Comment posted at Liberal Democrat Voice [2]

Moving to an elected second chamber – a loss of expertise, or just privilege?

Unlock Democracy believes that experts should be brought into the legislative process to consider specific Bills rather than appointed as full time members of the House of Lords.

In the Commons an expert panel was appointed to consider recreational drugs legislation. What they came up with was counter-intuitive and unpopular. So it was rejected. Out of frustration, the head of the panel went public on the advice. Cannabis row drugs adviser sacked

Nothing forces elected representatives to take expert advice. Indeed, nothing could.

Many expert members have a valuable contribution to be made in their field…but as full members of the second chamber they would be expected to vote on all issues whether well versed in them or not. The Astronomer Royal is undoubtedly an expert but does this mean his opinion on penal policy or electoral administration is more valid than anyone else’s?

But, the Astronomer Royal, currently Martin Rees (astrophysicist, President of the Royal Society, Michael Faraday Prize for science communication [2004], etc, etc…) will be a scientist and therefore capable of logical reasoning and critical thinking. How many elected MPs even know what those terms mean?

It is far preferable to have a chamber where expert advice is sought externally as needed…but where the final vote falls to democratically elected representatives of the people, suitably informed.

A nice ideal, but demonstrably unlikely in practice.

This would ensure that the expertise called in was always relevant and up to date and would not mean that experts had to choose between their existing careers and advising on legislation in their field.

This is the best part of your argument. However, I would suggest that the appointed Senators should be senior Fellows in their field and therefore nearing, or at, the end of their professional careers. Such individuals — who have nothing left to prove — are far more likely to call upon younger advisers for the latest up-to-date knowledge, and to accept their advice.

Either way, the future of the second legislative chamber should be decided by a popular referendum and not by the first chamber that it is meant to scrutinize. It’s almost like the criminals deciding the make-up of the judiciary!



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