Life Peerages Act 1958

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Life Peerages Act 1958
Long title An Act to make provision for the creation of life peerages carrying the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords.
Citation 6 & 7 Eliz. 2 c. 21
Royal Assent 30 April 1958
Text of statute as originally enacted
Revised text of statute as amended

The Life Peerages Act 1958 established the modern standards for the creation of life peers by the monarch of the United Kingdom.


This Act was made during the Conservative governments of 1957–1964, when Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister. Elizabeth II had ascended to the throne just over five years before the Act. The Conservatives tried to introduce life peerages to modernise the House of Lords, give it more legitimacy, and respond to a decline in its numbers and attendance. The Labour Party opposed the Life Peerages Bill on Second Reading: Hugh Gaitskell made an impassioned speech against the proposals, arguing for a far more fundamental reform such as total dismantling of the Lords or a wholly elected house.[1]


Prior to the Life Peerages Act 1958, membership in the House of Lords was strictly male and overwhelmingly based on possession of an hereditary title. There existed a few exceptions to the hereditary principle, such as for the Lords Spiritual. The Act made it possible for life peers of both sexes to be members of the Lords. Life peers are either barons (a title deprecated for British nobles which has been replaced with Lord for all but the most formal documents since the early medieval period[n 1]) or Baronesses (where female) and are members of the House of Lords for life, but their titles and membership in "the Lords" are not inherited by their children. Judicial life peers already sat in the House under the terms of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. The Life Peerages Act vastly increased the ability of the Prime Minister to change the composition of the House of Lords by permitting the creation of groups of life peers rather than the more difficult to justify hereditary peerages. This gradually began to diminish the numerical dominance of hereditary peers.[n 2]

The Act allowed for the creation of female peers entitled to sit in the House of Lords; the first such women peers took their seats 21 October 1958.[2]

A life peer is created by the sovereign (monarch) by Letters Patent under the Great Seal on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Before the Act was passed, former Prime Ministers were usually created Viscounts or Earls (which are hereditary peerages) in gratitude for their public service in high office. This similarly applied to the Viceroys of India and exceptional military or front bench figures, for example the former Secretary of State for India and earlier for Air, Viscount Stansgate. The last Prime Minister and the last non-royal to be made an Earl was paradoxically one of its proponents, Harold Macmillan, on Thatcher's advice, in the 1980s.[why?] In modern practice, only members of the Royal Family are granted new hereditary peerages.

Historic approval and 1999 adjustment of House composition[edit]

In 1999, during the debate which secured the removal of the constitutional functions of most hereditary peers, the Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Geoff Hoon stated:

The difference is, of course, that the Labour party lost the argument in 1958. The reform provided by the Life Peerages Act 1958 was a successful single-stage reform of the operation of the second Chamber. History has proved that the Labour party was wrong and Conservative Ministers were right in 1958.[1]

After this agreed with a question from fellow Labour MP, Mark Fisher which stated:

The White Paper — and all that I have heard from my right hon. Friend the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons — gave an absolute and clear commitment to a second stage [of Lords Reform], presaged by the Royal Commission[1]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ In this period, regularly use of the term Baron was made such "the barons of the Magna Carta"
  2. ^ As hereditary titles became extinct and as the proportion of life peers increases.
  1. ^ a b c Hansard HC Deb 16 March 1999 vol 327 cc932-99 at c983
  2. ^ "A Changing House : the Life Peerages Act 1958". Archived from the original on 2008-06-15. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  3. ^ "Disclaiming a peerage". BBC News (London: British Broadcasting Corporation). 14 July 2005. Retrieved 7 June 2008. 

External links[edit]