Quiz: Women and the House of Lords

Lord Norton 20/07/2012 – 6:19 pm

Baroness Bakewell

This week’s quiz focuses on women and the House of Lords.  As regular readers will know, women were first admitted to the House of Lords in 1958 under the Life Peerages Act passed in that year.  Women now comprise 22 per cent of the membership (the same proportion as in the Commons, where women were first admitted in 1918) and the number continues to grow, not least because of the work of the Independent Appointments Commission.  Women have been prominent in leadership positions in recent years, not least as Leaders of the House (since 1997: Baronesses Jay, Amos, Ashton and Royall).  The first Lord Speaker was Baroness Hayman and her successor is Baroness D’Souza.  (we have yet to have a male elected as Lord Speaker.) The first black female member of the Cabinet was drawn from the Lords.  We have some leading public figures, such as Joan Bakewell (pictured) and literary figures such as Ruth Rendell and PD James. 

The questions relate to the admission of women to membership, or attempts at membership, though with a bonus question unrelated to membership.  The first two readers to answer correctly the first five questions will be the winners, but there will be a prize for the first person to provide the correct answers to all six.

1. On the death of my father, I was by special remainder able to inherit his title - I became a Viscountess – but not able to sit in the House of Lords.  I challenged this, relying on the provisions of the recently passed Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, but the Privileges Committee of the House of Lords decided that I was not entitled to a writ of summons.  Who am I?

2. Women were able to become members of the House of Lords under the Life Peerages Act 1958, but in what year did the House of Lords first vote in support of the proposition that women should be admitted?

3. I was the first woman to speak in the House of Lords as a member, to sponsor legislation in the House, and to move the Loyal Address.  Who am I?

4. I was one of the first women life peers to be created.  I was already an hereditary peer in my own right.  My father was very grand – ‘a most superior person’ - and almost became Prime Minister.   Who am I?

5. I was one of the first women peers and the first to affirm rather than take the oath.  Who am I?

And the bonus question:

6.  What did some determined women do in 1739 (adopting ‘methods anticipatory of the suffragette tactics of the twentieth century’) that affronted their Lordships?


Lord Faulkner of Worcester 20/07/2012 – 7:01 am

The debate over House of Lords reform has thrown up an extraordinary number of errors and mis-statements.  One of the more serious has been the assertion that Labour should support an elected House because that has always been party policy.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  An analysis of Labour manifesto commitments since 1945, carried out by my colleague Lord Grocott and me, show that Labour has supported an elected House in only two elections out of the 18 that have taken place.  Those were in 1992 (when Labour lost) and 2010 (lost again).  In 1983 party policy was to abolish the Lords (and leave the EU and back unilateral nuclear disarmament – the “longest suicide note in history”).

In eight elections (1945, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, February 1974. October 1974, and 1987) there was no reference whatever to the House of Lords in the manifesto.  At other elections (1964, 1966, 1970, 1979) Labour spoke of the need to reduce or abolish the Lords’ delaying powers, especially when exercised by hereditary peers.  The 1997 manifesto committed the party to removing hereditary peers, those in 2001 and 2005 to ensuring that the powers of hereditary peers were reduced, and that the Commons primacy was maintained.

In 1968 the Labour government led by Harold Wilson attempted its own major reform of the Lords.  But that was based on an appointed, not elected, house.  The official party publication of the time, Talking Points, said this:

“If the upper House is elected, it would inevitably become a rival to the House of Commons, as it would then also possess a mandate from the people.  It would be able to claim greater or even equal powers, and in particular to challenge the present control by the Commons on finance.

“An elected House would violate the central principle of the British parliamentary system by which it has been recognised, at least since the beginning of the nineteenth century, that the government stands or falls in the House of Commons.”

Why are there no apprentices in the House of Lords?

Lord Adonis 18/07/2012 – 10:49 am

The House of Lords employs nearly 500 people. Not one of them is an apprentice, and only one member of staff is under the age of 21 – according to a Parliamentary answer I have just received.

How can Parliament preach apprenticeships to the nation if it has no apprentices itself? There is a highly prestigious route for graduates to become Clerks in both Houses of Parliament yet, although a good proportion of the work undertaken by employees of the Lords is very suitable for individuals trained by an apprenticeship route, there are no apprentices. Surely this needs to change, and fast, if we are to tackle youth unemployment as a nation and create a prestigious apprenticeship route for young people who do not go to university.

I have written to Lord Strathclyde, Leader of the House of Lords, inviting him to set up an apprenticeship scheme for House of Lords employees.

In answer to my question about apprenticeships, the House authorities tell me that the Lords has in the past run trainee archivist and records management schemes, and that apprenticeships have previously been offered by the Parliamentary Estates Directorate. However, all that is in the past tense. It is action, now, in the present that we need. If Parliament doesn’t lead, how can it expect anyone else to follow?

Gay marriage

Lord Norton 16/07/2012 – 5:22 pm

The proposals to allow same-sex marriage clearly get some people excited.  When I did a post on my blog about it, it attracted the most comments I have ever received.  One of my points was about the insularity of those opposing the proposals.  I was therefore very interested in the findings of a study just published by Policy Exchange, and written, I see, by one of my graduates. 

It found that countries that had introduced same-sex marriage have experienced no changes in the stability of heterosexual marriage.  (To listen to some opponents, one would think that the UK is the first to even consider the idea.)   The number of divorces have decreased in Holland, Belgium, Canada and South Africa, and an increase in Spain may be attributable to the enactment of an ‘express divorce’ Bill.   Perhaps even more relevant for the purposes of the current debate, no country that has introduced same-sex marriage has forced churches to perform such  marriages.

Surveys some years ago tapped a change in popular attitudes, with public opinion swinging behind supporting gay marriage in the opening years of the century.  However, what is noteworthy is the finding in this study that the highest levels of support for same-sex marriage are to be found in the North-East of England (81% in support of change) and Yorkshire (70%).   Support in London and the West Midlands stands at 69%.  I suspect people have recognised that society has not collapsed following the introduction of civil partnerships and that the nation will probably remain calm in the event of the introduction of same-sex marriages.

Not a quiz question, but…

Lord Norton 16/07/2012 – 3:58 pm

Lords in action - and not wearing robes

The House of Lords has received a lot of attention in the past few weeks as a result of the Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill.  I am almost tempted to ask as a quiz question if anyone can identify a newspaper (or even television) story about the House of Lords that has not been illustrated by a picture of the State Opening of Parliament.  One of the things that peers find intensely irritating is the use of pictures of us in robes at State Opening, as if this is a picture of the House of Lords as it normally operates.  Virtually no story has been accompanied by a picture of the House in action. 

Indeed, two newspapers have even gone so far as to accompany stories about the House of Lords with pictures of senior judges attending State Opening.  State Opening is attended not only by members of both Houses, but also by members of the judiciary and members of the Diplomatic Corps.  The judges are distinctive because they wear wigs.  Peers do not wear wigs – even the law lords did not wear wigs.  (Though members of the Supreme Court have now their own robes, they do no wear wigs; when they were law lords, they did not have judicial robes – they wore ermine the same as other peers.)   

I am not sure whether the answer is to alter radically State Opening – at least dispensing with peers wearing robes – or to persuade the media that they should educate rather go for the colourful.