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.