Succession to Peerages and Baronetcies Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 2:57 pm ar 9 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 2:57, 9 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I too must declare a personal interest in these matters. I am the seventh Earl Russell, and the last. My wife gave birth to two beautiful daughters, of whom I am very proud, and I have no male heirs or direct relatives. To be clear, I do not speak in favour of the continuation of the right of hereditary Peers to have a place in your Lordships’ House. I would vote in favour of my own abolition, as my father before me did.

No one wants to be the last of their own line. This is about a separate right for me to have a family life and to continue my family heritage. I will speak in favour of the Bill, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, for bringing it forward. I note the argument he made about the need for this to happen in stages. I thank others, both in Parliament and outside, who have campaigned for change on these issues. The Bill is a welcome step, and I support it as it allows women to inherit where there is no male heir. That is not possible at all under current legislation.

However, Clause 1(4) would establish that male heirs would be given preference in succeeding to the title over female heirs. It states:

“Within each group of siblings, males in order of birth and their issue are entitled to succeed before females in order of birth and their issue”.

Here I argue, as the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, has, in favour of the absolute need for women to have an equal right to inherit a peerage and the need for the Government to enact their own legislation to correct this quirk of history. I am aware that there are many other more pressing issues that the Government face, and it is easy for me to look overprivileged and self-centred in these matters. I make my case with some humility for the Government to take a step further to fully enable the right of female succession.

First, this is the right thing to do. This is the last dusty corner of sexism in a now much-changed and evolved modern world. Also, it is having real political impact. Today, according to my bad maths, some 11.6% of this upper Chamber is reserved exclusively for men and is occupied by them alone. I am here because I was born a man of my father. I love this place and am honoured to be here, but, at the same time, I feel embarrassed, frankly, to be the holder of a position that is reserved only for men. Now I am here, it is only right for me to call for equality for others.

Secondly, this is a relatively easy fix for the Government. Penny Mordaunt promised this a long time ago, and I do not think it is an overly complex or arduous task for the Government to achieve.

Thirdly, as others have said, it is likely that, at some point sooner or later, a legal case, either in our jurisdiction or in the European court, will end up making these changes. I kindly ask the Government to consider bringing forward their own legislation to take these matters forward.