Life Peerages Act 1958
By the 1950s, there was a feeling the membership of the House of Lords ought to be reformed. Proposals for creating life peers, appointed by the Government for life rather than on a hereditary basis, had been around since the 1920s.
In November 1957, a Life Peerages Bill was introduced into the Lords by Lord Home. The clause relating to the creation of women peers caused the greatest agitation.
An amendment to exclude women from the House was defeated at committee stage by 134 votes to 30. Viscount Astor, whose mother had been the first woman MP, was a great advocate for women peers and Lord Chatfield said it was absurd to exclude representatives of half the nation.
Life Peerages Bill welcomed
The Bill passed its third reading in the Commons on 2 April 1958 by 292 votes to 241. Although generally welcomed by peers, many felt that this reform did not go far enough. Hereditary peerages could still be created, for example.
However, the problem of peers who attended very infrequently – known colloquially as backwoodsmen - was tackled. Those peers who either did not want or were unable to attend, could get leave of absence for the length of a parliamentary session.
The Bill received Royal Assent on 30 April and the first 14 life Peers were announced on 24 July 1958.