‘This is about the only place in the kingdom where men can meet without
women. For heaven’s sake let us keep it like that!’ Thus spoke the Earl
of Glasgow in the House of Lords in 1957. This year marks the fiftieth
anniversary of the Life Peerages Act 1958, which allowed the creation of
life peers. This included women, who were thereby allowed to sit in the
House of Lords for the first time.
‘A Changing House: The Life Peerages Act 1958’, an exhibition to
celebrate the 50th anniversary of the admission of life peers including
women to the House of Lords, is in the Royal Gallery, House of Lords,
from 12 June to 26 September 2008. The exhibition highlights original
documents from the Parliamentary Archives and works of art from the
Palace of Westminster Collections which illustrate the history and
achievements of life peers and the background to women in Parliament.
Artefacts on display include the Test Roll from 1958 showing the
signatures of the first Life Peers, a letter from the first woman peer
Barbara Wootton, busts of Barbara Castle and the first woman MP Nancy
Astor, and a banner unfurled by suffragettes from the Ladies Gallery of
the House of Commons in 1908. Visitors can also view newsreel footage of
the first televised State Opening of Parliament in 1958.
Public access is by free guided tour incorporating a commentary on the
history of women and Parliament, including the suffragettes – go to
www.parliament.uk/lifepeeragesact for further details.
The exhibition website, www.parliament.uk/lifepeeragesact, provides a
more detailed examination of the history and documentary material
relating to life peers and woman in Parliament. It also has specially
commissioned video interviews with five current life peers discussing
the significance of the Act and its impact on the House. These include
the Lord Speaker Baroness Hayman, Baroness Jay of Paddington, and
Baroness Young of Hornsey.