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party and we agreed that the current House has too many ‘experts’ who are actually ‘past experts’ whose knowledge is out of date and whose attitudes haven’t moved on.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?