As the present parliamentary session drew to a close yesterday one bill of particular interest to those following the long-running debate on woman and the peerage was notably absent. The Equality (titles) bill was introduced to the House of Lords on 13th May last year and sought to allow for the holder of a peerage to petition the Lord Chancellor to allow their title to be inherited by daughters and not just sons.
The bill had done well to reach committee stage in the Lords last session before it ran out of steam and the forces of time conspired against its further progress.
Fortunately, however, The Courtier has discovered this is by no means the end of the line for the fight to change the law to allow women to inherit peerages and that the final session of this parliament will see the return of a bill to allow daughters to inherit titles.
Lord Trefgarne, one of the 92 hereditary peers remaining in the House of Lords, is set to introduce a similar bill to Lord Lucas’s Equality bill in the House of Lords early next session, which begins next month. A copy of the provisional clauses of the bill which Lord Trefgarne is looking to propose were published online earlier this week and whilst it may not be how the bill will appear before the Lords in the coming weeks, it certainly gives a clear idea of his intentions with this bill.
Titled the ‘Succession to peerages bill 2014’, the bill – five sections long – contains provisions to allow women to succeed to peerages under the system of male preference primogeniture (whereby females may inherit providing they have no brothers) and provides a different method of doing this to the bill by Lord Lucas.
The provision of the bill is definitely an improvement on the current system. Currently, in the case of most peerage, women may not succeed to the title at all and not only does this present gender equality issues, it can mean many historic peerages simply die out even when a perfectly legitimate and suitable heir to the title is living.
If a peer has no sons but has daughters, then the bill says that the eldest may succeed to the title as though she were male and in accordance with the letters patent granting the title. It also introduces a new concept of primogeniture (ranking by age) amongst women in the peerage whereas before if daughters were at all allowed to succeed, they all had an equal claim, regardless of seniority of birth which quite often resorted in peerages going into abeyance due to more than one claimant.
Whether the bill will progress through parliament in its current form is unlikely given the intention of the bill is to bring equality between men and women in the peerage – it’s more than likely that the provisions of the bill will undergo some change to bring about equal rather than male preference succession during its journey through parliament.
Unlike Lord Lucas’s bill, Lord Trefgarne’s bill also deals with the issue of extinct peerages. Under the provisions of the bill, any peerage which is extinct during Her present Majesty’s reign can be reclaimed under the male preference system to work out the new title holder.
Additionally, it declares that any peerage in abeyance (when there’s more than one claimant) shall be vested in the person who would succeed under what Lord Trefgarne is calling the ‘Universal rule of succession’.
The bill could also affect some peerages held by members of the Royal Family. The provisions of the bill as it stands would mean that Princess Beatrice would inherit her father’s title of Duke of York after his death when otherwise the title would become extinct and be available for reissue by the Monarch.
No date has been set for the bill’s first reading as of yet.
The Courtier will be following the progress of this bill at its various stages and will report back on important developments.