Doubts about ageing experts

Baroness Murphy

This post relates to Baroness Deech’s last post and the excellent comments it is attracting. I too mourn the loss from parliament of Evan Harris, not because he was a GP but because he had a clear thinking liberal mind and was willing to stand up for a number of unpopular causes with eloquence and clarity. I am sure he was informed by his experiences as a doctor but this was just one part of him. He is first and foremost a politician and I hope he will reappear somewhere soon.

I am ambivalent about whether the value of ‘experts’ in the House of Lords is as high as often mooted.  I fell into corridor conversation yesterday with Lord Dubs, another fine liberal, this time  a member of the Labour party and we agreed that the current House has too many ‘experts’ who are actually ‘past experts’ whose knowledge is out of date and whose attitudes haven’t moved on. I am very conscious that while I was once a practising psychiatrist and an expert in mental health law, I no longer accept invitations to lecture on mental health issues and to keep up to date I have to read widely to keep my basic knowledge honed. Drugs for dementia change at an alarming speed and so does research. I am probably only marginally better than an intelligent layman at acquiring new information about a mental health topic. Select Committees are usually superbly served by well chosen expert advisors right at the top of their field and it would surely be possible to run a scrutinising parliament with an elected Upper House which used expert advisors rather than relied on the views of many who are ‘past their sell-by date’.

From ‘experts’ we naturally moved on to a discussion of the age of peers.  WE ARE TOO OLD. Now Lord Dubs was born in 1932, is as young looking as many 60 year olds and still goes leaping up and down Cumbrian hills for recreation; there are many like him. BUT I could point out (I won’t name names) that for every Lord Dubs there is a slow moving and slow thinking peer in his late 70s and 80s who ought to have retired years ago. Law Lords retire at 70 and circuit judges too although they can have an extension up to 75 under certain circumstances. I would have thought that 75 was a reasonable age to ask people to step down (as in the Canadian Senate); it would be invidious to single out individuals by mental state or physical fitness and a blanket retirement age would immediately reduce the numbers of peers by about a third. I doubt anyone will risk introducing such a proposal for change…we peers would never vote for it would we?

23 comments for “Doubts about ageing experts

  1. Gareth Howell
    08/06/2010 at 12:53 pm

    Baroness Murphy’s opinions are indeed neatly honed. My terraced garden is not, and I am doing it by ‘and ,and wheel barrer, so I must proceed!

  2. Carl.H
    08/06/2010 at 12:55 pm

    Very quickly before lunch….

    My Lady I am dubious about the experts the House seem`s to get it knowledge from, indeed when statistical expertise is called upon it just doesn`t add up. See:

  3. djb13
    08/06/2010 at 1:24 pm

    I absolutely agree with the diagnosis of ‘past experts’, but I disagree with your policy prescription. Forced retirement at an arbitary age may exclude perfectly well informed peers, who’s field of expertise has no sell-by date. Similarly, there are plenty of under-75 peers whose expertise is dated, and are themselves past their sell-by dates. It would be much better to permit peers to retire themselves.

    With regard to dealing with ‘past experts’, the solution is to appoint younger people to the Lords. Don’t just look for the ‘top of the field’, but look for rising stars too. Why not have rank-and-file professionals: fireman, PCs, nurses and doctors?

    These two proposals will significantly lower the average age of the Lords, and raise the level of current expertise.

    • Senex
      10/06/2010 at 5:29 pm

      There is a school of thought that says every creature on earth has a fixed number of heartbeats before their ticker packs up. If we accept this then the HoL must in some way extend longevity by working to lower heartbeats. I wonder how that works.

  4. 08/06/2010 at 2:55 pm

    If committees of external experts will suffice, why have an upper house at all? Your argument points to a unicameral system, rather than an elected upper chamber.

    You also claim that an “intelligent layman” could understand issues surrounding mental health nearly as well as you. Intelligent laymen is certainly what the Lords is full of. But would this also be the case were the members selected from PR lists chosen by political parties?

    • Senex
      10/06/2010 at 5:42 pm

      Quality control! The Commons ships faulty product. Even if they shipped a good product would you fire the QA department or just downsize it?

  5. 08/06/2010 at 4:04 pm

    You couldn’t exactly introduce an age limit in the Lords at the same time we are moving towards lifting mandatory retirement ages for the rest of the country. However perhaps if appointments carried a term limit you might do something to address the problem of members hanging on past their most productive years?

    I wouldn’t want to discount the edge your past experience gives you as an informed expert. While techniques, drugs and diagnosis have no doubt moved on I suspect your practise background gives you a much more solid foundation to understand these newer developments than a simple layman.

    The DEBill is a recent case in point for the lack of domain specific knowledge at Westminster. There are very few MPs or Lords that fully understood the ramifications of what they were voting on, especially to pick up on the futility of “technical measures” and the thorny issue of proof. It’s a trend that I worry will get worse if we replace the current pot-pori of Lords with more professionals who understand politics but little else.

  6. Carl.H
    08/06/2010 at 4:29 pm

    Aside from the fact this is blatant ageism, which I believe is against some regulation/law now and would certainly be screamed about if it were applied to gender, most of the above I believe untrue.

    My Lady is no longer at the forefront of her field but is certainly well ahead of any layman. Saying what she does seem to infer that Einstein would not have any understanding of the latest theories.

    The experts for select committees are hand picked and usually very one sided. If we talk of the Commons science division, it has been totally ignored in the past and no doubt will again, so much for democracy and the enlightened mind.

    When the DEB was going through a lot of Lords at the beginning never understood a thing but through careful explanation we the public got a lot of technical data across to them and the debates echoed that. These OLD FUDDY DUDDIES took the time to learn, wanted to learn whereas the younger Politicians from the other place seemed uninterested. Give me someone who will listen, no matter the age.

    Who could put a case better for an agorophobic who maybe affected by an upcoming Bill ? You or Lord Norton ?

    Retirement ability for Lords ? Certainly but isn`t this part of reform ?

  7. 08/06/2010 at 9:16 pm

    This eulogising of Evan Harris is fantastic. From personal experience, he does not walk on water and chose which of his constituents he cared about. As a state representative he is, in part, responsible for defeating what is left of my family.

  8. 09/06/2010 at 8:06 am

    There is quite a long grey-scale between at one end the shining whiteness of Health, and at the extreme other end of the foggy blackness of Illness.

    “Agoraphobia” and a number of other psychiatric-seeming impairments including ‘depression’ and ‘nervous-debility’ were being successfully referred, by noted medical and psychiatric consultants around the world, to a Dr Claire Weekes in Australia, who had found that such diagnoses were failing because the true underlying impairment came from Fatigue, of four sequentially-progressive kinds. She published “Help For Your Nerves” and “Overcoming Agoraphobia”.

    “Life Energy” by Prof Dr John Diamond who used to teach psychiatrists and writes (‘) The big problem with psychiatrists is that they focus the patient upon all that is wrong with him/her..which leaves the life-energy of the patient remaining low as does also the life-energy of the psychiatrist(‘).

    It is quite curious how the municipal libraries bookshelves are labelled ‘Health’ and yet contain no health-maintenance nor wellbeing-building books, but only volume after volume about hundred after hundred of Illnesses.

    I grieve that there is no sign of any of the responsible-parties having moved on, in schools and most universities even today; and that Parliaments with all their Scrutiny committees and at-hand bodies of expertise seem to lag in coming up-to-date; and that consequently Westminster lags in advancing as a best-possible democratic government; and subsequently that we the British people
    lag behind in citizenship competenceies to meet our short and longest-term individual, collective and governance needs.

    Education authorities seem to have not yet comprehended the liberating value of such modern advances as “Perceptual Self-Control Theory” (Prof WCT Powers’s team) and Self-theorisation (Prof C. Dweck’s team), already tried and tested in USA and found to be eminent improvements upon Reinforcement and Individual-Reward theories.

    I think that a new non-legislative House should be added to the two existing, definitely partly-successful,legislative Houses, should be called the Westminster House of Knowledge and Experience, and should be architected to hold several thousand people in many small cooperational-committee rooms and a few cooperatively-discussional plenum chambers.
    And should of course be seriously televised with serious submission channels being open to the public 24/7.

    Within such a house of knowledge and experience, several thousands of Britain’s most experienced, deepest-knowledged, and currently ‘smartest’ individuals could gather, sort, evaluate, and eventually channel the best and most circumspect of facts, figures, and factors; and of formal-argumentation, moral-reasoning and life-experience, across to the Legislative Houses.

    What’s more, the legislative Houses would find scrutinisation, discussion, debating and securing a majority vote, less time-consuming,irksome and over-loading.

    There’d be plenty of room for everyone, and plenty more much-needed win-win-win problem solving, too.

  9. Gareth Howell
    09/06/2010 at 8:28 am

    The idea that all peers should have a maximum term of service of say, ten years, and then be non eligible, is quite an interesting one.

    It certainly would not be up Baroness Deech’ street, who will only be getting comfortable after ten.

    It would deal with those who are here from 60
    until…90, and add drastically to the overload.

  10. baronessmurphy
    09/06/2010 at 9:01 am

    A ten year term of office would solve most of the ageing problem but we are quite some way off that. I like the idea of voluntary retirement but actually without a financial incentive no-one will go…peers can retire now if they want to, about 200 rarely turn up but stop completely. Someone accuses me of blatant ageism….in fact it’s just the reverse; it protects the majority from the hurt of being explicitly found incompetent and forced to go, one of the profound drawbacks of abolishing a fixed retirement age . If everyone has to go at 75yrs it is no more unfair than saying that at 18 everyone is eligible for the vote. We know that many 16 year olds are perfectly capable of making electoral decisions but we keep the age of 18 as an arbritary cut off point. Is this ‘youngist’?

    Jonathan I don’t agree that an elected house with expert advisors is no better than a unicameral system, it would be more like an American senate and not necessarily a bad thing.

    • Senex
      10/06/2010 at 5:32 pm

      There you go writing cheques, the body politic cannot cash.

  11. djb13
    09/06/2010 at 6:57 pm

    Cutting off the voting age at 18 is unfair, it’s just we have no better solution. If someone proposed a better solution, I’d be all for it. Similarly, cutting off Lords membership at 75 is unfair, and we have a better solution: voluntary retirement, with a small pension.

    • 10/06/2010 at 12:13 am

      It is a problem that well-informed and thinking-capable citizens could be excluded from service to their nation, by certain rules such as ‘no-votes for the under 16s’, ‘no legislative seats for the over 65s’ (or whatever the legislated retirement age is) and so on.

      Any voluntary-self-retirement could also result in perfectly capable citizens disappearing from service just as surely as forced-retirement would see the back of them.
      (Burns’s wry joke: “I was never fired; I always quit first”).

      What would be ‘fair’ ?
      Most of us need to start from a cogently-watertight sort of ground, one such alarmingly strong ground hapens to be:

      Person A lives healthily, happily, and citizenlike upon the legislated sufficient-living of (let’s say) £200 per week.
      Person A thereby is drawing the least-heavy amount from the Common Purse; and (&) is least-destructive of the Common Lifesupports Environment; thereby being classifiable as 100% personally-efficient (at making ends meet during the 75% lifestyle-timeframe as distinct from whatever classification may be applicable in his/her 25% workplace timeframe).

      (Sub-conclusions #1 and #2) Therefore Person B ‘needing’ twice that income is only 50% personally-efficient; and is twice as lifesupports-destructive, as Person A.

      That in place, we need to ask what is the order of importance of the factors in this matter of voting-age, retirement-age … surely ability should come in at the top, long before the prevailing British conception of ‘fairness’ ?

      Two quick instances of current British ‘fairness’, being touted by various powers-that-be and minions thereof:
      A neighbouring old lady, knowing how to save water, uses only £2 worth per month (no mistake, two pounds sterling per four-week period).
      Because she is in a block of Council flats she is not allowed to have a meter installed but must pay the Government-Private Utility Company agreed ‘assessed charge’, of (hold your breath please) £25 per month.
      Citizen’s Advice Bureau writes to tell her that £25 is a perfectly reasonable charge.
      Her MP responds that (‘)The issue is very complex; you must continue paying whatever you are charged; and not try to pay by Standing Order either, because the government and the Utility companies will not accept standing-order payments so your government has legislated a Variable Monthly Direct Debit so must keep on letting the Utilitity companies take whatever they want from your account(‘).

      Second instance of “fairness”: Millions of citizens have deposited life-savings in the Royal Bank of Shotland, which the irreplaceable Board of Directors has unwittingly gambled-away on speculative ‘investments’; then paid themselves a hugely large number of human-livings (many multiples of £200 per week)as salary, and then additional astronomical bonuses, of tens of millions of pounds, for embezzling their customers’ savings.

      What use to us now are terms like ‘fair’, ‘earned-income’, ‘decent-living’, ‘recognition for services rendered’, ‘indispensable expertise’ ?

      What is worse, governance and establishment-wise, is there any body there ?
      Will nobody take this baton and run with it ?

      • 16/06/2010 at 3:11 pm

        Don’t you know your place? You have to pay, because other people expect you to pay. (Tongue in cheek!)

        You’re right, its a rip off. When you have no choice and are forced, you get ripped off.

        For example, would you pay 2000 pounds a day to get a Lord to revise legistlation?

        Would you pay for 400 of them to do this day in, day out?

        I doubt it. However, you are forced to do so.

        No doubt some Lords will object and say they don’t earn 2,000 a day from there work in the Lords, as some have done. However, to me that shows their priority. What’s in it for them and not the rest of us.

        That’s why we need more optional taxes. For example, if you want to contribute to the third world, there is a good way of doing it. Write a cheque to your favourite charity and get them to reclaim the tax. Perfect solution. However, I know what will happen. Most people will decide that they have an alternative way of spending their money, and spend it on their families etc.

        i.e. It’s forced charity with threats of jail

    • Senex
      10/06/2010 at 5:39 pm

      The placing of an ‘X’ on a ballot paper does not require literacy. Neither does avoiding the daily news on television. At what age do you believe most young people actually involve themselves with society and responsibility? I would suggest 35 when they stop sponging on their parents and move out. Perhaps we should raise the voting age?

      • djb13
        10/06/2010 at 7:10 pm

        I very much hope you’re joking or trolling (although a House of Lords blog is an odd place to do it). I’ve involved myself in the affairs of the nation since the age of 12. I do not sponge off my parents. To suggest that under 35s are unable to engage is absurd, In any case, apathy is a self-regulating mechanism; those who don’t care will probably not vote anyway.

  12. 09/06/2010 at 11:12 pm

    How about 2 years salary as a pay off?

    What’s their salary?


    Ideal Solution.

    Lord Blagger

  13. Baroness Murphy
    11/06/2010 at 1:22 pm

    Senex, isn’t the issue about voting age to try and assess the point at which a young person can fairly distinguish between different manifesto policies and come to a conclusion about their likely impact on him and others ? On second thoughts that probably rules out 90% of the population. Democracy is a wonderful thing. Your observation about the age of independence tallies with my observations of friends families. I haven’t really worked out why so many young people are loth to become independent from their parents…”can’t afford it” is not the case any more than it ever was, perhaps its because parents nowadays tolerate/ encourage it.

  14. djb13
    11/06/2010 at 2:07 pm

    Baroness Murphy and Sennex: I would argue it’s not ‘I can’t afford it’, but rather ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford it next year’. Decreased job security means that the younger generation feel more economically insecure, and so latch onto their parent’s economic security. Whether or not their parents have higher job security is debateable.

  15. 12/06/2010 at 10:16 am

    A propos the age at which certain people or citizens give up ‘spongeing’, where do the constitutionally-legislated millions of multiple-livings recipients, many grey-haired and past retirement-age, fit in to this sort of rational-thinking ?

    I dare to again call into very serious question-of-malfeasance and criminality such cases as banks-boardroom-directors and super-wealthy others e.g. millions hiding ‘offshore’.

    Distinguishing the 25% workplace timeframe and worker-efficiency question from the 75% life-place timeframe and personal-efficiency strong formal-argumentation, moral-reasoning and life-experience one:

    Since anyone requiring twice the legislated sufficient living of £200 per week is only 50% life-efficient, and is twice as lifesupports-destructive, contrasted with that ‘lesser’ person making ends meet healthily, happily and citizenlike on a regular living of £200 per week, excessive givings-and-drawings from the Common Purse linked to excessive destruction of Common Lifesupports, must surely be criminal-malfeasance on the parts of Constitution, Parliaments, and other Institutions-in-Common e.g. Education, Religion, and Community-Democracy ?

    This is very alarming.

    To be summarily curt, spongeing off a family member could be an almost invisibly microscopic peccadillo were anyone to audit and publish how many billions and possibly even trillions of pounds-sterling have been and likely still are being excessively given-and-drawn from the Common Purse to and by so-called “Worthy Individuals”, no what one’s age or youth.

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