Clearly, the House of Lords retains a sense of humour, as today's exchange indicates;
Asked By Baroness Deech
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make proposals relating to the titles used by the husbands of women members of the House of Lords.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government have no plans to alter the existing arrangements in relation to the use of courtesy titles or styles for the husbands of women Members of the House of Lords.
Baroness Deech: I thank the Minister for his Answer, albeit that it was disappointing. The Equality Bill is wending its way through this House. Does he accept that equality between the sexes should start in this Chamber? If a male Peer’s wife is always a Lady, why should not the same courtesy be extended to the husband of a woman Peer, who I am sure has done just as much to support their spouse? If the issue is trivial, titles should either be extended to husbands or confined only to the recipient.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is an anomalous situation whereby a woman takes her husband’s title but a man does not take his wife’s. I suspect that the reason is that the UK honours system of names and titles is complex and is rooted in history. In recent history, thankfully, the position of women has changed dramatically. However, notwithstanding that, I have to tell the House that the Government are not aware of any great anxiety or urgent desire for change in this respect.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when my husband was alive, he loved being called “m’lord”; he loved putting his drinks on my bill; and it added a certain frisson to staying in an hotel together?
Lord Bach: I am absolutely delighted to hear that story and I very much hope that other noble Baronesses will bear it in mind.
Lord Wright of Richmond: Is the Minister aware that the frisson must have been much greater when the husband of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, was known as “Mister” in an hotel?
Lord Bach: The noble Lord obviously knows much more than I do.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, the House will be aware that the wives of Bishops need to be considered as well, as they do not have any title. If the Minister was minded to resolve the anomaly without addressing the concerns potentially of Bishops’ wives, he might have a deputation of them on his doorstep, which is not a prospect I should wish on him.
Lord Bach: The right reverend Prelate has scared me off already, so we will very much bear in mind what he says.
Baroness Sharples: Perhaps I may say that neither my second nor my third husband objected. I have had the same situation as the noble Baroness, when signing into an hotel did raise a few eyebrows.
Lord Bach: I thank the noble Baroness for that.
Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lady Deech in her suggestion, does this matter not go a little further than that? For example, is it not the case that the wife of a Knight Bachelor has the title “Lady”? Therefore, is there not an argument for the husband of a Dame of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to have an equivalent title as well? While I understand the Minister’s statement that the Government have no proposals on these matters, might there not be a case to refer these matters to a Select Committee of your Lordships’ House?
Lord Bach: My Lords, there is always a case for referring any matter that is raised in your Lordships’ House to a Select Committee. I am not sure that this is the best case. The Public Administration Select Committee of another place looked inter alia at titles and name changing honours. While recognising that this issue was contentious, it recommended the phasing out of knighthoods and what it called damehoods. In February 2005, the Government’s response was that they did not believe that the case had been made for phasing out the awards of knighthoods and damehoods or knights bachelor. They said that they play a well respected, understood and valued part in our national life.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords—
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords—
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords—
Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords—
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, if we are quick, we could hear from my noble friend and then the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, at one level of course this is an amusing topic and we can all have a jolly good laugh at each other’s expense, but the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has made a serious point. This is not an anomaly, it is discrimination. It is discrimination that a man may confer on his wife an honour that a woman may not confer on her husband. It is perfectly straightforward and I see many heads nodding in agreement. Does not my noble friend think that there is some way of addressing a discrimination that we practise and laugh about?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I actually agree with my noble friend that this is an issue that has a serious side to it. The Government are not going to act on it in the near future, but that does not take away from the fact that this matter is serious.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I get an even greater frisson than the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, in hotels. Is it not the answer to this that you can call yourself anything you wish? Earlier this year there was a Lord in the dock who got 10 years. But surely, after today’s debate, the husband of a lady Peer should be called the “honourable breadwinner”.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord asked two questions, but I am going to mention only the first. On “frisson”, I think that the noble Lord gives us too much information.
Ah well, a title appears to be out of the question. Pity, I was just trying out 'Marquess' for size...