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The Representation of the People Act 1918 was a milestone piece of legislation. It gave women over the age of 30 who met certain property qualifications the right to vote at parliamentary elections for the first time. It was closely followed by another key development, the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918. This gave women the right to stand for election to the House of Commons for the first time. Over the next 100 years, progress in women’s representation in Parliament can be seen through other notable developments.

Developments included (but are not limited to): 

  • Nancy Astor (Conservative) becoming the first woman to take a seat in the Commons, in 1919.
  • The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928, which gave women the right to vote on the same terms as men. 2018 is the 90th anniversary of the passing of this Act.
  • The Life Peerages Act 1958, which permitted the creation of peerages for life for women, and consequently the first four women taking seats in the Lords, in 1958. 2018 is the 60th anniversary of the passing of this Act.
  • Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) becoming the first female Prime Minister in 1979.
  • Baroness Young (Conservative) becoming the first female Leader of the House of Lords in 1981.
  • Betty Boothroyd (Labour) becoming the first female Speaker of the House of Commons in 1992.
  • Ann Taylor (Labour) becoming the first female Leader of the Commons in 1997 and first female Chief Whip in 1998.
  • Baroness Hayman (Crossbench) becoming the first Lord Speaker in 2006.

The primary focus of this Lords Library Briefing is on women’s representation within the House of Lords and the House of Commons from 1918 to the present day. However, a selection of statistics on women in other areas of public life are also provided, including on public appointments, the judiciary, police and NHS.


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