Equality in the peerage took a big step forward last Friday when a bill which seeks to remove the gender bias of titles in the United Kingdom and also to afford husbands of peers and civil partners of peers courtesy titles got its second reading in the House of Lords.
The Queen herself has given her approval for the bill to proceed, as is required for any bill which concerns the royal prerogative, in the Lords and it is now set to continue to what’s known as the Committee Stage, where the bill is scrutinised, line by line to make sure there are no unintended consequences with any of the laws.
The Equality (Titles) Bill was introduced to the House of Lords in May of this year when Lord Lucas, whose own title was originally held by a woman, seeks to follow the ‘example of the crown’ and introduce gender equality to the peerage, as the Succession of the Crown Act is to do to the Monarchy.
Despite this, the provisions of the bill do not seek to enforce themselves on peers, but rather they say that the current holder of a peerage should be able to petition the Lord Chancellor for a certificate which would change the remainder (succession path) for a peerage, meaning the eldest child, regardless of gender, would succeed to a title.
As well as this provision, the bill also seeks to allow husbands of female peers and civil partners of peers to hold courtesy titles, something currently only enjoyed by wives of male peers. The bill states that the husband of a female peer, baronetess or dame ‘shall be entitled to use the courtesy title The Honourable’. The same applies to civil partners of peers, baronets, baronetesses, knights and dames.
Whether this bill will make it through the House of Lords and into the Commons and then into law is not clear at the moment. Many peers hope it will, including Viscount Simon who said, “My title dies with me, but I have a child, a daughter. Should she inherit my title? Most definitely. I am going to get personal. My daughter has risen to the top of her career in an age when we are encouraging more gender equality in the boardroom… The only place where she faces equality issues based on her gender is here, in this House.”
The date for the committee stage for this bill is yet to be announced and its progress remains ongoing.