On Monday 30 April, UK Parliament will mark 60 years since the Life Peerages Act 1958 received Royal Assent, which allowed women to sit in the House of Lords for the first time. The Act opened the House to the whole of society, with members being appointed to contribute to our parliamentary democracy based on their knowledge and experience, regardless of gender or background.
Women were excluded from the House of Lords before 1958. The Life Peerages Act allowed women and men to be created peers for life and have seats in the House of Lords. Over time, the number of women peers increased and their vital contribution has changed the face of the House of Lords.
There are currently 202 female life peers and, since the Act passed, there have been seven female Leaders of the House of Lords, three female Government Chief Whips and two of the three Lord Speakers to date have been women. Other important firsts for women in the House of Lords include:
- the first woman life peer to receive Letters Patent was Baroness Wootton of Abinger on 8 August 1958
- the first woman life peer to take her seat was Baroness Swanborough on 21 October 1958
- the first woman life peer to speak in the House of Lords was Baroness Elliot on 4 November 1958
- the first female Government whip was Labour peer Baroness Phillips between 1965-1970
- the first female Government Chief Whip was Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe between March 1974 and May 1979
- the first female Leader of the House of Lords was Baroness Young in September 1981
- the first female Lord Speaker was Baroness Hayman in 2006.
The House of Lords Library has produced two research briefings to mark the 60th anniversary of the passing of the Life Peerages Act which give historical and biographical information on the first Life Peers. Further information on the history of women in the Lords can also be found on Parliament’s Living Heritage webpage:
- Life Peerages Act 1958: 60th Anniversary
- Life Peerages Act 1958: First Life Peers
- Living Heritage – Women and the Lords
The celebration of the Life Peerages Act is part of UK Parliament’s Vote 100 project which is a year-long programme of events celebrating a century of women’s voices in Parliament, the journey towards universal suffrage and the first women MPs. Throughout 2018, Vote 100 will celebrate these milestones, and the contribution of women to politics in the UK, with a series of events, exhibitions and educational programmes.
The Life Peerages Act will be displayed this summer at “Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament”, a major free public exhibition held in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of Parliament, which will open on 27 June 2018. It will tell the story of women and parliament through immersive and interactive technologies to help recreate lost historic spaces that were used by women in the Palace of Westminster. It will include key historic objects from Parliamentary collections and significant loans from around the UK.