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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 3:05 pm ar 9 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 3:05, 9 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I admire the determination of the Daughters’ Rights group behind this and that of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, himself in supporting his daughter by introducing this Private Member’s Bill. However, if I were invited to vote to end hereditary by-elections from the House today, I would do so, and not just as part of a wider reform. I belong to the group that was originally behind the Steel Bill, campaigning for gradual incremental reforms, some of which have been achieved. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has set a high standard for ridiculing these by-elections via a Private Member’s Bill, and they need to go. We need to look at the report by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on the size of the Lords, but the House is well-balanced, with enough Cross-Benchers, including some highly qualified hereditary Peers. We need a statutory HOLAC to rein in some of the appointments.

Why would I support a smaller Bill that is overshadowed by the much larger reform of removing all hereditary Peers? The glib answer is that it is right to support the Bill. Gender equality is far from being achieved in Parliament, and we should continue to encourage more women Members, in both Houses. Some of us still mourn the loss of our outspoken, and Scottish, colleagues, such as Lady Saltoun and the Countess of Mar—the last female Cross-Bench hereditary Peer, who made such an impact on the whole House.

The political answer, though, is that it is almost 25 years since 92 of us were elected from our own number, and it could easily be another 25 before such a major reform is achieved. Gordon Brown’s proposals attracted a lot of attention when they came out. That is not for discussion now, but I doubt they will become a priority for the Labour Party if it wins the election. So there could be plenty of time ahead for this campaign, even if the Bill fails.

The precedent set by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 is impressive and has strengthened the arm of campaigners. Why should not a similar arrangement now be made for daughters, perhaps involving a grant from the Crown itself? The petition route offered in the Bill is particularly attractive, and I hope the Minister will spend some time on that in her answer. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said in a previous debate that the 2013 Act should at least stimulate further scrutiny.

The legislation proposed could have a much wider effect. For example, it would reinforce the inheritance of female owners of estates where male primogeniture is still dominant. There are plenty of cases where women, as legal owners, are running properties with or without the aid of their husband or partner, and I can think of examples in this House.

Primogeniture itself is not an issue in the Bill. I know it is not a popular concept. I personally believe in it because it has enabled families to hold on to homes and collections for many generations that otherwise might have been broken up. Hereditary owners save historic buildings, and have even become allies of government, as custodians with a similar concern for restoration and conservation. However, I am aware that these plans do not always work out in practice, and families can suffer considerably in the event of disagreement.

The campaign for female succession must be encouraged, and has had approval, if not support, from within government at a high level. Harriett Baldwin’s Private Member’s Bill in another place attracted a lot of attention, while, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned, Penny Mordaunt referred to this as a “posh glass ceiling”. Even our own noble Lord, Lord True, seemed to be sympathetic, though could not actually support the Bill. Let us see if His Majesty’s Government can look more favourably on it this time.