The House of Lords has been affected by changes to both its powers and membership over the last 100 years.
And the reform agenda is still alive today with proposals to introduce directly elected members to the Lords.
Historically, membership of the House of Lords was hereditary, with the exception of a relatively small number of Bishops and Law Lords. Following the Life Peerages Act 1958 an increasing number of peers were non-hereditary and it became possible for the first time for women to be members in the Lords. The House of Lords Act 1999 ended the voting rights of all but 92 hereditary peers, reducing the potential membership from over 1,200 to less than 700.
The political composition of the second Chamber has changed, although any interpretation of relative party strength should take account of the fact that peers’ attendance can vary. At the start of the 20th century 85% of the potential members of the Lords were Conservative or Liberal Unionists affiliated to the Conservatives. In 1945 just over half the Lords’ membership was Conservative. By 2012 the parties are more evenly represented; Labour is the largest single party with just under 30% of the membership. 27% of peers are Conservative, and non-party Crossbenchers (23%) and Liberals (12%) comprise most of the rest.
Until 1958 there were no women peers. Their number rose slowly, and by 1980 they comprised 5% of peers. The proportion jumped from 9% to 16% in 1999 when most hereditary peers (largely men) were removed and has continued to increase since, to reach 22% in 2012, similar to that in the House of Commons. There is no official data, but around 5% of Peers are estimated to be minority ethnic.
Peer pressure. The chart shows the composition of the House of Lords by type of peer.
Peers and their parties. The chart shows membership of the House of Lords by party in 1900 and 2012.