Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 12:37 pm on 13th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Bird:

Moved by Lord Bird

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

My Lords, it is very strange idea, us trying to bring a Bill to the House that is, if anything else, about looking at how we can improve the way that we make laws in this country.

As I came into the House of Lords today, I saw over in the corner of the station many destitute people—10 or 12 of them. If you analyse the reasons why they are destitute, you will probably find that it is because, at some time, some law or some government intervention removed their well-being and reduced their ability to function in society, so they ended up there as a result of the law of unintended consequences. I will give a few examples of such former laws because I would like this to lead to a change in the law. I am of the opinion that, over the past 40 years, every side of House—left, right, centre—has, through the law of unintended consequences, created Bills and Acts that have added to many of the problems we now face.

I will not pick on anyone in particular—I am a Cross-Bencher but not a gloating one. I have made many mistakes; not in this House at least, but before I came here I spent 25 years trying to help the homeless to help themselves. I spent 25 years trying to lift people up who were in crisis. It was only three or four years ago that I realised what I should have been doing was preventing them falling in the first instance. One of the reasons I petitioned to join this House was so that I could begin the process of preventing people falling down and ending up in places like Westminster tube station.

I am not unguilty; I do not have the moral high ground. I have spent 25 years on this and, by the laws of unintended consequences, I should have spent 10 years doing that and then the next 15 years working very hard on preventing the clocks breaking rather than repairing them. I am not alone.

In the mid-1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s Government—I am not here to slag off Margaret Thatcher, by the way; I know a lot of people are for or against her, but as a Cross-Bencher I have no opinion—decided, they thought wisely, to close down our mental institutions because they were not working very well. Our asylums were not working well, because there was not a lot of science or psychological help there. I went into these places to see members of my family, and they were horrible.

In 1987 the asylums were removed; they were very primitive and Victorian but had a number of advantages. Instead, the Government came up with this very nice-sounding thing called “care in the community”. I was one of those saying, “This is ridiculous.” The reason I was saying that as a member of the public—I had not even started the Big Issue then; at the time I was a Marxist-Engelist-Leninist-Trotskyist, trying to prove that capitalism was not working—was that this was a clear sign of that, because I and a number of others said that if you close down the mental institutions, the streets, prisons and A&E departments will fill up. Lo and behold, 40 years later we have the unfortunate situation where some of the most wretched people are on our streets—an extension of A&E.

We have all these problems because of the laws of unintended consequences. I do not think Margaret Thatcher and all the other Conservative Members at the time were thinking, “You know what we’ll do? We’ll turn the United Kingdom into a place where the most wretched are offered nothing.” I do not think that they intended that. I think they thought, “Tell you what, we’ll modernise it, save a few bob and have this ‘care in the community’”, which did not even happen.

That was thinking translated into laws. Why do I want a Bill where there is a commissioner looking at the laws of unintended consequences and the well-being of future generations and people yet to be born, preventing people becoming Big Issue vendors or sleeping in the streets? Because, actually, we do not have a very sustainable situation. If we go to JPMorgan or somewhere similar—those places that fiddle around with figures and statistics—and say, “Could you tell us how much of the time of both Houses is spent repairing the damage created by previous laws which have been a bit here and a bit there?”, we might come up with some interesting statistics. I have been told by local authorities that 70% of their time is spent on making up for the problems that are caused by poverty.

When you look at the law of unintended consequences, if there had been a commission looking at the well-being of future generations at the time, it would have said, “Hang on, you can’t do this, because if you do, you will be condemning people.” We need to look at the mental health provision and create therapeutic communities so that when people go in with illnesses that are curable, they come out at the other end feeling a lot better because they have had the psychological and social help they needed.

We have got a Conservative Government giving us many of the problems of today. Last year I spoke in this House about what I considered to be one of the problems of social housing. This is now my chance to have a go at the left. I have had a go at the right, so now I am going to have a go at the left. I was born in the slums of Notting Hill and about 10 years after I left, a guy called Rachman moved in and bought the houses. He took people’s doors off and did all sorts of things. Previously, the Conservative Government had said that when someone leaves the lease, the property could go on to the open market, so Rachman was driving people out. He would then divide the apartments into two and all sorts of things like that. This caused consternation. A threepenny bus ride away from where that was happening, here in the House of Lords and the House of Commons, people were really upset about it.

After the minority Government of Mr Harold Wilson came in in 1964, he cleverly brought in the Rent Act 1965. It said that from then on the protection of the tenant was paramount and above the protection or the interests of the landlord. That was absolutely brilliant because rent tribunals were brought in. As a 19 year-old young father, I could go to the tribunal and say, “I dispute this rent.” Nine months later they would settle, by which time I would have moved on. That led to a real problem for social housing with people living in poverty and in the most need. The landlords removed most of their property from providing accommodation to people who were poor and it started to be sold. That is when the middle classes started to buy a house in Fulham for £5,000 and sell it two years later for £50,000. Then in the late 1960s there was an enormous rush into social housing. I witnessed that. Then the bar was raised. You could no longer get social housing unless you could prove some local connection or the fact that you were prepared to pay the rent. Suddenly, you had to be the most desperate of people to get into social housing.

Housing estates used to be sociable housing—the sort of housing that I moved into when I was 10 after we got out of the slums—where there were all sorts of people such as police officers, trainee teachers, the old and infirm and the long-term unemployed, and there was a great social mix. It was sociable housing. It was not a house where the local authority and housing associations had to raise the bar so much that you had to be desperate to get in, and then put you with a lot more desperate people. What was actually happening was that we were breaking something. The laws of unintended consequences had led some very well-intentioned people to stop the slum landlords knocking their tenants around, unfortunately, left right and centre.

We can look at what Mr Clegg did in 2010 when he jumped in with our friends from the Lib Dems and put together the coalition. I bet he has often thought, “Maybe I should have stuck with the students. Maybe I should have been more critical of austerity.” The noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said yesterday in the debate that I took part in, “If only in 2010 the coalition had realised the damage caused by austerity was not simply a question of saving money but that the effect would go on and on.” I am trying to give examples—and including myself—of where you do something and you screw it up for the future.

The Bill that I propose is based very much on the Welsh Bill. In my opinion, it looks much more grown-up, together and thoughtful than anything we do now. We have to put up with all sorts of things. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, alerted me to this problem 10 years ago. She said that she had spent the early part of her life as a young lawyer campaigning to protect the rights of the accused, only to find 20 years later that people who were accused of rape were using all those defences so that in the United Kingdom to get a rape case through the courts is like pulling teeth. She said in the Observer, “I am so sorry that I did that.” That is bravery. That is someone saying that we have to change the laws of unintended consequences.

I cannot think of a way in which we can tackle this issue any better. I going to refer to my notes at this point. I have written down what I must ask for because I am not very good at that. We should have a UK commissioner for future generations; preventive spending; working towards well-being goals for future generations; and tests for new proposals. I would also love to thank all noble Lords who have come along and given up their Friday for participating in this debate. I would like to find a way of getting the Government to wake up to the need. We cannot leave this unsustainable thing where laws are created and then the damage is passed on to other generations. We cannot leave the damage and the despoliation that that socially and environmentally leaves to the well-being of the generations of people who are not yet born. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 12:53 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to welcome this Bill, and it is a pleasure to give up a Friday in such a good cause. I cannot possibly match the rhetoric of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, but I will focus on the reference that he made to the model provided by the Welsh Bill and all its ambition for this very welcome Bill in this House. I have one question to put not least to the Minister. How can this Bill be more effective than the one that it is modelled on? How can we learn the lessons from Wales?

The noble Lord spoke brilliantly and graphically about the law of unintended consequences. One lesson that we must learn is to have the courage to abandon the way that we have done things for 200 years. We are still wedded in this country to the notion of the inevitability of progress yet, as the review of the Marmot report showed, 10 years on, when we learn that progress has stopped in reducing inequalities, for example, we tend to resort to the old, failed policies and live with the unintended consequences. That, as he more or less implied, is due in part to the fact that the Government are still in thrall to a Victorian Treasury whose only belief is in cost-benefit, and to manners of government that are basically geared to nothing but a tradition of ad hocery and time-limited behaviour.

The Welsh Act rejected that whole way of doing things—that was its courage—and brought the concept of well-being from the margins and from the implausible to be front and centre of policy-making. It has drawn on decades of thinking about sustainability as a way of working, not as an end in itself, to put forward a framework based on collaboration, integration and foresight as the only way to meet the challenges of the future, whether that is the climate emergency or ageing. Quite simply, it has taken the “too difficult” box and taken stuff out of it.

Essentially, in the words of the Welsh future generations commissioner, the Welsh Act gave public bodies permission to “unsettle the status quo”; it is disruptive, and it is meant to be. The question is: did it give equivalent power to do that? The answer is not really, and that has been a recommendation of the Welsh commissioner herself: she has shown in her many reports what has changed, for example, in the planning of transport and the environment but she does not have the powers to do many of the things that she wants. She agrees that setting broad national objectives, however challenging, such as resilience or prosperity, is the easy part. The difficult thing is to change ways of behaviour and to change culture. That is the only way of meeting the objectives that are set.

The Bill is at the start of a very long journey. It is worth noting—I am sure the noble Lord knows this already—that there is resistance to change. There will be the temptation to simply audit what is happening and say “We’re doing it”, or look for an improved impact assessment rather than driving innovation directly through this Act. That is what the Welsh Auditor-General is now asking for and it is what we must ask of the Bill. That is the great test.

Are there elements in the Bill that will really empower the public bodies and the commission more effectively to drive change through the system? I believe that there are, not simply through process and asking the public to set the goals but by holding the public bodies’ feet to the fire—taking away the test of reasonableness, for example, in the way that they approach their duty; putting a duty on government departments, holding them all up to the light; and involving the private sector because that is so fundamental to future change. The most radical change of all would be to give the commissioner teeth like Gnasher in the Beano to go to law, investigate and then follow that up with legal remedies, and give that right to the public as well.

I am expecting the Minister to say very elegantly, “I fully accept the Bill in principle but I am in a slightly difficult situation as to whether in fact it is necessary”. I say to him: listen to what Welsh Ministers are saying. It is giving them a framework to do things better and more effectively and coherently, and to have the courage to think ahead. I would have thought that any confident Government would simply embrace that.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 12:57 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his vision in bringing this to us. I echo all that has already been said by my noble friend Lady Andrews; I must call her my friend.

The term “future generations” often implies generations that are not yet born yet current children are also the future generation, their voice often unheard and their experiences not always at the centre of government policy. Laws send social messages; they frame our values and alter our behaviours. Wales has led on this approach of considering the next generation in every aspect of government policy. As someone who lives and works in Wales—I declare my role as chair of the board of governors of Cardiff Metropolitan University—I say that this legislation acts as an internal checklist for decision-making across all areas and provides a moral compass in our deliberations. For us, it is in line with our strategy of EDGE: ethical, digital, global and entrepreneurial. It runs as a thread through our thinking.

In my short time I want to focus on the huge societal problem of alcohol abuse, and declare my role chairing the Commission on Alcohol Harm. More than 40% of women in the UK continue to drink during pregnancy and four times more children suffer alcohol-related birth defects than the global average. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders blight their lives before they are born. Children tell us about alcohol harms. Children know alcohol can be physically and emotionally unhealthy; it makes their parents sick, forgetful, unpredictable, unreliable and unavailable emotionally. They see the link between alcohol, the arguments at home, and financial difficulties. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology reported recently on the damage from parents’ drinking on children’s overall development. Children themselves recognise that some become dependent on alcohol and at risk of

“losing money, their job and their house”, but for others responsible drinking by the adult does not impact in a negative way, and children themselves recognise this.

However, even at low-level drinking by a parent, one-third of children report at least one negative outcome. Those who are children of alcoholics suffer in silence, at risk of abuse and neglect; three in five care applications involve alcohol or drug misuse. These children are at higher risk of mental illness and suicide themselves. Alcohol abuse is linked to early or unsafe sexual activity and sexual abuse. If bereaved through alcohol, these children can experience stigma and disenfranchised grief.

The greatest impacts of familial drinking fall on children—on the next generation. In England, there are probably almost 200,000 children living with at least one alcohol-dependent parent. Sadly, many more have both parents who are alcohol dependent. Most of these families are hidden from sight; they do not seek support. As harm is passed from generation to generation, policies seem to ignore the evidence. The economics of ongoing harms must be considered. The lives of children would be improved if there was adequate care for adults with alcohol dependence. The next generation could be spared some of the harms that blight its future.

The Welsh Government have recognised the evidence and have, like Scotland, adopted minimum unit pricing of alcohol. This measure is an example of one step in adopting a national policy to protect the well-being of future generations. We need many more.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 1:01 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on getting this debate and on the Bill. It is the beginning of a long process. We are getting to grips with, and trying to define, a whole new way of looking at society. An undoubted truth is that there is a lot of short-termism in society. That is largely because the generation that takes decisions frequently lets the next generation pay for its consequences. On occasions we are a bit too happy to take decisions based on our emotional view of the world, rather than a practical one. One of the most interesting points in yesterday’s debate was the admission by my noble friend Lord Tugendhat that austerity might not have been the best way of tackling the problems we have had in the last 10 years. That is quite a fundamental confession, because many in our party—I am guilty to an extent myself—accepted that the best way forward was reining in, cutting our cloth, and all the rest of the old sayings. We saw a complete change of direction in the Budget this week. If that had been taken some years ago, we might not have spent any more money, but we might have spent it slightly more wisely.

One of my hopes for the well-being objectives and the commissioner—if we get that far—is that we will have a more nuanced view of the future and that we will look at the way society can get better. Society has got better. I do not intend to turn this into a great personal thing, but I grew up as the child of alcoholics. Nobody cared. That is my overwhelming memory of growing up in the 1950s in that sort of family. People turned the other way, and the well-being of future generations has to mean us helping future generations—I was very struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said—to come to terms with and to give a fair life chance to people as they mature, grow up and face the future. According to the recent survey, 200,000-odd children are unhappy. It is no good rubbishing that unhappiness and the way it is measured; we have to accept that they are unhappy. A child defines its own unhappiness. It does not need someone else to do it for it.

My hope is that we will look at the French commission mentioned in the Library briefing—the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commission—and the work of Thomas Piketty. I do not think he has necessarily got everything on his side, but it is a different way of looking at welfare economics and the way we can build society. I greatly welcome the initiative of my friend the noble Lord, Lord Bird—I do not mind calling people in other parties friends. I hope that this can be built upon to get us to a much better place than where we are now. He is great pioneer in bringing this forward.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords) 1:06 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register. Before becoming one of the latest non-hereditary recruits to this House, I ran a city council in Wales, so I am very familiar with the Bill’s principles. It was very interesting to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who lives and works in Wales and is a prominent member of its public service community, and to my noble friend Lady Andrews, who made some apposite remarks about learning from what we have done.

What did Wales do? The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 received Royal Assent in April 2015 and came into force from 1 April 2016. It was concerned with improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. It has seven goals: a prosperous, resilient, healthier, more equal, globally responsible Wales, of cohesive communities, with a thriving culture and a developing Welsh language. It placed a well-being duty on public bodies to set and publish objectives to show how that vision will be achieved for Wales as set out in the goals. They were expected to take action to ensure that those objectives were met.

There were five things that public bodies needed to consider. They became known as the five ways of working: long term, prevention, integration, collaboration and involvement. The Act established public services boards for each local authority area in Wales to address cross-cutting issues requiring a multiagency approach. Each PSB publishes a local well-being plan setting out its objectives and the steps it will take to meet them. It must set out why it considered that those objectives will maximise the contribution to the well-being goals.

As the leader—I am now the former leader—of Newport City Council, I chaired the One Newport Public Service Board and in this Second Reading debate I would like to share some of that practical working context of using the future generations Act in the public realm. The city of Newport is a very different place from the town it was a generation back, which was searching for a new identity following the decline of steel and other traditional employers. Since then, as my noble friend Lord Howarth will agree, the city has undergone a radical transformation, with entire new communities on former industrial sites, new landmark buildings, award-winning developments and modern infrastructure. There is much reason to be optimistic for the future, but we also needed to recognise that Newport faced significant challenges which affected the well-being of local people.

The task of the One Newport Public Service Board was to ensure that, for generations to come, Newport will be an even better city in which to live, work and invest. The benefits of regeneration, growth and the use of our considerable assets had to be felt by all our citizens and more widely by the communities of the wider city area. The well-being plan was the first step in taking the theoretical to the practical steps of implementation. It set out the PSB’s priorities and actions for five years to improve the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of Newport. To give our children and grandchildren a good quality of life, we need to think about how the decisions we make now will impact on them in the future.

We had five interventions for the PSB to work on: the Newport offer; strong, resilient communities; right skills; green and safe places; and sustainable travel. We had a busy, positive and successful first year of implementation. We were mindful of issues and developments—the uncertainty surrounding our future relationship with the EU, and serious and organised crime. Challenges such as these reminded us to act today for a sustainable tomorrow.

I hope my brief practical example of leading and working with the Welsh future generations Act will lend support in this House to the implementation of a similar and better Act for the citizens of our neighbouring country.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 1:10 pm, 13th March 2020

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and to have her first-hand experience—you can see why she was a leader. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on bringing this. I had the great privilege of giving this Bill its first ever reading in the Lords on his behalf. As he said—I am paraphrasing because I do not want to swear in your Lordships’ House—the world of tomorrow should not simply be an accumulation of half-baked hopes and the short-term governmental thinking of days gone by.

I am sad to say that short-term thinking still dominates everything Parliament discusses—particularly with this Government, who seem to want simply to maintain the status quo without any imaginative thinking. We are still building new homes that in a few years will have their gas boilers taken out and have to be retrofitted with heat pumps, solar panels and space for electric vehicle charging. We are still expanding airports that we will not be able to use because of the carbon emissions from aircraft. We are still building waste incinerators that local authorities expect to be operating in 30 years, when the UK is meant to be zero carbon.

Interestingly, this is the third debate in two days that has covered this general policy area—a different way of seeing our future and how we should measure our current aims and objectives as fit for purpose. Yesterday we had the debate on well-being as a key indicator from the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, and the debate on embracing a green economy from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, which I was delighted to speak in.

I am of Welsh origins, and it is lovely to know that Wales has not only adopted these measures but put them into practice. The current emphasis on economic well-being above all else is extremely damaging for future generations. Of course, Greens such as me will always argue for coherent planning to deal with our climate emergency. We want a planet fit for children and grandchildren, whether ours or someone else’s. We might also indulge in a bit of “I told you so”, because we did. I realise that is unhelpful, but I carry on doing it anyway. We have always tried to explain that environmental, social, economic and cultural well-being are all part of the same solution. You cannot have economic well-being if you do not have environmental well-being. That is absolutely the base we should all work on.

We lack enough forward-thinking decision-makers. There is the business-as-usual approach of many politicians who are in denial about the climate crisis. Future generations will look back in astonishment at the blinkered ignorance of it all. Many children and young people are already telling us to fix things for them, whether it is Greta Thunberg or Extinction Rebellion. The young feel that we are running out of time, and it is not really our time we are running out of but theirs. That is why we desperately need public bodies to act in pursuit of the environmental, social, economic and cultural well-being of the United Kingdom in a way that accords with this future generations principle.

We need to follow the Welsh example and have an independent voice that will call out the short-termism that is endemic in our political system. I do not have the rich life experiences of the noble Lord, Lord Bird—although I guess there is still time—but I have always cared about justice. For me, it is about the injustice of having people sleeping on our streets. I have volunteered many times with homeless organisations because it is something I care so deeply about. I feel that we currently have a Government who are not engaging with the social disparities and problems that we face. I urge the Government to give a good hearing to this Bill.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 1:15 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for introducing this Bill with such vigour. It is most welcome. I think it has shortcomings, but we can debate and overcome them. What concerns me most is the lack of emphasis on the participation of future generations in guiding policy and practice—child participation, and the right to participate. Let us consider the example of children.

Children are defined, of course, as being under 18. There is sometimes talk in organisations, in government, of “consultation with” and “representation of” children and young people. I do not mean that; I mean participation, in decisions about future developments. The UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. It has 54 articles, which set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children, including the right to be heard, and the right to express themselves, as well as the rights to family life, protection and education. Why is child participation so important? Because it works. It is valuable to children and young people, who feel listened to and respected. Participation must include that of children and young people with fewer opportunities, those who are vulnerable or affected by disability or discrimination and, yes, the dispossessed.

Child participation is valuable to organisations, which benefit from the views of children and young people. The impact of child policy implementation is felt by children; they have the right to comment. I cannot think of a single voluntary sector organisation that does not have a panel of young people to guide its policy, many schools have school councils and the NHS long-term plan had a panel of young people. I remember holding seminars on child mental health and childhood injustice, in which half the participants were children and half adults. Two Ministers attended and said how much they had gained. In fact, some important legal changes were made due to those seminars. One girl said it all: “We are experts by experience.” We need that experience in our decision-making. We need to enable children to express themselves, and to learn about systems and structures, rights and responsibilities, how to debate respectfully, and how to put forward ideas with confidence.

I am so glad that we heard from Wales earlier. Children Wales has an excellent set of national participation standards, which

“puts the involvement of children at the heart of improving well-being.”

A report from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk considers that, if a British Bill of rights comes to pass, it should include intergenerational rights. The section on policy options for England says:

“Civil society needs to mobilise to form strong cross-party support for representation of future generations.”

The report Generation 2050, produced as a resource for local government in Wales, suggests that government institutions can reflect the needs of future citizens by allowing ideas to surface from those citizens of future generations.

I am currently involved in an initiative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which seeks to encourage children to participate in its deliberations. It follows a recommendation from the Council of Ministers stating that

“the capacities that children and young people have, and the contributions they can make, are a unique resource to strengthen human rights, democracy and social cohesion in European societies.”

Surely any policy concerned for the wellbeing of future generations must acknowledge and include the rights of future generations to have their say. I look forward to discussing the Bill further.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench 1:19 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in my noble friend Lord Bird’s debate. I have had many adventures with him over my life and I am a great fan. I want to talk briefly today about the importance of nature and wildlife to us all and about how our current lifestyle is eroding it.

When I was a child I lived in the country. My father was a great naturalist, with a great respect for the natural world. In the meadows next to our house, we had so many cowslips we would add them to pancakes at this time of year. In the hedges in our garden were the nests of thrushes, blackbirds, wrens, blue tits, great tits and hedge sparrows. We could count the robins’ eggs just by looking at them. Now those things are mostly memories. Insects are in such short supply in our country now that if you tell a child that you once had to scrape them off your windscreen on a summer’s night, they think you are making it up. It must be as foreign to them as the dodo is to me and some of us.

There is one culprit: our industrial farming system. Right from the publication of Silent Spring in September 1962, the world has known about the deadly consequences of indiscriminately pouring chemicals on to the soil in the quest for higher food yields. Our country is a farmed country: 75% of the land is given over to agriculture, compared to only 45% in the USA, for instance. It defines what our country is like—the fields, villages and farms. After the privations of the war we joined a continent-wide push to banish hunger. It was an honourable pursuit and between 1935 and 1998, we more or less tripled the outputs of wheat, oats and barley and doubled milk production. The amount of chicken meat we produced increased by a factor of 25, but the cost was immense. It was much too high. Semi-natural habitats were drained. An estimated 97% of hay meadows were lost. Between 1990 and 2010, the area of crops treated with pesticides increased by 50%—this is almost yesterday.

The first State of Nature report, published in 2013, studied 3,000 species and found that 60% were in decline. Modern farming has been a total nightmare for the creatures from the stories of our childhood—the hedgehogs, moles, rats and toads. We all read about them; they are not here any more. By 2019, the new State of Nature report concluded:

“Farmland birds have declined more severely than birds in any other habitat”.

More than half have disappeared. We have one turtle dove where we once had 10. Some 250,000 miles of our nation’s hedges, almost one-third of the total, have been destroyed to create ever larger fields.

However, we are at a turning point. When we became part of the European Economic Community, we joined the common agricultural bloc. The CAP consumes $65 billion a year, about 40% of the whole EU budget. It has been rightly criticised for its perverse incentives and its environmental impacts. For me, the only bright light of leaving the EU is that at this moment we have a chance to reform our agricultural policy for the first time in 50 years. Beginning next year, we will transition from subsidies for just owning land, regardless of what you do with it, to subsidies linked to the public good.

The Bill coming forward is good, but not good enough. Nothing is good enough. This is why my noble friend Lord Bird’s Bill is so important. If our children are denied access to the natural world, we know from so much research how much they suffer. We all suffer. We are passing on a less than perfect world at the moment—very much less than perfect—and the numbers for wildlife, sad to say, are still going downhill, so I urge all noble Lords to work with those of us working on the Agriculture Bill and to support my noble friend Lord Bird’s Bill, and help to cement the reforms that are very necessary if we are to ensure that our children can also have a hedgehog in their garden on a summer night, as I did.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 1:23 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bird, made a powerful and deeply felt speech. In introducing his Bill, he calls in Wales to redress the balance of the United Kingdom. Rightly, he challenges us to be more responsible, more far-sighted, more cohesive and more altruistic in our policy-making. The prototype legislation in Wales has induced that approach. My noble friend Lady Wilcox described how that has been the case in Newport under her leadership.

These are dark times. We stumble around doubting the ability of democracy to address looming existential risks, such as the cumulative effects of austerity, child poverty and the cycle of deprivation. There is debt, global population increase and mass migration, artificial intelligence and the consequences of our technological ingenuity far exceeding our wisdom. There are nuclear weapons, biological warfare, terrorism, pandemics—natural or engineered—and systemic financial vulnerability. There is toxic waste, loss of biological diversity and climate change. We fear, if not the extinction of human life, the extinction of the human spirit in the dystopias of political malice created by the likes of Putin, Trump, Modi, Bolsonaro and Orbán, or in the spiritual deserts of addictive behaviours and mass consumerism.

The philosopher Toby Ord has noted in his book The Precipice that whereas in the past the prospect of apocalypse arose from divine wrath or natural cataclysm, the existential risks that we now foresee are man-made. We bring our woes upon ourselves but, with better policy-making, we can in principle save ourselves.

Why is it so difficult for enlightened policy—for preventive policy—to prevail? One difficulty is that even on a basis of research, evidence and rigorous thought, with the best of intentions, people do not agree about what an enlightened policy is. The cleverest plans are found wanting in the face of life’s complexity and unpredictability. There is also the problem of what Christian theology terms original sin—perhaps the one empirically verifiable Christian doctrine. Improvidence, greed, cruelty, fatalism, cynicism and despair are ineradicable from the human condition. Political leadership should appeal to the better part of human nature, as Jacinda Ardern seeks to do, but too often it does not. Politicians, and even officials, are no less fallible than those they seek to lead.

So long as we have elections, or until enough voters become more altruistic and far-sighted, the electoral cycle will induce short-term views. There are institutional factors that we could, however, ameliorate. One is the fragmentation of government across Whitehall and the border warfare between central, devolved and local government within the UK. The Bill would help us to do that. But then, if we co-ordinate better internally, what can one country on its own achieve without a transformation in international co-ordination?

The Bill also raises constitutional difficulties. It is highly centralising. Who will hold this powerful commissioner to account? It thrusts yet more greatness on the judges. Who will speak for future generations? Perhaps your Lordships’ House: we all love our grandchildren, but I am not sure Extinction Rebellion would accept that.

I do not want to fall into the sin of despair. This model of legislation has been beneficial in Wales and we should be thinking very seriously about how we can better serve the well-being of future generations. I hope the Government’s commission on the constitution will address itself to better enabling us to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, presents us with a very proper challenge.

Photo of Lord Rees of Ludlow Lord Rees of Ludlow Crossbench 1:27 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, to the disadvantaged is an inspiration to us all and we should surely welcome the Bill. Urgent and immediate matters understandably preoccupy our leaders; in contrast, some of the most threatening issues are global and long-term. In optimising people’s welfare, we should care about the prospect of a baby whose life will extend into the 22nd century; indeed, we should not knowingly jeopardise the life chances of generations as yet unborn. But investment decisions almost all discount the future so steeply that minimal weight is given to what happens beyond about 2050. The guidelines in the Green Book could be changed to ease this issue. The national risk register also needs to be extended beyond traditional economic timescales.

Plainly, many things are utterly unpredictable a century ahead but environmental, population and climatic scenarios can be analysed. It may be prudent to pay an insurance premium today, as it were, to guard against global threats that could emerge a century hence. Expert assessment of these issues is surely an endeavour that should be expanded, and it deserves all-party support.

We should also scrutinise our built environment. Our grand public buildings, such as the one we are in now, the great churches, museums and monuments, and even our railway stations, date from the Victorian era or earlier. They were built to last; not so the tower blocks that dominate the skyline today. Their planned lifetime is typically only 50 years, and they are not a legacy that future generations will thank us for.

I conclude with a cameo. Ely Cathedral is near where both the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and I live. It overwhelms us today, so think of its impact 800 years ago and the vast enterprise that its construction entailed. Most of its builders had never travelled more than 50 miles; the Fens were their world. Even the most educated knew of nothing beyond Europe. They thought that the world was a few thousand years old, and that it might not last another thousand. However, despite these constricted horizons in both time and space, and the deprivation and harshness of their lives, they built this vast cathedral. Those who conceived it knew that they would not live to see it finished. Their legacy still elevates our spirits, nearly a millennium later.

What a contrast that is to today. Unlike our forebears, we know a great deal about our world. Technologies that our ancestors could not conceive of now enrich our lives and understanding. We know that we are the stewards of a “pale blue dot” in a vast cosmos, a planet with a future measured in billions of years, whose fate depends on humanity’s collective actions this century. However, all too often, our focus is short-term and parochial. We downplay what is happening even now in impoverished faraway countries and give too little thought to the world we leave for our grandchildren.

In today’s runaway world, we cannot aspire to leave a monument lasting 1,000 years, but it would surely be shameful if we persisted in policies that denied future generations a fair inheritance. We need more cathedral thinking and that is a signal that this Bill will send.

Photo of Baroness Brady Baroness Brady Conservative 1:31 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his Bill and the important sentiments behind it. As stated in the very helpful briefing note he produced,

“there must be more widespread accountability to prepare for the long-term impact of current policy decisions”.

No one can argue that the consequences of not taking proper account of future generations are profound. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, called it the “tragedy of the horizon”. If the impacts of our actions will be felt only by future generations and not by us, we do not take responsibility for their consequences. We can already see the consequences of this mentality, particularly in climate change. Extreme weather events, an irreversible decline in biodiversity and rising global temperatures are here, now.

However, this is not about just climate. More commonly, successive Governments have borrowed heavily, running high deficits and passing the cost on to future generations through higher taxes. Take housing and planning. The housing market once rewarded responsible saving and investment as we all had a desire, and were encouraged, to own our own home. But with the lack of new homes being built, prices have increased to a point that makes it impossible for some young people ever to get on the property ladder. The Local Government Association found that just 11% of people born in 1996 are on the property ladder, compared with 21% of those born in 1976 who owned their own home by the age of 22.

The merits of the Bill are clear, but it is important that the approach it adopts delivers the outcomes that future generations deserve. I will say then that establishing a UK future generations commissioner is just as important as incentivising businesses to act in the interests of future generations. How can we best do that? The Bill mandates that medium-sized and large businesses must produce a report setting out how their activities contribute to or detract from the well-being goals set out in the Bill. I am concerned about whether this will prove effective. Companies are very well versed in producing reports on corporate social responsibility and let us just say that some are better than others. The danger here is that we add to a growing compliance burden without creating any real change in behaviour.

Instead, can we not look at more market-led solutions? For example, with respect to climate change, it is not corporations’ mandated annual reports that are driving behaviour change but the pressure that investors are applying to corporates to disclose climate data. Where improvement is not being delivered, they are divesting from those companies. Behind many investors are the individual contributions of pension scheme members and savers. I commend Richard Curtis on his Make My Money Matter campaign. Its mission statement reads:

“If you have a pension, you have power. If you want it spent on a peaceful, prosperous, safe world ask the people who run your pension if it’s invested sustainably. If it’s not, demand they do better. Together we’ve got trillions at work. So together we can change the world.”

The key for the well-being of future generations, then, is that as soon as young people enter the job market, they too have a pension, so they too can change the way businesses behave. By all means, we should do more to embed principles of sustainability in our public sector bodies as the Bill calls for. But when it comes to business, action talks.

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Non-affiliated 1:35 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I support the noble Lord’s gallant efforts and welcome the Bill. It desires foresight and planning. In a rapidly developing unequal world, with divided societies, it is timely, providing us with an opportunity to examine progressive policy-making. It acknowledges the complexity of intersectionality in lawmaking by taking note of how interdependent we are on one another. Importantly, it seeks to critically assess the laws we enact, the procedures we set and the words we utter, which profoundly impact all aspects of our society, communities and groups. The Bill poses a challenge for the Government, private institutions and all national public sector institutions to ensure our nation’s well-being. It is rightly ambitious.

Part 2 sets out a number of fundamentals, which seek to secure a just, fair, sustainable and balanced future. It asks for measures to be put in place to examine the impact of our political and structural deficit, and addresses the decades of fallout caused by neglecting the well-being of the most vulnerable in our society.

My heartfelt desire would be to see the Bill embed in the assessment process an indication to devise and publish a report on the impact of racism and Islamophobia, which have long-term, debilitating and serious consequences for the young, for vulnerable adults and, in particular, for women. I speak from personal experience, and from having worked with women and children for over 40 years. Time does not allow me to detail the many distinguished reports which substantiate these facts more eloquently: the manifestly dangerous level of disfranchisement for those in large sections of our communities who are struggling to survive their demonisation, segregation in employment, extreme poverty and lack of access to basic opportunities to contribute meaningfully to their families and communities.

Part 3 refers to the future generations commissioner. I spoke to the Welsh commissioner and asked her about the diversity policy. She referred straightaway to the importance of ESOL, particularly for Muslim women. I hope that in future, any such commissioners for England and Wales will address the economic emancipation of all women, and Muslim women. That is fundamental, rather than simply talking about English, because many of the newer generations speak perfectly good, adequate English.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord about unintended consequences. It is my sincere hope that this House will support measures to combat racism and Islamophobia, which should be considered as one of the indicators against which all institutions are benchmarked and on which they are asked to include reports. That would ensure that this scourge on our society can begin to be eradicated in our generation, thereby freeing all future generations in our country, so that they are treated equally and can have a future free of the fear of being made homeless or living in poverty, and free of poor mental health, prejudice, racism and Islamophobia.

Will the Minister support an equality and impact assessment on future-proofing the next generation in all government policy and lawmaking?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 1:39 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on producing this revolutionary and visionary Bill, and I congratulate Welsh colleagues on showing the way.

Reading the Bill as it stands, it does not immediately give the impression of either vision or revolution. It is full of references to new commissioners, joint committees, processes, annual reports and so on. But—and this is the key point—if properly implemented and followed through, it would embed in the mundane processes of government, and to some extent of business, the central principles of sustainability and concern for the well-being of our grandchildren and the generations beyond. That, given what we normally do, is truly revolutionary. All the great revolutionaries, from Jefferson and Robespierre to Stalin and Lenin, saw the point of writing their own ideology into the constitution—though some of them overdid it a bit. This will give us the way to meet the objectives of this Bill, if we take it seriously. It also has the benefit of being subject to parliamentary democracy, and indeed wider democratic participation.

Until recently, most economists have downplayed the problem of future generations on the grounds that economic growth, turbocharged by innovation, would give future generations more resources to sort out their own problems, and that therefore it is an issue of distribution for future generations rather than for us. That no longer holds water. The kind of problems we face now, such as climate change, biodiversity challenges, threats to the cultures of many human societies, resource depletion, overpopulation, inappropriate farming methods and so forth, all mean that future generations will have much bigger problems. Economic growth in and of itself will not give them the means and resources to make those distributional decisions.

I want to make a couple of technocratic points. The first is on the rather modest Part 6 of the Bill, which relates to social value. Those clauses would put into government procurement the need to observe the wide range of cultural and economic effects of social value. Take the example of the buying of food by the public sector: observing social value issues would dramatically change the way in which our food system works. That needs to be taken into account when we come to consider the Agriculture Bill shortly.

My second point does not relate explicitly to the Bill, but was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Rees. To summarise, he said that Ely Cathedral was not subject to modern methods of cost-benefit analysis—that indeed is the problem. Almost every decision within government is subject to a net present value calculation based on the discount rate diagnosed and proclaimed by the Treasury in the Green Book. For years, that used to be at 8%, which meant that, 20 years ago, any benefit to anybody in 20 or 30 years’ time was reckoned at pretty much nothing. Now, at 3.5%—which is itself considerably higher than the rates of interest—it reduces £1,000-worth of future benefit in five years’ time to £700. In 20 years’ time, the benefit to future generations, even if we identify it now, would be discounted almost to nothing.

To really make this work, the Government would have to look at this concept and these mechanisms, which are absolutely essential to our appraisal of policies and particular projects. They would need a really thorough going-over, and I hope the Government realise that, if they accept this Bill, this is what they will have to do. I hope the Government do accept it, and that what has been referred to as the Bird Bill turns into the Bird Act, and we put the resources behind it to make it real. I once more congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on producing today’s Bill.

Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench 1:44 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in support of this Bill. I offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Bird.

As we came here, I reflected that this extraordinary moment in time when we are waiting for a virus to hit us is a good time to think about the long term, the big picture and the frailty of the way we do things. I agree with noble Lords who made the point that we need to get better at long-term thinking; indeed, I hope that it can be changed. There are many positive elements to the Bill. It is good that it has been road-tested in Wales, to an extent, so that we have examples and learning.

Let me pick up one point in the Bill: the report on future trends and risks. This could just be a token thing, but it could also be an important thing: the opportunity for Parliament to discuss the big picture on a regular basis. It could be good in itself, enabling us to pick up some of the weak signals of what may be coming round the corner and may cause us problems in the future. The test is whether that would turn into action, to pick up on some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, about the technical things that will make it either happen or not happen.

Let me use two examples, where I want to ask whether this Bill would enable us to act early enough. The first is that, for years, we have seen the growing problem—forgive me, I am not trying to pun here—of childhood obesity and the health problems that children face. We have seen bits of legislation and bits of action on it, but it is only in the past year that we have understood that the life expectancy of the younger generation will be less than ours, and that that is a consequence of many things that have happened over the years. It has crept up on us, but we now have the understanding that we need to act. It is the same story as in the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about the environment: this has been going on for a long time, so why has it taken us so long to act on it?

Will the Bill enable us to act and be wise before the event? There are some indications that it would, but that is the test. There is one example that I am worried about—noble Lords must forgive me, but I have only recently discovered and understood the nature of this problem; many others have understood it for a very long time. Around 20,000 children are excluded from school each year, which has a long-term effect on their lives. My noble friend Lord Bird made the point about storing up problems for the future right at the start of his speech. We can see those problems being stored up now. Will this Bill enable us to act and to do something about them before they become chronic, long-term problems? I do not know; it will depend on the technical issues that we were just talking about.

Let me end on a bigger point. My noble friend Lord Bird has caught the moment. This is a really good moment for us to think about these things. Massive changes are happening in society. We need to think about things like Extinction Rebellion, which has had a big impact—bigger than most people thought it would. After we recover, coronavirus will have a big impact on how we do things, from how we behave to how we think about society. There will be other issues like this. There will be issues that will make us think differently about the future, and many of them will come to us with pressure from outside Parliament to make changes. I therefore hope that the Government are listening, that they will be forward-thinking and that they will support the Bill.

Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 1:48 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I also warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on having got his Bill this far. It could be even bigger than the Big Issue, which you would think is big enough for most people—but not for him. Anyway, I much enjoyed his warm introduction.

As noble Lords have said, we live in a world of quite dazzling change. For us, the future is here in the present in ways that were never true before. Examples of that are everywhere. I can pick up my mobile phone, which is not just a phone but a supercomputer more powerful than those that sent humans to the moon a generation ago. I can call someone in Australia, see them on my device as they can see me and talk to them seemingly for nothing—although not really for nothing, as we know.

So much else is new, in historical terms, including machine intelligence, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howarth. No doubt AI is a huge part of our future, but its trajectory is essentially unknown and very difficult to calculate. As in so many other areas, we face something of an unknown future. That is all the more reason to look ahead and think long-term, in the way in which this Bill proposes.

As other noble Lords have mentioned, the climate was once fixed, determined by Mother Nature. Today, we live in what climate scientists call the age of the Anthropocene, in which human activity is the dominant influence on our weather and the wider environment. This is amazing and disturbing.

To be topical, coronavirus, as was just mentioned, has spread more rapidly, and globally, than any other pandemic before. We simply do not know at this point how disruptive or otherwise its impact will prove, but its economic impact could be huge. We have to learn from this experience to try to act pre-emptively in the future and to connect the short and the long term.

The Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Bird, focuses on the well-being of future generations; it is an invitation to think positively, and I 100% approve of that. I have focused so far on risks, but I am not pessimistic about the future. The world in which we live today is a high-opportunity, high-risk world. The opportunities are at least as great as the risks, especially if we can learn to anticipate and manage them properly. We just do not know how the balance between the two will pan out, but I deliberately put the notion of opportunity first.

Consider once more coronavirus, which never goes out of our consciousness these days. It is much more global, as I said, than any previous pandemic, yet science and medicine are now global too. AI can help us break down the genetic composition of a virus—the Chinese have made some progress on this—and perhaps lead much more rapidly to treatments or antidotes than was true in the past.

The framework proposed in the Bill is well thought through, drawn as it is, in some part, from the Welsh experience. As has been noted, around the world, we see discontent with the framework of western democracy. The public see politicians like us squabbling over day-to-day decisions, while the world seems dislocated and even dangerous. The thinking embodied in the Bill can, I hope, contribute to remedying this situation, especially when coupled with the direct participation of citizens in the way that is proposed. I give it my strong support and hope that the Government will seek to pilot it into law. I hope that it gets wide cross-party backing.

Photo of Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Crossbench 1:52 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I am excited to stand with my great and noble friend Lord Bird behind this measure which seeks to give time, in strategy and planning, to future generations. It was 500 years ago that the great philosopher Machiavelli said:

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

This is a new order of things. Long-termism ought to be the zeitgeist of today’s complex issues: climate change, inequality, public health and lifelong learning. We agonise over every one of them, and then we get elections and short-term outcomes. I believe that the philosophy contained in this Bill, which I support 1,000% and am happy to work on, will also lead us to some discomforts, as well as positive approaches.

I say that taking account of the fact that, on the justice agenda, in the past 15 years, sentences for serious offenders in this country have more than doubled. Our prison estate has more than doubled, and the public costs have more than doubled, but repeat offending has not decreased. We lock more people up than any other country in Europe, and we treat them worse; we stick them away for between 20 and 35 years, thinking it is good that we should be vindictive and have punishments that make it harder and harsher. At the same time, with a long-term lens, it fractures and shatters families, it destroys people’s confidence and it is not a fair and just return for crimes that men and even sometimes women have dealt with the consequences.

As a trustee and chairman of Crime Concern for 21 years, I fought for neighbourhood watch schemes, victim support services and restorative justice. Restorative justice allows people to break away from the bitterness of perpetual fights and vindictiveness, and come together to restore wholesome, sensitive and warm communities which can accept that there are some individuals who may put themselves beyond reform. However, long-termism asks, “Why waste billions and wreck lives when it is possible to build cultures of forgiveness and freedom?”

Many of the things that this Bill sets out and the new commissioner will pursue will cause discomfort, but the consequences will have wide public support. However, others may cause wide public fear. The core philosophy is wise. Reactions and realities are not necessarily the same, so in support of my noble friend Lord Bird, as ever, one can do no better in this House than to quote Winston Churchill. In April 1938, when he was reflecting on the power of the arts to form and frame our future, he said:

“Here you have a man with a brush and a palette. With a dozen blobs of pigment, he makes a certain pattern on one or two square yards of canvas, and something is created which carries its shining message of inspiration not only to all who are living with him in the world now, but across hundreds of years to generations unborn. It lights the path and links the thought of one generation with another, and in the realm of price holds its own in intrinsic value with an ingot of gold.”

That is what you are doing.

Photo of Lord Aberdare Lord Aberdare Crossbench 1:57 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the National Library of Wales, one of 44 bodies covered by the Welsh Act on which today’s Bill is modelled. However, today I am speaking from a purely personal standpoint. Since the passage of the Welsh Act, the library has been seeking to identify how it can contribute to each of the seven well-being goals for Wales, with active encouragement, to put it mildly, from the future generations commissioner. After some initial scepticism, the library has found the process useful in thinking about its impact on and relevance to future generations—not entirely an obvious concept for a library. While the outcomes of this process have been relatively modest so far, they have begun to feed into the library’s planning process, with each of its strategic objectives being mapped against the Act’s seven well-being goals and published in its first well-being statement. This has been an incremental, iterative and collaborative learning process, as indeed I think it should be.

I very much welcome the aims of today’s Bill, which has been powerfully promoted by my noble friend Lord Bird and, indeed, strongly supported by many other noble Lords who have spoken. I would like its provisions to be as well designed as possible in order to pursue the objectives and ambitious aims that include quite substantial culture change, so I apologise for the fact that my remarks will focus on the practicalities of making progress with the Bill. For me, the heart of the Bill and its most important and valuable feature is the establishment of a future generations commissioner, with the central responsibilities of promoting its aims, acting as guardian of the interests of future generations, and pushing the bodies concerned to fulfil their obligations.

That said, the Bill as drafted seems rather more ambitious than perhaps it needs to be in terms of the range of organisations it covers and the duties it places on them, and in its administrative structures, including a whole range of assemblies and bodies and committees. Whereas the Welsh Act applies to 44 bodies, this Bill would place duties not only on all UK public bodies but on companies. I wonder if my noble friend has made any estimate of how many bodies in all he expects will have to respond to the Bill. I would urge him to be open to considering a rather more gradualist approach as the Bill proceeds, with more circumscribed initial coverage focused on raising awareness, building support and encouraging action spurred by the future generations commissioner as far as possible through the use of collaboration and carrots but with some sticks in reserve.

I applaud the aims and spirit of the Bill. I wish my noble friend success in carrying it forward and, I hope, in persuading the Government to support it. But I believe it would benefit from substantial simplification and streamlining. Perhaps he might consider working with some of the noble Lords speaking today—maybe even the Minister—to produce amendments for Committee that would maximise its chances of making progress rather than getting mired in detail and possibly even raising unnecessary resistance. He may find it advantageous to pursue a more softly, softly approach to bring about the vital changes of culture and mindset that are required, building on the practical experience gained in Wales and elsewhere.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 2:00 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and his splendid Bill. It is a measure fit for the 21st century and a rejection of top-down government in favour of a truly integrated model in which well-being goals will be set.

I have spent my entire adult life promoting the importance of the health and well-being of children and young people. As I have always said, childhood lasts a lifetime. What happens to us in childhood stays with us right through our lives and shapes us in every way, from our view of society, culture and the wider world to our wealth, health and mental well-being. Every decision made by Governments, businesses, industrial and religious leaders, and media influencers affects children, and when people live in a society which does not value the right of children to be happy, safe, healthy and financially secure, they become angry, disenfranchised and radicalised. The ones who suffer most as a result are the children.

Today there is a lot to be worried about. The actions of Governments, industry and financial institutions across the globe mean that we have arrived at a critical point in humanity’s very existence on this beautiful planet. Now, more than ever, the decisions we make will have colossal implications for the survival of humankind. The mistakes we have made in the past are impacting not just on this country but globally. Every day, children and young people hear terrifying reports about climate change, global warming, war, disease and pestilence, and are having to deal with social media issues. Should we be surprised that they are feeling more and more anxious about life? Of course not. This is why the Bill is so important. It is all-encompassing, it thinks big and is visionary. The only way forward is to think out of the box. The only way we are going to fix this wounded planet is by innovating our way back to a better, more caring, kinder and more socially and environmentally aware society that practises consideration, contentment, confidence and courage.

During my time in this House, I have co-founded the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood and championed our recommendations on the early years, food in schools, physical activity, the national child obesity strategy, children’s mental health, and many other vital issues, such as implementing age verification for accessing online pornography. We know that childhood in this country is in a crisis; a vicious circle of inactivity, mental health problems and being overweight feed off each other and are likely to result in the least healthy adult population in living memory. We have, therefore, argued consistently for a Cabinet Minister for children and young people, to ensure that children’s needs are central to decisions across the policy range. We believe this is essential to the success of the Bill. It means prioritising an evidence-based child health and well-being strategy to underline all policies and all departments, covering the whole of childhood. There has to be a clear accountability framework, setting out responsibilities for professionals, and public and civil society, as well as essential detail about the resources and funding to deliver it.

We strongly believe that it is vital for the noble Lord’s Bill to succeed, because it has the potential to ensure that children’s interests are enshrined in law. There also has to be an annual well-being report published by the appointed Secretary of State. The Bill proposes that we should adopt a child health approach in all decision-making and policy development. I am honoured to support it and wish it a safe passage through Parliament and beyond. I thank the noble Lord for his wisdom in introducing it.

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench 2:04 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord, Lord Bird, on this excellent and important Bill. I think we all want to support it. I share his experience of living in Notting Hill, but I did so when it was emerging from the conditions that he describes when he speaks to us.

I want to start by looking at a country which is an example because it has a Government who are determined to do something to improve the well-being of their people in that country. It is New Zealand. In May 2019, the New Zealand Minister of Finance said:

“For me, wellbeing is when people are able to lead fulfilling lives which have purpose and meaning to them. A Government does not determine a person’s wellbeing, but we can certainly play a part.”

A growing number of countries are taking initiatives to include health and well-being measures as part of policy-making. However, this budget was the first of its kind prioritising the health and well-being of the population as a whole. A specific priority in that well-being budget was reducing child poverty and addressing the related poor long-term health outcomes associated with it. In addition, the New Zealand Treasury has begun implementing the Government’s well-being approach through its living standards framework. This framework ensures that the advice the Treasury gives the Government must consider a broad range of well-being impacts that matter most for New Zealanders’ living standards now and in future. The Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, has amended the Public Finance Act 1989 to include requirements for the Treasury to report on well-being. This is in a way consistent with what is being proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bird. It is a good example of what can be done, and I hope the Government will look into it a bit further.

Nobody has mentioned one of the other trends in society which has to be taken into account when we are looking at well-being: the rapid ageing of our population. I declare my interest as chief executive of the International Longevity Centre UK. A recent analysis it did showed that in 2017, 27.1 million years were spent living with largely preventable conditions. In better-off countries, such as the UK, among those aged 50 or over the number of years lived with disabilities as a result of, for example, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes or lung cancer rose by 9% between 1992 and 2017.

We have to do something about this to make sure that we are addressing the important situation we face with the ageing of our population. However, in OECD countries only 2.8% of total healthcare spending was on prevention, and prevention can really change the well-being of our population. After the 2008 financial crisis, prevention spending bore the brunt of healthcare cuts, and failure to invest in prevention risks substantial long-term social, health and economic costs. If we want to realise the social opportunities of ageing and of our wider society, we have to use prevention to ensure that people living longer are also living healthier lives.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 2:09 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, first, I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Kennedy, who would normally reply to this debate. I am standing in for him. Many people confuse me with him anyway, so no doubt he will get the credit for my speech. The other thing I want to mention—the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said this—is that this is not a domestic but very much a global issue, and our response has to be global, whatever affects us. The virus now hitting this country is a global issue, and the response has to be global.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on introducing this Bill to ensure that UK policymakers consider the interests of future generations. He focused quite rightly on the laws of unintended consequences. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, it is short-termism. How do we overcome the short-termism in our policy-making?

As we have heard in the debate, there is strong evidence for this legislation. I thank especially my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport for giving us practical evidence of how this legislation can work. I will return to some of the points she made. We have also seen the evidence in reports from your Lordships’ House and have had debates in your Lordships’ House.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants has indicated that intergenerational relationships are under strain. That was also highlighted by the Resolution Foundation, which reported that by the age of 30 young people are

“earning no more than those born 15 years earlier”.

On housing, as we have heard in the debate, young people today are paying more, owning less and commuting further.

The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, made a point about unintended consequences. We face a health issue too because of our insufficient focus on prevention. I will return to that; it is another global issue on which we can learn from other countries.

Your Lordships’ Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision showed that intergenerational fairness is an increasingly pressing concern for both policymakers and the public. It rightly drew attention to the fact that many in younger generations are struggling to find secure, well-paid jobs and secure, affordable housing, while many in older generations risk not receiving the support they need because Government after Government have failed to plan for a long-term generational timescale. Social care is an issue of particular concern here. As that committee quite rightly also pointed out, the relationship between older and younger generations is still defined by mutual support and affection. However, the action and inaction of successive Governments risk undermining the foundation of this relationship, as so ably described by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin.

How do we ensure that the interests of future generations are considered? Does this Bill meet the challenge? The key provisions that we have discussed are: focusing on well-being goals and mechanisms to ensure that they are properly addressed; a future generations impact assessment; a future generations commissioner; a joint parliamentary committee on future generations; and the fact that we should also focus on the private sector. I totally agree with that. We should be concerned not only about the actions of government but about how we change culture—not just enterprise but civil society and all organisations that can impact. Again, I will return to that in a moment.

As we have heard in this debate, in 2015 the Labour Government in Wales introduced its own Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which requires decisions to be measured against a range of long-term outcomes, including health, the environment and social cohesion. As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, his Bill was inspired by that legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, quite rightly stressed the need to learn lessons. I like the fact that my noble friend Lady Wilcox highlighted the four key elements: long-term prevention, integration, collaboration, and involvement. Actually, those are four key principles that could apply to every aspect of our lives, but certainly of our lives in terms of public service.

The other aspect that I want to focus on is that in 2019 Labour made a commitment that when in government it would introduce a new future generations well-being Act for England that would place a duty on the health service, public bodies and the Government to take account of population health and well-being, now and in future, when making their decisions. The shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said at the time:

“Our health policy will be driven not just by a focus on cure but on radically improving prevention and social wellbeing too.”

The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and I have had many debates about this issue. One of the lessons that we are learning when it comes to extending universal health coverage is what has the greatest impact. Countries in Africa are investing in health systems that may look primitive in a way but are actually addressing issues of prevention in a much more coherent and better way than we have done in our own country, where we are now facing a huge problem with non-communicable diseases that will impact on the generation to come. That is why we should be focusing on that.

I want to return to an issue that my noble friends have raised. The real issue about the proposed Bill is not the ends—I am sure the Minister will agree with the sentiments being expressed—but the means that we need to focus on. That means looking not just at the way that the Government act but at the way that they listen and respond. My noble friend Lady Massey is right to focus on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children need to be heard in this process.

I welcome the note that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, sent round about the Bill and the means and mechanisms to ensure the involvement of young people. The Youth Parliament was mentioned, as were schools. As we move into Committee, we need to focus on the role not just of the commission but of other aspects of our civil society, where we can actually ensure that we engage with and hear children in our society. We are certainly not doing that at the moment. When it comes to climate change, the message that we are getting from schoolchildren in the demonstrations and the school strikes is: “We are not being heard and you should listen.”

I hope that the Minister will not only join me in supporting the Bill but take up the offer, which I think is a positive one, from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare: there is an opportunity for us to work together. I am certainly keen to meet the Minister to find ways in which the Bill can be improved and sustained so that it actually contains the means to deliver the ends.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 2:19 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I start by testing the Hansard writers by saying that I suffer from a condition called prosopagnosia, which means that I do not recognise faces very easily. However, I have such affection for the noble Lord opposite that, I assure him, I can tell him from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.

What can I say about the noble Lord, Lord Bird? Since he is the least vain person I have ever come across, I am allowed to praise him without turning him for the worse. We all know about his outstanding career. This is about not only prevention but enabling. I think that those two things go together. We have perhaps not heard enough about enabling; I know it is very much on the noble Lord’s agenda. I was grateful for the opportunity to talk to him about what he has in mind. Of course, he caught the attention of the House with his extraordinarily powerful and passionate opening speech. The example that he used about care in the community is one that I very much took to heart. I will never forget visiting my own father in one of those terrible institutions with the rooks cawing in the woods outside. The point about hopes for care in the community not being realised in the way that people wanted was absolutely well taken. We always have to look to the future. No good policy-making can be achieved without thinking about the human scale and the long-term impacts of policy. We are all tested—all Governments, all public bodies, all institutions—in that light.

It has been a pleasure to listen to this debate. I confess that when I came in a little earlier before the debate started, I wondered how I might answer if people asked me, “What was the House of Lords doing when the coronavirus crisis was raging?” I imagined saying, “Well, actually, we were sitting half the morning discussing our own composition”, and I thought the response might be, “Well, that is not a very good answer is it?” But then we come on to something remarkable, like yesterday’s debate—I was sorry to hear only the end of it but I have read it in Hansard—and here today we have the House of Lords going to the heart of a fundamental question about well-being and concern for the future, with the compassion and wisdom that the House has always shown.

We should never be complacent about our capacity to move government and make government listen. This House has a great record. One thinks of the early campaign for gay rights; the late Lord Arran was one of the heroic leaders in that campaign. In campaigns for disabled people, we all remember the late, great Jack Ashley, and Brian Rix. Heavens above, it was in here that they caught the attention of the nation. On children’s rights, we have the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Benjamin—Dame Flo Benjamin. I do not think it is in accordance with procedure, but I am very glad to be able to call her that and to congratulate her. This House has been an absolute pioneer and great pressure-maker in campaigning for rights and opportunities for children. In the wider debate on the Bill, which I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on bringing forward, he asks us to consider a single commissioner, but we should not be complacent about the power of the many eyes in this House that can catch the attention of the Government and ask us to listen.

As noble Lords will have anticipated, the Government will not be able to support the Bill as it stands. We have reservations about it. I will come to those at the end, although I never like to end on a down note; I like to end on a positive note, because that is the way that society needs to look. The points made in this debate are points that will be listened to by people across government and in wider society.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and others drew our attention to the Welsh example, which we must certainly examine. If this Bill goes forward, we will have the opportunity for further conversations about that. I was a long-standing local authority leader—you live in the past, do you not?—so I know the difficulties and challenges of local leadership. The kind of leadership that the noble Baroness described is not often recognised enough in modern society. We can have a conversation about whether that needs a corporate approach or one established in law or statute, but certainly the role she described of good governance and looking out for the well-being of local people is a key responsibility of local government.

The Government have been criticised for not looking forward enough. Any Government can be criticised for that, and I have given an example, but this Government are trying to look forward. One challenge was put forward by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Boycott, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others: the vital importance of climate and the environment. The Government have committed to a serious long-term policy on going zero-carbon by 2050. This is a major challenge that will require people to make changes now for the interests of the future. Whatever one thinks about the Budget introduced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor, one cannot accuse him of not looking forward to providing for the needs of the future, while obviously looking at present challenges, as one has to.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Benjamin, brought us on to the vital dimension of children. Because I am a Minister I am not allowed to talk about the role of Select Committees in this House, but noble Lords will know that I chaired the Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision, so I am familiar with the arguments which were put forward under my chairmanship. Certainly, intergenerational thinking is hugely important. I always feel that the best old people are those who remember that they were once young, because it is that idealism, vision and hope young people have which carry us to do our best things at all ages. Of course, younger people are only older people in waiting. We all have a common intergenerational interest. I loved that image of the noble Lord, Lord Rees, of cathedral thinking. We all need to aspire to that.

My feeling is that Governments are increasingly aware of and concerned and thoughtful about the intergenerational aspects and consequences of policy. This Government committed to the UN sustainability goals and my right honourable friend the Chancellor said in his Budget speech that he was looking at a review of the Green Book later this year. A number of noble Lords mentioned the Green Book, including the noble Lords, Lord Rees and Lord Whitty. I am sure the points they have made will be noted by colleagues.

I have to encourage the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I mentioned rooks in a rather negative context, but of course her images came to mind. I encourage her because for the first time in many years I saw a song thrush on my small suburban lawn only yesterday. Her points were well made and, as she said, the reform of agricultural policy that is now possible for this country will give us all the opportunity to debate the kind of issues that she raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, slightly depressed me at the start, with his long catalogue of great risks. He made some fundamental points about the Bill, which the Government tend to feel might be issues that we will have to look at, such as the weight placed on the commissioner, the opportunity for judicial action and the creation of a new public body or bodies, as other noble Lords pointed out, and, as my noble friend Lady Brady pointed out, the potential impact on companies. These are all issues that would have to be considered in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, was much more mixed in his futurology. In my view he is entirely right when he says that there is a risk because we foresee some things but not others—I do not want to sound like Donald Rumsfeld. There is a balance to strike. Too rigid an approach can lead us to missed opportunities. I fully take the point that he made about the balance of opportunity and risk. I have always thought that we should look for the opportunity side of the equation while being aware of risk. However, these are matters that we will no doubt discuss further if the Bill is taken into Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said that we should look at the big picture. We will try to do that. Governments are human, but the best Governments are also humane, and part of being humane is doing some of the things that I described and noble Lords have challenged us on. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, made points about behaviour in prisons and policy on prisons that I will draw to the attention of colleagues. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that well-being awareness is hugely important.

I may have failed to respond to some points. I have not spoken about alcohol, which was addressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lord Balfe. Obviously, the misuse of alcohol is an example of where policymakers need to think through the long-term consequences of present behaviours.

All that said, it is the Government’s feeling that the sense of, importance of and duty to future generations should be a guiding and embedded spirit as far as possible in policy thinking. I mentioned the sustainability goals and the Green Book, and there are other examples. However, the question before us, on which the noble Lord, Lord Bird, challenged us, is: what are the best mechanisms to deliver these messages, hopes and aspirations? The Welsh experience seeks to hold a mirror to that. The best mechanism of course would be if everybody—private sector, public sector and every individual—got up in the morning considering whether what they were doing was imperilling or causing difficulties for ourselves or other people in the future?

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, will not be discouraged to hear that the Government do not believe that the approach taken in the Bill, which is broad in its scope and nature, is appropriate. I will not give the black spot to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, but he made that point in a different way. It is not the Government’s view that this is the most effective or appropriate way to go forward. The Government therefore have reservations about the Bill as it stands, and reservations about the creation of a new public body and new duties. However, as I hope I have demonstrated, the Government are committed to protecting and promoting the environmental, economic and social well-being of the country, in the here and now and for generations to come.

If I may speak on a personal note, I found this a fascinating debate and an example of the House of Lords being on the best side of the coin, which I did not think we necessarily were earlier today. I will certainly dwell on the points made, as I know that colleagues in the Government will. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing the Bill forward. I do not expect him to go away. The whole of society generally, as well as our government systems, is improved by the challenge of his great example, as it is by the thoughtful, intelligent and humane way in which he has approached debate on the Bill. I am sorry to have to say that the Government have misgivings about it as it stands, but that is the position.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 2:36 pm, 13th March 2020

I thank noble Lords for what has been a very moving and exciting afternoon for me. I join the rest of your Lordships in saying this, but it is interesting that we are doing this in the middle of the debates around health and the coronavirus—where we are and where we are going to be. It is a very interesting thing that we are building. I am standing on the shoulders of other people. As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, says, it is brilliant that we should bring something forward that has been road-tested. It is being road-tested in Wales—and Wales, as we know, is responsible for many innovations such as smoking bans or opting out for the kidneys.

Anyway, I am just a pretty face and not a parliamentarian. Perhaps I am a parliamentarian in the making; I hope to improve with the passage of time. I am very pleased that I have a good team. I have the Big Issue to help me, and many charities and social groups behind me. We intend to turn this into a large movement, which we hope will sweep the Government along with us in a groundswell. We think that this is the beginning of really grown-up, cognitive thinking around how we prevent the future being a repetition of many of the mistakes that we made in the past. I made some comments on those earlier.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about young people. We will be engaging young people and bringing them into the argument. The noble Baroness, Lady Brady, talked about business. When I started the business of the Big Issue, I did not do so as a charity; I started it as a business response to a social crisis. I am incredibly inspired by all my friends, in the City and other places, who have led the battle to improve the lot of those in the future by investing in social and environmental change. I would like that argument to go on. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has done us all a big favour—sotto voce, as they say in Italy, go easy, and do not beat anybody over the head.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, very much for his comments. I was not expecting him to roll over and take it, so to speak. We will begin the process and look upon what we are doing as a menu, in a way. It might not be possible to take everything from it but I believe that this Government have a unique opportunity. They can turn and put a line in the past, and say, as in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, “Let us all work together”. Thank you very much.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 2.40 pm.