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|Text of statute as originally enacted|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|
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.
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 in existence since the Middle Ages but in practice little used by the upper classes, who have preferred Lord for all but the most formal documents since the earliest times) or baronesses (where female) and are members of the House of Lords for life, but their titles and membership in the House of Lords cannot be 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 greatly increased the ability of Prime Ministers 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 diminished the numerical dominance of hereditary peers.
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 on 21 October 1958.
A life peer is created by the sovereign by Letters Patent under the Great Seal on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Before the Act was enacted, former Prime Ministers were usually created Viscounts or Earls (which are hereditary peerages) in recognition of their public service in high office, as were 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 created an Earl was paradoxically one of the 1958 Act's proponents, Harold Macmillan, on Margaret Thatcher's advice, in the 1980s. Since her time, only members of the Royal Family have been granted new hereditary peerages.
Historic approval and 1999 adjustment of House composition
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.
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
- Life peer
- Peerages in the United Kingdom
- Peerage Act 1963 – which permitted disclaimer (renunciation, unless later claimed) of peerages.
- House of Lords Act 1999 - which restricted the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords to only 92, elected by the hereditary peers at large.
Notes and references
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