Second Reading (Continued)

Part of Equality Bill – in the House of Lords at 8:52 pm on 15th December 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Hendon Baroness Miller of Hendon Conservative 8:52 pm, 15th December 2009

My noble friend is quite right. As I said, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked a Question in the House yesterday on the same point, but I was rather disappointed at the dismissive way in which the Minister responded. He said that,

"the Government are not aware of any great anxiety or urgent desire for change in this respect".-[Hansard, 14/12/09; col. 1310.]

If they are not aware that there is a problem, they are not listening. There are fewer than 120 women Peers-a serious disparity in itself, although that is another matter-a very large number of whom have no husband. It is clear that only a few people are really concerned about this matter, but I should not like to think that the Government are not interested in us because we are very small in number. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, does not think that, but I feel that it is something that the Government should look at. It is, in any case, a matter for royal prerogative, so perhaps we should not even be considering it. When I raised the matter in 1993, I was totally ignorant; now I have learnt a little more.

However, there is something that I think we could change. It is not a matter for regulation or legislation but perhaps a matter for the usual channels, and I think that we should change it because this is, after all, the senior House in the Parliament of our country and we should be the ones to show equality in practice. I refer to the allocation of places at State Opening and to where Peers sit in the Chamber. Wives can sit in the Chamber, adding to the glamour of the event, bedecked in their long gowns and many of them in tiaras. However, husbands are consigned either to the vertiginous height and narrow stairs of Strangers' Gallery or to the Royal Gallery, where they can see Her Majesty coming through but cannot hear a word of the Queen's Speech. Alternatively, they may, as my husband does, crouch round a television set in one of the offices here. The usual channels should look into that. It is not proper. We are not talking about a lot of people. Those husbands who would like to sit here should have the right to do so. Maybe they could be balloted or whatever. I have gone on for too long.

I end on a little note of levity on account of the fact that we have listened to some quite harrowing stories today, which is why I mentioned that I think that we need a change in the way we think about these things. It cannot all be legislated for. It has to be about how we behave ourselves.