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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
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Rules preventing women inheriting hereditary peerages should be changed

3 min read

We are blessed to live in a new Elizabethan era; an era in which Her Majesty has long reigned over us and we celebrate her Platinum Jubilee with true devotion. In 2013, Royal Assent was given to the Succession to the Crown Act, ending the system of male heirs automatically inheriting the throne over female heirs.

But we left undone any wider reform to primogeniture in the United Kingdom. As a result, we have a situation in this very Parliament where an eighth of the seats in the House of Lords are reserved for men only. Can you believe that? I will repeat it as I find it so shocking. 

An eighth of the seats in the Upper House of our Parliament are reserved for men only, through the system of 92 seats reserved for hereditary peers. This is constitutional sexism. Whatever your view of the House of Lords, or of hereditary peerages more generally, I hope we can all agree that, in the 21st century, this embedded discrimination is just not acceptable.

Women are treated unfairly for no other reason than they are women. This is completely indefensible and has terrible real-world consequences. It is parliamentary misogyny, built right into the institution, and we are all looking for ways to end that.

We want every person born in this country to enjoy the same chance to make a difference, to thrive, to prosper

Only 13 per cent of the land in the UK is owned by women. Males are twice as likely as females to inherit family businesses. And if we can’t change inequality at the top of society, then we will never be able to change inequality for the whole of society. Put simply, daughters should be treated the same as sons across society. If it’s good enough for the succession to the Crown, it should be good enough for everyone else. 

Hereditary peerages in the House of Lords should go automatically to the eldest child. At the moment, this very rarely happens.

I have drafted a Hereditary Peerages (Female Succession) Bill which would change this. It would not apply immediately when there is a son due to inherit a title, and it would certainly not be retrospective. If there is already a son in the line of succession, this would remain the case.

The bill affects 803 hereditary peers, including 24 dukes, 34 marquesses, 191 earls, 115 viscounts, 426 barons, and four countesses and nine baronesses in their own right. They could all potentially be one of the 92 hereditary peers, or on the register to stand as a hereditary peer in a by-election to the House of Lords. I understand the register of peers for the by-elections currently has 210 peers on it, only one of whom is female – Baroness Dacre. As this demonstrates, it is possible to be a female hereditary peer, but clearly, because of the current system, it is not as routine as for males, and clearly not as fair.

As a Conservative, I stand for equality of opportunity. We want every person born in this country to enjoy the same chance to make a difference, to thrive, to prosper. I can’t rest until this posh glass ceiling is broken.

I pay tribute to Charlotte Carew Pole, founder of Daughters’ Rights, who helps to keep this just cause alive in this place. So, I hope the government will seize the opportunity to make this small and symbolic change in the next session of Parliament – for our country’s sake and for the sake of equality between men and women. 

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