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House of Lords: Gender Equality

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 6 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote gender equality in the composition of the House of Lords.

My Lords, in the past 20 years, the percentage of women in your Lordships’ House has increased from 17% to 26.5%. In this Parliament, seven of the 17 party political appointees were women. The Prime Minister considers factors including skills, expertise, party political balance and diversity. Progress has been made, but there is still more to be done.

There is much to be said on this question, as the Minister has said, but I want to focus on just one issue. As long as we have seats for hereditary Peers, women continue to be ineligible for almost all of them. Succession to the Crown has been changed to allow women to succeed equally, and we even have women bishops. To add to the unfairness, eldest daughters are specifically forbidden under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to change sex for the purpose of succession. Will the Government back the simple Bill put forward by Philip Davies MP to remove all remaining obstacles to equality and allow daughters to seek seats here? Our composition should be based on equality and fairness. We have to set an example. Saying it is complicated is no answer to such a question. We must end the inherent androcentric nature of this House.

My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness’s wish to remove the barrier to women entering your Lordships’ House via the hereditary by-election principle by allowing the title to pass to the eldest child. I believe there are better ways to reduce the current imbalance. The noble Baroness’s solution involves, first, getting primary legislation through this House on the right of succession. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will tell the noble Baroness just how difficult it is to get legislation through this House that tampers with the hereditary principle. Secondly, it would then depend on a marked increase in the mortality of hereditary Peers, something which I know the noble Baroness does not want. Thirdly, it would depend on women winning the by-elections. I honestly think it is better to make progress and get more women in your Lordships’ House by continuing to drive up the percentage of life peerages, rather than by going around the course I have just enunciated.

My Lords, can I persuade the Minister to support my Private Member’s Bill, which arranges for hereditary peerages to go through the female line in certain circumstances?

I understand that my noble friend has been round this course before. He submitted a Bill in 2015-16, 2016-17 and again in the current Session. The main purpose appeared to be to revive and maintain peerages rather than to pursue female succession as an end in itself. The Bill received a Second Reading in the 2015-16 Session but did not in the 2016-17 or current Sessions.

My Lords, every woman in this House bar one, to whom I pay great tribute, wants to be here on the basis of our own skills, our own experience and our own political and non-political background; we do not want to be here because of our fathers, our grandfathers, our great-grandfathers or other wonderful people who have come before us. I know that the Minister tries but can he undertake to continue, with his party, to try to move on the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Grocott? In the meantime, can he also ensure that everything that the Government do in advising the Appointments Commission, as well as in relation to political peerages, means that we move towards a 2:1 ratio in favour of women?

The Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has had more time than any other Private Member’s Bill this Session, and many of us have spent enjoyable Fridays making progress on it. It is open to the noble Lord, if his appetite is unquenched, to ask my noble friend the Chief Whip for yet more time to progress with his Bill. I know that the current chair of HOLAC, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, takes this matter seriously. Since 2012, HOLAC has appointed seven women and five men.

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a member of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. I am grateful that the noble Lord has highlighted that, since 2012, we have appointed seven women and five men, but is he aware that only 27.8% of the applicants to HOLAC are female? There is a real problem with women coming forward. Does he agree that we all have a role to play in encouraging suitably qualified women to put their names forward to not just HOLAC but all public bodies, and can he remind the House how the Government are doing against their target of 50% female appointments to public bodies?

My Lords, yesterday I read the recently published UK Gender-Sensitive Parliament Audit 2018, which made the point that the noble Baroness has just made. The number of applications that HOLAC receives from men far exceeds the number from women. I agree that there is a role for all of us in driving up the number of applications from women. Perhaps I could write to her on her question about the percentage of senior appointments.

I am greatly encouraged by the Minister’s suggestion that I ask the Government Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for more time. I therefore ask him for more time.

My Lords, as the last hereditary woman left standing, I ask the Minister to ask the Chief Whip to support the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, in their requests.

My Lords, my noble friend the Chief Whip will have heard both those bids and they will be discussed through the usual channels.

My Lords, the question of diversity is one commonly asked when we are speaking outside this House. It is important for the public to know more about the membership of the House. On approaching the Library, it surprised me to learn that there has been no voluntary monitoring form sent out to Members to collate information on other protected characteristics, such as geographical diversity, education and employment backgrounds. Will my noble friend ask the House authorities to send out a comprehensive monitoring form—the staff do this—so that we can tell the public more about who we are?

I believe that one of the recommendations in the report I referred to was that there should be more monitoring. That would also be relevant to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which produces an annual report that describes its progress in making appointments. It would be up to HOLAC to include more details along the lines suggested by my noble friend.