The first women in the House of Lords took their seats in 1958, forty years after women were granted the right to stand as MPs in the House of Commons. These women were life peers appointed by the Prime Minister. Women hereditary peers were able to sit in the Lords from 1963. In 2015, the first female Church of England bishop sat as one of the Lords Spiritual.
Today, women make up just over a quarter of the members of the Lords, which compares with a third of the members of the Commons.
Women were excluded from the House of Lords until the Life Peerages Act 1958, passed to address the declining number of active members, made possible the creation of peerages for life. Women were immediately eligible and four were among the first life peers appointed, including Baroness Wootton of Abinger, who was the first woman to be appointed, and Baroness Swanborough, who was the first to take her seat. However, hereditary peeresses continued to be excluded until the passage of the Peerage Act 1963; the first to take her seat was Baroness Strange of Knokin.
The first female chief whip was Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe in 1973.Baroness Young was the first woman leader of the House of Lords in 1981.Baroness Hale of Richmond became the first female Law Lord in 2004.
Since the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, hereditary peeresses remain eligible for election to the Upper House. Five were elected in 1999, of which three have since died and one retired in 2014; all four were replaced by male peers in by-elections, leaving only one female hereditary peer, the Countess of Mar, among the 92 hereditary peers who continue to sit.
Following a change to the law in 2014 to allow women to be ordained bishops, the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015 was passed, which provides that whenever a vacancy arises among the Lords Spiritual during the ten years following the Act coming into force, the vacancy has to be filled by a woman, if one is eligible. This does not apply to the five bishops who sit by right.
There are 206 female peers out of 781 (26%) in the House of Lords as of March 2019, up from 199 out of 826 (24%) in 2015, 176 out of 771 (23%) in 2013, and 164 out of 777 (21%) in 2010. Compared with the House of Commons, women make up slightly fewer of the total members of the Lords; 32% of the members of the Commons were women after the 2017 General Election.