Second Reading

Part of Equality (Titles) Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 12:56 pm on 25th October 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 12:56 pm, 25th October 2013

Hear, hear to that. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for his introduction of the Bill. No one is more qualified than the noble Lord to raise the issue of male primogeniture and the related matters in the Bill.

I intend to be brief. As the party that has, for more than 50 years, introduced almost all of the legislation that addresses inequality and discrimination, how could Labour be anything but in support of the principle behind this Private Member’s Bill? I agree that it is really quite a modest Bill and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, when he says that the world will not stop turning if the Bill is agreed. My own personal views definitely lean towards those of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, when it comes to this whole issue.

The Equality Act 2006 created a public duty to promote equality on the grounds of gender. Can the Minister explain why our UK aristocracy should be allowed a special or protected status? Surely the law is the law for all of us. Male primogeniture is simply unacceptable. There is no justification for gender discrimination in our society. Other noble Lords have delved into the history of wealth and property that has led us to the unfairness of the current old-fashioned inheritance practices. Surely, after the successful passage of the Succession to the Crown Bill, which introduced gender equality into the succession for the head of state, this Bill’s objectives are most timely. Indeed, this issue peppered the debates on the Bill as it went through the House earlier this year.

I thank Victoria Lambert and others who have written to me about the Bill. I received a lot of letters from fathers and daughters about it and thought it might be worth putting on the record the names of some of those who have written, as it is a very impressive Bill. I thank Lady Willa Franks, Lady Daisy Fane, Sir Michael Leighton, Sir Nicholas Stuart Taylor and Virginia Stuart-Taylor, my noble friend Lord Simon and Fiona Simon, Liza Campbell, the Earl of Westmorland, the honourable Amanda Murray, the Duke of Leinster, Lady Francesca Fitzgerald, Aliki Currimjee—neé Boothby—and Rose Baring, to name but a few.

In the letters, the fathers explain that they wish their daughter, as the oldest child, to inherit the title and the female oldest children say that it is time to end this archaic practice. All intend to contest male primogeniture in the European Court of Human Rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, and Article 1 of Protocol 1, which confers the right to peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions. I would be interested to know whether the Minister has considered these statutes and how they might apply under the circumstances.

I am the oldest daughter, albeit of a plumber, it has to be said. I think that my younger brother, who is the next one down of the seven of us—six girls and one boy—would find the idea that he would take precedence above me as ridiculous an idea as I would. I might therefore claim to be an honorary member of the Hares. I am told that the Hares have attracted some attention in high places and been told to desist from what they are doing. As a lifelong feminist, all I can say to them is, “Sisters, you are probably right and the ruder the opposition gets, the more right you probably are. Stick with it”.

I wish the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, success with this issue and will be interested to hear from the Minister whether the Government will support him in this matter of equal rights.