Two events – the death of Jack Ashley, (Lord Ashley of Stoke) and the joint committee report on Lords Reform (published on 23rd April) highlight for me the contribution that people with specialist knowledge have made to the development of policy and law and how appointments to the Lords have helped. Jack Ashleys vision and reforming courage both as an MP and a member of the Lords and the joint committee report raise some important issues about representation that any reform proposals will need to consider.
Social care as an industry very often sees itself as the poor relation in public services and its representatives often express the view that care issues are poorly represented nationally. However, Lords with significant experience of the social care system have brought detailed understanding and expertise to the legislature that can be lacking in the selection and election of candidates through the routine functioning of political party machines. Their Lordships Warner and Abebowale and Baronesses Pitkeathley and Butler-Sloss are such examples.
Additionally the particular contribution of people with disabilities like Jack Ashley and Baroness Jane Campbell, who also have extensive understanding of health and social care, have been significant in the creation and amendment of legislation. These peers have brought challenge and real quality to the debates and process of law making and brought a voice into Parliament on behalf of people who are often excluded.
It is not my intention to enter into the policy and political debate about Lords Reform but it is important to consider how any new system will be strengthened by the contribution of people who have significant knowledge about key issues – particularly those that are not fashionable or don’t attach high kudos and riches. Social care, mental health or the rights of people with disabilities are areas where under-representation is an issue now and possibly will become more of an issue under any reform.
The voices of people who bring direct personal experience or expert knowledge are essential to the processes and integrity of government. Recent changes to appointments to the Lords have given people the platform to make critical contributions to debates and have strengthened the perspectives of care and health as a result.
Whether or not we are about to see progress with Lords Reform we should consider how our representation and legislative processes can widen the range of voices that are heard. It would be good to think that the next round of reform will take the contribution of experts by experience to a new level of influence in shaping all our futures.