House of Lords expertise debated in Parliament

Science and engineering expertise in the House of Lords was raised in the House of Commons today, during the second reading debate on the Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill.

The new bill proposes an 80% elected House of Lords, with the total membership substantially reduced from the current total of over 800 to 450, and members serving a single, 15 year, non-renewable term.

Speaking in the debate Conservative MP and former GP, Dr Sarah Wollaston, put the issue before the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and suggested an amendment to the Bill which would ensure the representation of STEM expertise in the upper chamber:

“The Deputy Prime Minister spoke earlier of the need to reform the other place to make it fit for the 21st century. Does he accept that science and technology are very much part of our future? Will he accept an amendment that would mean greater recognition of expert Cross-Bench expertise in engineering, science, technology, maths and medicine?”

The Deputy Prime Minister: “As the hon. Lady may well know, the appointments commission envisaged in the Bill will be statutorily required to ensure proper diversity and representation of expertise in the 20% of non-elected peers in a reformed House of Lords.”

Ahead of the debate, CaSE published a new report, looking at the role of expertise in the House of Lords and asking how the current representation and use of expertise could be improved, with or without reform.

While there is a risk of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ in moving to a partially or wholly elected House of Lords, reform could also be an opportunity to improve the representation of science and engineering expertise.

If we agree that an important role of the House of Lords is to scrutinise and challenge government then we need to make sure that its members are able to do so. Dr Wollaston’s calls for an amendment to ensure proper cross-bench expertise in a reformed, partially-elected, House of Lords are a welcome step towards this.

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