Second Reading
14:50
Moved by
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I preface my remarks by saying that the Bill has nothing to do with membership of your Lordships’ House. It concerns only the specialist topic of the arrangement for succession to hereditary peerages and baronetcies by making a small step towards modernity.

Noble Lords will be aware that in most cases, hereditary peerages can descend only through the male line. Thus, it follows that in some cases, where there is no male heir, the peerage dies out. I declare an interest as being in this situation: I have a very capable daughter who could inherit my title under this Bill. There are a few cases—mostly Scottish, like that of my noble friend Lord Lucas, or very ancient ones—where the Letters Patent specifically allow descent through a woman.

I know that some speakers, including my noble friend Lady Noakes, will ask why peerages should not now descend via the eldest child. I can only quote from a peerage expert, my noble friend Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, in his speech of 2015 on a similar Bill. He said that

“there have been several attempts to encourage some interest in the idea, but it never gets off the ground, and the reason is simple. An immediate change now to eldest child inheritance would mean that a great many men would be stripped of their courtesy titles and the names they have lived under for years, and so would their children. It would mean that the financial arrangements”,

especially trusts,

“that have been designed to protect a large number of families’ interests would be wrecked, and that those same families would be facing an intolerable position, dividing siblings and bringing real unhappiness”.

In 2015 my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, on the eldest child only being able to inherit the title, said

“the plain fact is that that proposition has been before Parliament on several occasions and has on each of those occasions failed to attract your Lordships’ support”.—[Official Report, 11/9/15; cols. 1618-21.]

If noble Lords feel that my noble friend Lord Fellowes’s sentiments are a bit melodramatic, I point out, more prosaically, that the stability of trust arrangements in particular have allowed great houses and estates to remain in the same hands. It gives the UK a huge advantage from a tourism viewpoint—unlike France, where the Napoleonic law means that equal division of assets on death has split family assets up, with the result that the privately owned stately home offerings for visitors are much more limited. Such a problem could occur if peerage descent went to the firstborn child only.

Turning to the subject of extinct peerages, I repeat the observation of my noble friend Lord Fellowes in the 2015 debate in relation to his wife’s family. He said that if the Bill were allowed to pass, the Kitchener title and others would be able to be revived, which I think is rather special for such a famous name. I am aware of Harriett Baldwin’s Bill on the matter in the other House, which will come to your Lordships in due course. While I will personally not seek to obstruct it, I believe a more gradual approach is required to get full approval in your Lordships’ House.

As I said in 2015, I understand that Section 14 of the Human Rights Act 1998 now makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex where both sexes may perform the function required. This would apply to peerages. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, mentioned to me at the time that if a legitimate female issue, where the peerage would otherwise become extinct, referred a case to the European Court of Human Rights, they could well have a chance of success. I would perfectly well understand if some heirs might wish to take this route.

In summary, while some noble Lords might believe that this Bill does not go far enough, peerage succession is a complex subject that needs to be tackled gradually, and I hope it will find favour with your Lordships. I beg to move.

14:54
Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I start by declaring an interest, not only as the holder of the title that entitles me to be in the House as a hereditary Peer but as the holder of a parallel baronetcy. I also have to declare that my firstborn child is a daughter and my second-born child is a son. I did not tell my son that I was going to stand up in the House to disinherit him, but he is a nice chap and I think he will be understanding.

Yes, the Bill affects only the privileged in our society, but they have the same rights as anybody else. The fact is that the present law on inheritance amounts to total discrimination towards women. It has also caused the extinction of several peerages and baronetcies. It parallels the state of our House before the Life Peerages Act when, long after women were entitled to become Members of the House of Commons, they were not entitled to be Members of this House.

This is an excellently drafted Bill and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and the assistance which has been provided to him. It will deprive men of having the expectation of a baronetcy or a peerage. It will be taken away from them, but that is no different from any expectation of inheritance.

There was, in this House, a Baroness Strange. I would have to describe her as a rather unusual Member of this House. As she was dying, she asked for a piece of paper to be brought to her. On that piece of paper, she disinherited her son from taking over the family stately home in Scotland and chose her younger daughter to inherit it. These things happen, and I believe the Bill takes the right approach.

All I can do is ask the Government, who should seek to be fair to all members of society, to support the Bill.

14:57
Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too must declare a personal interest in these matters. I am the seventh Earl Russell, and the last. My wife gave birth to two beautiful daughters, of whom I am very proud, and I have no male heirs or direct relatives. To be clear, I do not speak in favour of the continuation of the right of hereditary Peers to have a place in your Lordships’ House. I would vote in favour of my own abolition, as my father before me did.

No one wants to be the last of their own line. This is about a separate right for me to have a family life and to continue my family heritage. I will speak in favour of the Bill, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, for bringing it forward. I note the argument he made about the need for this to happen in stages. I thank others, both in Parliament and outside, who have campaigned for change on these issues. The Bill is a welcome step, and I support it as it allows women to inherit where there is no male heir. That is not possible at all under current legislation.

However, Clause 1(4) would establish that male heirs would be given preference in succeeding to the title over female heirs. It states:

“Within each group of siblings, males in order of birth and their issue are entitled to succeed before females in order of birth and their issue”.


Here I argue, as the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, has, in favour of the absolute need for women to have an equal right to inherit a peerage and the need for the Government to enact their own legislation to correct this quirk of history. I am aware that there are many other more pressing issues that the Government face, and it is easy for me to look overprivileged and self-centred in these matters. I make my case with some humility for the Government to take a step further to fully enable the right of female succession.

First, this is the right thing to do. This is the last dusty corner of sexism in a now much-changed and evolved modern world. Also, it is having real political impact. Today, according to my bad maths, some 11.6% of this upper Chamber is reserved exclusively for men and is occupied by them alone. I am here because I was born a man of my father. I love this place and am honoured to be here, but, at the same time, I feel embarrassed, frankly, to be the holder of a position that is reserved only for men. Now I am here, it is only right for me to call for equality for others.

Secondly, this is a relatively easy fix for the Government. Penny Mordaunt promised this a long time ago, and I do not think it is an overly complex or arduous task for the Government to achieve.

Thirdly, as others have said, it is likely that, at some point sooner or later, a legal case, either in our jurisdiction or in the European court, will end up making these changes. I kindly ask the Government to consider bringing forward their own legislation to take these matters forward.

15:01
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I would not normally have expected to be in your Lordships’ House on a Friday and would not be if it were a question only of this particular Bill, but I have just been in the House for the debate on the conversion therapy Bill for five hours and I thought, as I was here, it would be worth staying on to discuss my noble friend’s Bill. He is aware that I cannot support it.

I abhor any form of sex discrimination, whether positive or negative, and I believe that, in principle, succession rights should not be confined to male heirs, as is the case with virtually all peerages and baronetcies. However, my noble friend’s Bill treats female offspring as second-class citizens. Under the Bill, daughters can inherit only if they have no brothers, and that is just not right. All that the Bill will do is entrench male dominance within families. It is misogynistic and it is the wrong direction of travel for our society.

Although I believe that, in principle, succession should be gender-neutral, I do not think it is of such great importance that it should take up the precious time allocated in your Lordships’ House for Private Members’ Bills. The issues addressed in the Bill do not affect the vast majority of the UK population, and I would rather this House focused on legislation, whether in Private Members’ Bills or in public Bills, on things that resonate with the public: crime, immigration, security and so on.

I say to my noble friend that it is an abuse of the Private Members’ Bill process to pursue private interests. My noble friend Lord Northbrook explained that he has a personal interest because of the composition of his own family, and he is using Parliament to further that private interest.

I am mystified by the retrospective element of the Bill. I personally am entirely comfortable with hereditary peerages becoming extinct. They serve no useful purpose in society, and their gradual disappearance would be mourned by few. But I would not waste any legislative time seeking to abolish them—as and when they die out, that would be fine. I have no idea why my noble friend has selected 6 February 1952 as the cut-off point—it seems somewhat arbitrary to me—but doubtless we can explore both the need for retrospection and the significance of the chosen date if the Bill proceeds to Committee.

As I have mentioned privately to my noble friend, a Committee would also need to examine what a “group of siblings” is, as mentioned in the offensive Clause 1(4). If a Peer marries several times, are all his children in one group of siblings, even if they have never met one another, or is the question of what constitutes a group of siblings to be determined as a question of fact in relation to each succession? Either way, that does not seem satisfactory.

This is a bad Bill that should not be given time in your Lordships’ House. If my noble friend seeks a Committee stage, I am sure the House will know what to do with it.

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the noble Baroness sits down, could she tell us how this matter could be remedied except through Parliament?

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am suggesting that this issue is of such little importance that we should not waste any parliamentary time on it.

15:05
Earl of Sandwich Portrait The Earl of Sandwich (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I admire the determination of the Daughters’ Rights group behind this and that of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, himself in supporting his daughter by introducing this Private Member’s Bill. However, if I were invited to vote to end hereditary by-elections from the House today, I would do so, and not just as part of a wider reform. I belong to the group that was originally behind the Steel Bill, campaigning for gradual incremental reforms, some of which have been achieved. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has set a high standard for ridiculing these by-elections via a Private Member’s Bill, and they need to go. We need to look at the report by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on the size of the Lords, but the House is well-balanced, with enough Cross-Benchers, including some highly qualified hereditary Peers. We need a statutory HOLAC to rein in some of the appointments.

Why would I support a smaller Bill that is overshadowed by the much larger reform of removing all hereditary Peers? The glib answer is that it is right to support the Bill. Gender equality is far from being achieved in Parliament, and we should continue to encourage more women Members, in both Houses. Some of us still mourn the loss of our outspoken, and Scottish, colleagues, such as Lady Saltoun and the Countess of Mar—the last female Cross-Bench hereditary Peer, who made such an impact on the whole House.

The political answer, though, is that it is almost 25 years since 92 of us were elected from our own number, and it could easily be another 25 before such a major reform is achieved. Gordon Brown’s proposals attracted a lot of attention when they came out. That is not for discussion now, but I doubt they will become a priority for the Labour Party if it wins the election. So there could be plenty of time ahead for this campaign, even if the Bill fails.

The precedent set by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 is impressive and has strengthened the arm of campaigners. Why should not a similar arrangement now be made for daughters, perhaps involving a grant from the Crown itself? The petition route offered in the Bill is particularly attractive, and I hope the Minister will spend some time on that in her answer. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said in a previous debate that the 2013 Act should at least stimulate further scrutiny.

The legislation proposed could have a much wider effect. For example, it would reinforce the inheritance of female owners of estates where male primogeniture is still dominant. There are plenty of cases where women, as legal owners, are running properties with or without the aid of their husband or partner, and I can think of examples in this House.

Primogeniture itself is not an issue in the Bill. I know it is not a popular concept. I personally believe in it because it has enabled families to hold on to homes and collections for many generations that otherwise might have been broken up. Hereditary owners save historic buildings, and have even become allies of government, as custodians with a similar concern for restoration and conservation. However, I am aware that these plans do not always work out in practice, and families can suffer considerably in the event of disagreement.

The campaign for female succession must be encouraged, and has had approval, if not support, from within government at a high level. Harriett Baldwin’s Private Member’s Bill in another place attracted a lot of attention, while, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned, Penny Mordaunt referred to this as a “posh glass ceiling”. Even our own noble Lord, Lord True, seemed to be sympathetic, though could not actually support the Bill. Let us see if His Majesty’s Government can look more favourably on it this time.

15:09
Viscount Astor Portrait Viscount Astor (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, today’s Second Reading is one of those occasions when we can reflect on the balance between preserving tradition and allowing the sort of gradual evolution that has characterised our constitution. I believe that this House has the opportunity to send a signal about our values as a country, as it did while passing the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which amended the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement to end the system of male primogeniture under which a younger son can displace an elder daughter in the line of succession.

Succession to the peerage no longer confers automatic rights and privileges. However, for now, succession to a peerage entails the possibility of becoming part of your Lordships’ House and, therefore, part of the legislature of this country—so there remains some constitutional importance about this matter. I am on record as saying that this House is too big, there are too many people here and too many Peers, and the question of the right of hereditary Peers to stand in by-elections should be dealt with—but as part of a larger reform, perhaps including retirement ages, length of service or both.

We must concede that the current succession rules governing peerages and baronetcies are archaic. The Bill seeks to eliminate gender-based discrimination, ensuring that gender is not a path to succession. This legislation could represent a crucial step forward in modernising our system of inheritance of titles, aligning it with the principles of equality and fairness that underpin our society. Our commitment to equality should be reflected not only in our laws but in the institutions that form the bedrock of our society.

However, I have one objection to this Bill. If its aim is to remove gender-based discrimination, Clause 1(4) does not go far enough. It still gives males in the line of succession preference over females. I believe that it falls short in addressing the fundamental issue of gender preference in the order of succession. I do not believe that any Bill seeking to address this issue is credible unless it creates a level playing field. As it stands, it is really a Bill that has as its only objective preservation of peerages and baronetcies that would otherwise fall into abeyance, having no male heir. As such, it is liable to be seen as a self-serving Bill that seeks merely to preserve titles and entrench a so-called elite, which otherwise would slowly reduce in number. It prevents an abeyance rather than promotes equality. Rather, it should be a Bill that brings the peerage into line with the Crown.

It is my firm conviction that there should be no discriminative distinctions based on gender in matters of inheritance. The principal primogenitor should be redefined to prioritise the oldest child, irrespective of their gender. I note that, in the matter of baronetcies, it is more complex and less pressing than it is for peerages, as there is no link between baronetcies and membership of your Lordships’ House. Perhaps this Bill should be dealing with peerages alone for now, and any baronetcy issues should be dealt with in a separate Bill.

I declare an interest, in that my eldest child is a daughter. The change in the rules in this Bill was on the face of it intended to promote equality but it actually does not change the position of the oldest girls. It is the worst of both worlds, because she has two younger brothers. I suggest to your Lordships that we should amend Clause 1(4) to reflect a more egalitarian approach, ensuring that the oldest child inherits the title, regardless of gender. That would enforce our commitment to a just and progressive society, where opportunities and responsibilities are bestowed without prejudice.

15:13
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Northbrook on bringing forward this Bill. He is right to say that I am unaffected by it, as I have a Scottish title, which in connection with the previous debate, was granted by James I to his first boyfriend, who then married—fortunately. I have an English title, the barony of Lucas, which was procured by Margaret Cavendish, in honour of her brother, in favour of her niece. Margaret Cavendish was a great feminist, and has been in print with her feminist writings for 350 years—and indeed has another book out about her this year, called Pure Wit, by Francesca Peacock, which I recommend. I share the vision that she fought for—that women are equal with men in every respect—and I would very much like to see that applied to peerage inheritance.

To pick up on what my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Astor said, I entirely agree that the Bill should be changed so that women are properly equal to men. I do not agree that it should include the revival of extinct titles; beyond anything else, that would enable me to claim the title of Duke of Kent, which might be inconvenient for certain other people.

To answer another of the questions from my noble friend Lady Noakes, Parliament is the only way the last bit of preference for men can be changed; there is no other route available. I do not see any reason for it to be left lying around, particularly given that, as my noble friend Lord Astor said, the monarchy has made the necessary change itself. We should follow its good example.

This is a good opportunity for the Government to make the change. Every time we have tried in the past, the principal objection has been that if we have a Private Member’s Bill, they will mess around with it at the other end to try produce a much more wide-ranging change. We now know, courtesy of the Leader of the Opposition, that they would not do that. There is no such danger at the moment, so this is an opportunity to right a small but tiresome wrong and I very much hope the Government will take it.

15:16
Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as I follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—who is a friend—I am struck, first, by how dull my peerage is compared to his. It really does not have anywhere near the same entertainment value. Everything I enjoy in history, the little quirks and side-plays, is personified there. His peerage has also provided the House with someone who has been a very good parliamentarian for many years, so I thank him for his words and for his contribution so far.

I am in almost total agreement regarding the Bill. I must declare an interest, in that I have only the one child, a daughter. If you are going to make this change to make things equal, it should be the oldest child. There cannot be any real disagreement about that. If you think it is important, that is what you do.

The by-elections are always in the background: they are the elephant in the room—except that this elephant is now trumpeting quite loudly. If we had this, we might actually get, for however random the peerage is, women standing. That would slightly strengthen a very weak case for keeping this going.

I am always struck by the fact that there are not many temporary deals whose silver anniversaries can be celebrated very rapidly. Are we going for gold on this one? I am not sure, but let us remember that just in case.

The recreation of extinct peerages—fine, but I am not sure it adds very much to the strength of the nation, or anything else. However, if we are going to do this, we should follow the example of the Royal Family. The oldest child is the only way you can really make this equal going forward. It could be interpreted as an attempt at a small step forward, but it is out of date and out of time. Thirty years ago, yes; but not now.

I have another interest to declare: I looked it up and, going back six generations, the first Lord Addington had an oldest child who was a girl. So in my case, we can go back six generations of privilege. If we are going to effect the basic principle that women should have the same status as men, then it must be the oldest child. Baronetcies are possibly not as pressing, but I do not see why they should not be included. If we are going to do this, it has to be based on that principle. We have to make sure we embody it. Would it do any good? A little. Would it do any harm? None. I hope that we will bring the Bill forward in those terms.

Committee will be very interesting. I admit that I did not pick up on this on first reading the Bill, but Clause 1(4) does not stand up to the modern world. Bring the Bill forward, have a look at it and I am afraid the pen should go through quite a lot of it. The only part that has any merit is Clause 1(1).

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is clear that the noble Lord thinks there should be a number of revisions to this Bill, in particular the deletion of Clause 1(4). When he comes to speak at the end of this debate, could the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, tell us his position on that subsection?

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the noble Lord asking for my opinion? I stand by this: keep the first three subsections of Clause 1 and dump the rest.

15:20
Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have no interest to declare in considering this Bill.

When I first saw the Bill’s Title, I thought we were going to get one thing; on reading the Bill, it turned out that that was not to be. As we have heard, the Bill does not mean that daughters will be treated the same way as sons. As an eldest daughter with a younger brother, I imagine what would have happened had my dad not been the son of a soldier from Middlesbrough with little to pass on but some medals and a casserole dish. Would I take a different view on this? In reading the Bill, I genuinely think that Clause 1(4) really stands out as something that it is very surprising to read in a Bill in 2024. I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, said to explain it; he spoke about the management of estates and great houses. We all appreciate and enjoy the great estates of our country—of course we do—but it sounds a bit thin as justification for keeping such a rule in place. I wonder whether there are not some more ingenious ways around it that would allow for the eldest child, not just the eldest son, to be preferred.

The Government have said previously that it is too complex to make this change for women to inherit titles on an equal basis with men. That has not been sufficiently explained by Ministers; I wonder whether the Minister here today could help us out. Many contributors have acknowledged—I applaud the lack of self-interest, as well as the self-awareness, of many of the hereditary Peers who have spoken—that it is time for us to revisit this issue; that is to be commended and welcomed.

This is a strange little Bill. With the best will in the world, it does not really do an awful lot for the reputation of this House and the relevance of Parliament, nor for the situation of women across the country. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, did not bring it here hoping to be heralded as some sort of feminist icon, but we can do better. There is a gradual approach—I accept that—but there is gradual and then there is a glacial pace. We could move a bit quicker.

I must commend what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said. She is completely right: the right way forward is for the eldest child, rather than the eldest son. As she said, if titles occasionally die out, that is something the nation can withstand.

15:24
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Northbrook on securing the Second Reading of the Bill and on the crispness of his opening remarks, which I will try to imitate. I know that he has a great and personal interest in this issue, as have some others, including the noble Lords, Lord Hacking and Lord Addington, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, although they have been very modest about it and there is no agreement on the Bill. I am also grateful to them and all fellow noble Lords for an engaging, crisp and thoughtful debate.

As noble Lords will know, the issue of peerage reform is a complex one, with complicated adjoining issues. The debates, Motions and various Private Members’ Bills on this issue advanced in both our Houses have proposed several scales of reform and different methods for achieving it. The Government are not unsympathetic to the principle that there should be more women in your Lordships’ House. However, this Bill, on the one hand, is not a Bill for equal primogeniture and, on the other, would affect many people and families outside this House who have no role in public life. The lack of address on the primogeniture issue was highlighted by my noble friend Lord Astor and others. Given the issues at play, the Government are far from convinced that now is the time, or that this is the way, to look at this matter. The Government have considered my noble friend’s proposal carefully, but they have reservations, and I am afraid that we will not support the Bill today.

It is important to be clear about the purpose of the Bill. As the Title suggests, it is about the succession to peerages, but it is above all about the preservation of certain peerages. Its main purpose is to ensure that titles do not die out and to revive titles which have already met this fate. As noble Lords are aware, the descent of hereditary titles depends on the provisions of the creation. Most hereditary peerages and baronetcies descend down the male line, under the principle of male primogeniture, which means that the peerage can only descend through that legitimate male line. Fewer than 90 peerages can descend through the female line.

Here are some interesting statistics: excluding royal peerages, there are 24 Dukes, 34 Marquesses, 191 Earls—with four Countesses in their own right—115 Viscounts and 426 Barons, including nine Baronesses. Approximately 660 of those appear on the Roll of the Peerage and 207 on the register of hereditary Peers. There are also 1,000 or so baronets. These arrangements have been in place for hundreds of years, and many families organise their lives on the expectation that they will continue. The Government are convinced that this Bill would require significant amendment. It is imperative to ensure that any legislation in this space is carefully considered and reflective of all those affected and the many views that exist on the reform of hereditary succession. This Bill is not the correct vehicle for that.

Let us turn briefly to the Bill. Clause 3 would lead to a significant increase in the number of claims to hereditary titles and in the number of hereditary title holders. The Government believe that in the region of around 200 peerages have the potential to fall within scope. As well as automatically reviving peerages that have become extinct on or after 6 February 1952, Clause 3 would, in certain circumstances, allow a petition to be made to the King requesting the revival of a peerage—as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned—which we as a Government have concerns about.

We have particular concerns with the retrospectivity of the clause, which was well explained by my noble friend Lady Noakes. Before a peerage can be revived, its provenance and the right of the individual in question to inherit must be proven before the peerage can be entered on the Roll of the Peerage. The Bill would therefore have considerable resource implications for the Crown Office and the College of Arms, which would inevitably take some years to work through, especially in cases where the descent of a title was in any way unclear or contested. My noble friend Lord Lucas spoke against the proposed revival of extinct titles as a matter of principle.

The proposed reform would affect not only Members of the House but the interests of other individual families. These are changes that should not be undertaken lightly without proper consideration of their effects or of any potential unfairness. That is particularly the case when many of those impacted will have no association with this House but will be directly affected by this Bill.

Turning to Clause 4, it should be noted that there are a number of hereditary peerages and baronetcies which carry estates and properties, either by virtue of the terms of the instrument creating the peerage or as a result of a trust arrangement which has been put in place to ensure that the peerage and property descend together. Clause 4(2) would appear to separate land and property rights from the title. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, mentioned strangeness, and I think the clause would create a strange system whereby property would continue to be inherited by the oldest male heir even if the title went to a female heir, possibly splitting titles and estates. It would be impossible to say how many titles or names would be affected by this provision, given that trust arrangements are often confidential matters.

Finally, I draw noble Lords’ attention to Clause 4(1). This provision would establish that the Bill would not affect the succession to the Crown, or any peerages or baronetcies held by His Majesty the King. However, the Bill would potentially impact on the descent of titles held by other members of the Royal Family. Very careful consideration ought to be given to how any reform might affect these titles.

In conclusion, the Government continue to listen to the concerns of interested parties to understand the consequences of changes to hereditary titles. However, the reality is that, at this time, reform is not an immediate priority, particularly on an issue more relevant to private interests than to the general public, as my noble friend Lady Noakes argued persuasively.

By making a single, rather sweeping change to the descent of all hereditary peerages and baronetcies, the Bill would potentially affect not just Members of this House but a considerable number of families in different ways, according to their own individual circumstances. It would also require significant work and amendment to avoid major unintended consequences. Therefore, I am afraid that, while the Government are grateful for the debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, we do not support the Bill today. It is a halfway house that creates more problems than it solves.

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I remind the Minister of the comment made by the Cabinet Office Minister in the House of Commons at the end of a debate on a parallel Bill that was being introduced by a Member of Parliament, Mrs Baldwin? He said that he “appreciated the position” from which she was coming. Is the Minister denying that?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is, of course, a different Bill; today we have been addressing another Bill and we have made it clear that it is not fit for purpose. I am sure we will debate other Bills in this House in the fullness of time, and I look forward to doing that.

15:32
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and to my noble friend the Minister for her detailed and interesting reply.

The general mood seemed to be not entirely in favour of the Bill, although my noble friend Lord Astor said it was a crucial step forward. My noble friend Lady Noakes fired away with two barrels, saying that it was “misogynistic” and that we should be focusing more on Private Members’ Bills on crime and immigration. I thought that is what the Government were meant to be doing. I see no harm in Private Members’ Bills as long as the Peer concerned declares an interest; the worst thing is when they bring forward a Bill and omit to declare that interest. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas, who said that Parliament is the only way in which the law can be changed.

I note the comments on Clause 3, which obviously needs to be considered carefully, and there were many criticisms of Clause 1(4), which I am happy to go away and consider. Otherwise, I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 3.34 pm.