From the moment I was elevated to the peerage, I was struck by the exclusion of my husband from the title that I would have and from some other privileges accorded to the wives of male peers sitting in the House. Titles and suchlike are trivial, and yet highly symbolic. For in this case the extension of the title to the spouse of the peer indicates national recognition of the equality and partnership of husband and wife, and the fact that it is to be assumed that each of the two has supported the other through life and in the achievements recognised by the appointment to the House.
The wife of a male life peer automatically has conferred on her the title of “Lady” for her life, and she retains it even if divorced from the life peer. If he were to marry again, his next wife would also share his title. The husband of a Baroness gains no title: I find the listing of e.g “Baroness Deech and Mr Deech” on envelopes and invitations rather clumsy looking compared to say “Lord and Lady X”. The daughters of peers are entitled to have the prefix “the Honourable” for their lifetimes. The sons of peers are also so entitled and the prefix is extended to their wives – but not to the husbands of the daughters. Seating arrangements at the State Opening of Parliament are also different, the inferior seating going to the husbands, while the wives of the male peers are the ones you see in tiaras and evening dress sitting in the Chamber.
In this session the Equality Bill will complete its passage through the House and reinforce the need to treat all sections of society and both sexes equally. Equality must start at home, namely, right here in the House of Lords. I am certain that the husbands of women peers have done as much, possibly more, to support their wives as have the wives of the male peers. Maybe we are all about to be abolished, and the titles will go with us. In the meantime however, the women of the upper House would like to see their husbands recognised in the same way as the wives of the men (how about “the Honourable” for them? or Companions of Honour? The alternative is to remove the title Lady from the wives; I think that would be very unpopular, but there is a case for confining titles to the recipient of the honour and not extending it to the spouse.
So I asked a question about this discrimination today and was sorry that it was not treated with the seriousness with which it was intended. Most of the men did not “get it” and it seems that it had not occurred to some of them that titles are unequally shared. The government was unsympathetic. So in medieval fashion we will continue, with men bestowing title on their wives and not the other way round; women recognised as “helpmeets” but not the men.