Prior to the act, the House of Lords was exclusively male. It was dominated by hereditary peers, with a limited number of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (judges who had been granted life peerages under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876).

The Life Peerages Bill received royal assent on 30 April 1958, with the first 14 life peers announced on 24 July 1958. The one-section act allowed for the creation of life peerages carrying the right to sit in the House of Lords. Although life peers had been created previously, historically they were not allowed to sit or vote in the House of Lords, as determined by the Wensleydale case.

Subsection 3 of section 1 of the act allowed that “A life peerage may be conferred under this section on a woman”, the first time women had been allowed to sit in the Lords; female hereditary peers in their own right were not allowed to attend until 1963 following the passage of the Peerage Act 1963.

On its introduction in the House of Lords the bill was described as a “strictly and severely practical” bill, which sought to build upon the large measure of agreement surrounding the creation of life peers, rather than being a comprehensive scheme of reform. The impact of the bill, when passed, was arguably more significant: it has been described as a “turning point in the history of reform of the House of Lords”.

As at 12 June 2023, 1,564 life peerages had been created: 1,222 men and 342 women. 

This briefing provides an overview of the House of Lords prior to the 1958 act and summarises the passage of the act through Parliament. It concludes with consideration of the success of the act in addressing concerns which prompted its introduction.

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