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By Ben Guerin
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Philip Davies MP: Male primogeniture rule in the House of Lords must go

3 min read

A centuries-old rule barring daughters from becoming hereditary Peers has no place in today’s Parliament. It must be scrapped in the name of equality, writes Philip Davies MP 

It is now widely accepted that discrimination on the grounds of sex is morally wrong as well as unlawful. It would be wise, then, for the Government to heed Penny Mordaunt’s recent call to bring an end to male primogeniture. As a nation we pride ourselves on fairness and equality, and indeed we encourage other countries to treat girls and boys equally. To do this with credibility we must be capable of withstanding scrutiny, so it is a matter of national shame that we still allow discrimination against daughters through male primogeniture.

Let us be clear. This is solely because they are girls. As Government minister Vicky Ford MP has said, “Girls and boys, women and men are equal. It is completely unacceptable for there to be any area of UK law where one sex is preferred to the other. This has to change.”

One of the consequences of male primogeniture is that those women who are the daughters of hereditary Peers (with exception) are ineligible to stand in the by-elections held for the 92 hereditary seats in the House of Lords.

Another Government minister, Helen Whately MP, sums this up: “Daughters of hereditary Peers can’t stand for election to the House of Lords just because they are women – it’s a hangover from another era. Parliament has many wonderful traditions, but passing titles down the male line is outdated and discriminates against women.”

“We cannot let this archaic discrimination against women continue hiding in the skirts of history”

To support this campaign does not mean endorsing the peerage, the hereditary by-elections or the 92 hereditary seats. It is to insist that while these by-elections and seats legally exist, they must allow for the participation of, not discriminate against, women. Parliament always claims to promote women’s rights, but this is a corner of our national life which has been overlooked, leaving women to be disregarded entirely in favour of men.

I agree with Baroness Goudie that “we cannot let this archaic discrimination [against] women continue hiding in the skirts of history”.

Baroness Deech asked the Government on 6 June 2019 what it proposes to do about allowing women to stand in the by-elections. When Lord Young of Cookham replied for the Government, he made the point that allowing women to take part would have no meaningful effect on the gender balance of the Lords. Yet this argument was not deployed against the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act which enables female bishops to take their seats.

This campaign is a plain call to end gender discrimination within the House. Some 49 of the hereditary peers in the House of Lords, more than half of the total number, have elder daughters, only daughters, or sisters who are unable to inherit and therefore to participate – in the same political process that they themselves are part of – on the same basis as the men. If this were happening elsewhere in society, we would not have allowed it to continue. The hypocrisy of Parliament continuing to legislate on sex discrimination while daughters are not equal to sons within its own walls is staggering. Lord Lisvane has commented that “this is a long overdue reform which cannot come too soon”.

Legislation to end male primogeniture would not only send a very powerful message, it would end a blatant discrimination in the law. As I said when introducing a bill on this issue, I stand up where there is an injustice, and where people are treated unfairly for no other reason than their sex, it seems to me that is indefensible. The time for change has come.

Philip Davies is Conservative MP for Shipley

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