and other matters a properly eduated gentleman does not offend anyone unintentionaly. Only insulting where careful determination has been made that an insult is needed distinguished the gentleman in that test. That may not be my definition of the genteel but if it were then I will assure any who care to believe me that our era has very few gentlemen who meet that test. A shrinking world has combined with huge loss of interest in the project means that most people of substance feel ill used in international dialogue a large part of the time.

    • Croft says:

      If they are a ‘new university’ the temptation to start any return communication with ‘Polytechnic’ seems high, after all if they can’t get your name right why should you bother with theirs!

      I’m not sure mail merge quite explains it all as someone would have needed to incorrectly add ‘Lord’ in the Mr/Mrs field which almost guarantees problems.

      Then again I tend to open mail from my council with an expectation that there seems a direct relationship between the number of flashy photos and colours in the leaflets they send me and the number of basic errors.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Jonathan: I agree that having a peer as Chancellor is not a guarantee that the institution will know how to address him or her. Indeed, I know some peers who are not well versed on how to address other peers – and indeed themselves, when you see some of the headed notepaper: some use their forename (Lord Fred Bloggs) and some use the prefix The Right Honourable even though not members of the Privy Council (though we entitled to be so styled, it is not regarded as the done thing).

      • Croft says:

        The MoJ doesn’t use the style but by what authority I have no idea – the style was used officially by government by centuries but seems to have been discouraged in recent times without any royal authority for a change I can find.

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        Croft, I see this trend as indicative of the Peerage’s fall in status over the 20th century, and the associated loss of prestige and influence which the House of Lords has suffered. Along with the decreasing use of honorifics, the developing practice regarding the style of “Rt Hon.” seems to imply that being a member of the political establishment is more important than the out-fashioned honour of being a peer. However, the House of Lords Act 1999 has, rather unexpectedly, given a second chance to an unelected upper house to prove its worth to the country. Even if ordinary usage of the style in question is not restored to peers (though I understand it accompanies their full name in legal documents and will presumably continue to do so, in contrast to Privy Counsellors), it is my hope that the increasingly appointed peerage will, in time, come to be associated with the same excellence that was honoured by the granting of hereditary titles to their original holders. This way we’d return to a state of affairs whereby being a peer meant being a legislator—sans the hereditary element—and the style “Lord” or “Baroness” would offer as immediate a recognisability of the holder’s status as the style “Senator” does in other countries. Provided that the House of Lords survives current government efforts, that is, and is allowed to improve its own appointments process.

  2. Carl.H says:

    C`mon who actually addresses a letter correctly nowadays, certainly not any govervnment department, company or other that I`ve received mail from in a very long time.

    All that time I spent with Mrs.Pillay in English wasted, no commas or full stops, nothing. Does it get to the person it was intended ? If not we definitely posted it and the fact you haven`t received it is your problem and you now owe us “x” extra. Local authorities are very good at this one, along with sending back very personal data such as birth certificates, wage slips etc., by normal “go missing” post.

    • Lord Norton says:

      I think it is a sign of attention to detail if a letter is correctly addressed. I know people get irritated if their names appear incorrectly. For the purpose of influencing parliamentarians, it is important to show that the letter is personally directed at the recipient and not some circular. Letters that open ‘Dear MP/peer’ are not exactly going to achieve instant attention. The first letter that I received that was incorrectly addressed was at least handwritten, whereas the second was machine generated.

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