As at 15 April 2023, the gender breakdown of members of the House of Lords, including those on leave of absence or currently unable to sit for other reasons, was:

  • 585 male members
  • 236 female members

The total membership was 821.

This means that, standing at 29%, the House of Lords had a lower proportion of female members than the House of Commons (35%). The House of Commons had 225 female members, out of a total membership of 650.

1. How has the number of female members of the Lords changed since 1958?

Women could not sit in the House of Lords until the passing of the Life Peerages Act 1958. The act allowed the creation of life peers with a right to sit in the House of Lords, including women. Prior to the act, the House of Lords was exclusively male, with the vast majority of members hereditary peers and with the rest being life peers appointed as judges, known as the Law Lords. A few years later, the Peerage Act 1963 also permitted female hereditary peers to take their seats.

However, in the 65 years since the 1958 act came into force, over three times as many male life peers have been appointed compared to women: 340 female life peers and 1,214 male life peers were appointed in the period up to 15 April 2023. With total life peer appointments (men and women) standing at 1,554 across this time, female life peers accounted for 22% of appointments.

The following table shows the gender breakdown of life peers announced each decade from the 1950s to the 2010s:

Table 1: Gender breakdown of new life peers by decade
Decade Men Women Total % women
1950s (1958 onwards) 17 5 22 22.7%
1960s 143 16 159 10.1%
1970s 194 30 224 13.4%
1980s 141 16 157 10.2%
1990s 273 72 345 20.9%
2000s 178 61 239 25.5%
2010s 203 110 313 35.1%

Table 1 shows that since the 1990s there have been increases in the proportion of life peers announced that were women. Indeed, the proportion of appointments that were women in the 2010s was over three times the proportion in the 1960s.

The following graph shows the proportion of female members of the House of Lords each year or at the end of each session since 1958. This includes female life peers, hereditaries and those appointed as judges under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876:

Graph showing the percentage of female members of the House of Lords increasing from 1958 to 2022
Figure 1: Percentage of members of the House of Lords who are women, 1958–2022

(Note: The section of this graph that covers the period 1958–83 was created using ‘Vachers Parliamentary Companion’, the final edition of each year. The section that covers the period from the 1984–85 session to the 2021–22 session was created using House of Lords sessional returns, as at end of session, and House of Lords Journal Office information. The graph includes members who have not taken the oath, are without writ of summons, on leave of absence, disqualified as senior members of the judiciary, or disqualified as an MEP.)

The graph shows that the Peerage Act 1963 and the House of Lords Act 1999 (which removed many of the hereditary peers) had noticeable impacts on the proportion of women in the House of Lords, with both acts increasing women’s representation. It also shows a gradual upward trend in the proportion of female members between the two acts, and then a more pronounced upward trend in the years following the 1999 act.

2. Which prime minister appointed the most female peers?

The largest number of female life peers was appointed by Tony Blair (88), closely followed by David Cameron (83). However, these two prime ministers also appointed the largest number of peers overall, with Blair appointing 374 and Cameron appointing 245.

Therefore, it is better to consider the number of female life peers appointed by each prime minister as a proportion of their total life peer appointments. By this metric, David Cameron also fares well, with female members making up 33.9% of his appointments. Only former prime ministers Theresa May (39.5%) and Liz Truss (37.9%) appointed higher proportions of female life peers; however, both had significantly lower overall appointment numbers (May appointed 17 female life peers and Truss appointed 11).

The following table shows the statistics by prime minister since 1958:

Table 2: Life peer appointments by prime minister
Prime minister Men Women Total % women
Macmillan 40 7 47 14.9%
Douglas-Home 14 2 16 12.5%
Wilson (1966 government) 121 14 135 10.4%
Heath 37 8 45 17.8%
Wilson (1974 government) 69 11 80 13.8%
Callaghan 53 5 58 8.6%
Thatcher 174 27 201 13.4%
Major 131 29 160 18.1%
Blair 286 88 374 23.5%
Brown 24 10 34 29.4%
Cameron 162 83 245 33.9%
May 26 17 43 39.5%
Johnson 59 28 87 32.2%
Truss 18 11 29 37.9%

(Note: For the figures in the table life peer appointments are attributed to the prime minister in office at the time the peerage was announced. For example, a prime minister’s resignation honours will be attributed to the subsequent prime minister who was in office at the time the peerage list was published.)

3. Want to know more?

Commentary and discussion on representation of women in the House of Lords, including comparisons with other second chambers, can be found in the House of Lords Library briefing, ‘Representation of women in the House of Lords’ (24 February 2021).

A more detailed history of women in the House of Lords can be found in the Library’s 2015 briefing, ‘Women in the House of Lords’.

Cover image by Roger Harris on House of Lords Flickr.