This Note provides a short history of women in the House of Lords, looking at the events which led to the first female Peers being permitted to sit in the House. It provides a list of ‘firsts’ for women in the House of Lords, and a list of women who have held significant office in the House.Jump to full report >>
There are 199 female Peers in the House of Lords today, who represent 24 percent of the 826 Members of the House. This is only slightly less than the proportion of women in the House of Commons, in which there are 191 female MPs, representing 29 percent of the 650 Members. The House of Lords has had six female Leaders and three female Government Chief Whips. The only two Lord Speakers to date have been women. However, women were not permitted to sit in the House of Lords until 1958, which was 40 years after women were granted the right to stand as MPs.
Women were excluded from the House of Lords before 1958 because the only people who were permitted to sit in the House were hereditary Peers, a small number of judges known as ‘Lords of Appeal in Ordinary’ (or ‘Law Lords’) and Bishops. There were women who were hereditary Peers, but they were not allowed to sit in the House of Lords. Women were barred from the judiciary until the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, and in fact there was not a female Lord of Appeal in Ordinary until Baroness Hale of Richmond was appointed to this position in 2004. The Church of England has not, until recently, allowed women to become Bishops; the first female Church of England Bishop was consecrated in January 2015 (please see section 3.4 of this note for further information). The Life Peerages Act 1958 allowed women and men to be created Peers for life; the first fourteen life Peers who were announced included four women. Although the Life Peerages Act 1958 enabled life peerages to be given to women, female hereditary Peers continued to be excluded from the House, until the Peerage Act 1963 gave them the right to sit in the House of Lords.
Whilst there are now 199 women in the House of Lords, and many female Peers have achieved senior parliamentary positions, there remains concern that women still represent a minority of the overall membership. Some commentators have suggested that female membership is increasing too slowly. Others have argued that gender balance should be an objective of House of Lords reform.
Lords Library notes LLN-2015-0017
Author: Dorothy Hughes
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