HL Deb 26 November 1992 vol 540 cc1118-66

7.31 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I am very grateful for the great interest shown by your Lordships in the Bill. A number of noble Lords have put down their names to speak. In particular, we are to be honoured by a maiden speech to which I am greatly looking forward. Perhaps I may say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that I consider it a very great courtesy on his part that he should have found it possible to attend our debate and participate in it.

First, I should like to explain what this short, one-clause Bill does; secondly, what it does not do; thirdly, what it might do if the House so desired; and, finally, why it is high time that it was enacted. The Bill provides an option for all those hereditary Peers who do not wish to continue the present practice under which, on their death, an elder daughter will be wholly disregarded in favour of a younger son—not because she is less able or less willing to carry out the duties of a Peer, but simply because she is a woman. All that Peer has to do is to petition Her Majesty who is given power under the Bill to amend the letters patent so that the peerage will in future pass to the eldest child, whether male or female. However, if the hereditary Peer wants the present practice to continue, or at all events to continue for the time being, then he will do nothing and everything will go on as before or until some future holder of the title decides that change should be made.

That is the only alteration in the law which the Bill seeks in its present form. It merely raises the issue of sex discrimination. It does not touch on succession to the Throne, nor on life peerage, nor on property rights.

As to what the Bill might do, if your Lordships so desired, perhaps I may explain that the Long Title has been deliberately drawn in order to permit of the widest possible discussion. For example, some of the many Peers who have approached me have expressed an anxiety about disappointing long-held expectations. They recognise the great injustice being done to the eldest daughter but are anxious not to create a new injustice by preventing the title passing, for example, to a brother, who has long been regarded as the heir. I understand that anxiety although it should not be overstated; for irrespective of this Bill, the late arrival of a son will always upset such expectations.

The simple answer is that a hereditary Peer need do nothing. His heir could let it be known that, on his succession to the title, he would be making the change envisaged by the Bill, thus avoiding the build-up of fresh expectations. But if a Peer feels that even the decision to do nothing might cause him some domestic embarrassment, and that he would therefore prefer not to have any freedom of choice, then he could put forward a new clause for discussion at Committee stage. The new clause might provide that where the option to make the change had not been exercised, then, automatically after the next succession, the title would in every case descend to the eldest child whether male or female. The net effect of all this would be that those hereditary Peers who wished to make the change during their lifetime could do so. In all other circumstances the change would necessarily apply to their heir's heir.

I would hope that all such matters could be discussed at Committee stage in the expectation of reaching a consensus as to the best way forward. Of course, if the amendment on the Order Paper were carried (an unusual proceeding in your Lordships' House) there would be no opportunity for any such discussion. It is clear that anyone who exercised his undoubted right to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill would be denying the opportunity of his fellow Peers to put forward their ideas in the form of amendments for discussion at Committee stage. I should have thought that noble Lords might prefer to see how the Bill finally emerged and, if still opposed to it, vote against it then.

Before putting forward the reasons for enacting this short Bill perhaps I may define my terms. I am told that Peeresses are the wives of Peers and that the correct description of the female holder of a peerage is quite simply "a woman Peer". I propose to do as I am told, even though Mr. Gladstone referred to them as "Peeresses" when he said that women in the Upper House would, be disastrous: the majority of Peers would die of shock and the Peeresses would die of boredom". Clearly, women are playing an ever-increasing role both outside and inside Parliament. No one would dispute the immense ability of women Prime Ministers both here and in other countries or the increasing contribution made by women in public life, industry, the arts and in the professions. More women than men are now entering universities: more women than men are qualifying as solicitors. We should remember that when we speak of women we are referring to the majority of the population and, incidentally, nearly half the workforce. Within Parliament we have a Madam Speaker; we had a woman Prime Minister; a woman Leader in the Lords; women party leaders; women Ministers of the Crown—the list is endless. In your Lordships' House the statistics show that women on average attend not merely more than men, but twice as much. The case I am putting forward is quite overwhelming.

We really can no longer justify a situation in which 97.5 per cent. of hereditary Peers are male and a mere 2.5 per cent. female. Why then do we continue this hugely discriminatory practice which had its origins in the days when a baron's duty was to lead a large body of armed men to aid his Monarch whenever the need arose, he himself no doubt arrayed in shining armour? It is certainly not because the House approves of sex discrimination. We have played a full part in passing anti-discriminatory laws. Nor can one point a finger at a government who themselves introduced the legislation and signed the international convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, in company with nearly 100 other nations.

The Prime Minister himself launched Opportunity 2000 saying, I want to see all women having the same opportunities as men". The Government have made their views clear in this place on many occasions. For example, as Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in December 1990 when replying to an intervention from me, said that, it is part of the Government's programme to see that there is real equality of opportunity".—[0fficial Report, 13/12/90; col. 579.] As recently as 26th February this year, the noble Baroness, Lady Denton of Wakefield, when replying to a debate on opportunities for women, said: On this side of the House"— which phrase includes the Conservative Party as well as the Government— we believe in, and have worked for, a world that is as open to women as it is to men".—[Official Report, 26/2/92; col. 308.] The phrase, as open to women as it is to men is a fine phrase to which I humbly subscribe.

So, I cannot understand why we have accepted this sex discrimination in our own affairs for so long. I suppose that it has been partly a determination to keep a tradition alive long after its cause had died, and partly because for so long this place was a very agreeable men's club and, as with other men's clubs, the members were averse to change. As we all know, it was not until 1958 that women were admitted at all, and it was not until 1963—less than 30 years ago—that women Peers in their own right were allowed a voice in our affairs. For 40 years they had successfully been kept out of the Chamber by reliance on the familiar argument that one should wait for an overall reform of the Lords rather than deal with one aspect only. The best has ever been the enemy of the good, and I trust that no one will try to resurrect that argument against this Bill.

To summarise the position, I cannot do better than quote the late Lord St. Davids in February 1987 during Question Time when I raised this very issue. He said that, in view of the mistake made by my 11th 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?" —[Official Report, 5/2/87; col. 327.] That is all that I seek.

Noble Lords have been very patient while I have argued against the negative aspect of sex discrimination. If they are willing to consider the positive side and, by opening more doors to women, to share in enriching life in the whole of our society and in widening the experience and the understanding of the membership of this House, they will give this Bill a Second Reading. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Diamond.)

7.44 p.m.

Lord Denham rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and at the end to insert ("this day six months").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I must declare an interest, in that I am the present holder of an hereditary peerage and have four children, a daughter and three sons born in that order. Perhaps I should also declare a more personal interest, in that I also have an elder sister and, had the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, carried his Bill some 45 years ago, I myself might never have reached this House at all.

I think that I also owe the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, an apology. He is making a sincere attempt to revitalise hereditary peerages and in some cases save them from extinction and it seems, to say the least, ungrateful that it should be an hereditary Peer who is opposing him in this.

But the real objection to this Bill is that in seeking to remedy, or make it possible to remedy, what the noble Lord sees as injustice (the eldest child if a girl being unable to inherit her father's peerage), he is doing so at the expense of imposing what I believe to be a far greater injustice—depriving the present heir male of a right that, perhaps even from birth, he has had every reason to expect.

It does not stop there. The Bill would enable one holder of a peerage, in perhaps a long line of such holders, to decide that the succession should at that particular point go down one particular female line, for example, his daughter, possibly at the expense of a son or, if he himself has no children, his younger sister at the expense of their mutual younger brother. But what if the Peer also had an elder sister who had already been by-passed because this Bill had not then been in operation, why not her? Why not his father's elder sister, why not his grandfather's elder sister and their respective lines?

But is the noble Lord absolutely certain that his Bill, as at present drafted, does not take account of them? It operates by amending retrospectively the original letters patent, which may date from decades, even centuries ago, and it is far from certain as to what the effect of this would be. It would be an ironic Gilbertian twist if the noble Earl, Lord Blankshire, who was the undoubted holder of that title at the time that he petitioned Her Majesty, were to find that he has thereby disfranchised for all time not only his son but his daughter too and even himself and that it is now his great-aunt Jemima who has instantly replaced him as countess in her own right.

But supposing the Bill were to have the effect that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, intends, there are still to my mind overwhelming objections. One of the privileges conferred on the original recipient of an hereditary peerage by the sovereign of the day is the satisfaction of knowing that future heads of his family, or of his branch of the family, will in perpetuity hold the title that he has earned. This Bill would enable any of his descendants to take that away from him because, with the marriage of the daughter who succeeds to it, the title would pass out of the family that bears his name.

There could, on occasion, be an element of spite. The existing holder of a peerage may invoke this Bill not so much because he thinks that his daughter should succeed him as because, perhaps unjustly, he disapproves of, or has quarrelled with, his son or other heir male.

There may be undue influence. Many elderly widowers are, in the nature of things, cared for far more often by a daughter than by a son, and this has been known to have an effect on the bequeathing of money or property. But if undue influence is suspected, leading to the changing of a will, it can be challenged in the courts and I would ask my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack: in similar circumstances, could the courts be brought into it in this case?

There may, however, be cases in which there has in fact been no undue influence by the daughter; the present Peer having made up his own mind to invoke the provisions of the Bill for highly respectable reasons, but where the heir male may mistakenly suspect otherwise—and there is no end to the family rows and heartache to which this may lead.

A Peer who has no sons of his own would be more than likely to invoke this Bill in favour of his daughter at the expense of his sometimes far more distant heir male. But is it right or fair that he, who must be prejudiced in favour of his own child, should be the one to make the decision in such a case?

But what worries me perhaps more than anything else is that the existing Peer himself may be put in a quite intolerable position, often at a time when his own death is imminent. Should he deny his daughter something that by Act of Parliament he is now specifically enabled to pass on to her, or should he deprive his son, his younger brother or his nephew of something that he himself in his heart of hearts believes should still be theirs by right? That is a decision that I personally believe I should not be called upon to make. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and at the end to insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Denham.)

7.50 p.m

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for introducing this Bill to amend the law relating to hereditary peerages. I think there is certainly room for legislation to enable women to succeed to future peerages by letters patent, and to broaden this section of our peerage law.

I had the privilege of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House when it was an all-male and all-hereditary assembly. I have therefore seen many changes, all of them for the better. I am well aware of the great contribution that the women Peers—both the life Peers and the women Peers by succession—have made, and continue to make, to our debates and committees, since the 1958 and 1963 Acts. I yield to no one therefore in my admiration for the role of women in our public life. Indeed, I should like to see a much wider Bill than the present one, as I shall explain.

This Bill, for example, does not deal with baronies by writ, but only with peerages by letters patent. Baronies by writ, which are mostly those dating from mediaeval times, already allow a daughter to succeed when there is no son. But if there is more than one daughter, the peerage falls into abeyance between them, for the reason that all are deemed to be co-heiresses with an equal claim. The peerage remains in abeyance unless a petition is made to the Sovereign for its termination in favour of one or other of the co-heiresses, or a descendant of the remaining line. Such petitions are usually referred to the Select Committee for Privileges by the Crown, after advice from the Attorney-General.

The Committee for Privileges of your Lordships' House, of which I have the honour to be a member, has the task of establishing the facts of the case. If the facts are established by the committee, and accepted by the House, the matter goes to the Sovereign. The decision whether to terminate the abeyance, or not to terminate it, and in favour of which co-heir, lies at Her Majesty's discretion. Such petitions take time, and can result in considerable expense.

There is, I suggest, a strong case for our peerage law to be changed, to allow the eldest daughter to succeed automatically, and of right, when there is no son, to all baronies by writ. This is already the case with some of the older peerages of Scotland, and indeed there are Scottish Ladies, who have succeeded in this way, sitting in the House. I should perhaps declare an interest here, as I am the holder of a barony by writ which fell into abeyance between daughters and which was in abeyance for a very long time between co-heirs until it was terminated in favour of my grandfather, after a lengthy peerage case at the beginning of this century.

Letters patent can make special provision already for a daughter to succeed. This happened with the Mountbatten and Portal peerages, where in each case neither of those distinguished war heroes had a male heir. If hereditary peerages continue to be created in future, this is surely a provision that could also be adopted.

I regret that the Bill before us makes no attempt to make such changes to our peerage law. Where the Bill does not go far enough therefore in one direction, it goes too far in another! I think that Clause 1, allowing the son to be passed over, if he is not the eldest child, will give rise to many problems within the family, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, said. There is the question of retrospection, for example. At what point is this switch to be made? It could happen that an elderly Peer towards the end of his life decides—perhaps he has been got at—that he prefers his daughter to succeed him rather than her younger brother. The male heir might be the bearer of a courtesy title, by which he has been known from an early age. Now he could be told that he and his children are to be passed over in favour of his sister, at the whim of his father. I can envisage many disputes, opportunities for family intrigue and much bitterness once we embark on such a course.

The Bill would give too much power to the holder of the title. Why should he have the right to decide —and to petition the Sovereign—who is to succeed him? A hereditary peerage is not the sole possession of the holder to do what he likes with; it belongs to the whole family, even distant relatives, and to all heirs, including heirs as yet unborn!

I remember that when the Bill that became the Peerage Act 1963 allowing a Peer to relinquish his peerage, and to put it into abeyance for his lifetime, was being considered in Committee in both Houses of Parliament, amendments were proposed to allow the Peer to put the title into extinction for all time. It was argued against this proposal that no Peer had the right to deny his title to his heirs, which he might well want to do for malicious reasons, to spite his heir, or if he did not believe in hereditary peerages any way! The House took the view that a hereditary peerage was not the sole property of the holder, and the amendments were defeated by large majorities in both Houses.

As I have tried to outline, I think that there are ways by which peerage law could be amended to take account of modern requirements; but I submit, with respect, that the present Bill is not the right way to do it. The Bill is well meaning, but it would result in many problems and anomalies. If it comes to a vote, I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Denham.

7.57 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I joined these Benches some eight years ago. It seems like only yesterday. At that time the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was my chief. Those were the heady days when the Social Democrats and the Liberals formed an alliance which held a quite considerable percentage of the votes. I have a healthy respect both for the noble Lord's sincerity —I absolutely take the Bill as he proposed it at face value—and for his remarks on television last night explaining that he sees discrimination. I respect that view but I regret that I cannot support the Bill as he has presented it to your Lordships today.

I thought until last night that I had well rehearsed my arguments. My wife seemed satisfied with those arguments until she heard the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. She then said, "I'm sorry, I agree with what Lady Mallalieu says". The noble Baroness supports the noble Lord entirely. I lost that one but I hope that I shall do better this evening.

I accept that it is necessary for more women to be given the chance to be heard in your Lordships' House. However, as the holder of a hereditary peerage, albeit a slightly odd one in that I think mine is the only English family that has a Scottish peerage, I am a little concerned about the Bill. Indeed, the first holder of my title was certainly the first Scottish Peer to sit in the House of Commons. He then quickly became naturalised as a Scotsman some four years later. Whether the English wanted to get rid of him entirely or whether there were other reasons, I do not know. My peerage is by letters patent and, unlike other Scottish peerages, does not go down through heirs general but through the male line like English peerages.

I feel no particular status in being a Peer. I feel it a great privilege to be in your Lordships' House and I know that other hereditary Peers think likewise. In a way I feel somewhat like the tenant rather than the freeholder. I believe that I am holding for the time being—I hope that it will be for a little time to come this right so that eventually my heirs—in this case one of my sons—will be able to follow me in that privilege.

What worries me about the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, can be found in its first five words. That has already been eloquently said, but perhaps I may add to it. To allow the holder of a peerage to petition opens up all kinds of undesirable possibilities. One must be realistic about hereditary Peers. In the 17th century I had an ancestor whose abilities and general character were eulogised extravagantly after his death. Within 150 years I had another ancestor of whom it was written in a well-known publication: To be the bully of a brothel, the hector of a tavern or the keeper of a faro table is the highest pitch to which the ambition of this noble Peer soars". The later ancestor, being a Scottish Peer, had to be elected to come to your Lordships' House as one of the 16 elected Peers. He would probably never have got near the ballot box. He did not sit as a representative Peer. If he had lost all his money at the faro table and had a daughter married to an ambitious man, and, for whatever reasons, would have liked his daughter to succeed to the title for his own purposes —perhaps commercial or social—it would have been only too easy for him to have been pressured to make a change for a financial consideration.

I agree with other noble Lords that it is putting too much of a responsibility upon the holder of a title for him to have to decide to make that change. With hereditary Peers —this may not be the same for life Peers, who may not feel the same as hereditary Peers —there is a unique link between the family name and the title. I shall not explain the mechanics of it, but it is clear that if there is a change to the female line the distance between the title and the family name will become ever greater. On future creations, I am with the noble Lord. What he suggests is desirable.

I do not know how we shall reach the position the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, sketched for us on television, of having young women in the House, something of which I am greatly in favour. Even with the suggested changes, I do not see how we would have young and attractive women in the House, perhaps on the Government Front Bench, but perhaps she will be able to explain that when she speaks.

There is a desire for equality these days, as we all realise. I do not see that there is discrimination within the peerage. When the arrangement was made—this does not usually cover peerages by writ but only peerages by letters patent—it was between the monarch and he who was to be honoured. To a great extent, the letters patent were tailored to the particular needs of that period. To interfere with that arrangement, and to say that by its very nature the peerage is discriminatory, is not being realistic. The duties which attached to the peerage in the early days were onerous by virtue of the travel and other matters which brought the holder to Parliament to answer his writ of summons.

I am one with the noble Lord on discrimination. Ideally, I should like to see equal numbers of women and men in your Lordships' House. That may be difficult to achieve, even over a period of time in the way that he proposes. The House of Lords has been under steady pressure to eliminate its hereditary element for many years. We do a good job with the hereditary element included. We do it impartially, quietly and efficiently, although our role is that of a revising Chamber only. But a revising Chamber requires the independence which comes largely from the hereditary element. I find difficult to see how that could be replaced were the hereditary element to be eliminated.

Perhaps I may indulge myself by suggesting a way, dealing with the hereditary element in the House should the prospect of abolishing it get close. I shall also deal with the question of women. We might well follow the procedure which used to prevail in the case of Scottish Peers. Hereditary Peers might be able to vote among themselves for a number—100 or 200 or whatever—to sit and vote in the House provided that they did not take the party Whip and sat as independents. They could of course take the party Whip and perform the functions which hereditary Peers do so well on the Government Front Bench, but without being able to vote.

In the event of there being Peers who were unsuitable for election, females in the family might be able to make themselves available and qualified for election, with the aim of bringing half of that 200, let us say, as women into the House. That is a suggestion for consideration should the abolition of the hereditary element become a reality. In the meantime, we are here. Our families are—to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in his eloquent speech— without any particular domestic embarrassments over the succession. I have never sensed in my family that my daughters look upon my son with anything but family affection. I hope that that continues. If the Bill became law and I was able to petition, I would not do so. Nor do I believe that my son would do so. If it becomes law, I hope that the scenario that I have described of the wrong people succeeding to the peerage for the wrong reasons will not occur to cause much more than domestic embarrassment. There may be domestic strife and worse.

8.8 p.m.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, perhaps I may start by saying that I consider it an honour and privilege to be a hereditary Peer in your Lordships' House. I also declare, so to speak, several interests. I happen to be a Duke of Norfolk. That title has switched sideways three times for lack of male heirs. If that had not happened your Lordships might have had my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton as the Duke of Norfolk which would possibly be better.

I am not talking about the various impeachments and beheadings that we have had in the dukedom. We have had many interruptions since 1483. I have several other peerages behind me including a barony by writ. I first sat in your Lordships' House as Lord Beaumont, through my mother, when I was senior to my father Lord Howard of Glossop. I hold that barony too.

Perhaps I may now turn to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, wishes to see more women in the House; he has a good point and I suggest that the method of achieving that is to have more women elected as life Peers. I am not short of women Peers; I am happily sandwiched between two at the moment. I am sure that making them life Peers is the quickest and simplest way of getting more women Peers.

However, the complicated suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, in the Bill is to my mind totally wrong. It would be changing the original intention of the reigning monarch who created the peerage by letters patent. When the monarch created the peerage of, say, the dukedom of Norfolk, or Lord Maltravers, or something, it was that monarch's intention that it would descend by the male line. Who are we to change that now centuries later? It is interfering with history and I do not like it. History has guided us well. We should respect it in our humble little world of hereditary peerages.

I doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has thought out the consequences of his Bill. At the moment, the Norfolk dukedom will descend to my eldest son or, if he is killed, to my second son, or a nephew. Thank heavens, we Howards are not an extinct species at the moment. Does the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, really intend me to avail myself of the privilege and the opportunity to petition Her Majesty to enable one of my other peerages such as Arundel or Surrey to descend to my eldest daughter, letting the dukedom go to my eldest son? It becomes complicated when we multiply the peerages that are held. Most hereditary Peers hold one, two, three or even four peerages. I believe that I hold 16. Am I to release those to my eldest daughter? I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has thought about that at all.

I am glad that he has not included baronies by writ. As we all know, a barony by writ is roughly what the monarchy has. A barony by writ goes to the son, if he is there, or the next son. If there is no son, it then goes to the eldest daughter or the monarchy decides to which daughter it should go. I am glad that the noble Lord has not included that. The subject would be endless. But the system of baronies works happily; it goes through daughters.

If the Bill makes progress, I think that it will need an immense amount of amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has not thought about it deeply. I shall have no hesitation in voting for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Denham.

8.13 p.m.

The Earl of Strafford

My Lords, it is a great privilege to address this House, even if it has taken me eight years to rise to the occasion. In fact, the only reason I am standing here is that my great-uncle only had two daughters and we have the law of primogeniture. If this Bill had been on the statute book, the title would have passed in direct line from his eldest daughter to his grandson which would, I believe, have been the best thing to have happened.

The result of primogeniture has been that in our family the title and the family house and estate have become permanently separated, which for me is a cause for great regret. I sometimes feel that an hereditary Peer without his estate is like a mediaeval knight without his horse—both are slightly spare. Clearly, however, how the existing law has affected one particular family is pretty insignificant. What is of importance is how it has affected the composition of this House. That is important because of the changes in our society.

This century has been a period of unprecedented social change, greatly accelerated by two world wars. Nothing has altered more than the status of women. Their position has been transformed. To see all this in perspective, it is worth glancing back at the Great Britain of 1900. The country was then run by men; they dominated every aspect of society. Women had a very important role as wives and mothers, based on their homes, but often not much else. Even there, the man was head of the house and held the purse strings and because few women had any proper education they were not in a position to argue. The conventional wisdom was that outside this domestic role, women were non-starters.

This century has seen the overturning of that conventional wisdom. Major landmarks have been women getting the vote in 1918 followed by the great expansion of higher education. As has been mentioned, more than 50 per cent. of those in higher education now are women. That had a crucial effect. It gave women the tools and the motivation to challenge the domination of men.

If added to that is the idea of choice for the individual so that women can not only choose to be at home but also to have a full-time career, together with the concept of equality of opportunity, which has been mentioned, it is not surprising that all the traditional male bastions have crumbled and been infiltrated by women.

I believe that in voting for the Bill we place ourselves firmly on the side of the angels. It is well worth remembering that they make up half the population.

8.17 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, it is my great pleasure to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Strafford, on his maiden speech today. We are honoured that it has happened in this debate. It is a particular pleasure for me to congratulate someone who shares my alma mater on the shores of the Cam, an excellent preparation for life in this House. I hope that we shall hear the noble Earl on many occasions in the future and not have to wait another eight years before we hear him again.

This House is steeped in tradition going down through the centuries, hallowed by time. It is therefore difficult for a Bill such as the one before us today to obtain universal approval. There are those who wish to abolish the hereditary system and those who wish to go all the way to inheritance of peerages by the eldest child, irrespective of sex. Then there are those who cling tenaciously to the male line.

I should like eventually to see inheritance by the eldest child, but feel that it must take some time before it could be enacted. There are too many justifiable expectations at present of heirs groomed from birth to inherit. Also, this is a simple Bill and in order to make good law it will almost certainly need amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, accepted. Nevertheless, the spirit of the Bill is a good one and it is a step on the road in the right direction. I shall vote for it, in the hope that the principle will then be found worthy of further serious consideration by the Government. I welcome the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, in favour of justice for women, which I shall not repeat.

I came into your Lordships' House over 10 years ago as a life Peer with a great deal to learn. I am still learning. A noble Lord once said to me, "Always listen carefully to other noble Lords' speeches, however boring they sound and you will learn a great deal". I have found that very true and of course there have been many excellent and interesting speeches from which to learn. I have certainly never been in danger of dying from boredom.

Life Peers have spent their lives in specialised fields, and that experience in depth is of very great value to the House both during the passage of Bills and in its specialist committees. However, it means that life Peers are nearly always created during the latter half of their lives when their hair, like mine, is grey. The House needs young people and the contribution of our young male hereditary Peers is therefore to me of great value, as they represent a different viewpoint which is very necessary during the passage of Bills. They look forward to the future, which will be very different from what we older Peers have experienced in the past. We need that perspective. Their parents have prepared them well for inheritance and have educated them to exceptional responsibility when they grow older. Sometimes by the accident of fate that responsibility falls on their shoulders earlier than expected and they serve our House well.

I feel that we need young women of the same calibre, and where a Peer has only daughters—that does happen—it would be excellent if early on in their lives he could designate the eldest daughter as his heir. She would then be educated and prepared for responsibility from an early age. I am sure she would be just as valuable a Member of this House as her cousin or more remote kinsman. It would also mean that the peerage was inherited in the direct line within the family, which seems to me to be far more desirable than that it passes to a remote descendant who may have had no preparation for that inheritance. That is why I like the idea of option that is central to this Bill.

It is important that Peers should not be able to exercise the option capriciously. It needs to be thought out carefully years before the inheritance is likely to happen so that the whole family know where they stand. It could also of course enable a father to make that kind of petition in favour of his eldest daughter where there is only an educationally sub-normal son, or one with some other major unfortunate characteristic making him unsuitable for inheritance, or indeed in the tragic case where the only son dies before his father, and of course in the special case where it is likely that otherwise a peerage might become extinct. The Peer himself, of course, cannot decide this matter —only the Queen can do that. I am sure that Her Majesty would take many considerations into account, and particularly the reasonableness of the request.

The Scots have always been far more enlightened in this matter than we have in England. We benefit very much from Scottish women hereditary Peers and would miss them deeply if they were not here. Hereditary peerages are seldom created these days but I hope, as other noble Lords have said, that any new peerages could be created to allow the eldest child to inherit. That would lead the way to progress in the future. I am heartened that the Prime Minister has stated his firm intention that there should be more women in public life. The spirit of this Bill echoes that wish.

I should also like to make reference to the inheritance of the Crown in our country. We have been fortunate in having great Queens such as Elizabeth I, Victoria and now Elizabeth II. Her Majesty's magnificent lifelong devoted service to her country is a shining example of how fortunate our country is in that the Crown can be inherited within the female line. I believe that would also be the case if this Bill were to pass and women were able to inherit peerages.

I shall support this Bill and not the amendment, as I hope will many other noble Lords, accepting that it may need amendment as it passes through its various stages. The spirit of the Bill to allow the option of the father to settle who is his most suitable heir is a reasonable one in the kind of situations I have mentioned. He cannot decide on his own and that is right. He must then petition the Queen and I would suggest that Her Majesty's decision might be assisted by a recommendation from either the Privy Council or the Committee of Privileges on the basis of carefully drafted regulations and on the merits of the case. That would ensure that it would not either be entered into or allowed lightly and, once determined, would produce a stable expectation within the family. I believe it would constitute a step on the road towards justice for women and also be of benefit to your Lordships' House.

8.25 p.m.

Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle

My Lords, I first join with the noble Baroness who has just spoken in congratulating the noble Earl on his maiden speech. I hope very much that we shall hear him speak again and much sooner than eight years. The general concept of altering the destination of a peerage will not be alien to those Members of your Lordships' House who hold Scottish peerages, nor indeed to a Scottish lawyer such as myself. Scottish peerages were always given on much more flexible and broader grants than were English peerages. I use the word "always" but that is perhaps an overstatement. That was generally the case.

It may interest your Lordships to know that the late Sir Iain Moncreiffe, Albany Herald, and a notable genealogical and heraldic lawyer, analysed the pre-Union Scots peerages. He found that out of some 362, 110 were granted on special destinations, 93 admitted descent to females, 86 were to heirs male whomsoever, 73 only were to heirs male of the body, of whom 14 were Royal cadets, 12 were brothers of existing Peers, seven were generals and eight were Englishmen. Noble Lords will appreciate that far from a mandatory male descent, that was the exception rather than the rule.

The flexibility in Scottish peerages related not only to the original grant but also to the ability of a Peer to resign his peerage and obtain from the Sovereign a regrant. I shall give an example of a special destination. In the case of the barony of Ruthven of Freeland, which is now held by the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, the destination was to the son of the grantee and that son's heirs of tailian provision. The effect being that the son could determine who his heirs were going to be.

I do not seek at this stage of the Bill either to support or oppose the concept of the Bill, but it seems to me that there are certain serious difficulties in the Bill as it is presently drafted. I shall divide my brief remarks into two parts. First, I shall deal with the immediate effect of Clause 1. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has already pointed out, it does not apply to baronies by writ. Perhaps in this context I should mention that certainly in Scotland a destination to heirs general would not admit to the succession the eldest daughter of a Peer where there was in life a younger son. The son would be considered to be the heir.

It is not absolutely clear from the Bill whether that would apply to a Scottish charter of peerage, certainly not to charters which were lost such as the Ruthven of Freeland peerage was. It would—as the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has mentioned—or could lead to a proliferation of peerages; that is to say, a Peer petitioning to have one of the peerages he held descend to an elder daughter. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is for your Lordships to decide. I merely point that out as a possible result. Perhaps a more difficult concept is the use of the words "eldest child". If that child died during the petitioner's lifetime that would be the end of the matter. It would obviously have to be a surviving child.

That is not a quibble, because as I understand it, up to now, certainly in Scotland and I suspect in England, peerages have been destined to heirs. Every man and every woman who has any descendants of the blood has an heir, but the heir can only be ascertained at one's death. An heir can sometimes be ascertained for succession purposes under a will at a later date, but one cannot ascertain an heir before death. But an eldest child is ascertained as soon as it is born. It by no means follows that an eldest child will survive its parent. That is a further difficulty in the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, has already pointed out the problem of an elder son using a courtesy title, perhaps for many years, suddenly finding himself demoted in favour of his sister.

The Bill provides no guidance as to what criterion is to be followed in giving advice to Her Majesty. Presumably on a petition Her Majesty would seek the advice of Ministers. By what criteria are they to decide what advice should be given?

It may be that these matters could all be cured by extensive amendment and rewriting of the Bill. However, what concerns me particularly is the subsequent effect of the Bill. As I have already said, in Scotland there were three principal ways in which the devolution of a peerage could be altered. The first was by a resignation in favorem in which the Peer resigned his peerage into the hands of the sovereign and sought a re-grant on a new line of heirs which he nominated. If the resignation was not accepted by the sovereign the existing devolution continued. The circumstances in which a re-grant was usually confirmed by the sovereign were: there was an unsuitable heir—perhaps an idiot son or a traitor son; to prevent the conjunction of two peerages in one person; or to prevent an existing peerage dying out.

Another method was the same resignation but with a re-grant enabling the resigner or a named son to resettle the peerage in accordance with an entail—a tailzie. That was usually done in connection with the devolution of land. The third method was the confirmation of an entail made by the settling Peer.

Perhaps I may give just one example as I do not want to weary your Lordships' with a number of examples. In the case of Loudon, where the line was about to die out, the Peer obtained a resettlement on John Campbell, who was to marry his granddaughter. That was one method of keeping the peerage going, to use a colloquialism, after his death as it would otherwise have died out. There are other examples —Lord Sempill and the Earl of Erroll.

The problem with the Bill is that it lacks any indication as to what is to happen after the death of the eldest daughter. One could illustrate the problem by giving an example. The Bill simply says that the peerage should be permitted to descend to the eldest child of the body. That presumably means the eldest child of the body of the petitioner. Let us assume the grant of a peerage made in 1806 with a destination to heirs male of the body. It is reasonable to assume that in 1992 there would be a number of male descendants of the original grantee descended through the male line and who would therefore be eligible to take the peerage as heirs male of the body.

The present Peer—let us call him Lord X—has two children—an elder daughter, Mary, and a younger son, John. When Mary survives Lord X what happens on her death? Does the peerage go to heirs male of her body? Does it go to her eldest surviving child and its surviving child, and so on? As I have said, the destination to eldest children is quite unknown in the law of Scotland and, I suspect, probably in the law of England. Does it go to the heir male of the body of the original grantee—in other words, back into the order of succession—in which case the only person cut out would be Mary's brother John? Or does it go to the heir male of the body of Lord X? Again, that would cut out all collaterals of Lord X descended through males from the original grantee. If it were to go to Mary's eldest surviving child then serious problems could arise. The result could be that one of Mary's descendants, an eldest child, died, leaving other descendants of Mary descended through a younger child of Mary. What is intended should happen here? Are there to be destinations over, or is the whole peerage simply to die out?

It seems to me that very complicated matters of devolution are involved, certainly in Scotland, and I suspect in relation to earlier English peerages. I respectfully submit that the matters involved are far too complex to be dealt with in a single clause Bill. Complete rewriting would be the only possibility. If there is to be a Bill of this type I submit that it must be very carefully drawn and all possible contingencies catered for. This Bill does not do so. For that reason I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Denham.

8.37 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, first, I join with other noble Lords, in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Strafford, on an excellent maiden speech. I sincerely hope that we shall see a great deal of him in the future. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, on promoting his Bill tonight. He has brought to your Lordships' attention, with noble intentions, a major subject which could well have far-reaching consequences for your Lordships' House.

I would not normally have taken part in this debate, especially having seen the length of the list of speakers, but, as the premier of my rank, I felt that it was my duty to protect what looks increasingly like a future endangered species. I am most concerned about the issue.

I have no difficulty in principle with the idea that my eldest child, whether male or female, should inherit my family's title. But as to my making a choice between my children as to who should inherit, I am not clear about that at all. Such a decision would not only be extremely difficult to make but might perhaps be ill-judged, perhaps unfair and perhaps clouded by family matters which were at issue at a particular time. The present system is proven. I believe that it is adequate.

I should like to describe my own case very briefly, purely to portray the problems as I see them. The Bill appears simple at first glance, but it raises some interesting and extremely complex difficulties which might not be apparent at first sight.

My title was created in 1442—unfortunately for knocking seven bells out of the Welsh. I hope that there are no Welsh Peers here tonight. It was created in tail male. In 1446 we were created Earls of Waterford, which is the premier of the rank in Ireland. It is an Irish title, also in tail male. My son has the courtesy title of Viscount Ingestre. I am also the hereditary High Steward and Great Seneschal of Ireland—these titles granted by letters patent in 1446, to be inherited, according to the letters patent, by only the male heirs of the body of the first Earl, John Talbot. That is great history. But what if I fell out with my eldest son? My daughter is older than he is and under the Bill being debated I should be able to say to my eldest boy "James, you and I have great differences and you are not going to be my successor in title. Your sister is going to be the chosen one". That is a major decision to make, perhaps in difficult circumstances and involving a certain amount of favouritism—and perhaps also under the most ridiculous of circumstances. I might be a complete idiot at that stage—not that I may not be now.

If this particular scenario materialised, many other problems would be flagged up, apart from the appalling private family antagonism which would undoubtedly emerge. For example, my daughter, on my death, would be the Countess of Shrewsbury with a seat in your Lordships' House. My son would still have the courtesy title of Viscount Ingestre. But by that stage my daughter would perhaps be married with a son of her own who would be her heir. He could not be Lord Ingestre because his uncle would already have that title by courtesy of his father.

Will the noble Lord's Bill cover the peerage of Ireland? If not, a further anomaly will have been created. Noble Lords will recall that I said earlier that I hold the title of the Earl of Waterford, an Irish title which is, as I mentioned, in tail male by letters patent, and it gives me the right and great privilege to act on behalf of all Irish Earls at a coronation. I do not for one moment believe that my daughter, having inherited the Earldom of Shrewsbury, would be permitted to fulfil this particular function without a change in law with regard to the Irish peerage. Neither could she be the Lord High Steward and Great Seneschal of Ireland. She probably would not want to be.

What about those Peers like myself who have family trusts agreed by Act of Parliament again in tail male? My daughter could not have the benefit of my parliamentary trusts agreed to by your Lordships in 1954, as they are all written for the benefits of the Earls of Shrewsbury in tail male.

This is an horrendous problem. I am in principle relaxed about whether the title goes to my first-born, male or female. But I have a great problem with the noble Lord's Bill and the injustices which I am absolutely certain it will cause. It will not, I am sure, achieve the noble Lord's targets. I am absolutely certain that it will divide families, and I believe that it is completely unworkable. I shall have to support my noble friend Lord Denham.

8.41 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I speak as the youngest hereditary Peer in the House, having taken my seat very recently. I believe I can claim that my mind has been very clearly focused on this problem, since I have four elder sisters. We have discussed the issue quite clearly.

The issue did not come up before this Bill. I have always known that I would inherit the title. However, I shall support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, since it relates to the future. There must be a way of changing letters patent if your Lordships put your mind to it. I believe that one of the reasons that this subject has received so much media attention is that descent through the male line is one of the cornerstones of sex discrimination.

I would like to point out that the question of changing who should actually inherit the title has arisen before. The Redesdale Committee which sat between 1816 and 1825 actually disallowed women from inheriting earldoms. I am sure that in the future we shall be able, if we put our minds to it, to allow women, the eldest daughters, actually to inherit the title.

I agree that there are many problems regarding this Bill. Many of them have been expressed far more eloquently than I could express them myself. For the sake of brevity I would like to raise only two of them. I have to admit that one of the problems is the choice that would be given to the incumbent peer.

I come from a large family, as I have already pointed out, and I believe that had the choice been there it would have caused a lot of friction over many years.

The only other problem I would like to put forward is one that has been pointed out to me; namely, that if we change letters patent, would it not be possible to do so retrospectively, since it is a piece of retrospective legislation, going back through the female line? I would almost be tempted to support my noble kinsman's amendment and I must congratulate him on showing no avarice towards my title. My grandfather had an elder sister who was my noble kinsman's mother, and I should not be sitting in this place if the noble Lord's Bill had been enacted a number of years ago.

I shall support the Bill because although there are many complex problems that have been put forward by noble Lords, I believe that they could be overcome. I believe that the noble Lord's Bill is destined to fail tonight. However, as many noble Lords have put forward their view that this would be a good piece of legislation, I hope that one day it will come back. If it does return, then, given the choice, I would say that it should be the eldest child, regardless of gender, who should inherit the title.

8.46 p.m.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I was fascinated to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and all the more so because he is so close a relative of his noble kinsman Lord Denham, who opposes the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, is very proud of his Mitford mother. I would turn over in my sleep with disturbance were I to think of what his aunt would have thought of Uncle Matthew, thinking about his speech disowning his family.

I turn to more serious matters. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for whom I have enormous respect and affection, may be not only misconceived but even mischievous in the conception of this Bill. The Bill is misconceived because, as has been pointed out by many noble Lords tonight, the noble Lord has not thought about the problems of Peers by writ. He did not mention them at all. They are just as important an element as the others. They are not many but they are important. The noble Lord has not thought possibly that Peers by patent or writ include lots of Peers of Ireland. I do not think he thought about those people.

This matter concerns more than just the House of Lords. The noble Lord seemed to think that sex discrimination in this House would be avoided by his Bill if it were carried. I suggest that this is not a Bill about membership of the House of Lords. At the moment the House of Lords contains many Peers appointed for life as well as hereditary Peers. There are also legal Peers who are life Peers in the law.

This is a mixed House. It has been such a House for many years. Some of our ancestors were appointed. We are a mixed body descending over several hundred years. Around the country we represent mixed views. Hereditary Peers sit among all the parties and I think of the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland and the noble Lord, Lord St. John. When one looks around the House one sees that this is not a one-party House. Peers are all over the place. Those of us who are hereditary Peers are just as much entitled to have our views and intelligence taken for what they are worth as are appointees of Prime Ministers, ex-retired MPs, ex-professors and even young professors as well as young tycoons of industry —all kinds of people who are bright and beautiful when appointed. They all get old as we do. I look at the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who is very beautiful. She comes from a great legal family in her own right. In her husband's right, she is allied to another great legal family I have known, in her father-in-law and her grandfather-in-law.

I have the utmost admiration for all people of either gender who are elected to this House. I have no feeling against women being made Peers. I do not carry that feeling to the bishops. Being a Roman Catholic, I am perhaps biased. Nevertheless I admire all women who are holy and good. There are many from whom we can take great advice, and far be it from me to disregard that.

However, we are not discussing that issue; we are discussing the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that sex discrimination in this House is part of the Bill. As the noble Lord made that remark, I wish to remind the House that many years ago—I cannot remember whether the noble Lord was then a Member—there was a reform Bill for this House. It was put before us that we should be reformed and we were given various details. I wish to remind the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and any Members who were not here, that most of us who were here—including hereditary peers such as the noble Lords, Lord Denham, Lord Elton, Lord Carrington and myself —voted for the reform of this House of Lords by Parliament. What happened? That other place down there, under the influence of Tony Wedgwood Benn, Michael Foot, Enoch Powell and Hugh Fraser (son-in-law of the noble Earl, Lord Longford), made an unholy alliance for whatever reason not to reform us.

We must remind noble Lords opposite—most of whom are missing tonight—that it was not Members on this side who stopped the reform of this House. It was the House of Commons which did not want to see the House of Lords given more reasonable powers to check whether perchance it had extreme views. Those in the other place preferred us to be thought of as silly old hereditary Peers whom they could run down with silly speeches. We were willing to be reformed; the other place stopped that. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that his suggestion is non-existent.

If I may go on and bore your Lordships I wish to point out that I am not a feminist. I note that in last week's Sunday Telegraph the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for whom I have the utmost affection and respect, stated that he was proud to think that all his descendants would be worthy of his ancestral office. I could not agree more. From what I know of him, his wife and his noble family, all are brilliant, clever, intelligent and attractive. We should be proud to have any one of them in this House. We are not in the business of selecting who should come here. We all agree that we have wonderful children. I hope that we would not be in this business if we did not.

Perhaps I may appeal to your Lordships. As my noble but slightly distant kinsman the Duke of Norfolk said—and I am proud to be his heir general because, had the female lines gone, I should be Duke of Norfolk—and as another noble kinsman, the Earl of Shrewsbury, said, I am kinsman to the barony of Talbot. If the earldom of Shrewsbury had gone to the female line I should also be Earl of Shrewsbury because I am heir general to that family. I am well in the business of heirs general; I know all about it. But it would not do me any good.

We in my family were made peers in the male line. The father of the first Lord Stourton was Speaker of the House of Commons in 1414. Unfortunately, he died a fortnight later and so held the office for the shortest time on record. I do not believe that he was poisoned or assassinated, but he was Speaker for a fortnight in 1414. In 1448 his son was made Lord Stourton having fought in France and having been Treasurer to the King. That then involved a certain amount of money manipulation as now. Unfortunately, the money did not come to us; I suspect that it went to the King. We have been peers in the male line since 1448.

Since then my family has grown up aware that it is the family of Stourton in the male line. All members of my family know that they are the Stourton family. Who is the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, I ask myself, to ask this House to disinherit the House of Stourton, the House of Talbot from the Shrewsburys, the House of Howard from the Norfolks, and the Somersets from the Duke of Beaufort who is a direct descendant of John of Gaunt? The noble Lord wants to destroy the history of England. Families are thought of as in the male line.

I seriously suggest—and without being anti-feminist, which I am not—that when daughters marry they think of themselves as marrying into their husbands' families. The noble Lord presupposes that when they marry they say, "To hell with my husband's family, I am going to be myself." That is a Lady Summerskill idea. There are others like Lady Summerskill whom I respected a great deal. I suggest that nine out of 10 people in this country regard a family line as being in the male line.

I think of Lord Rhodes who used to sit over there on the Labour Party's Privy Council Benches. He was a great Yorkshireman; the first Yorkshireman to be made a Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire. He fought in the First World War and received an Air Force gallantry medal. He was regarded with affection by Members on all sides of the House. He led three delegations to China to trade. Her Majesty the Queen thought the world of him and gave him her personal gift of the Garter. He was the one who used to say, "My Lords, I was born a manufacturer, my son is a manufacturer. We are manufacturers now", which noble Lords opposite would like to repeat today; we all would. But I remember that Lord Rhodes used to say to me, "Do you know, Charles, I can tell you that I am son of Bloggs who was son of Bloggs who was son of Bloggs?". He could go back 16 or 18 generations. When Her Majesty the Queen accepted the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, to make him a Peer the then Garter, Sir Anthony Wagner, thought he would check up on that inheritance by rote. And do you know, blow me down, he found every one of them absolutely on the ball and accurate. That was a family in the male line.

As regards Welsh families, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is proud of his Welsh descent, as was the late Lord Elwyn-Jones. They knew the male line descent. People do not really know their mother's lines, they knew their father's lines. Perhaps I may give as an example Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. If one wants to have a kind of Polynesian descent of mother to daughter to daughter one goes mother to daughter to daughter to daughter, and ends up with the Queen of Spain. That is the daughter's daughter's daughter's daughter's daughter. There you are! She is highly respectable. But do you think that she is conscious of the fact that she is part of that family? Her mother was mother to the King of Greece. Another ancestor was married to a Hanoverian, another was married to a Prussian, and so on. If one takes the male line there is the Gloucester family and if one takes the heir general one ends up with Her Majesty the Queen. That is what most of us would agree is about the right thing. That inheritance goes in the male line must not be disregarded. Royal families are exceptional.

Supposing the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, had not existed. I think of his four noble cousins, the four daughters only one of whom has children, and that is probably Lady Jane who married my godson. He is an MP in the other House, and his father is the Marquess of Lothian. How silly would it be for the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal, to suddenly appear in the title of Kerr, Marquess of Lothian, ranked as an MP who is tending to say that he is not going not to take up the title? The male line is not something to be disregarded.

I have taken far too long, and I apologise, but I feel strongly about the Bill. Male line inheritances ought not to be discarded, especially as I see before me just sitting down the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Can you imagine a Cecil suddenly having a daughter he dislikes who inherits and who marries a Bloggins? It would be appalling. I beg your Lordships please to repel the Bill.

9.1 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I wish to support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I do not think that this Bill has been properly thought out. It gives a Peer the right to petition the Queen to change the destination of his peerage along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has explained. How is the Queen to decide whether or not to grant this petition? Who will be her advisers? These questions have not been addressed.

Another thing that worries me is that surely meddling with the wishes of a previous monarch regarding the succession of a peerage which he created, in many cases hundreds of years ago, is a little like setting aside the wishes of a testator clearly expressed in his will. It should certainly not be done lightly. Then when you have meddled once there is nothing to stop you meddling again. If the wishes of the creator are to be set aside once, why should they not be set aside for a second time to enable, shall we say, adopted children to inherit? I am a little worried.

Then there is the question of the monarchy itself. I have a nasty feeling that any change to the rules governing the destination of hereditary peerages may also affect the destination of the monarch. I must emphasise that I am thinking of situations that might arise in future generations. Incidentally, the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, who, alas, is not in her place now, expressed great admiration for various female sovereigns that England has been lucky enough to have, starting with Queen Elizabeth I. I must take issue with her over that. I cannot share that admiration because she had my Queen beheaded, and I think out of jealousy.

A better recipe for causing quarrels and ill feeling in families would be hard to devise were one to set about trying to do exactly that. Let me put to your Lordships the case of a Peer who does not wish to speak in this debate on account of his own interests. He is in his 70s and has three daughters but no son; he has granddaughters but no grandsons. His heir, also in his 70s, is his younger brother, who has two sons and also grandsons, and who has for many years expected that one day he or his eldest son will succeed.

Should this Bill become law this hapless noble Lord is being confronted with the possibility of having to decide whether or not to petition the Queen on this issue, because he would have to consider on the one hand the interests of his eldest daughter, an extremely competent middle-aged woman who would be justifiably aggrieved if her father did not do anything, and on the other hand he would have to consider the interests of his brother, his nephews and his great-nephews, who would be justifiably aggrieved if he did. There is certainly plenty of scope for family discord here, and, in some other cases where property is entailed with the peerage, for a lawyers' bonanza too.

Incidentally, my eldest daughter and heir views with a jaundiced eye the possibility of being under pressure from her eldest daughter to disinherit her little brother in her favour. It really is no use the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, saying what he said in his letter to the Telegraph. Somerset Herald, in his letter to the Telegraph on 10th November, was quite right about the uncertainty and discord that this Bill would cause in families.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, rightly says that this is not a Bill about the House of Lords. But, as I see it, the only point in being a Peer is to be entitled to a seat in this House. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has taken into consideration that this House depends heavily on quite young hereditary Peers as Ministers and Whips, whose jobs are often too arduous nowadays to be undertaken by a good many older men? They are able to undertake the jobs that they do because most of them have wives to run their homes and look after their children.

If these young Peers had been supplanted by their sisters, it really is ridiculous to suppose that the sisters would be able to do the job equally well. Women have babies. Women nurse babies. Both are time-consuming and exhausting jobs which cannot be done by anyone else and are incompatible with strenuous careers on the Front Bench, or indeed regular attendance and activity on the Back Benches. Even I, an old woman whose children are now on the threshold of middle age, suffer from a degree of conflict of interest between my duty to my husband, home and family and my duties here.

I do not think that men have this problem to the same extent. Incidentally, for that and other reasons, I think that what has been done to the eldest Swedish princess by a lot of woolly-minded do-gooders in making her the heir to the throne over her brother's head is just sheer cruelty. I am here through an accident of war, but I should not have wished to inherit over the head of a younger brother.

At the end of the day the rule that governs the destination of many Scots peerages—that is, to heirs general—has much to be said for it. There is no going into abeyance: it is cut and dried and the lawyers do not make a penny. An excellent letter in today's Telegraph from Charles Kidd, co-editor of Debrett's Peerage, suggests amending the law governing the destination of English and UK peerages to bring it into line with what I have just described. The succession of the monarchy would not be affected, for that is how it devolves. If it were deemed sensible to make any change, that is what I should recommend. However, any change should be the outcome of serious consideration by the Lord Chancellor with those knowledgeable about these matters, and should be the subject of a Government Bill, not a Private Member's Bill. I assume that this Bill is intended to apply to Scots peerages too. If so, it will apply in some cases—those where there are letters patent extant or on record. In many cases—for example, the earldom of Erroll and my own—there are not.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey, went in some detail into the rules of inheritance of peerages in Scotland. However, as I understand it, there is one thing that he did not say; namely, that as recently as 1962 or 1963, the Lord Advocate said: On the whole matter I am of opinion that the pre-Union procedure has never been abrogated and is still legally competent". Under that procedure you could resign your peerage to the Crown and petition the Crown for a re-grant so as to alter the destination. If anything is to be done, that would be a sensible way of doing it.

I believe that this is a thoroughly pernicious little Bill and that it is quite unamendable. It is curious how often the smallest Bills seek to do the most harm and I hope that your Lordships will vote against it.

9.10 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I hesitated before putting my name down to speak in this debate because the more I have looked at the subject, the more complex a matter I have found both it and the history behind it. I am bound to say that everything I have heard this evening has added weight to my anxieties about the complexity of the subject upon which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has embarked.

The Bill as drafted may appear innocuous enough at face value and in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, with every good intention I am sure, has described it, but closer examination of what it says leaves me in no doubt whatever that it is highly undesirable. As others have said, notably my noble friend Lord Denham, and as was so well illustrated by my noble friends Lord Shrewsbury and Lord Mowbray and Stourton, its effect would be to put some of your Lordships in intolerably invidious positions, although I accept that it might please some others.

On hearing the many arguments that have been put forward this evening, the ramifications of the Bill seem to go much wider than that. The Bill is narrowly drawn as regards the purpose described by Clause 1, but the Long Title goes much wider than that, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, himself explained. To that extent, I suppose the Bill is amendable, should it be granted a Second Reading, but if it is granted a Second Reading, how on earth could it sensibly be amended?

I must confess that the scope for amendment to introduce a variety of changes to the principle of hereditary peerages seems very substantial. Any examination of the principle, let alone the scope, of the Bill would have to be thoroughly researched over a considerable period by a body of real experts. To try to tackle the subject piecemeal—and, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, I think this is what his Bill invites, even if he does not intend it—would be likely to throw up many more problems than it would solve and certainly many more than can be adequately considered in a debate such as this evening's.

There is one issue which, notwithstanding the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, may be ripe for consideration at some point; namely, the case of titles becoming extinct when there is no male heir. I must immediately say that I do not have an interest to declare in that respect, but perhaps several of your Lordships are faced with that situation.

Because of the wide nature of the Long Title of the Bill, it has been suggested that it may be possible to amend the Bill to give effect to the transmission of a title through the senior heiress so as to avoid the title becoming extinct. This might require the holder of the hereditary peerage, faced with the extinction of the title under the terms of the original patent, to petition the Queen to amend the terms of the letters patent. It might even be possible to include a proviso that thereafter the peerage must descend according to the terms of the original patent.

I am not convinced that such a procedure is either desirable or practicable. I can of course see its attraction for some, but on the other hand peerages have become extinct many times over the centuries, although until comparatively recently hereditary peerages have been fairly commonly created and have replaced to some extent those which have become extinct. It may be that the effect of such a change would be to introduce the concept of heirs general, with all that that might imply: a question which was addressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey. I most certainly do not believe that this Bill is a suitable vehicle for such a change, although I hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, when he comes to wind up, may be able to address the validity or otherwise of the point that I have made. For my part, I shall certainly support the amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, in considering this brief Bill—perhaps too brief—which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has brought before us, I think it is important to rule out those issues which I believe should not influence the view we take. The first of these concerns the whole principle of a chamber of peers dominated numerically by the hereditary peerage. Some feel that this is wrong for the composition of a second chamber which still has significant legislative powers. The holders of such views tend to want an elected chamber although on a different basis from the House of Commons, possibly through the regions, to produce something much nearer a senate.

If that were to come about, the whole terminology would change. Peers of Parliament would cease to exist and if hereditary peers continued to attempt to preserve their order or their caste it would be as a sideshow, without constitutional significance, whose activities would rightly be relegated from Hansard to Jennifer's Diary. In such circumstances who succeeded to which title would be of little or no public significance and it would be hardly worth legislating about.

However, that is not the situation in which we find ourselves and it would not be proper to use this debate or this Bill to advance that day. We are not talking about root and branch laws reform, down which path the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, perhaps strayed a little. We are talking about a situation in which hereditary peers still come to Parliament, where they exert a significant influence on legislation which affects all sections of the community, male and female alike. That is the role that they may continue to exercise for some time to come; so short of wreck or reform there is a legitimate public interest in the composition of this Chamber, quite apart from the question of sex discrimination, which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, seeks to address.

If it is generally accepted that this is something worth debating and legislating on, I can see that a cynic might advance a further objection. He might object to the tidying up or the modernisation, if you like, of peerage law in that it would reverse or slow down the already very slow process whereby the hereditary peerage withers on the vine through extinctions. If women were able to inherit United Kingdom peerages, as they can inherit Scottish peerages, some extinctions would clearly be avoided. I would consider the argument of withering on the vine a disreputable approach but, with or without some extra women peers, that process could take centuries and the only honest way ahead in this regard would be a conscious decision by Parliament to disestablish the hereditary element by excluding it from Parliament. There may be arguments for and against that, but it would be the only proper way ahead. So natural wastage is not a viable option, and therefore not a good reason for debarring a certain number of additional women.

Traditionalists may snort that it would be sacrilege to tamper with the status quo, and some have already this evening. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, for whom I have the greatest respect, referred to "interfering with history" and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, who spoke with passion, referred to destroying the history of England. According to this view, the peerage grew up in the mists of antiquity and is an estate on its own, with laws, rules and observances that brook no change. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, talked of multiple peerages, as did the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. But these are almost exclusively the preserve of the older aristocracy. In relation to the vast majority of peerages the facts are at odds with the traditionalist position. It is not only the life peerage which is a recent creation, but of the 776 current hereditary peerages approximately 620 have been created since 1831: that was the year of the Reform Bill. Nearly 500 of those were created during or since 1918, the end of the First World War. There were few multiple peerages then.

Of course, it is an adornment and an important reminder of our past that we have Mowbrays, Howards and Talbots in this House. They make an important contribution to its work. But the fact remains that the connection of the vast majority of Peers with the age of chivalry, when being a Peer was a man's work, is extremely tenuous and frequently non-existent.

On all those grounds it is perfectly reasonable and perhaps timely to look at some of the anomalies and inequities of the hereditary system as it exists. As long as it exists in its present form and fulfils a constitutional function, it should do so—I would suggest—in such a way as to conform broadly to the general body of law and custom and to the growing, if still incomplete, tendency towards equal treatment of the sexes in most walks of life.

I turn to the single clause of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, on the precise wording of which considerable doubts have been expressed, some of which I share. My noble friend Lord Jauncey, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and even the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale—although he said he intended to vote for it—were all concerned that if the election of the heir is to be left to the discretion of the parent to the extent that a male heir under the present system may be passed over in favour of an elder sister, that could give rise to extremely tense family relations and disputes and be almost unworkable on that score.

I have some sympathy with that feeling. It may be better to specify simply the eldest child of the body, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, wanted to do. Some may feel that that also was too radical and prefer simply that United Kingdom peerages are put in the same position as peerages in Scotland, which, after all, has given us the great benefit that we already enjoy of a number of Scottish Peeresses in their own right, among them the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who has just spoken.

Whatever the different views on those matters, the proper place to discuss them is in Committee, and that is why I support the Second Reading of the Bill. It both deserves and requires a Committee stage at which it may be considerably altered or even, as my noble friend Lord Jauncey suggested, rewritten. He did not seem to think that that was a good idea. With respect to him, it is not unknown even with major Public Bills which have received considerable transformations in your Lordships' House.

I have another reason for supporting the Second Reading and securing a Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, addressed the question of sex discrimination. The Long Title of the Bill is quite sufficiently wide—as the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, pointed out—for me to address an additional problem which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, did not touch on; namely, that of discrimination on the grounds of illegitimacy.

Here I must declare an interest. My own son and only child was born outside wedlock. His mother and I subsequently married when we were in a position to do so and he was thereby legitimated for virtually all purposes other than inheriting a title of honour. As a matter of general principle the Law Commissions, both of England and Wales and Scotland, recommended in various reports the removal of legal discrimination against persons born outside marriage. Those recommendations have been largely adopted by Parliament in subsequent legislation such as the Legitimacy Act 1976, the Family Law Reform Acts of 1969 and 1987 and the Children Act of 1989.

Bromley's Family law, 8th edition 1992, states that the Family Law Reform Acts removed many of the remaining differences between children whose parents were married to each other and those who were not. Children of unmarried parents now have full rights of intestate succession and can succeed, for example, as an heir to an entailed estate. The Legitimacy Act 1976 had already much reinforced the position of subsequently legitimated children particularly in relation to citizenship. To all that there is one outstanding exception. A person legitimated by subsequent matrimony is still unable to inherit a title of honour.

As far as I know the Law Commission has not yet proposed any change in the law in that respect. But the Law Commission for England and Wales, in its Report No. 118 of 1982 on grants of hereditary peerages, states: If the form of words currently prescribed were to be changed so as to allow illegitimate persons to qualify, it might be necessary to consider whether this change is consistent with the judicial principle that the Crown cannot give a grant of a Dignity or Honour to a 'quality of Descent unknown to the Law". But it goes on to say: Any power which the Crown lacks in this respect may of course be provided by an Act of Parliament (as with the Life Peerages Act 1958)". So there seems little doubt that Parliament could act in relation to this and other matters if it saw fit. It has in fact, as far as I can see, already modified the definition of, Descent unknown to the Law in other respects and could go further if it wanted. If this Bill proceeds to Committee I am therefore minded to look for a form of words, perhaps by adding after the words "lawfully begotten" the further words "or subsequently legitimated" to the principal clause.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will have many points to pick up from this debate. He has been asked a number of questions. If he can give some indication of his view on illegitimacy, subsequently rectified by matrimony, as a debarment to inheritance of peerage, that would be much appreciated.

In conclusion, there is nothing God-given or sacrosanct about peerage law. There is no reason why it should not move with the times. It may not have to move very far. I do not know if we want to go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. There seems to be a general feeling around the House that perhaps we do not. But alternatives can only be tested at Committee stage and for that reason I support the Second Reading of the Bill.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask one question of him and the House. If I am right in saying that his direct male ancestor was legitimately the Jacobite Earl of Kilmarnock, was he not a Scottish Peer created before 1707? Was not that title attainted after the '45 rebellion? Has not every Jacobite title attainted since the '45 rebellion been unattainted except his earldom? Therefore, if Her Majesty, advised by the Government, were to advise that he should be unattainted, would he not legitimately be the Earl of Kilmarnock now and—because it was a pre-1707 Scottish peerage title whereby if one married the girl by whom the child was born it legitimated the child, which is Scottish law—his son undoubtedly be the Earl of Kilmarnock in his due time?

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, nobody yields to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray Segrave and Stourton, in knowledge of genealogy and peerage law both north and south of the Border. What he is saying is broadly correct, although there is some considerable process which would have to be gone through. I am not sure that he is entirely correct in saying that my son would automatically inherit. That would be a matter for further discussion. I did not wish to bring that up within the context of this Bill. In the last part of my speech I was looking at the question of illegitimacy in general as it applies to the inheritance of peerages in the United Kingdom.

9.29 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, after that intervention I rise with some trepidation to make what I can only describe as my maiden speech Mark Two from the comfort of the Back Benches after six years in the wilderness on the Front Bench. And it makes a change to be able to deliver a speech which I have written myself. I can therefore declare truthfully that I agree with everything that I am about to say.

I must first declare an interest. I have four daughters and no son. I have a younger brother who has a son. Incidentally, I have two older sisters. So it is fair to say that I can look at the problem from most angles.

The title which I bear is of relatively recent origin, my father having come to this House from another place in 1937. There is therefore no strong historical background to influence my feelings about the importance of continuity. On the other hand, I believe strongly in the importance of the hereditary system in this Chamber as a way of continuously bringing in a younger generation of Peers, often with wide interests and experience and knowledge of matters other than party politics.

But every system has to be examined from time to time to see whether it can be improved, and that is why the House, I am sure, is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the subject. My criticism of the Bill lies in the fact that it gives an hereditary Peer the power to choose his successor. This, to my mind, would only lead to endless arguments and family rows. I shall not enlarge on that as the point has been fully covered by my noble friend Lord Denham, by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in what I thought was an excellent speech, and by other noble Lords. However, in spite of that, I shall vote for the Bill on Second Reading as a step towards further discussion. What I would support wholeheartedly is an amendment to remove the element of choice, stating simply that, where there is no son, a daughter (the eldest if there is more than one) should be able to succeed to the title.

As we are talking about heredity, perhaps I may introduce a personal note before I sit down. The reason I am here is that Stanley Baldwin introduced my father to my mother. After an active political career, my father came to this House with Stanley Baldwin on his resignation as Prime Minister in 1937. My mother took over from my father as Member of Parliament for Hemel Hempstead at the by-election, a seat which she held until she retired in 1959. Incidentally, she was made a life Baroness in 1963 and, after my father died, she and I sat together on these Benches for 15 years until she died seven years ago. I could expand on that, but I shall not tonight.

Her father, my maternal grandfather, Mr. Dickinson, later Sir Willoughby Dickinson, was a Liberal, who had been Member of Parliament for North St. Pancras from 1906 to 1918. He was a leading advocate of women's suffrage and introduced a Bill for women's suffrage in another place as early as 1907. On 10th January 1918 he wrote in his diary: The House of Lords has passed the Women's Suffrage clauses by 134 to 69. So this job of mine is finished". In 1930 Ramsay MacDonald offered him a peerage. His introduction to the House of Lords was performed by Archbishop Davidson (no relative, although he had christened me the year before), and my grandfather took the Labour Whip.

I apologise for introducing this potted personal history, but it seemed to illustrate the dilemma which I feel I am in. How would my father, my mother, my maternal grandfather —all sometime Members of this House—have voted tonight? My grandfather would, I am sure, have voted for the Bill. My father, who always expressed pride that he was descended directly from John Knox, who wrote a pamphlet entitled, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, would, I guess, have voted against the Bill, and my mother would have just told me to make up my own mind.

9.33 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, we have heard a great deal about history and about equal rights in relation to this Bill. As has been pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, the main problem with the Bill is that it provides an element of choice. That is something with which everybody has some difficulty. All the hereditary Peers in this place have arrived here by accident. No choice has been exercised over whether we arrive here or not. We are all the beneficiaries of some biological lottery. Thus, if the element of choice is provided in the Bill, we have a problem because, even if it happens in only one generation, somebody will have to decide who will succeed to the title. Before deciding how I shall vote tonight I should like to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, when he comes to speak again, what kind of amendment he would be prepared to introduce to try to overcome this difficulty.

I can see no reason why we should not have a system whereby the eldest child inherits the title. That would have removed me from the Chamber as I have an elder sister; indeed my father had an elder sister. But it is very easy to be generous once one has arrived, and I feel no moral problem about saying that henceforth the title should go down through the female line.

To counter the point that has been made about history, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, and to the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, that, although we may have a historical past, we also have a political present. We affect the decisions that are taken now and we will affect decisions that are taken in the future. If we intend to use this position of privilege, we must be prepared to change. Unless we are prepared so to do, we cannot effectively carry on being part of the political system of the country.

It does not really matter if we have a great political past or that we have a great tradition of family. I am no expert on the subject but, when I was doing my A-levels and later when I was at university, I remember reading speeches made in the House of Commons about the Great Reform Bill. There were many marvellous speeches about family ties to a rotten borough. They were family property, quite literally. There was family control over county seats. One can justify more or less anything if one takes a historical precedent.

In addition, the reasons why we have arrived in this Chamber might not in today's parlance be all that acceptable. In my own situation, I think it would be a case of the nouveau riche of the 19th century acquiring land, political power and status and thus being rewarded by a place in your Lordships' House. Was that actually a very beneficial process? One can go back further. Should the descendants of people who were leading groups of the mediaeval equivalent of the heavy battle tank in military triumph and behaving to their tenants like the equivalent of Hell's Angels on horseback be in the position of exercising political power? Those are the questions we should ask ourselves when we decide how we should vote.

I agree that there are certain problems with the Bill. However, before we make a decision, we should listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, is prepared to accept and what changes he would suggest. We are not just a political past. We are a political present and future. If we lose sight of that we make our own position totally untenable.

9.38 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I must declare an interest in the Bill as I inherited my English title from my mother and she in her turn from her mother. We have, therefore, as a family, a little experience of what life would be like if a Bill of this kind were passed.

I can reassure your Lordships that we have retained all the sense of family and history that is associated with male succession despite swapping surnames every other generation and leaving a trail of extinguished male only titles behind us. The association of the concept of family with the male family name is not a necessary one. We seem at last to be entering a world, or at least a part of one, where the qualities associated with women are recognised by men as being the equal of their own. Our constitution is one that evolves, that survives and gains strength through change. Whether or not the hereditary peerage remains part of this House, but certainly while it does, we should give most serious consideration to making changes to reflect this fundamental and permanent change in our society. Every other element of the House is now committed to the principle of equality, and we have some catching up to do.

This is a simple Bill that raises many thorny and complicated issues, but ones that it is important that we should address. If, at the end of the debate, we find ourselves with no better alternative forum, we should allow the Bill to go forward to Committee at an early date. The anxieties reasonably expressed by my noble friend Lord Denham and others should surely be debated at length rather than being a reason to close debate now.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, I venture to address your Lordships as an avowed feminist and an avowed admirer of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. Nevertheless, I am afraid that I cannot possibly support his Bill for two reasons.

First, the Bill has fatal and fundamental flaws which are not susceptible of improvement in Committee. Secondly, the issues that it raises are part of a wider issue; namely, the composition and responsibilities of your Lordships' House—those two being interconnected are part of a wide spectrum of constitutional issues which are now clamant for consideration by a Royal Commission. I shall run through them: there is the referendum which seems to have come upon the Government unexpectedly so that we are all unprepared to consider in what circumstances a referendum is justified and who frames the questions; then there is the question of devolution. I refer not to the break-up of the United Kingdom which was fairly before the electorate at the general election, but to the much more modest and moderate case that was urged, for example, by my noble friend Lord Perth and which obviously demands consideration.

If there is to be devolution—I am sure that we shall be faced with it within this Parliament or at the next general election—how is it to be financed? What effect will it have upon representation at Westminster, as to the residual powers of the United Kingdom Parliament and as to specifically English issues which are similar to those which are devolved? What will be the Scottish representation in those cases? That is the second big issue.

There is also the question of what is to happen in a hung Parliament, a question which has barely been considered and which is liable to be extremely embarrassing to the monarch and to all who value her independence and prerogative. Finally, as I said, there is the question of the composition and the powers of your Lordships' House. I have no doubt that the Government hope that by shutting their eyes many of those problems will simply disappear. I do not believe that for a moment. They seem sometimes to think that by sticking their heads deep into the sand the wind will not ruffle their tail feathers. That is hopeless. Those problems, together with the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has posed to us, have to be considered and considered at a high level.

I turn from those issues to the flaws in the Bill. They arise from the fact that an option is given which seems to be considered in two ways. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and some of the other Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken in support of the Bill seem to think that the option carries the day, that the Queen, the monarch, is bound to accept the choice of the holder of the title. But that is not what the Bill says. It says that there is a discretion. Whether it is a binding convention that the monarch has to accept the option of the holder of the title or whether there is a discretion, either course is equally objectionable.

Let us take first the binding force of the option exercised by the holder of the title. At the moment, the monarch is the fount of all honour and the succession to a peerage is governed by law and not by discretion. But what is proposed, if there is a binding option, is that an individual Member of your Lordships' House can control the membership of the House. That is surely quite unacceptable.

If there is a discretion, who is to exercise it? The noble Baroness, Lady Platt, seemed to suggest that it would be exercised by the Queen herself, but it is surely quite impossible to bring her into the family squabbles which a disputed decision presupposes. What normally happens in a dispute as to who is entitled to be called to your Lordships' House is that the law officers advise the monarch and identify any issue of fact, although that is rare. It may arise, for example, on a paternity issue and also on the issues of law.

The monarch refers the question on the basis of that advice to your Lordships' House and your Lordships refer it to the Committee for Privileges. Half the committee members are lawyers and half are lay Peers. It is quite impossible for them to sort out, as a matter of discretion, whether the option shall be implemented. It would be one thing to enact that unisex primogeniture—in other words the succession of the eldest child, whether male or female—should replace male primogeniture, but that is not what the Bill does. That would be logical and sensible to a feminist but it is not what the Bill does. In any case, it would require to be carefully considered in relation, for example, to succession to the Crown and also in relation to property.

The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was not quite right when he said that the Bill does not affect property rights. Although entail has largely but not wholly disappeared from our law, there are several estates which devolve with the title. That was the case, I recollect, in the Fitzwilliam peerage case fairly soon after the war when very large sums passed with the title. Either way of operating the option is deeply flawed and is quite unsusceptible of being put right in Committee. As I have said, this is not a Bill to substitute unisex primogeniture for male primogeniture.

However, we are in debt to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for having raised this issue. If my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack would indicate that consideration would be given to having the issues raised by this Bill, and all the other issues which I have mentioned, investigated by a Royal Commission, the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, would have once again performed a valuable service to your Lordships' House.

9.51 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, will not mind if I slightly disagree with him because, rightly or wrongly, I accept the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, is introducing this Bill for daughters to inherit peerages as a part of the ongoing process of achieving equal opportunities for women. Before going any further, I must congratulate the noble Lord upon giving us so much notice of this Bill. He let us know his intention to introduce this Bill last summer. One is rarely given such warning of a Bill. We had plenty of notice.

The main object of this Bill is to entitle daughters to inherit titles. Therefore I shall start by discussing the history of women gaining opportunities as it is the expression "equal opportunities"—that is a far nicer expression than "sexual discrimination"—which is on offer. That history must surely begin with the Married Women's Property Act 1882. There had been nibbles at the injustice in question going back to 1874, but I am sure my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack would agree that that Act was the most important one, as I believe it applied to Scotland. I have discovered in the Library that the Act passed in 1962 resolved that situation. However, the important date is that of the Act of 1882.

Again it is that Act rather than the vote that women gained in 1919 that was the turning point. It was surely utterly iniquitous for the husband to have control of the wife's finances. I hope your Lordships will bear with me as I explain this. The argument about that had continued for a century or two before then. As a genealogist I have read many wills where fathers have left money to their daughters. Those fathers have stated that their money or property should be left for their daughters' sole use and not for the use of their daughters' husbands. I am sure that was done with good reason.

Following that Act the vote for women under 28 was established in 1919 and the rest is history. I must add that women played an important role in commerce long before those two statutory events. Usually those women were widows but sometimes they were spinsters. They had to employ a runner in their commercial activities. There have been many situations since where women's paths have been cleared though that has usually not been easy. Since then women have held responsible positions in life. Walls have ceased to exist and barriers have been broken down. Hurdles have been flattened and the path is now fairly dry.

I now turn to the Bill itself. I have given great thought to it since I met the noble Lord on the stairs and I believe firmly that the holder of a title is totally unsuited to deciding which heir to choose. That personal choice could be invidious, creating bitterness and unhappiness. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that we do not want that to enter into the argument.

Where wealth is involved it does not matter whether the amount involved is £50 or £500,000 to the beneficiaries. It must be made clear. There is so much gerrymandering. People are kept on a string. We do not want it to be possible for a Peer to say, "You are not going to get my title". We cannot allow any individual Peer to decide the issue. Even if it was extended to the family that could be distorted.

We will all be familiar with instances where it has not been decided who will get grandfather's half-hunter watch. It will probably go to Cousin Edgar, who, at the first opportunity, will take it to the market. There might be Aunt Lucy's brooch of amethysts and garnets, surrounded by pearls. It is an heirloom, but it has not been decided who will receive it. Everything must be clear cut. I say to your Lordships that we must make this issue clear cut.

My noble friend Lord Denham made a remarkable speech on 19th November 1968 (reported in cols. 699 to 706 of Hansard of that date) in relation to the proposed reform of your Lordships' House. I felt that his argument today was rather thin in comparison to his argument on that occasion, when his was a striking speech. We are not contesting hereditary peerages this evening.

I cannot accept the Bill as it stands, but I am sure that it is worthy of amendment. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, could give a clear undertaking that he would be prepared to accept an amendment that would allow daughters to receive a peerage as of right through primogeniture. I am sure that that would enrich the hereditary principle. In my humble submission, I believe that we should agree to a Second Reading and go through the processes. There are several stages which would follow, and I believe that we should consider this very important Bill.

9.57 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Strafford on his maiden speech. I hope that he will make many more contributions in the future.

When I put my name down to speak on the Bill I did so with the sole intention of expressing my support for greater representation of women Peers in your Lordships' House. While I remain resolute on that stand I must admit that having spoken to many noble Lords before the debate today and having listened to the excellent, cogent and in many cases complex speeches I am all the more confused. I had intended initially to support the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, but I shall certainly look for more assurances when he closes the debate before deciding which way to vote in a Division.

I have heard some noble Lords describe the Bill as an attempt to start the ball rolling and ultimately to abolish hereditary peerages. I do not agree with that approach. Without speaking my own book, I believe that hereditary Peers have a valuable and constructive role to play in your Lordships' House, both through their contributions to debates, through Select Committees and in the many other roles which they play. I took exception to the recent Channel 4 programme, which in my opinion gave a biased, inaccurate and skewed overview of the functionings of your Lordships' House.

As the twentieth speaker in this Second Reading debate it is difficult to come up with novel arguments that have not already been raised. As the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, mentioned, the Bill relates to the subject of sex discrimination and the power of Her Majesty to amend the letters patent of hereditary peerages. I shall not dwell on my argument for the retention of the role of hereditary peers. I am the 21st St. John of Bletso, a title which was created in 1559. I have not yet had the good fortune of getting married and setting up a family. But I do have a male heir who is a fairly distant relation. Should I become a father only of girls, I personally would wish that my eldest surviving daughter should inherit my title.

However, having said that, I do not support the wording of the Bill before us. I agree with the criticisms expressed and the concerns of many noble Lords; namely, that giving the holder of an hereditary title the option of applying to Her Majesty to amend the letters patent so as to pass on the title to the eldest child, being a female, rather than to a younger or more distant male, could lead to massive abuse. It could certainly lead to dashed expectations and even to serious family feuds. While I am sympathetic to the call for the eldest child to inherit the title irrespective of sex, I accept the strong feelings and arguments of those noble Lords who feel that it would undermine the inheritance system.

Peerages are described by many as a particular kind of inheritance which should be passed only through the male line. But I feel that there is scope for a re-think of this policy should there be no male in line.

As several noble Lords have mentioned, the House of Lords was originally a feudal assembly required to do military or knightly service for the sovereign. It was never intended that females should lead their soldiers into battle. Thankfully, contemporary thinking and policies have changed and there is no denying the invaluable role that women Peers play in your Lordships' House.

I am particularly in favour of allowances being made to hereditary Peers whose titles are destined to become extinct as they have no male heirs but have daughters. I would welcome the concession being granted in those cases to petition Her Majesty to amend the letters patent, thus allowing the eldest daughter to take on the title. I would also recommend that more special remainders be granted—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—in the event of more hereditary titles being created in the future.

In conclusion, though I am not in favour of the wording of the Bill, I strongly support the objective to increase the balance of women Peers in your Lordships' House. It may be that, as my noble and learned friend Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle mentioned, the Bill should be scrapped and totally redrafted from scratch. If, however, the Bill can be amended at Committee stage to provide a compromise for the concerns and desires expressed by many noble Lords today, I believe that it deserves a Second Reading.

10.3 p.m.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, we have heard many arguments for and against the Bill. What I might have been able to say is pure repetition, so I shall not say very much more. My interest in the Bill is purely personal. Unless the present constitution is altered, the Gainford peerage is safe because I have two younger brothers who have between them five sons. I myself have no sons but I have two daughters. I should love it if my eldest daughter could follow me into your Lordships' House. That is my personal wish. I know that my judgment is prejudiced but I believe that she would make a cracking good Member of this House.

I support the Bill and, like other noble Lords, would like to see it go forward to Committee and Report stages. There are always experts available in your Lordships' House. Noble Lords' expertise is well famed and admired throughout the whole world. If the Bill becomes law I have promised that I will make the choice available to me only with the full consent, understanding and, in particular, the good will of my younger brothers and their families. I could not do so otherwise. Having spoken previously about the Bill to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and in the hope that it will go on to further stages, I give it my full support.

10.5 p.m.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, I declare an interest and the fact that I hold a recent peerage. I inherited it from my father, who was the first to hold it. In his early days he sat on the Benches opposite. Clement Attlee gave my father the peerage for services in the colonial service. He left those Benches at the time of the nationalisation of steel.

I too have no sons; I have two daughters. Both are as able and capable as I have been perhaps in a small way and as capable as my younger brother or older sister. My daughters would be capable because they represent the younger generation of women who have as many gifts, capabilities and virtues as any of us men. More women Members will bless this House by their presence.

I hope that if the Bill is passed I can persuade my family that it is only right, natural and proper that my daughter shall succeed. Some noble Lords have implied that only good and excellent virtues can be taken from the male line. I do not believe that families will be broken up if the daughters inherit. If the family is real and true it will not break up. Therefore, that argument is not good. After all, good qualities descend from women too. Those of us who begat daughters hope that our daughters will carry on those good qualities. I am sure that many daughters have carried on the wonderful and decent characters of their fathers.

I know that there are difficulties but I believe that the introduction of the Bill is good. If we delay or dismiss the Bill we shall not be doing women, ourselves, the country or anyone any good. I acknowledge that many of its provisions need tidying up. But surely this House has the ability to do that. For instance, it would not be right or fair for a Peer with an older daughter and a younger son to have to decide after talking with them who should inherit the title. That sort of thing, as has been said already, needs to be put right. It should basically be the eldest who succeeds. If the eldest is a daughter, let it be the daughter. Therefore, I support the Bill.

I do not think it would be at all helpful to delay the Bill. We ought to take courage, accept it, and then believe, even though there may be many things to tidy up and put right, that we can do that in Committee. I hope that that is what will happen. We owe the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, thanks for having the courage to introduce this Bill, because it needed courage to do this.

10.11 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, in thanking my noble friend Lord Diamond for introducing this Bill. Even those who are most strongly opposed to the Bill and its purpose would concede that he has provoked a most fascinating debate in your Lordships' House. We all listened entranced to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, and to the possibility that he might simultaneously also have been the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Shrewsbury. For my part I was totally fascinated to discover that the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, for whom we all have great respect, actually holds 16 peerages. If in fact the Bill were to pass into law in its present form, which I am bound to say seems rather doubtful, I should think that the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, might be able to make quite a notable difference to the composition of this House.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, I have just worked it out. It is only nine.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, even nine Peeresses in their own right as part of the noble Duke's contribution to this House would be of great interest to us.

As a mere life Peer I do not have the same family interest in the merits and effects of this Bill as do the Members of your Lordships' House who are hereditary Peers. Those are highly personal issues involving, as has come out poignantly throughout the debate, great family pride and pride in tradition and the role that the family has played in this House, sometimes over many generations. It is not surprising that many different views have been expressed. Indeed not even my colleagues on these Benches have totally agreed with each other about what they wish to say about the Bill.

After some of the absorbing speeches we have heard I am afraid that my duty from this Bench is the rather dull one of seeking to state my party's approach to the issues raised by the Bill. So far as some future reform of the Upper House is concerned, we on these Benches do not believe in the hereditary principle as a modern basis for selecting legislators. On the other hand we believe in your Lordships' House as it is presently constituted, in the principle of equal rights for women to succeed to peerages and to play the part in the work of the House that so many of them already do so notably.

It is not a radical suggestion that lies behind my noble friend's Bill. He is simply seeking to bring the system of hereditary peerages in this House into line with modern ideas about the role and place of women. As the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, said in an extremely interesting way, this House has gone through a continual process of modernisation. Apart from the ancient aristocratic peerages, whose history we listened to with great interest, a large part of the composition of this House is of fairly recent appointment.

In saying that I do not wish to reflect in any way on the contribution that hereditary Peers make to the work of this House. Some of my best friends are hereditary Peers. How could it be otherwise when I find myself, towards the end of my political life, in a party in which life Peers outnumber only narrowly —by 31 to 28—their hereditary colleagues? As regards the hereditary Peers on the Conservative Benches, where normally heredity flourishes—we shall wait to see what happens tonight—and one can always be summoned from the shires to produce a majority, I endorse what has been said by other noble Lords in this debate as regards those who serve on the Front Bench. Many of us admire the way in which the hereditary Members of the ministerial Bench, overworked and underpaid, carry out their duties with zeal and dedication. All things are relative in your Lordships' House and these people add a relatively rejuvenating atmosphere to the work of the House. In the absence of hereditary Peers, the Conservative Government would find it more difficult to provide a working Front Bench than would a Labour Administration.

However, enough of that. This debate has revealed how long the battle has continued to allow women to sit as hereditary Peers in their own right in your Lordships' House and how resistant the House has been to each change until perhaps it has finally been considered. Having listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, I am not sure whether that attitude has totally changed even today. I regard the noble Lord, whose presence on the Front Bench we all miss, as a kind of latter-day Lord Birkenhead, who in the 1920s fought a vigorous campaign to prevent Lady Rhondda taking her place here in the House and who opposed vigorously the efforts made by the grandfather of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, to produce Bills that would have dealt with the disqualification of women. As has been said, it was not until the Peerage Act of 1963 that the small number of women possessing hereditary Peerages were given the right to sit and to vote.

When the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor comes to speak, I hope that perhaps he will agree with me that they order these things better in Scotland, where, from the 12th century onwards, the tradition of heirs general has ruled. Today your Lordships' House benefits from the presence of a number of noble Baronesses who come from that Scottish tradition. I personally was a little saddened that, adorning that tradition as she does, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, seemed so very strongly opposed to spreading the benefits that she has enjoyed to other people coming from south of the Border.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I was not entirely opposed to spreading the benefits that the noble Lord says I enjoy. I said that, if it is done, I thought it should be done by remainder to heirs general, not by the means that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, suggests.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lady for that clarification. She certainly sounded pretty opposed to the proposal of my noble friend Lord Diamond.

However, I am bound to say that the whole tenor of the debate, even among those of us who strongly support the objectives of the Bill, has expressed concern about the practical problems of the formula that my noble friend proposes. For my part, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, would have been wiser to have adopted the straightforward Scottish principle of descent to heirs general. As has been said, the noble Lord gives hereditary Peers the extremely agonising discretion to decide whether the eldest daughter should succeed to the title or whether it should continue to pass to a younger son.

I understand the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, to meet his critics half way—at least I assume that that is why he has put the proposal into the Bill—but it seems to me to be an unsatisfactory compromise. Either there is a consistent principle that the daughters in a Peer's family should be treated on the same basis as the sons, or there is not. It has been argued that this eldest child principle would destroy unacceptably the legitimate expectations on the part of a male heir. I understand the human problem that might very well be involved in that, but it is not a unique human problem confined to the sons of hereditary peers. In life as it is lived today in this country, there are a very large number of people of all kinds who find that their legitimate expectations are not likely to be fulfilled during their lifetime.

The fact is that much legislative change, like much economic change, is continually destroying the expectations of those who would prefer, like so many of us, an undisturbed status quo. I do not myself think that that is an insuperable objection. However, I agree with those who feel that at the Committee stage of this Bill—and I personally hope that there will be a Committee stage—there will be much to examine and amend, in terms of making progress.

The noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, in what I thought was a delightful speech, put forward a modest compromise of his own. I prefer what I have proposed, but his proposal, as I understand it, was that if there was no son the eldest daughter should be entitled to the peerage. That is something worth exploring, as are other ideas that have come up in the debate.

On these Benches, we strongly share the objective that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, seeks to achieve with this Bill. We for our part hope that it will be given a Second Reading and that during Committee stage it may be amended in whatever way your Lordships think wisest in order to make it as effective as possible.

10.22 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, like earlier speakers, I should like from these Benches to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Strafford, on his maiden speech. He was commendably brief and I agreed with virtually every word that he said. I hope that we shall be hearing from him frequently in this House in the future.

As a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House, I am, perhaps naively, still surprised at how little it takes to summon up the forces of reaction or to stir up the seemingly bottomless currents of resistance to the 20th century, or to any change. In your Lordships' House those forces sometimes come clothed in the disguise of reason, like the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, or the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur; sometimes such forces come naked and unashamed in the guise of the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the breeding of almost everyone in this House leaves me breathless with admiration, even if his views do not.

I had thought that the principles that a woman should be treated by law and in fact as not in any way intrinsically inferior to a man, that a woman should have the same right to play a part in the government of her country as a man does and that discrimination on the grounds of sex is inherently unjust were principles which had found universal favour in our land. I also thought that they had been endorsed by your Lordships' House both in the anti-discrimination legislation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, referred and in the way in which this House treats those who are presently here as women Peers and who play a full and equal part in its work. But I was wrong.

This modest little Bill, which does no more than to whisper in the ear of noble hereditary Lords that they might, but only if they see fit, care to start to apply these principles in their own lives and within their own families, has been met with a storm of protest from some of your Lordships, which could scarcely have been louder if the proposed legislation had been intended to close down the College of Arms and make redundancy payments to Garter and the Heralds.

The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, goes nowhere near as far as we on these Benches, and I sense others too throughout this House, would wish. In our view on these Benches the hereditary principle, while it may serve some quaint, archaic function and be of use perhaps to the tourist trade or on ceremonial occasions, has no place whatever in government. If the Upper Chamber is to survive —and speaking for myself I feel that this House performs a role which is both unique and valuable and without which the government of this nation would be the poorer—full-scale reform will almost certainly be required. But —and now I speak in a personal capacity because there is no Whip on this issue from these Benches—until that time, which may not be that far away, the hereditary principle will continue to play a part, and an important part, in the composition of this House. It is surely therefore desirable that the system should be improved as much as possible during that period.

This House suffers from an acute shortage of women—77 out of 1,217 if my figures are correct. There is no woman as yet on the Bishops Benches, although it is perhaps a little early to expect that; but no women as yet among the Law Lords is inexcusable. While there are young men in this House, some of whom—and I entirely accept and endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, said—represent an age group and points of view which would have no other means of expression in this Chamber, what is noticeable to anyone coming into your Lordships' House is the total absence of young women. My attention was graphically drawn to that shortly after I came into this House by a young hereditary Peer on the other side of the House who is not in the Chamber at present but who, having cast his eye around the occupants of the Library one soporific afternoon, turned to me and said, "The real trouble with this place is that there is absolutely no opportunity for adultery".

While the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, did not choose to advance that argument in support of his Bill, women who have to deal personally with the difficulties of a home, a young family and a job as well and who constitute a substantial and important part of the population, are virtually totally unrepresented in your Lordships' House today. I confess that I was shocked to hear the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, say that they should remain in that position as they were too busy feeding children. That was a view which I thought had faded into the mists of history and I venture to suggest that no man in your Lordships' House would have dared to advance it in 1992.

For my money the Bill is far too modest in its aims. I should have preferred to be supporting a Bill which, for so long as hereditary peerages continued, required the title to descend automatically to the eldest child regardless of sex. I understand the noble Lord's reason for taking his present course. He has chosen to present a Bill which seeks to meet the objections of some of those who either want to continue to live in the past when boys were considered preferable to girls, or who choose to perpetuate an injustice in the name of history and tradition and also, to be fair, those who feel that promises and expectations have been made within their families which they wish to honour. The Bill would allow them all to do as they please. Accordingly, I find it difficult to understand many of the objections that are still raised in those respects.

I have great sympathy for those who, under the Bill, would face a hard choice between an eldest daughter and a youngest son. But the picture that certain noble Lords painted and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, of dying Peers with gambling debts possibly being bribed, threatened or blackmailed by their children on their death beds, paints a worrying and disturbing picture of family life among the hereditary aristocracy of which I, as a mere life Peer, was wholly unaware.

A difficult decision for an individual Peer is surely preferable to the automatic insult to the eldest daughter which is currently enshrined and given respectability in the law and which, by its very nature, is an insult not just to the oldest children of hereditary Peers who happen to be girls, but to all women.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, seeks, in effect, to wreck this modest Bill with his amendment. He has done so with great cleverness and without showing his hand at all. Will he tell us whether he thinks it is better that some other reform of the hereditary system of this House takes place or none at all? If, as I suspect, his answer would be, if pressed, that he wishes to keep the status quo, then I hope that his amendment will not attract the support of those who, like me, would ideally have preferred sterner stuff.

For all its shortcomings, defects and faults, this Bill is a step along the right path. The underlying principle is right and whatever its imperfections they should be addressed at a later stage of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, will therefore have my support and also my thanks for prompting, through the introduction of this Bill, an excellent debate which has been an education to all of us who have sat through it in this House. But he also deserves our gratitude for raising this matter at all; the gratitude not simply of women Peers or of potential women Peers, but of all who care about equality and fairness.

10.31 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, I would like to begin by adding my congratulations to those already offered to the noble Earl, Lord Strafford, on his very eloquent and interesting maiden speech. I share also the hope that we shall hear him more often as time goes on.

As has been made clear, this Bill makes provision for Her Majesty to have the power, on a petition from the holder of an hereditary peerage to amend the letters patent creating that peerage so that it may descend to the Peer's eldest legitimate heir whether male or female. I am sure that I have the support of the whole of your Lordships' House in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for drawing the House's attention to this important topic. I am sure that I also speak for the whole House in saying that we have had a most interesting debate and one which has illuminated some interesting corners of the peerage system, with an intimate knowledge displayed on these matters by a number of your Lordships.

The Government are fully in support of equal opportunities for the sexes and understand therefore the principle underlying the Bill. I do not myself think it likely that, in promoting the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was wishing to meet the aspiration of the gentleman whom, apparently, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, met in the Library.

I believe that the Government's record in relation to equal opportunities for the sexes bears out what I have said. I wish to highlight two matters. The first is the Government's full support for the aims of Opportunity 2000, a national campaign to increase the quality and quantity of women's participation at work. As part of this campaign, government departments are producing action plans for improving the position of women in their various areas of responsibility. The second is the Prime Minister's initiative, launched last year, to improve the number of public appointments held by women and members of the ethnic minorities. As a result of that initiative the overall percentage of women holding public appointments has risen from 23 per cent. in 1991 to 26 per cent. at 1st September 1992. The noble Baroness expressed disappointment that there was not yet a woman among the Law Lords. Well who knows what may happen in that connection?

I am sure that I also reflect the views of all of your Lordships in paying tribute to the valuable and hard work done by the female Members of this House. Our debates are much enriched by their contributions. As the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, pointed out, statistics reveal that female Members have a much better attendance record per head than their male counterparts. I am sure that that is not an accident. In that connection, it is right that I should also warmly support what my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle said about our gracious sovereign and the devoted service that she has given to this nation, the Commonwealth and, indeed, the world during her reign. I am sure that we are all anxious that every blessing will attend herself and her family in the years to come.

I should like to say a word or two about the legal background to the Bill. Under English law, the letters patent creating an hereditary peerage must specify, among other matters, the descent of that peerage to future heirs. Any such descent must be of a kind known to the law and it is well established that the Crown cannot grant a peerage which is limited to descend in a form unknown to the law. The rule and practice in modern times are that it must be a limitation to heirs male of the body with an occasional addition of special remainders to bring in the daughters and their issue, brothers, nephews and collaterals, but ultimately the descent is fixed in an heir male line.

My noble and learned friend Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle has already indicated the rather different position in relation to Scottish peerages. He referred especially to those created before the Union. Perhaps it would not be advisable for me, speaking from this position, to associate myself too closely with the remarks on this subject of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth.

The situation is, of course, special in relation to life peerages because of the obvious qualification involved. Consequently, the form of descent proposed in the Bill is one which is unknown to the law and which, without the statutory sanction the Bill would confer, would not be valid.

So far as the object of seeking equal opportunity for the sexes is concerned, I have nothing further to say. However, the Government see several considerable difficulties with the Bill as it is presently drafted, and I wish to speak about it on that basis. First, as most of the speeches have borne out, there is a strong feeling on all sides of the House that the holder of an hereditary peerage holds his peerage in trust, as it were —a tenant, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said, rather than a freeholder—for his descendants so that he should not be able to influence the line of succession at his choice. To allow him to do so would both disappoint the legitimate expectations of the male heirs of the Peers in question and also operate retrospectively in the sense that it might remove the vested, albeit contingent, rights of those heirs.

As has been said, it is true that people's expectations are often disappointed, but it is a question of whether it is right to alter these by retrospective legislation—retrospective in the sense that it would affect letters patent granted long before the Bill came into effect. A strong view could certainly be taken that it would be unfair to such heirs and a recipe for unhappy dissension in those families where it is sought to alter the descent of the peerage.

A second difficulty is that to alter peerage law in the way proposed could also create practical problems for those Peers where arrangements have been made for their property to descend, through trusts, to their male heirs. The Government understand the concerns of those who foresee such difficulties arising from the separation of property from title in these circumstances. The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, referred to this matter.

I construe the Bill as first of all requiring action on the part of the current holder of the title in application to Her Majesty. My noble friend Lord Denham asked me whether, if that had been tainted by undue influence, the court could have a place. The details of the arrangements proposed are not sufficiently specific to enable me to give a confident answer to that question because it is linked with the next matter.

A third and significant difficulty with the Bill, as it is presently drafted, is the uncertainty it would create in relation to the role of Her Majesty the Queen in the matter. No machinery is provided for dealing with any request for the succession to be changed. It leaves the decision to Her Majesty without any rules or guidance as to how such a request should be dealt with. It is not difficult to imagine such a request being opposed by the prospective male heir to a title, thereby involving the Crown in determining between the claims of the existing heir and an eldest daughter. The Government consider it inappropriate that the Crown should be involved in this way in what could be unseemly family arguments.

This is the fundamental approach of the Bill. The Bill is not a general one of the kind described, for example, by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. The thrust of the Bill is to initiate the change by reference to the application of the current holder of the title. That is part of the fundamental structure of the Bill, although the Bill itself has a very wide Long Title.

My noble and learned friend Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle drew attention in his speech to difficult questions about the nature of the further devolution if this change were to be initiated and the application granted by Her Majesty. A number of noble Lords have spoken about more general questions. I think it right to confine myself to the subject matter of the Bill as presently proposed. Questions regarding the proper effect of legitimation by subsequent marriage in relation to titles and also questions about whether or not a general destination to heirs general would be preferable in these titles have been raised but I think it wise for me simply to give the view of the Government on the Bill. What I have been doing is to draw your Lordships' attention to defects in the Bill as drafted which seem to me to be important. Others have been mentioned but I have selected those as the principal ones. But whether or not the Bill should receive a Second Reading is pre-eminently a matter for your Lordships on a free vote.

I merely wish to conclude on a note of gratitude to all those who have taken part in what has been a most lively and interesting debate. As I said at the beginning, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for his action in initiating the debate.

10.44 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, no one could be more grateful than I am, not just to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for what he said, or to the maiden speaker who spoke with such clarity and helpfulness on a matter which he found sufficiently important to devote his maiden speech to it, which is a great honour to anyone introducing a Private Member's Bill, but generally to Members of your Lordships' House for appearing in such large numbers and contributing so fully to the discussion. I cannot possibly, nor does the time permit, answer every detailed point, but I shall deal with one or two of the themes which have come up time and time again.

First, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the Bill has nothing to do with the total reform of your Lordships' House. Anyone who was in government the last time an attempt was made will not easily make another attempt. There has to be a Speaker's Conference, agreement between the parties and an enormous amount of free time available in the Chambers of both House to enable almost endless discussion to take place, because, of course, on a constitutional issue such as this one cannot limit the length of speeches. All that has to happen before a government—not a private individual—can attempt to bring forward a major reform of your Lordships' House. That is out of consideration.

It seemed to me that we could do something which would improve the work of the House, improve the standing of the House in public esteem, and enable a gross disfigurement of our activities to be removed; namely, the exclusion of women from an equal share in the opportunities which the Government want and I want them to have. That is what I had in mind in bringing forward the Bill. It is one that has been in my mind, as must be obvious to the House from the number of times I have raised the subject at Question Time, for over eight years. It is no sudden inspiration. It is something which has been steaming up inside me until I could control it no longer. That is why I introduced the Bill at this time. I had in mind also that it is a long Session and there is therefore ample time for discussion here and in another place if one were fortunate enough to achieve a Second Reading.

Clearly I made a major mistake. I am not by nature a person to compel other people to do what they do not want to do. Therefore, I thought that I was right to start with a small, one-clause Bill. I am deeply grateful to the House authorities who have enabled me to bring forward the idea couched in just a few lines and in one clause. I thought it far better to start with a Bill which left it to noble Lords to decide what they wanted. If we could reach a Committee stage we could put forward amendment after amendment and have a thorough discussion. One cannot discuss on Second Reading; one can make speeches on Second Reading. I even have the good fortune to be able to make a second speech. We cannot exchange views on detailed points on Second Reading, we can only do that in Committee. I had hoped that in Committee Members would come forward with any ideas that occur to them, including, in particular, the remedy to a difficulty to which many Peers have referred—namely, that they do not want the responsibility and embarrassment of making the choice themselves. I referred to that issue in my opening comments and I mentioned a way of overcoming that difficulty.

I apologise for my misjudgment. I must say that I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, surprise at the extent to which a number of hereditary Peers felt themselves incapable of making choices. It must be my fault. I spent six years as Chief Secretary to the Treasury making several choices per day. It was not all that difficult because every choice was "no"; nevertheless, I was a little surprised, but that is for your Lordships to decide. That is why I wanted merely to bring the matter forward and let your Lordships decide at Committee stage what was the best way to proceed.

I am grateful to all who expressed the view that we should do our best to remove the blatant discrimination against women. That is my main purpose. I hope that those noble Lords will also share the view that this matter is of great interest outside your Lordships' House. The media have picked it up. I have done seven television broadcasts. People in Canada and in the United States were interested.

Clearly, the outside world is looking at what we do. I hope that the message going from this House will not be that we are so unwilling to consider change that we are not even prepared to give the Bill an opportunity to be considered at Committee stage. Your Lordships may come to the conclusion at the end of the Committee stage, or any further stage, that there is no future for the Bill, no possibility of getting a consensus. I hope that we can. but your Lordships may reach that conclusion. Very well, then is the time to vote against the Bill, but not now. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will be good enough to allow the Bill to go on to its Committee stage.

10.51 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, after that speech in such moderate terms by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, I feel particularly bad about having to proceed with my amendment. I hope that no one will get the idea that any Peer who votes against the Bill is against women and is some kind of reactionary chauvinist. I wish to assure the House that certainly I and, I suspect, anyone who happens to come into the Division Lobby will be only too pleased to see as many young women as possible in the House, and not only for the reasons hinted at by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu's friend.

My sticking point over the Bill is that I do not think that it is right. However right it is to have hereditary Peeresses in the House, I do not think that it is right to deprive the existing heirs male of something that they always had a right to expect. That is my sticking point with the Bill.

I also feel slightly that in parliamentary terms it is not proper to give a Second Reading to a Bill whose Long Title is so widely drawn and whose single clause is, I think, admitted in its main contention to leave the choice of successor to the existing Peer. Through the course of the debate that clause has been held by the majority of people to be flawed. I am afraid that I must therefore press my amendment.

10.53 p.m.

On Question, whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 60; Not-Contents, 33.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. Cranborne, V.
Ackner, L Cumberlege, B.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Astor, V. Denton of Wakefield, B.
Bessborough, E. Donegall, M.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Dudley, E.
Buckmaster, V. Elton, L.
Cadman, L. Falkland, V.
Caldecote, V. Geddes, L.
Camoys, L. Glenarthur, L.
Goschen, V. Norfolk, D.
Halsbury, E. Palmer, L.
Harrowby, E. Pender, L.
Henley, L. Romney, E.
Hesketh, L. St. Davids, V.
HolmPatrick, L. Salisbury, M.
Hylton-Foster, B. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Jauncey of Tullichettle, L. Shrewsbury, E. [Teller.]
Lauderdale, E. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Liverpool, E. Stockton, E.
Long, V. Strabolgi, L.
Mancroft, L. Strathclyde, L.
Mills, V. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Milner of Leeds, L. Terrington, L.
Monckton of Brenchley, V. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Trefgarne, L.
Monson, L. Trumpington, B.
Morris, L. Vivian, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Wakcham, L.
Napier and Ettrick, L. Warnock, B.
Addington, L Mallalieu, B.
Attlee, E. Milverton, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Ogmore, L.
Birdwood, L. Parkinson, L.
Byron, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Colville of Culross, V. Rea, L.
Craigavon, V. Redesdale, L.
Davidson, V. Richard, L.
Diamond, L. [Teller.] Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Gainford, L. St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Bp.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Strafford, E.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Teviot, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L [Teller.]
Kitchener, E.
Lucas, L. Wharton, B.
McNair, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.