HL Deb 05 February 1987 vol 484 cc326-8

3.9 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, following the enactment of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the recent revival of creations of hereditary Peerages, they will take steps to enable hereditary Peerages created in future to descend to females, and to provide that the eldest child of whatever sex will inherit.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the Government have no present plans to extend the Act to this area or to take other steps to change the system.

Lord Diamond: My Lords, is that not a very unsatisfactory Answer for the House of Lords to accept? How can the noble Earl possibly justify a continuation of the present practice which so blatantly discriminates against women when we all recently spent a good deal of time tightening up the law on sex discrimination and when the early Baronies by Writ and some Scottish Peerages already allow for succession by women where there is no male heir? Also, we enjoy a situation in which Her Majesty is not only our Queen but is accepted as such by hundreds of thousands of people of all sorts of creeds, colours and customs as Head of the Commonwealth.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, notwithstanding the recent strengthening of the law, there are still a number of areas where discrimination on grounds of sex is not illegal. Some of that discrimination disadvantages men and some disadvantages women. Notwithstanding the remarks of the noble Lord, the Government are not aware that there is a great deal of concern on this matter or that it causes great difficulty.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, surely the exceptions to which the noble Earl refers where sexual discrimination is still allowed are all allowed under the Act. Will he tell us under what section of the Sex Discrimination Act this form of discrimination is permitted?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as I understand it, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 does not affect the present system of inherited Peerages.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, is the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, not slightly misconceived? If we were to follow the idea to its logical conclusion, we should be altering the succession to the Crown. Does the Minister agree that if people give something to somebody with a certain line of gift afterwards, that should be adhered to in later life?

Lord Caithness

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, I was happy to bow to the noble Baroness and to the Premier Baron. Having done so, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that in the case of the Portal and the Mountbatten Peerages a daughter was enabled to succeed by special remainder? Is this not a precedent which could be followed for future creations where there is no male heir?

The Earl of Caithness

Possibly, my Lords.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, in view of the mistake made by my llth great—grandfather 500 years ago in changing the system from heirs general to heirs male, and in view of the very different ideas of today, is his act not an excellent precedent for putting the matter right now and allowing the ladies to have what they should have?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, speaking entirely personally, no, because I should not be here!

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, does the noble Earl recollect that in this House a short while ago and under the stewardship of Lord Chancellor we passed legislation to see that those who are born out of wedlock should suffer no disadvantage at law? If he succumbs to the blandishments of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, will he kindly have that aspect in mind?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am even more tempted not to succumb to the noble Lord's blandishments.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I have both daughters and sons and they have quite enough to argue about already?

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, if the noble Earl should give way to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, would he not at the same time think it proper to introduce legislation that would lay down that the possession of an hereditary Peerage does not connote the right to sit in this Chamber?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that question is rather wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, while I perfectly obviously—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I apologise to those who still wish to enter this discussion, but I feel that it has gone on long enough. I think the House feels that we have had an amusing time over this Question. However, I believe your Lordships will wish to pass on to other business.