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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 3:01 pm ar 9 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Ceidwadwyr 3:01, 9 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I would not normally have expected to be in your Lordships’ House on a Friday and would not be if it were a question only of this particular Bill, but I have just been in the House for the debate on the conversion therapy Bill for five hours and I thought, as I was here, it would be worth staying on to discuss my noble friend’s Bill. He is aware that I cannot support it.

I abhor any form of sex discrimination, whether positive or negative, and I believe that, in principle, succession rights should not be confined to male heirs, as is the case with virtually all peerages and baronetcies. However, my noble friend’s Bill treats female offspring as second-class citizens. Under the Bill, daughters can inherit only if they have no brothers, and that is just not right. All that the Bill will do is entrench male dominance within families. It is misogynistic and it is the wrong direction of travel for our society.

Although I believe that, in principle, succession should be gender-neutral, I do not think it is of such great importance that it should take up the precious time allocated in your Lordships’ House for Private Members’ Bills. The issues addressed in the Bill do not affect the vast majority of the UK population, and I would rather this House focused on legislation, whether in Private Members’ Bills or in public Bills, on things that resonate with the public: crime, immigration, security and so on.

I say to my noble friend that it is an abuse of the Private Members’ Bill process to pursue private interests. My noble friend Lord Northbrook explained that he has a personal interest because of the composition of his own family, and he is using Parliament to further that private interest.

I am mystified by the retrospective element of the Bill. I personally am entirely comfortable with hereditary peerages becoming extinct. They serve no useful purpose in society, and their gradual disappearance would be mourned by few. But I would not waste any legislative time seeking to abolish them—as and when they die out, that would be fine. I have no idea why my noble friend has selected 6 February 1952 as the cut-off point—it seems somewhat arbitrary to me—but doubtless we can explore both the need for retrospection and the significance of the chosen date if the Bill proceeds to Committee.

As I have mentioned privately to my noble friend, a Committee would also need to examine what a “group of siblings” is, as mentioned in the offensive Clause 1(4). If a Peer marries several times, are all his children in one group of siblings, even if they have never met one another, or is the question of what constitutes a group of siblings to be determined as a question of fact in relation to each succession? Either way, that does not seem satisfactory.

This is a bad Bill that should not be given time in your Lordships’ House. If my noble friend seeks a Committee stage, I am sure the House will know what to do with it.