With reform on the political agenda now is the time for the science and engineering community to ask not only it feels the role of a reformed House should be, but also if the current representation and use of expertise could be improved.
The role of expertise in the House of Lords will be addressed in a report from CaSE, due to be published at the end of the month. As part of this work CaSE held a meeting to discuss the proposed reforms with Lord Willis (member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee), James Wilsdon (Professor of Science and Democracy at SPRU, University of Sussex) and Baroness Finlay (clinical academic at the Cardiff University and the Velindre Cancer Centre) on the panel.
In their opening remarks Lord Willis urged those working on the Reform Bill to prioritise function over form. James offered a view of the expertise found in Lords as part of a wider information system which includes Committees, POST, and bodies outside Westminster such as the National Academies. Baroness Finlay gave a compelling account of the role the expertise found in the Upper House has recently played e.g. in the Health and Social Care Bill.
The audience discussion raised some practical ways in which the use of expertise could be improved – even in the absence of reform e.g. members of both House could be encouraged to hire staff with science and engineering backgrounds.
Lord Willis remarked that, “We live in a world where almost every politician in the western world says that the major challenges we face will need to be solved by using science and technology.” With this is mind, we need to ensure that science and engineering expertise is accessed and utilised as easily as possible by decision-makers. It is unlikely that a reform of House of Lords of this scale will come around again soon, we mustn’t waste this opportunity.
A recording of the event will shortly be available on our website.
CaSE would like to thank Lord Wills for sponsoring this event which allowed us to hold it in the House of Commons and also the Biochemical Society for its financial support.