Since 2000 the House of Lords Appointments Commission has nominated over 60 non-party-political life peers. As crossbenchers unaffiliated to any political party they play a vital role in holding the government to account. In addition to this, they have made effective and significant contributions to the work of the House through their diverse range of unique skills and expertise. Perhaps the most topical example is Baroness Lane-Fox, the co-founder of the internet travel and leisure business, lastminute.com (pictured above).
Prior to her appointment in 2013 the Lords – like the Commons – was woefully ill equipped to hold the government to account on digital policy. Taking the title the Baroness of Soho, businesswoman and entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox became the youngest female member of the house. It didn’t take the e-commerce pioneer long to make a mark on the UK political scene, raising the pressing issue of the digital skills shortage to the top of the agenda at the beginning of 2014.
Leading a Lord’s debate for the first time, Baroness Lane-Fox challenged the government to rethink its investment and policies to redress the growing digital skills gap. According to the cross-sector charity chaired by the Baroness, the value to the British economy of equipping the adult population with digital skills has been estimated to be in excess of £60 billion.
The Baroness also drew attention to vast numbers of digital startups popping up all over the country and to the fact that the UK internet sector is now bigger than the health, education and construction sectors. But the Baroness was not entirely critical. She praised the government for their plans to introduce coding and computer science into the national curriculum. She finished with a very positive message; that through location, language and past success, there are many ways in which the UK leads the world in the digital sector.
Baroness Lane-Fox is far from the only non-party-political life peer making a great contribution to the Lords. In addition to many others, Lord Trees, only the second vet to have been appointed to the Lords has contributed to a huge array of policy areas, including education, science and technology, international health and development as well as veterinary matters. Appointed the year before Lord Trees, Professor Shelia Hollins is the House’s leading contributor on matters relating to mental health and disability.
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