Equality for husbands

Baroness Deech

This is more or less what I said during the debate this morning on the Equality (Titles) Bill, which aims to extend gender equality to titles and to husbands of lady peers:-

We in this House are very ready to impose equality obligations on others, and must be equally ready to accept them ourselves. The origin of this debate goes back further than the recent change that gives royal girls equality with royal boys in the succession.  For more than fifty years the husbands of noble Ladies, ladies fortunate enough to be seated in this House, have received second class treatment compared with the wives of noble Lords. This contrasts with the egalitarian treatment extended in practice.

All women in positions created by birth or elevation to a status should be treated on a par with the royals and their male peers. If titles matter,  then they must be inheritable by women and gender neutral.  If they do not matter, if, as no doubt some will say, they are trivial and snobbish, then for the sake of equality the only answer should be the removal of the titles borne by the wives of knights and peers.  I rather think there would be something of an outcry if that were to be done, which proves my point.

The part of this Bill that is close to my heart is one I have addressed before, namely, that the husbands or partners of dames and noble Ladies do not have a courtesy title, when the wives of knights and noble Lords do.  Dames and noble Ladies have earned their title, not inherited it; yet they receive worse treatment than the Ladies who are married to noble Lords. If a male peer’s wife is always a Lady, and his divorced wife retains that title, should not the same courtesy be extended to the husband of a woman peer, for husbands will have done as much, if not more, to support and partner their wives as the women married to noble Lords. When I brought this issue up in 2009 many noble Lords treated this as amusing; but there is a serious point.  It is discrimination that a man may confer on his wife an honour that a wife may not confer on her husband or civil  partner.

Thus all the members of our Supreme Court are Lords with Lady wives,  save for the one female Supreme Court justice whose husband remains Mr. So we have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Lord and Lady, but Mr. and Baroness.  There are two theories that may bolster this anomaly.  One is that a title is conferred on the wife because there is support of one spouse by another: as they used to say, behind every great man is a great woman, but surely what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  Support works both ways. I guess that many is the husband of a noble lady who has gone out of his way to help her do her work, suport her and manage without her company, maybe even more so than the other way round, and they deserve equality of treatment.

The other possible reason for retaining discrimination is that women, but not men, derive their position in life from their spouses. Indeed many women have given up the title Mrs, preferring Ms, precisely because it is the married woman who is marked out by title as the dependant of her husband, and not the other way round.  Unfortunately many elements of our family law treat wives as having a place in life wholly dependent on their husbands conferring it on them, as if they were piggybacking through life.  In many respects our unreformed  family law suggests that a woman is not expected to make her own achievements in life but rely on her husband or partner for status and financial support. That cannot be the case. As Aretha Franklin sang, “Sisters are doing it for themselves, standing on their own two feet. We got doctors, lawyers, politicians too.”

The truth is that there is mutual support between husbands and wives,  and so the titles must be equal. In these times of change, gender equality is a given, and it should not have taken 55 years for this to be recognised by and in this House.  I urge the government to take up this worthy Bill which will do a great deal of good and no harm.

13 comments for “Equality for husbands

  1. JH
    25/10/2013 at 5:34 pm

    Thanks for an interesting post and for highlighting the second reading.

    This may have come up in debate, but the part of the Bill closest to your heart does not go into much detail. The clauses state simply:

    9 Entitlement of husband of women holding certain titles to the title “The
    Honourable”

    Any man who is, or who has been at any time (before or after the passing of this Act) the husband of any woman who holds a title as a peer, baronetess or dame shall be entitled to use the courtesy title “The Honourable”.

    10 Entitlement of civil partner of man or woman holding certain titles to the title “The Honourable”

    Any person who is, or who has been at any time (before or after the passing of this Act) the civil partner of any man or woman who holds a title as a peer, baronet, baronetess, knight or dame shall be entitled to use the courtesy title “The Honourable”.

    The use of The Hon – as with other titles – has its subtleties. While these are almost routinely flouted by the BBC and others (e.g. labeling peers as Baroness Ruth Deech, Lord Phillip Norton, etc.) it is to be hoped that the House of Lords would use titles correctly. Leaving the matter of divorce or dowager status to one side, the title of Lady is firmly connected with the originating peerage, it is Lord and Lady x. Likewise, wives of current Hons are Hon Mrs to distinguish between Hons in their own right.

    For true equality, if we continue to hold that it is, say, Lady Archer and not Lady Mary Archer, the use of the Honourable should relate to the title and it would be the Honourable Mr Deech and to take another example Professor Julian Farrand, the Hon Mr Hale.

    On a connected note, nowhere does it address the order of precedence (perhaps even more arcane). Women take the same rank as their husbands be it higher or lower.

  2. Gareth Howell
    25/10/2013 at 6:07 pm

    “If titles matter, then they must be inheritable by women and gender neutral.”
    If they do, they must.

    “but Mr. and Baroness”.
    That’s it!

    “many is the husband of a noble lady who has gone out of his way to help her do her work, suport her and manage without her company,”

    I can think of three examples immediately in recent parliamentary history.
    Dennis was pretty good with the Iron Lady too. Were they Mr and Baroness Thatcher, or did they avoid the question?

    Parliamentary work is well nigh impossible without support from somebody…..

    I suspect that the gender bending principle that the Baroness wishes to invoke has been used in the past in other circumstances, by prerogative,
    but not the equality of Mr and Lady which it is proper to correct.

    Will it be the “Hon Lord” and the Baroness so and so, or simply Baroness and Lord Bl**king, putting the Baroness first?

    The terms of old hereditary titles though,are very varied. I am surprised at the royal change.

    • 28/10/2013 at 11:56 am

      @Gareth Howell: It was Sir Denis and Lady Thatcher before it was Baroness Thatcher.

      @JH: I also wonder if those who drafter this Bill understand peerage titles. A “title” isn’t simply a prefix to a surname.

      I can remember the delightful Baroness Trumpington explaining how checking into a hotel with her late husband, Mr Barker, had a “certain frisson” due to them using different names. How would supporters of this Bill have had Mr Barker addressed?

  3. 25/10/2013 at 11:04 pm

    One problem with the Bill is that it tries to address two separate issues. The larger part, on female succession, will almost certainly kill it. It’s nonsense to allow holders of a title to choose that their daughter will inherit the title, rather than a cousin who is the rightful heir and had been expecting to inherit. Although the Bill says any sons must have been informed, it makes no mention of other heirs. The Letters Patent creating a peerage define the succession. There is no discrimination in that women can already succeed to titles. If they were still being created, undoubtedly they would be equal. The problem is no new hereditary titles are being created. Mess with historical titles and they become pointless. After all, why should a daughter of a peer have a right to hold a title but not the majority of other women in the country? The Bill also says it would apply separately to all titles the peers holds, which as I read it means they could choose one title to go to a younger son and another to a daughter. There is actually no comparison with the monarchy either as the succession to the crown could already pass to daughters where the monarch didn’t have a son, as it did to the present Queen. Had peerage succession been followed, the Duke of Gloucester would be king!

    As for titles for husbands and civil partners, it may seem fairly innocuous. However, it still isn’t equality. A wife has equal rank and precedence to her husband. She is The Lady X. A husband of a baroness would still be Mr X; he would merely be able to use Hon. as a courtesy title. And what would the husband of a daughter of a peer be known as?

    Even if one agrees with the principles behind this Bill, which I do not, it is badly drafted and full of holes and inconsistencies. It really needs to be scrutinised by a competent revising chamber…

  4. maude elwes
    26/10/2013 at 3:10 pm

    This is so nauseating it is hard to know where to start. The idea there are titles in the first place, either hereditary or bestowed, is way too medieval to truly contemplate in this day and age. And when mixed in the context of ‘equality’ it is utterly absurd. There is no equality in titles, as by its very nature it places one above the regular or norm. That is its entire purpose, to elevate status.

    Then we come to the added insanity of now the husband of a fake overlord should also have title to lord it over us, as he is her fancy. And the reason we should go along with this is because the men, who Lord it over us, unelected of course, have given their spouses titles to cling to, owing to their inane insecurity.

    How many men would feel elevated by being given a title on the back of his wife’s ‘success’? Most males would feel reduced in such a position rather than be raised in self esteem. Just as most men feel excruciatingly belittled when his wife is the main breadwinner. And what if she divorces, how many will be Lorded if she takes, say, eight husbands, all of them vying for the privilege to call themselves, what? As Lady is the title for the female of the species is he to be known as Man? Baroness and Man. Then what of the offspring. Why not tag on a little notoriety to their entry into the world. We wish to announce the birth of Manboy Mohammed and Ladygirl Shoshana…. My God you are all as mad as hatters.

    The underlying issue here is, will he then be able to plonk his fat rump on the red seat for a further£300 a day, plus expenses. So that we can work a few extra hours a week to keep him in the comfort to which he has become accustomed? He being as necessary as she, because, after all, they are a working team aren’t they? Neither of them freeloaders you see.

    Titles must obey the law of equality for all and be made totally redundant at once. This is paramount in order to comply with the understanding that none are more equal than others. Just as marriage was made open to infidelity in one swoop, so can this title lark without too much ado. Modernisation is not only a necessity it is a leveling under the code of morality. Otherwise there is no alternative than to employ Madame Guillotine and be done with it.

    Here the insanity tries hard to give itself reason. Read on.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courtesy_titles_in_the_United_Kingdom

    Of course, to give us a different method of equality we could all be titled Lord or Lady at birth. That way we would conform to the law of equals as we morally should. Then we would be upholding principle, rather than being total hypocrites.

  5. MilesJSD
    26/10/2013 at 8:22 pm

    Surely the conferring of Titles is meant to
    publicly-mark the individual as being of longest-term governance of, and providence to, every-one and all of the Peoples of the Realm, and their Needs;
    and was never Godly-intended to be aggrandisement of any individual;
    nor of any class of people [such as The Monarchy] ?
    —————————
    My individual question back would be
    “Given that £145 per week is a sufficient human-living for one-person to maintain theirself healthy, citizenlike, and environmentally-supportive,

    how many human-livings would become conferrable to the titled specially-private-persons involved in your topic ?

    Would a non-HoL spouse stand to gain financially, prestigiously, socially, social-mobility-wise, or in any way, from being married to a Member of the HoL ?”

  6. tizres
    26/10/2013 at 9:21 pm

    Peeling back the layers, ‘Mr’ is an abbreviated form of ‘master’. Probably better if I stop there.

  7. Croft
    28/10/2013 at 12:11 pm

    The bill is a mess and frankly not worth the candle. If parliament wants to create new rules for new peerages perhaps that has some merit in discussion but I don’t agree with rewriting history to past creations or altering the legitimate expectations of others.

    On a general point – If lady Deech really believes what she says can she tell us when she intends to introduce a bill into parliament making Prince Philip King Philip. After all she says she believes in equality :-/

  8. sabena
    29/10/2013 at 12:12 am

    As to the issue of women succeeding to existing peerages to which they are not currently heirs,the following should be noted:-
    1.The bill proposes that the incumbent peer have the power to request a change in the succession to the peerage.Why should the peer have this power?The relevant person is the person who was first honoured,and it must be presumed that the terms of the patent suited his wishes unless he asked for and was refused a special remainder.
    Let us take the case of the late Lord Mountbatten as an example.He was created an Earl with a special remainder that his daughters could succeed him.However the patent did not authorise the succession of daughter of his daughters or daughters in subsequent generations.It is fairly clear this is what he wanted.Why under this Bill should his wishes be ignored,when the purpose of a hereditary peerage is to permanently honour the original recipient.
    2.It is patently clear that any female who is able to take advantage of the bill is not otherwise considered to be worthy of a life peerage-why is such a person being given such an advantage?There is no obstacle to either the female being given a heridiary peerage in her own right or a new peerage being created for her father to which she can succeed.
    3.The bill assumes that no successions have occurred where there have been previously daughter who absent the terms of the patent could have succeeded to the peerage.This is not the case.In the case of Lord Braybrooke for example he is not the direct heir of the grantee-his father inherited the peerage when the 8th baron was killed in action.The 8th Baron had a sister who would otherwise be entitled to succeed to the peerage.Why should her case not be taken into account-she appears to still be alive.There are therefore some peers who would not hold their peerages if this bill had been enacted earlier.
    Finally if the principle of interfering with previous remainders is established,then what is done now can be done in the future with adverse consequences to those who hold titles.
    The bill should be rejected.

  9. Honoris Causa
    29/10/2013 at 2:57 pm

    Sabena’s comments hit the nail on the head. There are as many different wills as there are people who hold the peerages. If the first person who made the will wanted it in such a way, then it has to be presumed that that person had the foresight of centuries!!

    In earlier years quite a few private members’ bills were brought before the HofL to change the terms of the peerage which had become unfair, inappropriate and so forth. I fear that at the moment it is far less likely that they do.

    It has to be said that creations of non royal Earldoms/Viscountcies and so on, start in parliament and should end there. A new creation is a new creation. A will may be an entirely different matter.

  10. Dan BD
    29/10/2013 at 4:34 pm

    The Baroness Smith & The Hon Mr Jones is hardly equal to The Lord & Lady Brown, is it? If this is going to be done, it should be done properly:

    As it is The Duke & Duchess of X, so should it be The Duchess & Duke of Y, The Duke & Duke of Y or The Duchess & Duchess of Y; similarly as it is Sir John Smith & Lady Smith, so should it be Dame Jane & Lord Jones or (Dame This & Lady Surname or Sir That & Lord What-Have-You).

  11. Honoris Causa
    06/11/2013 at 4:04 pm

    There again the titles Sir John and Baroness Dockworth, surely allows the superiority of the female in the given case! That has a sonority to it, which is rather attractive. You always knew in the past that the equality of Lord and Lady soAndso was an honour for the Lady, not forgetting either that some theories hold that there are only a couple of dozen “ladies” in the land, those of the blood royal, so the title Lady in the case of Lord and Lady is only out of courtesy to him and not to her at all.

    I go for Sir John Blipblip and Baroness Blipblip. It has got a good ring to it.

    • maude elwes
      12/11/2013 at 8:14 am

      @HC:

      Blipblip and Biplip is far more equality centric don’t you think? And suitable for a society that claims it wants fairness to rule. No one should be more equal than others.

      This is the very reason we need to become a republic. Monarchy does not allow equality as it is the epitome of unwarranted privilege.

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