Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 11:06 am on 25th June 2021.

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Lord Bird:

Moved by Lord Bird

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

My Lords, I would like you to imagine how you would approach a Government, any Government, who always say, when you speak to them—they have to say it, God bless them—that they take the future into account. I spoke recently to quite a number of MPs and members of the Government. As always, they said, “Actually, what we are doing is probably enough”. I come along with a Bill that is nicked—stolen from our Welsh colleagues and made slightly different—and I say, “Well, actually we have to do more with the future, because the future is always being postponed.”

This is the problem that I have. How do I get the Conservative Government to look seriously at the future, in the way that the Welsh are seriously looking at the future, at the same time as trying to keep them onside, befriending them, being nice to them, being kind and thoughtful and never, ever telling them off? We know that as soon as you tell a politician off, they close their ears, in the same way that I close my ears when people tell me off—I am no different from anybody else. So, I have a problem. I want this Bill to go through and to be about the future today. I do not want the future to be continuously put off.

In my journeys around the United Kingdom, I talk to MPs, to charities and to local authorities—I talk to everybody. I am a bit like the Queen Mother; I go around shaking hands. I do not open supermarkets—nobody has asked me to do that yet—but I am a busy little lad and I go around. On one occasion quite recently, I was with a new MP—someone who came in in 2019 somewhere in the north of England, with a strong political record and a complete commitment to the well-being of their constituents. This young lady said to me, “What is your Bill going to do for my constituent who comes up to me in absolute terror or with an absolute problem? What is your Bill going to do?” I said, “Nothing”, and she said, “Well, why would I support your Bill, why would I vote for your Bill?” I said, “Ah! What would have happened if your predecessor, or your pre-pre-predecessor, had addressed the problems in the first instance that your constituent has to face now?”

Many of the problems that people face in their constituencies, and I face in my life, did not come from the future; they came from the past. In a way, had we had a future generations Bill 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago, we might have hesitated before we did certain things. In fact, we could rename my Bill. It does not have to be the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill; we could just call it the “Hindsight Bill”. Why do we not have a Minister for Hindsight? Very clever—somebody who can read the future or who can say, “Hang on, why are we always doing things that come back to bite us in the rear at some later stage?”

For instance, would we have charged our children to go to university? Would we have done that almost beautiful act of them and us-ism, increasing the divide between them and us? Many people I meet would love to go to university but are frightened because they do not have what the public school boys or grammar school boys have, or whoever it may be, whose mum and dad have got a bit of money put aside, maybe property and all that. Now, university is not everything, but the message was sent out, just after we rescued the banks, just after 2010, at the time of the coalition. Had there been a future generations Bill on the statute book then, maybe we would have said, “Hang on, what are you doing here? You are trying to solve an immediate problem, but you are being oppressed by the needs and demands of today and you are throwing tomorrow away.”

Would we, for instance, have closed down our mental health institutions in the mid-1980s? People like me, even before the Big Issue, were saying “Hang on, do you know what is going to happen? If you close the mental health institutions and have care in the community”—it looked as thin on the ground then as it does now—“you will have an enormous increase in people on the streets; the streets will fill up and the prisons will fill up.” If you go into a prison, you meet people who, 30 or 40 years ago, probably would have been in the mental institutions. That is a major problem. Being mentally ill now, you are worse off than in the days of the mid-19th century when the poet John Clare was locked up. He was first put in a private institution and then a public one.

You have people wandering around the streets. When the Big Issue started, we were inundated with Jesus Christs and Napoleons on the streets. We even had a few admirals as well, I assure you—I do not know whether they were admirals; they did not look like admirals, and they certainly did not look like Napoleon or Jesus Christ. I had people coming up to me and telling me that they were angels. That was probably about 50% of the people we were working with in 1991, because in 1987, I believe, the institutions were closed down.

With a future generations Bill, you would have something that I find missing in modern politics. When I came into the House of Lords—forgive me for saying this—I was chased hither and thither by Barons and Baronesses who said, “Look, there’s this problem, and this problem, and this problem. What will you do about this? What will you do about the homeless sleeping in stations?” All the time I was being pushed and pushed. I said, “Look, there are millions of people in this world obsessed with the crisis of now. They will continue to be obsessed with it, because the crisis of now never gets solved, because we do not think about the future.” I have come into the House of Lords to do nothing more than prevent poverty forming in the first instance, and not be controlled by worshipping again and again at the altar of the accomplished facts—that you have to do this. Of course, because we are always responding to emergencies, we think that that proves our humanity, but actually it does not. We cannot just keep responding to the emergencies; we must do much more.

I apologise, I realise that I have 10 minutes and I have only started. How are your Lordships? I hope that you had a nice Friday. I walked here. I walk everywhere; that is why I am so young and fit—and only 75. If you sit in the House and are not really a politician, you notice that we spend an enormous amount of time untangling legislation from former times. We are always undoing it. If you look at the facts, about 70% of the time of the House is spent unravelling the damage done by poverty—why have we never done this?—the damage done by lack of biodiversity and by industrialisation, and the damage done by closing down the mines, steelworks and heavy engineering jobs, largely up north, without putting anything in their place. Forty or 50 years later, we are still suffering the damage from the fact that we did not look at how the future would pan out when we did these things. The most graphic example was when I stood with many people who were mentally ill and brought them into the House of Commons 20 years ago. It was incredibly moving to be here and meet people who said, “I wish we had not done it.”

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

Before I call the next speaker, I remind all noble Lords that I clearly stated that all of us in this Chamber, when we are not speaking, should be wearing face masks. I ask noble Lords to respect the House and everybody else and to wear masks when not speaking. I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative 11:18 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I find it somewhat difficult to follow the noble Lord, but I support his Bill. I believe that it is necessary for us to consider the future when looking at the present, but one difficulty that I have is that the future is rather difficult to predict. We have to expect the unexpected. How you plan for the unexpected is something that I have not quite grasped from the Bill, although I believe that the Bill requires a mode of thought that is an improvement on the present situation. It puts a legal duty on government that resembles the duty that parents have for their offspring.

I am now at the great-grandchild generation. We all have a responsibility to do our best for them, but what the best is varies very much from time to time. That has certainly been my experience. I also want to say that, when someone tells me off, I try to take account of that, because I believe that it is a good lesson for the future. The difficulty is that this is a mode of thought that does not seem to me easy to formulate in detail. We must consider carefully in Committee the system put in place in the Bill.

What is well-being? It is a very difficult concept, and I want to mention one important aspect of it. Those of us who heard the national parliamentary prayer breakfast this morning will have heard statements of the spirit that enables people to have hope in the face of adversity, and I believe that this should form part of well-being. We must do our best to provide our offspring with a spirit that enables them to have hope, which is the best protection against despair and the consequences of despair.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 11:21 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his tenacity and his amusing and very important speech. Bringing this back for a second time and developing a report, to be launched next week, demonstrates his lifelong commitment to trying to ensure that we learn from the past rather than live in it, tackle causes rather than symptoms, and avoid the mistakes many of us have made. I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay; I hope to goodness that I can be as thoughtful and look to the future in my mid-90s, should I be fortunate enough to reach that age.

I just want to say three things. First, we have economic impact statements and equality impact statements, but we do not have social policy impact statements. Avoiding the tragedy of mistakes of the past involves examining what we are doing in light of a mode of thought, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said. Sure Start, the development of the child trust fund and education maintenance allowances were, in their own way, endeavours to invest for the future rather than the moment. All sadly met the same fate during the austerity measures between 2010 and 2015. I am working with the right honourable Andrea Leadsom to try to reinstate the spirit of Sure Start, and to do so in a cross-party way, because that is clearly the only way to retain that programme and policy as Governments change, or even when there is change within Government. Sadly, the child trust fund, which was an endeavour to give all young people a real start in life and to overcome at least some of the great problems of asset divide, also had built in a mistake, which I have been trying to put right with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. Namely, we did not think about the issue of youngsters with learning disabilities, who would not be able to easily access their funds at the age of 18.

Thinking for the future, even with the best of intentions, is really important. Of course, our health, housing and mode of employment determine our well-being. But the well-being of the future and future generations will be obtained if we just pause for a moment every time we take a measure and think about what it will look like in 20 years’ time.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 11:24 am, 25th June 2021

I, too, warmly welcome the Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on bringing it forward. As has been said, Wales has similar legislation. In the short time available, I want to comment on two aspects of that legislation that may prove problematic.

The first problem with the Welsh Act is that the duties may not be clear and specific enough to be enforceable; secondly, there is no proper mechanism for legal enforcement. These issues were covered in the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, which I chaired, and I tried to deal with them in much more detail in the David Renton lecture I gave to the Statute Law Society in November 2019. Suffice it to say today that if legislation is not to be aspirational, and is therefore to be effective, it must create specific legal duties and have a mechanism for enforcement. That is why I warmly welcome this Bill; it has legal duties that can be made specific enough, and there is an enforcement mechanism.

Clause 6 and various provisions of Part 5 address the issues that may be defective in the Welsh Act. The duties are either laid out in sufficiently specific terms or the recommendations made by the commission, which become enforceable, can be made specific enough, and there is an enforcement mechanism before the High Court. Therefore, when enacted, the Bill would be a powerful instrument with appropriate machinery for ensuring that politicians—I pick up, with respect, the point of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, about that—could not give way to short-term or electoral interests or to pressures from others.

Our country’s future could be a real future with this Bill. We simply cannot go on ignoring the reality that without independently enforceable duties, the interests of the short term and the pressures of the electoral cycle will triumph. That is why the creation of legal and enforceable duties under this Bill will provide a real future for our children, our grandchildren and their children. I wish the Bill well.

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative 11:26 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I also welcome the Bill and congratulate the inimitable noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing time for the House to consider this measure.

I would like to concentrate my brief remarks on the importance of health, an active lifestyle and recreation in the context of the well-being of future generations. In so doing, I note that there is only implicit passing reference to these essential building blocks to be laid at the foundation of the Bill before the House today, which seeks to ensure that UK policy-making needs to take future generations into account. It is a civic society build and subsequent bolt-on measure, requiring collaborative thinking and action between civic society and lawmakers, which is why a call for public consultation in the first place is right.

While the Bill does not seek to define “wellbeing goals”, I believe that, following public consultation on the issue, they should ideally be placed in the Bill. Alternatively—albeit sub-optimally—they should be brought before the House under secondary legislation for further annual debate. That is a nuanced approach to the principle that government should be required to set measurable national well-being objectives and publish an annual report on progress towards meeting them.

I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, to the proposal by the Department of Health to launch an office for health promotion this autumn. It wisely has set out the objective as leading national efforts to look to the future to improve and level up public health, setting action across government to improve the nation’s health by tackling obesity, improving mental health and promoting physical activity. Since well-being policies cover educational opportunity, no well-being measures can avoid placing the interests of children at the epicentre of the Bill, for they are the future. Issues around poverty, levelling up, education and, above all, mental and physical health and well-being are critical for children—not least access, with responsibility, to the countryside, which we have been working on in Committee on the Environment Bill this week.

My noble friend Lord True, representing the Cabinet Office, is the right man to respond to this debate today because that is exactly where ministerial responsibility for well-being should lie. Once established, the well-being goals will require more co-ordinated action across government departments than ever seen before. We will need to move away from the silo approach which has characterised Whitehall departments for far too long and work toward a series of national well-being goals capable of being judged against definable outputs across government. I hope the Prime Minister will consider creating the office of a Secretary of State for well-being and children in the Cabinet Office.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 11:29 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I commend the persistence and drive of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on getting this measure considered for the statute book.

The short-term thinking of generations of politicians, business leaders and financiers has left an appalling problem for our grandchildren and future generations. On one level, we have recognised this. For example, this week we have been debating the Environment Bill and we have had the report of the Climate Change Committee. But that just reveals that, although we set ambitious targets for greenhouse gases and sustainable development goals, we have not put in place the means of actually delivering the way to deal with problems inherited from our generation—and it is indeed our generation and, perhaps, the generation immediately before it that has created these problems.

Eighty per cent of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been generated in my lifetime, and 60% since global powers formally recognised the problem at the Rio conference. On the social side, also, problems of inequality—between and within countries—over- population and failure to tackle social ills, such as mental health and social care, have also been inherited from previous generations but have been aggravated by our failure to deal with them. The Bill aims to mitigate that, in an apparently modest bid—but, in mindset terms, a revolutionary change—to ensure that all decisions on projects and policies take into account the interests of future generations.

One apparently minor point concerns me. It sounds bureaucratic and technical, but it concerns discount rates, time preference presumptions and the Treasury’s Green Book rules. It runs through not only the psychology of our decision-making process, focusing on the short-term, but the technical process itself. For much of the key areas of decisions taken in recent decades whose inheritance we are now living with—from the 1970s to the 2010s, say—the official Treasury bill discount rate was never below 5%, usually at about 8% and sometimes as high as 15%. That mechanism was itself a major inhibitor of longer-term thinking, and we are living with the results.

We are now, since the financial crisis, in an era of low interest rates and low discount rates—below 1% at the moment—but that will almost certainly not persist beyond recovery from this pandemic. Can we, therefore, find a new mechanism that runs through our processes, so that we no longer discount future long-term benefits but begin to prioritise their interests and the interests of future generations?

When the noble Lord, Lord Bird, presented his earlier Bill, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, objected that this just meant another quango, another parliamentary committee and another tick box, but this is so much more than a tick-box exercise; it is a whole new way of taking decisions. It will, regrettably, take time to bed in. The Welsh Government have made a commendable start, but they recognise that they have a long way to go. We have not even made that start; let us begin to do so today.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 11:32 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, this Bill has attracted a large number of speakers, partly out of the huge respect in which the House holds the noble Lord, but also because of the importance of the issue his Bill seeks to address.

Let us applaud the Welsh, and the noble Lord for his passionate introduction to the Bill. This is a wide-ranging Bill, it is ambitious and challenging, and I fear that some measures may prove too demanding for a Private Member’s Bill. I have not seen any costings—that may be my mistake—but the proposals seem so overwhelmingly positive that it may be that the funds will be forthcoming.

The Bill advocates a Joint Committee on future generations and a commission to be appointed by the Prime Minister. Here I have problems. We in this House have seen how prime ministerial appointments can distort the membership, so perhaps commission members could be generated by another method. The commission would need to be and seen to be non-political, and if they are prime ministerial appointments, there is a huge danger that they will be overwhelmingly party political. The well-being of our young people can only benefit by co-operation between government and across all the parties and the public bodies. It would be good to think that such dialogue already takes place, but I suspect that it does not.

I also applaud the proposal for a citizens’ panel of at least 50 people, a large and wide-ranging selection of people, which would need an exceptional leader or convener, but which could prove invaluable in bringing expertise from all parts of our community to this subject. The bigger prize would be for the next generations to have better prospects for rewarding employment and fulfilling lives, if we all work together in the way suggested.

The Bill greatly deserves further consideration and scrutiny, and I look forward to Committee and trying to ensure the well-being of future generations by exploring in more detail how these proposals would work in practice. I very much support the intentions behind the Bill and congratulate the noble Lord on all his endeavours, especially all the work he does to improve the lives of the less fortunate and the young. He may not be able to solve all our problems—as he has so modestly admitted—but, my goodness, he does an amazing job in tackling many of them.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has withdrawn from this debate, so I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 11:35 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I strongly support the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing it forward, welcome his heartfelt plea against short-termism and urge colleagues to give it a Second Reading.

I speak against the background that a Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act was adopted by the then National Assembly for Wales in 2015, which the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in his own words, has partially nicked. In considering our experience in Wales, I can do no better than to draw to the attention of the House the comments of Senedd Member Delyth Jewell, who worked for five years at Westminster and received the award of best researcher across all parties and in both Houses in 2014.

Delyth highlights three significant examples of benefits arising from the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act in Wales. First, the Welsh Government, in having to abide by the requirements of the future generations Act, were persuaded to declare a climate emergency in 2019 and, consequently, were obliged to find additional funding to help mitigate climate change and to actively consider steps to ameliorate its effects wherever possible.

Secondly, the existence of this legislation required the Welsh Government to think carefully before spending more on road programmes and to consider whether that money could be better spent on more integrated public transport systems and on active travel initiatives, generating environmental and health benefits.

Thirdly, the existence of this legislation has given the people of Wales a tool to challenge government action whenever there is a feeling that short-termism is detrimental to the interests of future generations. That includes the right to challenge public authorities and local government in Wales. This is seen as having ensured that such bodies work more closely with the Welsh Government to get a more coherent approach to such issues.

Finally, Delyth Jewell points out that, whereas that Act provides a platform to ensure that such considerations are not lost, in reality, a limit on powers and resources can lead to frustration. More work must be done to ensure that the general public are aware of the potential benefits of using the Act as a lever to protect the interests of their children. Incidentally, I should point out that the arts and culture have a role in the holistic approach to Wales’s well-being goals.

I would, finally, add, that in passing this Bill for England, Parliament should will the means to make its provisions fully known to the public and accept that future Governments will need to find the necessary resources to make it effective, not just a token gesture to future generations.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 11:38 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests.

When Gro Harlem Brundtland, on behalf of the World Commission on Environment and Development, published her ground-breaking report in 1987, she set out the definition of “sustainable development” that has become standard in the decades since. That is, that we should be meeting

“the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

I am delighted to see that definition used in the Bill placed in front of your Lordships’ House today, even if I am disappointed that, in the 34 years since, that definition and purpose have not been standard practice for Governments across the world, not least here in the United Kingdom.

There have been hundreds of summits, photo calls and agreements across those 34 years. The most recent, of course, were the 2015 sustainable development goals, agreed by the United Nations and not only signed up to by the United Kingdom but, in many ways, created by the two committees that were, in one case, chaired by our Prime Minister, David Cameron, and in the other, led and in many ways directed by the then Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of that agreement in 2015, the Government made an almost conscious decision to deprioritise the goals here at home. They have never been located properly in the Cabinet Office as universal goals that can help shape, inform and direct government policy and help us measure progress. Although there has been some progress elsewhere in our international spending, despite the hard work of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in his current position, and a number of other Ministers over the years, the Government have never put those sustainable development goals right at the heart of their policy.

So I welcome this Bill. I am not absolutely convinced of the need for legislation but I look forward to the debates on it. I want to see some clarification on the relationship with the devolved Governments and the devolved nations, and I want to explore more the definitions and the way in which they would be implemented. If we can debate this Bill in the same positive manner and with the passion shown by the noble Lord, Lord Bird—not just in his presentation today but in his lifetime of commitment to tackling poverty and disadvantage in this country—we will provide a good service as a second Chamber. I look forward to those debates. I hope that we will get a chance to look in detail at the provisions that are put forward and that, at the core of the debates, we will look to the future—particularly to children, who, I am pleased to see, are given priority in the Bill and in the deliberations that are going ahead now.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative 11:41 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, another day, another independent commission roaming around telling us what to do. I am sorry to sound a dissentient note, and it is painful that I find myself in opposition to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for whom I have much admiration, but this is a bad Bill and I think somebody should say so.

Of course we should think about the future; that is axiomatic. We do think about it: we think about the future socially and as families. That is not the problem with this Bill. The first problem is that the Bill is avowedly anti-democratic. There is a very helpful essay in the Explanatory Notes explaining why democracy cannot be trusted—an essay that will, I imagine, be read with wry amusement in Peking and various other places. The whole Bill is based on the notion that, in a country that voted to take back control, we should be setting up more and more mechanisms to ensure that people cannot effectively vote for what they want because they cannot be trusted. We have to learn to trust and encourage democracy in this country, not walk away from it.

The second problem with the Bill is that it is, frankly, contrary to the evidence. I do not know where this gloom has come from. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, is not inherently a gloomy figure, but why is it that he thinks we live in a world of utter misery? We do not. What were the generations of the past doing when they built our sewers, roads and bridges if they were not thinking of future generations? What were we doing in the 20th century when we improved air and water quality and started putting in place protections for the countryside if we were not thinking of future generations? Even now, as several noble Lords have said, most of the business of this House appears to be taken up at the moment with putting in place measures that are there to think about future generations. We do not need a Bill with this large apparatus to do that.

There is a third problem, and here I want to say something capitalism and free markets. Capitalism works by thinking about future generations. This might come as a shock to some Benches, but it does. When private entrepreneurs invested in building our railways in the 19th century, of course they were thinking about future generations, because they would never have made their money back—that was their hope—if those railways were not going to run for another 100 years or more. We have the benefits of those railways today. When Sir Jack Cohen started Tesco, he was doing exactly that: setting up something that was going to last a very long time, and could last a long time only if it was predicated on meeting the needs of future generations.

For shortage of time, I take just a couple of examples. What we actually need is more capitalism to make progress. I have so much admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who has done so much for the current generation, but I deeply hope that he abandons this Bill because it does nothing for future generations while hobbling the democracy of the present one.

Photo of Baroness Bull Baroness Bull Crossbench 11:44 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bird for providing this opportunity to think about the important question of how policies created by one generation can effectively ensure the well-being of those that follow.

A recent paper from the Health Foundation on better policy planning for the long term proposes six reasons why it is essential to look forward, even though, as we have heard, the future is of course largely unknowable: to ensure preparedness for shock events, such as pandemics; to respond to “slow burn” issues, such as the rise in obesity; to enable “long-term investments”, typically in infrastructure; to meet “complex”, “multifactorial” policy goals, of which levelling up would be a good example; and, of course, to “protect future generations”.

The paper also sets out the considerable pressures and temptations that Governments face to act for the short term, including annual funding settlements, short electoral cycles and incomplete data on which to base decisions. Governments can also be overly influenced by temporary yet dominant narratives among the public or in the media, and there is the obvious need to appeal to the voters of today, not of tomorrow. Devising policies for the future involves making intertemporal choices, often with short-term costs for long-term gains—rarely an easy sell.

To me, this highlights the important role of those independent institutions that endure beyond the electoral term—something that, I suggest, is missing from the Bill as it stands. Our universities and charities often have long histories and a degree of permanence that can make them anchors of stability in a fast-changing world. They can bring evidence, rigour and analysis, as well as objectivity, to the debate, making them well placed to convene different stakeholders around complex questions, build shared understanding and sometimes even reach consensus.

This potential has been demonstrated recently in the coming together of a group of clinicians, academics, research funders, charities, service users, Public Health England and the NHS, with the aim to identify four overarching research goals to address the growing crisis in mental health. The process recognised that, as it can take up to 20 years for research findings to be fully implemented, long-term solutions can be achieved only through a shared agenda and collective scientific, social and political endeavour.

Finally, I would go further than this Bill in mandating the involvement of young people in conversations and decisions about what is of course their future. The UN reports that participation in political processes enhances young people’s well-being, develops their skills and strengthens their commitment to democracy. If there is to be a commission for future generations, I would want to see it made up principally of young people— they are the ones with skin in the game. Their active involvement would ensure that it reaches better decisions and would lead to better outcomes. There will inevitably be those who doubt this to be true, but the future will not be on their side.

Photo of Lord Flight Lord Flight Conservative 11:48 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his lively introduction, but I regret to say that I am in the camp of my noble friend Lord Moylan. The points that he made, particularly about capitalism, are absolutely right.

There are factors within our control and factors not within our control, and the big ones are invariably not within our control. What Covid has taught us is just that. It has been the biggest factor to affect the world probably since the Second World War, and there was no forecasting of it. A lot of the task of forecasting practical things that we can control already happens and can probably be improved. Think about the military, which is organised to reflect forecasting and an assessment of things that we can control.

Reference has been made to a hindsight Bill. In my experience, history rarely repeats itself. There is a danger of spending a huge amount of effort and money on something because it was important in the past but will not be important in the future. The sort of things that are forecastable include switching to electric cars and more money being spent on the NHS—lots of practical things that can be, and already are, controlled. But as I say, do not rely on government, which will always make decisions and change its views for political reasons.

As another speaker pointed out, the Bill has 44 clauses, two schedules and six parts. Goodness me—where is all this leading? It represents an attempt to control far too much and, to my mind, slightly reflects motherhood and apple pie. Of course valuable work can and should be done to assess likely future trends, but my crucial message is not to forget that the big issues will always come and take you by surprise and can rarely be planned for.

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour 11:50 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I am very pleased to speak on Second Reading and trust that the Bill will proceed to enactment. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his captivating presentation and differ somewhat from the noble Lord, Lord Flight, whom I follow. Short-termism is the enemy of better policy-making, which is why the issues of sustainable development, the well-being goals and the future generations principle contained in the Bill are so important.

Many noble Lords have experience and expertise of the approach taken by the Labour Government in Wales, but Wales is not alone in being forward-looking. I will comment on the work being done in New Zealand, where the Government’s commitment to the well-being of future generations is underpinned by a well-being budget. Although New Zealand is in general a nation that is healthy, well educated, socially connected and has a high material standard of living, it has some of the problems we see in the UK: poor mental health outcomes for some sections of the population, significant numbers of children living in poverty, and significant disparities of well-being between different ethnic groups. In her introduction to the Wellbeing Budget, Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, observes that

“While economic growth is important—and something we will continue to pursue—it alone does not guarantee improvements to our living standards… Nor does it measure the quality of economic activity or take into account who benefits and who is left out or who is left behind.”

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we live in an incredibly unequal society in the UK. Some of us knew that before March 2020, but it is now abundantly clear to all. In household income, work and health outcomes, both mental and physical, and in education—to name but a few—there is a great deal to be done before we get anywhere near the Government’s so-called levelling-up agenda.

The future generations principle is defined as

“acting in a manner which seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Many presently in your Lordships House are of the generation which has seen the introduction of enormous amounts of plastics, of one kind or another, into our lives. It could be argued that, 50 or 60 years ago, no one had any idea that plastics would be littering the land or killing our oceans. It is incumbent on us to ensure that any new materials brought into use for the convenience of those who live now will not have a deleterious effect on the people still alive and around when we are long dead. It could also be argued that this is difficult, because we cannot know what the future wants. But Professor Thompson, who is mentioned in the Explanatory Notes, says there are many things we can know—for instance, that future generations

“will not want to live with toxic chemicals, foul air, and chronic disease.”

There is a great deal we can do in this Bill. I hope it goes further and to enactment.

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Non-affiliated 11:54 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, it is a great privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with my noble friend Lord Bird, and I hope that we will see this Bill to its end. I believe that it is an addition to our responsibility on equality duties

We live in an unequal society between those who have and those who live in abject poverty and deprivation. The Bill desires an outcome in which our country is fit for the next generation. I am thankful for this opportunity to consider the challenges to improve its life chances.

The pandemic has forced us to examine long-standing divisions, in which millions of children experience food poverty, homelessness, a poor standard of education, digital inequalities, lack of equal opportunities for work and an endemic level of violence and abuse, with a third of violent crimes being committed against women and girls, including in our schools, colleges and universities. Eradication of violence, including knife crimes and brutalisation of our young black men within the criminal justice system, requires radical overhaul, such as through the urgent reconsideration of the Prevent strategy, which for so long has been seen to target specific communities and has done so much to demonise Islam and Muslims.

It is my fervent hope and prayer that, in looking towards the well-being of our future generations, we will champion and positively promote our multicultural and multifaith society to ensure that all sections of our communities have a voice and say in the way we shape our country. I welcome the well-being duty being placed on public bodies and the proposed Joint Committee, as well as the Minister for Future Well-being. These structures will have to be embedded across government, and the well-being agenda will have to be mainstreamed to work in partnership with the Ministers for children and women, and other senior government Ministers, to effect the changes suggested in the Bill. Such a constructive approach would integrate the levelling-up and build back better agendas, alongside the poverty eradication, education, housing equality and environmental commitments that have been so prominent within this Government, and among the many demands made by young people who have marched and protested throughout our country in recent months.

We have an informed generation of young people. Many have taken the decision to engage in political activism. I take this incredible opportunity to salute the many hundreds of thousands of children and young people who have marched for a better future and demonstrated that they are conscious of building a safer and more equal society and country; who have engaged in political acts and want their voices heard in dialogues and the process of decision-making; and whose consciousness, understanding and appreciation of protecting the environment, and of poverty, health, civil liberties, drugs, social justice, inequalities, racism and Islamophobia, as well as international conflicts, is most profound. They are an exemplar to each of us in this House and elsewhere. This debate is about safeguarding their future well-being. As we consider the merits of this Bill in its next phase, I look forward to elaborating these points further.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, is experiencing technical difficulties, so I will call her later, when she is able to reconnect. In the meantime, I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock.

Photo of Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Deputy Chairman of Committees 11:57 am, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I support the principles of the Bill in the name of my noble friend Lord Bird, while questioning the extent of detail which could constrain this and future Governments in policy development. Any Government have a responsibility to both current populations and future generations. Many of the Bills being considered in this parliamentary Session are associated with trying to ensure that future generations survive and thrive in the UK—for example, the Environment Bill, referred to by many noble Lords.

The pandemic has sent a shock of seismic proportions globally, without sufficient preparedness even in G7 countries. An aim of the Bill is to enshrine in law a

“shift to a longer-term, preventative approach to policymaking”, which would involve adopting new methods of risk analysis, planning and fiscal policy to ensure that future generations are respected and taken into account.

The need to improve the well-being of all our citizens remains a paramount responsibility of all Governments and is amply illustrated through the successful Covid vaccination programme. I fully support the concepts outlined in Part 2, but suggest that some elements are very prescriptive. Clause 4 in Part 2 contains such processes, which are the reverse of the intention of the Bill and could result in convoluted, time-consuming cycles of repetitive consultation, slowing down well-being policy-making.

While supporting the concept of establishing a future generations commission for the UK, Clause 4 makes no mention of England. Surely UK-level discussions need to involve all four countries and younger people, as was so ably mentioned by other noble Baronesses.

The vital issue that we face is that young people want and need to be able to access health promotion and ill-health services digitally, face-to-face and sometimes in hospital. However, I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Bird. We did the right thing in shutting the large mental hospitals but we did the wrong thing in not providing alternative suitable accommodation. They need high-quality education, safe and secure housing, and secure employment opportunities but, as the noble Lord said, long-term planning must involve listening and devising policies based on citizens’ stated desires coupled with scientific data.

Young people today will be paying off the debt associated with the costs of the pandemic for 50 years, if not a century. Unlike former generations, those going into higher education have student loans to redeem. The requirement to undertake future generations impact assessments, as outlined in Part 2 Section 11, is paramount. In summary, I hope that we can work to revise and simplify the Bill to enable nimble policy development, while fully embracing the best evidence relating to the future well-being of our population.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

Her connection issues having been resolved, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.

Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative 12:01 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his tireless advocacy for the vulnerable, championing the potential of those whose voices are insufficiently heard. It is concerning that we should need this Bill at all. The well-being of future generations should be at the forefront of all our policy discussions, but sadly that is not always the case when we look at the deteriorating outcomes for our children. It certainly has not been the case during Covid. If we are to focus on the well-being of future generations, it is important to stop and think about what trajectory we are on. Are things already getting better, or are they deteriorating for the next generation?

We are currently witnessing an unprecedented decline in the well-being of our children, characterised by a rise in mental health problems. Despite being more connected than any previous generation through social media, more children are expressing feelings of loneliness and depression than ever before. Although the causes of these trends are not clear, we know that poor mental health in childhood can lead to poor performance at school, affecting academic outcomes. One in eight children has a diagnosable mental health disorder; that is roughly three children in every classroom. In 2017, suicide was the commonest cause of death in boys and girls aged between five and 19. Nearly half of 17 to 19 year-olds with a diagnosable mental health disorder have self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point, rising to 52.7% for young women.

Given these worrying trends, it is crucial that we start an honest conversation about whether our actions are impacting on the next generation. We must ask ourselves what has changed for children during this period of declining outcomes. One development that has occurred at the same time as this increase in mental health problems is the arrival of the internet and social media in young people’s lives. Young people are increasingly attached, often alone at home, to their smartphones or computers. We must look at the impact that social media has on a young person’s self-esteem, the damaging material that many young people may be exposed to, and the impact that increased discussion and awareness of mental health issues may have on normalising mental health issues in a young person’s mind.

We must also explore the changing nature of the family and its effect on young people. The current generation of children and adolescents experiences higher levels of family breakdown or lack of family formation than any previous generation. It is also, arguably, showing signs of the least resilience, needing safe spaces at university and unable to cope with disagreement. The OECD average divorce rate increased by more than 50% between 1970 and 2012. These are issues that we really must look at. We must examine whether there is a causal link between these metrics and the mental health statistics that we see in the UK.

Add to that the changing work practices and use of early years childcare, and more of this generation have experienced both parents working and being placed in formal childcare at an early age, the effects of which are still relatively unknown and unresearched. Parents and doctors, being so busy, are thought to be increasingly reaching for medical solutions to challenging childhood behaviour. We need to explore whether this supposition stands up and, if so, what impact this early medicalisation has in the long run on children’s mental health. Could these early behavioural problems be the early warning signs of future mental health problems that require time, care, play and communication—

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

May I remind my noble friend of the three-minute advisory speaking time.

Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative

We must ensure that these issues are well examined. We cannot be content with the thousands of children who go neglected and abandoned in our cities and streets every year.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 12:06 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and I welcome this Bill. In his Second Reading speech on the first version of this Bill, the noble Lord shared that, after 25 years of helping the homeless, he realised that instead he should have been preventing people becoming homeless in the first place.

When I was the MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, I met DCS John Carnochan of Strathclyde Police. Then the head of the Strathclyde murder unit, which had a phenomenally high clear-up rate for homicides, John often lectured worldwide on how that was achieved. One day, at a crime symposium, the thought struck him that instead of taking pride in the clear-up rate, he would rather have shared pride in prevention. From that thought came the violence reduction unit, which adopted a health approach to offending and significantly reduced violence and gang-related behaviour in Strathclyde and then in Scotland—a well-being model now adopted by the Mayor of London and promoted extensively elsewhere by this Government.

There are many examples of policies that have avoided the challenge of long-term change for self-inflicted chronic problems because their implications will make parts of our electorate uncomfortable, if not downright antagonistic. On that theme, I had intended to devote my limited time to the self-inflicted problem of gambling harm, but instead I will highlight why this Bill is particularly welcome at this time and is an opportunity that we should embrace.

Over the past 16 months, the fragility of our society and our economy has been laid bare. The scale of inequality has been exposed; we have been brought to an acute, overdue point of inflection in how we reflect on racism; the health crisis has spawned further inequalities, and undoubtedly the relaxation of restrictions may create even more inequalities. The extent of abusive power in our society, particularly the exposure of the vulnerable, mostly women and children, to it, has become more apparent. It is no coincidence that this has happened when so many of us have been locked down together—in too many cases women with their abusers, and children online, in what can be the most abusive environment you could imagine. We need a focus on well-being as a starting point for building back better and there is no question but that the future must be driven by it.

If we are not going to find new radical ways of thinking that will transform our country and give it resilience now then perhaps we never will. Surely we need to embrace the ambition of becoming a robust well-being society, a country that generates strong economic sustainability with the creation of quality jobs, and with a focus on biodiversity and climate change, fair work, diversity, and a long-term commitment to equality. The noble Lord offers us a helpful template, and we have, in Wales and New Zealand, an ongoing study from which to learn. On the previous Bill, the Minister predictably recognised the implicit value of what the legislation offers but graciously, on behalf of the Government, declined to take advantage of it. In anticipating that he will do the same today, I respectfully ask him to please point us to the alternative that is on offer.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 12:09 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on introducing and sponsoring this all-embracing Bill, which will, if implemented, have far-reaching consequences for the well-being of future generations. I agree with the noble Lord that we do not want the future to be put off. We want an emphasis on the well-being of future generations, and to look at the causes, not the symptoms.

I believe that this comprehensive piece of legislation, which is worthy of our support, encourages a more joined-up approach between government departments. How much the enactment of this legislation, with all its many functions, is required now as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. My noble friend Lord Browne referred to the fragility of our society politically, economically and socially. In fact, even before the pandemic we required this type of legislation which looks at the well-being of future generations. I urge the Government not to set their face against it and to respond to its contents positively through support and rugged determination to show that they are willing to act now to deal with all the challenges facing our society and communities as central and local government and devolved Administrations face the ongoing consequences from Covid. Those include the capacity of the NHS, the ability and capacity of the economy to recover from the downturn brought about by business closures and furlough, the opening up of different types of businesses, people forced to work from home, and the climate emergency, food hunger and food insecurity. In considering those various facets, is it not time that our policy-making took on a different approach, a different way of thinking and a different methodology of implementation? Therefore, we should be looking at the well-being of future generations. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said on an earlier Private Member’s Bill with a similar aim:

“There is a growing consensus that it is time to shift to a longer-term, preventative approach to policymaking. This involves adopting new ways of thinking, planning, and budgeting to ensure that the needs of future generations are respected and taken into account at all levels of government.”

In his submission today, the noble Lord, Lord Bird, encapsulated that viewpoint. I fully support the Bill and hope that the Government see fit to support it too.

Photo of Lord McColl of Dulwich Lord McColl of Dulwich Conservative 12:12 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his inspiring opening speech. One of the most important requirements for future well-being in the secular world is good health. Without good health, the chances of well-being are remote, so I was very pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Moynihan bringing up the subject of good health because the main cause of ill health in the so-called civilised world is obesity caused by putting too many calories into the mouth. The countries with the highest Covid mortalities are the countries with the highest prevalence of obesity, notably the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and other countries. For 15 years there have been repeated warnings in your Lordships’ House of the dangers of the obesity epidemic, and one of the few leaders to take notice was the Prime Minister himself, who urged the nation to deal with obesity and led the way by reducing his weight by 3 stone. If only others had joined his worthwhile campaign.

I am afraid that two-thirds of British people are obese. What is even worse is that half our children are obese. There is little well-being lying in store for them. We urgently need an all-out, nationwide campaign not to tell people what to do, but to make sure that they know the truth if they wish for a well-being future. Obese people have trillions of excessive fat cells and the fat leaks out of them and impairs their immune system. This leaves them susceptible to all kinds of diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, strokes, heart attacks and infections of all kinds, especially Covid. As we are bound to suffer more epidemics, we desperately need to slim down now. That is, if we really want a well-being future.

Photo of Lord Hendy Lord Hendy Labour 12:15 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his Bill which largely follows the Welsh model. Should the Bill reach Committee stage—the noble Lord has not had much luck so far— I hope he, or indeed the Government, will accept some amendments in the footsteps of the Welsh Government, who have a draft social partnership and public procurement (Wales) Bill which is intended to put more meat on the bones of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act.

I draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, two particular features. One is the harnessing of the huge power of public procurement to impose the objects of the Act and the Bill. The other is the emphasis on social dialogue. In particular, the Welsh Bill proposes a tripartite social partnership council composed of government, trade unions and employers. It would be a huge step forward in the United Kingdom for the future, as the TUC has proposed.

I would go further and recommend to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, an amendment making one of the well-being goals in his Bill the restoration of collective bargaining. As my noble friend Lady Blower mentioned, this is part of the scheme in New Zealand. The restoration of collective bargaining is a step essential to the well-being of future generations. In the United Kingdom, from the end of the Second World War to the end of the 1970s, collective bargaining coverage extended to 85% of the British workforce. Now it is less than one-quarter. That means that three-quarters of our 32 million workers have no say over the terms and conditions of their work. The well-being of future generations cannot be secured without them having an industrial democratic input into the conditions of their working lives. This is a step required by international treaties ratified by the United Kingdom and has been urged repeatedly in recent years by the International Labour Organization and the OECD. The Government accepted a commitment in the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU signed last December which states:

“each Party commits to respecting, promoting and effectively implementing the internationally recognised core labour standards, as defined in the fundamental ILO Conventions, which are … freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining” and other things. Last week, this was emphasised in the Carbis Bay declaration by the G7. For the moment, the Bird Bill is a great step forward.

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench 12:19 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, for many years, especially since Beveridge and the advent of the welfare state, we have had an implied social contract between the generations. At some stages in life, you pay into the system through taxes and national insurance contributions, and at other stages in life, society supports you. In recent years, as the idea that the baby boomer generation has benefited disproportionately from public policy through their lifetime has become widespread, this social contract has been increasingly questioned. Many people feel that the present generations of younger people are not receiving the same degree of support from the state or enjoying equivalent living standards as their parents and grandparents at a similar age.

As we consider the increasingly urgent need to develop and implement a sustainable system for funding social care, we must bear the issue of intergenerational fairness clearly in mind if we are to arrive at a system that commands enduring support from the whole of society. To achieve this, it must impact on all generations in a way that the majority of people considers to be fair, and it must give young people confidence that it will be there to support them in future. We need more than a short-term fix to deal with the population bulge represented by the baby-boomer generation.

Sir Andrew Dilnot told the Intergenerational Fairness Forum, which I am delighted to chair, that to date each generation has taken more out of the welfare state than it has contributed. This has been sustainable only because of the growth of GDP over the period since World War II. It raises the question of how much each generation can spend above its lifetime contribution —in truth, probably not more than the trend rate of economic growth, if we are to avoid passing on to future generations an ever-increasing public debt and the interest burden associated with it.

To achieve sustainable and fair funding for social care, the Intergenerational Fairness Forum recommended that a hypothecated, mandatory system of social care insurance should be established. We felt that this would be more equitable and more effective than funding social care through general taxation as we have to date —inadequately, I am afraid. Such a system would protect social care funding during periods of public expenditure constraint and against competing priorities for public expenditure. As contributions would be set at a percentage of income, it would also be a progressive system.

I believe that a social care funding system based on these principles would also adhere to the principles underlying this Bill, which I am pleased to support. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 12:22 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, who is always committed and who I know has done massive work in the intergenerational policy area. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who as always showed himself to be passionate, committed and dedicated. It takes no small effort to bring a measure such as this to your Lordships’ House. There has been a lot of work behind it, so I congratulate him on that.

I believe that this Bill is important and very timely. As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, it owes much to the Welsh example. It places improving well-being and intergenerational concerns centre stage. That is not to say that there are not laws now that do just that, or that we would have difficulty with this new principle being brought in, but it is certainly not true of all measures and policies.

This week the Public Services Select Committee, on which I sit, met two very senior civil servants—high flyers, the brightest and the best, well intentioned, sincere and hard-working. They told the committee that this Government, and indeed successive Governments, have always been committed to preventive measures, early intervention and long-term planning. One has to ask, then: why are we in the situation we are in? There is no doubting the good intentions of successive Governments, but they are far from the reality, alas, in fields as diverse as health, social care, social policy, home policy, justice policy and so on.

We need to take account of the long term—a problem that has beset UK Governments for a long time. I believe that this legislation will certainly help. Two very current crises highlight the importance of this Bill—first, the pandemic. In October 2016 the UK Government held a national pandemic flu exercise. So far, so good. One consequence was that the exercise found there were not enough ventilators. No action was taken; short-termism triumphed. As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, we will need careful, clear forward planning.

Secondly, the climate crisis and the drive to net zero demand imaginative global thinking to deal with this very serious issue. I recall meeting the Prime Minister of Tuvalu before the Paris conference. He told me his nation would cease to exist because it would be overwhelmed by the oceans. Oblivion beckoned. The climate crisis clearly demands action too.

The current generation of youngsters, teenagers and twentysomethings will carry forward the mistakes and inactions of our generation and earlier generations. Let us take the action that helps to alleviate that burden and help plan for the future with this legislation.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 12:26 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for presenting the Bill. He is a great, doughty fighter, and I very much support what is in the Bill.

I have listened carefully to the arguments advanced about what we can and cannot expect and how we can and cannot plan for the unexpected. We need to be very honest about politics, and we are not honest enough in politics. While I subscribe to much in this Bill, the reality is that when the Minister stands up, I expect he will use all the lovely words of comfort but will reject the Bill. The Government will reject this Bill at every stage. If it manages to get through the Lords, time will not be found for it in the Commons. That is my expectation, and that is very much the life that we encounter.

Right at the beginning, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, talked about difficulties in meeting the unexpected. We can recognise that in certain areas there are expectations that will not change, yet we ignore those expectations and often work against them. I am thinking here of the very important part of the Bill, to which I subscribe, on the environment. We are now going through Covid, an experience we have never had before. In the past five years since 2016, with Brexit, we have seen massive changes and government struggling day by day to cope with what is thrown at it—Covid being the ultimate. It was totally unexpected.

If we look at what we have been doing to the planet, is it unexpected that the planet itself, nature and the spirit behind nature will hit back against the human population to try to defend themselves? We have grown from 1.8 billion 100 years ago to 7.4 billion now, and we are projected to go to 10 billion. This is quite unsustainable. COP 26 is coming, but we are not talking about population. Faiths and science will not address the fundamental problem we have of too many people trying to inhabit this planet and damaging it. We will find that the planet in turn will care for itself, as it has always done, and come back at us. For the sake of our children, the one issue we must spend time focusing on, looking to the future and trying to work together, is what needs to be done about the environment and especially world population growth, where changes are needed. The faiths need to address that. If they want to protect God’s planet, they have to do the things that God needs on the planet.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 12:29 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to speak to this Bill, and I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has adopted the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. I shall reflect on the six years that that has been in place, because I live and work in Wales. It has acted as a checklist for public bodies about the way that they behave. It has created an undercurrent of different thinking. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, said, it has built on the model from New Zealand.

The Act set seven goals. The first is to have a resilient country. Many things of course are completely out of our control, and it is to plan for the unexpected, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out, that we need to create the skillset and thinking in the next generation.

The second goal was better health, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has said, which is completely compatible with the Health Foundation paper. The third is greater equality, which fits the Government’s levelling-up agenda. The fourth is to have cohesive communities, supporting each other and improving our relationships all together. The fifth is having a thriving culture, recognising the creativity and identity—in Wales, of course, this includes the language—that creates a community that can be self-supporting.

The sixth goal is to be globally responsible. Has that not just come home? We have an Environment Bill at the moment, and I suggest that that must be completely compatible with this aim. As the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, said, climate change is upon us and staring us in the face.

The seventh goal is prosperity. That goes far wider than money; it is about the value of relationships, of work, of safe housing and of better mental and emotional health, and so on, in our society. My noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd pointed out that the Welsh legislation does not contain duties and enforcements, but that has not stopped the legislation changing thinking.

I hope that this Bill will give us an opportunity to protect children from violence. I would like to see an amendment to provide greater protection to children because, if we repeal the legal defence of “reasonable punishment”, we will do a great deal. The battery of a child cannot be justified on the grounds that it constitutes reasonable punishment. There is strong and consistent evidence from good-quality research that physical punishment is associated with increased childhood aggression and anti-social behaviour.

I hope the Bill has a fair passage through Committee. The future is about today. It cannot be put off into the future, because today does indeed come from the past.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Conservative 12:32 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate, even though I am not keen on Bills that attempt to bind future Parliaments to adopt currently fashionable approaches. They are futile because, mercifully, we cannot bind future Parliaments—and nor should we, because future Parliaments should make policy in the light of the experience, evidence and values of the future, not of the past.

However, I warmed to the Bill’s definition of what it calls the “future generations principle”, which the noble Lord defines as

“acting in a manner which seeks to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

I agree that that is a principle which we should adopt, even though we do not need to enshrine it in law. Sadly, however, we have been doing exactly the opposite. As my noble friend Lady Stroud said, our pandemic policies have sacrificed young people, the next generation, to the benefit of their elders and not-so-betters. Even though children almost never suffer badly from Covid, schools and universities have been closed for much of the time and young people’s education curtailed, at the behest of teachers and parents, and to save granny.

Our climate policy sacrifices the poor of the world today for the benefit of their descendants, who will be far richer, in future. It is true that poor countries are more vulnerable to climate change than rich ones, but they are vulnerable because they are poor. The cure for poverty, and therefore for vulnerability, is economic growth, which requires energy. I do not often quote Lenin with approval, but he did say that the future well-being and prosperity of the workers’ paradise would come about as a result of communism and electricity —and he was half right. It is electricity that you need for growth and economic prosperity, and to make a country more resilient.

To require poor countries to replace cheap fossil fuels with far more expensive and less reliable intermittent renewables, which are several times more costly when you take account of dealing with their intermittency, means that poor countries will be able to invest far less in growth and development and will therefore remain poor for longer. Yet Stern shows that, even on his most pessimistic assumptions that we do nothing to mitigate climate change, people in developing countries will, by such economic growth as is then permitted, be six times richer a century hence than they are now. Why should we prolong the poverty of poor people now in order to make richer people in future generations better off?

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour 12:36 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who is a man of action. I still buy the Big Issue, and a year ago a seller told me how it had turned his life around. I will support the Bill, even though I have doubts about its practicality. Dickens gave us a warning in Little Dorrit about the Circumlocution Office and its ability to obstruct progress.

I make a plea to the noble Lord to choose his examples more carefully. The old mental asylums were appalling places where people were incarcerated for years in appalling conditions. Community healthcare, first introduced by the Italians, was a major step forward. Of course, we need more of it and probably different varieties, but it was a major step forward.

Student fees, contrary to the noble Lord’s assertion, were first introduced by a Labour Government and saw a massive increase in working-class children deciding to go to university—often the first in their family to do so. When the previous Government decided to raise the fees to nearer £9,000, I was a bit concerned, but in fact the statistics showed us that working-class children continued to go to university. Of course we need to review the policy—apprenticeships now also need to be taken into consideration—but we should not ignore the fact that it was an important increase in social mobility.

I also have to take issue with my noble friend Lord Brooke, who referred to population control. The last person who gave that issue major impact was Malthus, who predicted that the world could never survive if the population increased from the then current number. It has of course increased phenomenally. Even the Chinese Government, with their dreadful means of trying to achieve population control, have realised that that is not the right way forward. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, reminded us, there really is a need to remedy the intergenerational compact. Is maintaining the triple lock really fair when we need to be spending more on the younger generation?

I might not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, because I think there are aspects of the Bill that are worth looking at. I remind people that the Environment Bill, even though the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is very sceptical, is an attempt to look forward, provided that we do not set ridiculous targets—some were unfortunately posed in the recent debate on the Environment Bill—and provided that we base our approach on evidence, reckoning that this generation also has to be able to afford advances in the environment.

So we should give further time to the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Bird. Whether or not it proves to be practical, it is worth the effort, for the reasons that a number of noble Lords have given. In these circumstances, I will be supporting it.

Photo of Lord Walney Lord Walney Non-affiliated 12:39 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I refer the House to my entry in the register relating to my role in the levelling-up goals created by Justine Greening. I have three brief points.

First, I add my praise, not only to the inspiring noble Lord, Lord Bird, but to my successor representing Barrow and Furness in the other place, Simon Fell, who introduced the legislation there this week. I used to be dismissive of suggestions about widening the focus of various bodies from a relatively narrow interpretation of economic growth to one of wider well-being. Bluntly, people like me were wrong and we should be grateful to those who have made the running on this issue.

My second point is about how to make that meaningful. I have a note of question and caution on an aspect of the Bill that would introduce the requirement for a fresh set of impact assessments on public bodies. I hope that the likely effectiveness of this measure will be carefully considered in Committee. Impact assessments are a blunt tool, even when applied to well-defined datasets and outcomes. It may well be true that recent Administrations have been sceptical about equality impact assessments because they were less committed than they should have been to equality outcomes. Nevertheless, there is a genuine concern that impact assessments often do not drive better outcomes; they can simply load more bureaucracy on already overburdened and underresourced public bodies. That risk is surely manifold in the area of future well-being, a concept which of course can be contested and is certainly less easy to define.

Finally, have the Bill’s sponsors considered, or might they consider, a role for the National Infrastructure Commission in this endeavour? The noble Lord, Lord Bird, and others have rightly identified the need to tackle the short-termism that blights decision-making here and in democratic nations across the world. The commission was established specifically to counter the way that this short-termism damages major spending projects. It is making some impact but its influence on the political landscape—where, bluntly, the damage is often done—could and should be greater. It strikes me that a formal link between the infrastructure commission and the proposed future generations commissioner could significantly increase the influence of both, to the great benefit of those future generations about whom so many have spoken powerfully today.

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 12:42 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this Second Reading. In doing so, I declare my technology interests as set out in the register. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on bringing the Bill and on the manner in which he introduced it.

How fortunate the House is also to have the perfect Minister to respond at the Dispatch Box to the debate, not only through his role at the Cabinet Office but through his previous chairmanship of the Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, on which I was so privileged to serve. To that end, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the six conclusions that we set out when we published our report in April 2019 still ring true? Further, the future is now and that future is digital. Does he agree that we need to do everything to understand how to have an inclusive digital future—a digital economy and society—in which everybody, now and for future generations, is able to fully participate?

Property is a huge issue to consider. Quantitative easing and other measures have had such a deleterious effect. Does my noble friend agree that for many young people, the property ladder is largely out of rungs? Similarly, pensions as a cast-iron guarantee for retirement have been massively misunderstood in recent years. They have now been raided in terms of the top-end provision and largely wrung out.

I turn to life itself. How can it be that future generations may suffer a lower life expectancy than we will enjoy? To that end, I largely agree with the comments of my noble friends Lord Moynihan and Lord McColl.

Is it time for us to reconsider and reinvigorate the stellar strength of our stewardship of this brilliant, bright blue world, spinning in infinite space? Covid has shown us so much: grandparents and parents taken well before their time, and young people’s futures so severely scarred and in need of desperate repair. We should not take from that the differential impacts; we should look at how we address them but the lesson is surely that we are all in this together. If we can grasp that sense of inclusion for today, perhaps

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow” does not need to creep in at “petty pace” but can come confidently, collectively and connectively into that digitally enabled, inclusive dawn.

As other noble Lords have said, there is much we cannot know about the future but there is much that we can. The most important thing that we can know is this: the future is in our hands. It is in all of our hands.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 12:45 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to rise in this Second Reading to commend the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on this Bill and to offer the Green group’s support with anything we can do take it further forward. While walking down this morning to the House, I was listening to a podcast called “Big Biology”, in which Professor Kevin Gaston from the University of Exeter talked about the ecological impacts of lighting. This relates to a debate on the Environment Bill earlier this week. He was talking about the interactions and how the way we have lit up this planet is causing trees in many places to leaf out a couple of weeks earlier. We also know that the climate emergency is having similar effects. But when he was asked how those two things interact, he said “I just don’t know”.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said that the future is difficult to predict. However, we now have knowledge, which we may not have had in the past, that human actions on this planet are having systematic and extremely deleterious effects, and that they are interacting with each other. We need to take a systems approach to thinking about the impact of all our actions: what impacts they have today but, crucially in the context of this Bill, what impact they will have in future. The Bill is giving us a way of doing that.

We might wonder why we made so many mistakes in the past. The noble Baroness, Lady Blower, referred to plastics. How did we come to put microbeads into large amounts of cosmetics, designed to be washed down the plughole, and not think about where they would go? This is the kind of issue that the Bill addresses.

That is all big, conceptual thinking, but can we deal with this practically? Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, referred to New Zealand, which has a living standards framework that guides everything the New Zealand Treasury does. We have a Committee on Climate Change which, just this week, pointed out that the Government are not being guided by their own legislation in terms of all their policies matching net zero. Again, the Bill is another way of getting at these issues and making sure that they are law.

A number of people referred to the limitations of the Welsh Act and said that this legislation can and should be stronger. I believe that it is. However, a couple of weeks ago I was outside Norwich, standing beside a magnificent oak tree that had been a sapling when Elizabeth I was on the throne. According to the local plans, that oak will soon be in the middle of a motorway—demolished and taken away for it. Just a couple of weeks later, the Welsh Government announced that they were planning to put a moratorium on all new roadbuilding. That is a practical demonstration of what a well-being of future generations Act can achieve. As another noble Lord said, it is about a change in thinking and that is what we so desperately need.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 12:48 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on again securing a debate on the importance of enhancing the chances of future generations. Before I came into this debate, I was in a virtual seminar with children and young people from the UK, Ireland, Belgium and France. They were from primary and secondary schools, and youth organisations, discussing what they would like to know and could do about climate change. They fear for their generation and for generations to come. They were exciting and articulate; they have learned to be confident while expressing their views in reasoned argument. This is what the future generations, with encouragement and support, are eager to do.

I would like this debate and the Bill to persuade the Government to develop a practical but inspirational strategy for children and young people; they are the future generations. By children, I mean those who are 18 and under, and by young people I mean those around 18 to around 25. I ask the Government to take another look at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the UK in 1991: a strategy for children could build on that. Wales will incorporate the convention into its legislation, and Scotland intends to do so. Any strategy for children must incorporate the rights, as stated in the UN convention, to education, health, the arts, culture, good parenting, a social life and sport. Education should include learning about resilience skills and what makes good relationships. Children need play, protection from harm—including online harm—and the skills to reject what might be harmful.

Strategies that remain relevant to people’s lives must seek out the views of people, including children. We have some good bases for doing this. The voluntary sector for children, the royal colleges, local government and academics are producing reports, seminars and briefings on what is best for children and on child participation. We have had the inspiring Leadsom report on the early years and other government initiatives, but where do they go? How are they monitored?

A strategy for children would stretch across many government departments, with their own plans but with the single focus of child well-being. It would need co-ordination and co-operation in all structures. Inspiring and exciting things could happen, as they sometimes do now, although we often do not know about them. For example, I learned last week that the DCMS is fostering youth involvement in democracy with “young inspectors” and school councils—how many people know about that? I did not. Strategy needs structure, with aims, targets and monitoring of the results, whatever its subject. It needs someone in charge, who can drive things forward, while consulting others. This is why so many of us here, and beyond Parliament, are asking for a Minister for children at Cabinet level. Well-planned and co-ordinated practical measures are needed to respond to the possibilities of the future and to help our children.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Conservative 12:52 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, when you are the 33rd speaker and the final Back-Bench speaker, it is always a bit of a challenge to make a contribution that does not trespass on the Whips’ motto that everything needs to be said but not everyone needs to say it, so with my three minutes, I will focus on three brief points about why I very much support and welcome the Bill. I will also try to squeeze in two or three ways in which I believe that it could be strengthened.

The first reason why the Bill is necessary is that we have an outstanding generation of children and young people, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has talked about. I speak as a parent and grandparent, but, beyond that, I think that this generation is one that we can rightly be proud of. We often bemoan the future—or the young—generations, but, when tested during this pandemic, their adherence to and observance of the rules has been inspirational, even though they have sacrificed and surrendered most. It is worthy of our admiration and thanks, particularly because, statistically, they were going to suffer least from the pandemic’s effect. They were acting out of a desire to protect older generations, who were going to suffer more. It is worth embarking on efforts to build back better for them.

The second reason is a sense of responsibility. I am part of a generation that has been blessed with many good things. We have been able to build our way to prosperity without having to worry about pollution, though we are now waking up to the cost of that. We have been damaging our planet and environment, and we will leave it to future generations to respond to that. We have had the benefit of affordable homes and building up equity in them, of final-salary pension schemes and of having our higher education costs paid for, so we have a responsibility.

My final point is that foresight is a good practice in government. It is worth pausing for one moment to be thankful for Beveridge and his 1942 cross-party report, and to be thankful for the vision of Aneurin Bevan in leading the creation of the NHS. To bring this a little bit up to date, it is also worth being thankful to Theresa May for announcing the biggest ever injection into the NHS in 2018, risking the ire of many in her own party—how thankful we are that she did that. Those are three reasons why we should go ahead with the Bill.

The reasons I would call for restraint are these: some of the costs set out, the complexity of the consulting mechanisms and the financial implications. Otherwise, I welcome the Bill and wish it a safe passage.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Chair, Youth Unemployment Committee, Chair, Youth Unemployment Committee 12:55 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bates. I agree entirely with what he has just said. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for the opportunity afforded by his Private Member’s Bill, which I warmly welcome for both its proposals and its timeliness. It offers a resetting of how we construct public policy, and, for that reason, it is to be strongly welcomed. I hope that the Minister will speed the Bill and give the principles behind it government support.

On the timeliness of the Bill, the Covid pandemic has brought a number of policy issues to the fore, meaning that the concept of well-being must now become more central to public policy-making. I am pleased that the Today for Tomorrow report is being launched next week, with the ambition of putting long-term planning in place for public policy decisions today. I venture to suggest that, had we been doing that, we would not have had the rise in poverty, particularly child poverty, now being experienced. We would not have the crisis over unaffordable housing for so many people on low incomes. We might not have had such a serious pensions crisis, which is now facing so many younger people, or the wide gap in access to broadband or catch-up funding for young people who have missed substantial parts of their education in recent months.

Well-being requires clear goals in relation to an individual: having good educational opportunities and the security of a decent home and job. But it also needs to reflect places, such as rural areas, where house prices are very high, where there is substantial fuel poverty and where the cost of transport is high for those who live there to reach further education or work. That is one example of the importance of place, and I hope that we explore it further in Committee.

We know that future forecasting can be difficult, but we should have known that a pandemic would be likely to reduce employment for those in temporary employment or the gig economy. We should note that three-quarters of job losses in the last year are among the under-35s—yet we seem to have been unprepared for that.

I see the Bill not as anti-democratic but as enabling us to understand better the impact of today’s policy decisions on the future and future generations. We would benefit from the Bill, perhaps after it is strengthened in Committee. We do equality and environmental impact assessments, which make a difference. Surely we should now be undertaking well-being assessments to inform our understanding of our policy decisions today and their impact on tomorrow.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 12:59 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on reintroducing this Bill on hardwiring into policy-making the future interests of generations. As he said, we cannot have the future continuously put off. Of course, the fundamental question is how to overcome the short-termism in policy development that is inherent in democracies. Perhaps it is simply human nature for Ministers to give limited consideration to making decisions in the now that may not come to fruition until long after they have left office. If that is indeed a natural human trait, for the sake of the well-being of future generations it is one that absolutely must change.

The Bill would place a duty on public bodies to produce future generations impact assessments and would give the Office for Budget Responsibility a wider remit to publish a future generations risk assessment, effectively placing a cost on not taking the necessary action. The Intergenerational Foundation, a non-party political charity that works to protect the interests of younger and future generations, recently reported on how government spending is skewed against the young. It found that the gap in the amount of money that Governments spend on an older person compared to that spent on a child has doubled in this century; almost £20,000 is now spent annually on each pensioner, but less than £15,000 on each child. Compounding this disparity is the wealth of evidence that investments made in a child’s first five years improve their health, well-being and economic future throughout their lives. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, said that the main cause of ill health was obesity. I hesitate to contradict an eminent physician, but the main cause of ill health is poverty; obesity is largely a symptom of poverty. Without high-quality early years care and education available to all three and four year-olds, the Government risk the future of the youngest children, creating issues for them that will be costly to put right in later life. That does not make good economic sense.

In March, the Government commissioned the Leadsom report, to which my noble friend Lord Blunkett, referred, highlighting six action areas which it said were key to improving the health outcomes of babies and young children. Crucially, however, it made no mention of the additional resources required to achieve those outcomes. If a preventive approach to policy-making was taken by government, children up to five would be well-supported, with their future well-being and economic success greatly enhanced. If they supported early years adequately, the futures of two generations could be secured. The Government know what is needed to solve this problem and are simply choosing not to do so. Perhaps if the growing calls, including by my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, today, for a Minister for Children with the right to attend Cabinet were answered, that message might be not simply heard but understood.

I doubt that the call from my noble friend Lord Hendy for an increase in workplace collective bargaining will find favour with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, who remarkably claimed that capitalism is the answer to the issues identified in the Bill. Were that the case, there would be no need for the Bill. I endorse my noble friend’s words: dignity at work and fair pay are vital aspects of helping people to help themselves, which is why collective bargaining is one of President Biden’s priorities.

Some 1.5 million people in England had less than £100 in savings prior to the pandemic, so it is critical that we support the next generation to develop positive savings habits and money mindsets by investing in and prioritising financial education in primary school. Money habits and financial attitudes are generally formed around age seven, but financial education is still not a compulsory part of England’s primary school curriculum. The KickStart Money financial education programme has reached over 20,000 primary age children, with independent evaluation showing that two out of three have now begun working towards a savings goal after the lessons. There is surely a lesson there for the Department for Education.

There is also the critical issue of children’s mental health, with the pandemic having taken a heavy toll among school-age children. In January this year, the Government published a White Paper called Reforming the Mental Health Act, containing a summary of proposals that could constitute the first changes to that Act in four decades—but none of the proposals aims to provide support for children and young people before they reach a point of crisis.

The voice of children should be heard in debates such as this; they are not slow in letting us know their views on the issue overarching literally everything else when considering the future well-being of generations—and that is, of course, climate change. Many noble Lords have made the case for action and have done so powerfully and convincingly. I want to signify my own support for their urgings and to highlight the fact that I am not alone in being extremely concerned at the lack of urgency shown by the Government. That was emphasised as recently as yesterday, when their own independent advisers, the Climate Change Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, scored the Government nine out of 10 on their targets but somewhere below four out of 10 on their efforts to meet them.

A new net-zero strategy was expected earlier this year but has been delayed until the autumn, leaving little time before the COP 26 conference. A new heat and building strategy is also promised but has also been delayed. I believe that the Government also need to demonstrate how their environment and planning Bills will help to cut emissions. Every new government policy should be subject to a net-zero test to prove that it is compatible with the overarching climate target. No doubt the Minister will rebuff such calls on the grounds of cost, but my response to that would be to ask whether he has examined the cost of not taking effective action.

The Welsh Government became the first part of the UK to enshrine the rights of future generations into law, which led to Labour’s 2019 manifesto containing a commitment to introduce a future generations well-being Bill. When answering a debate proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in your Lordships’ House in March 2020, the Minister said that the Government must examine the Welsh model. Have the Government done that?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I remind the noble Lord that there is an advisory speaking time of three minutes—he has done double that.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I was informed by the Whips’ Office that I had seven minutes. I shall finish in one sentence. The Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, offers England the opportunity to build on those experiences. It is heartening that, with very few exceptions, noble Lords in today’s debate all heartily support its ends. I wish the Bill well.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee 1:05 pm, 25th June 2021

My Lords, as always I welcome the contribution from Her Majesty’s Opposition. The only demur I would have is that at the end we got back into referring to political parties. One of the interesting things about this very distinguished debate is that the names of political parties, except for one reference in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, have scarcely been mentioned at all. That exemplifies the point that we all have a common interest here: I do not believe that anybody comes into this House or the other place, or the humblest parish council in the land, who does not have the aspiration of doing his or her best not only for this generation but for future generations. That is the motivation that has created the great political parties of this land and kept their hearts beating over generations.

Therefore, I very much welcome the tone of the debate. As some noble Lords anticipated, I shall not be able on behalf of the Government to support the mechanism, and I shall come to that shortly. I declare a past interest, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, who both served with me on your Lordships’ Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision. Of course, I avow that committee and give assent to its collective deliberations, and I give assent to the collective deliberations of Her Majesty’s Government, for whom I speak.

In doing so, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his work on the Bill, his success in introducing it and getting first place once more this time and, of course, his distinguished career as a passionate advocate and campaigner for reducing poverty, which we all admire. I think that the noble Lord was misheard when he spoke about mental health institutions—those terrible places, where once my father was incarcerated. He was not defending those; he was talking about their potential replacement, and I agree with him on that.

There is always a balance between the long term and short term in policy-making, and this is considered by the Government and by all Governments, and will continue to be considered. My noble friend Lord Bates referred to the NHS, in which we all take pride and which we all salute. Of course, the NHS and the welfare state was envisaged by Beveridge as an insurance-based institution that would build up over time. The great Labour Government after the Second World War took the view that this was something that must be introduced now, for the present generation. That was an example of trying to weigh the long term against the short term.

Other noble Lords—it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Bird—mentioned mines. I grew up in the great mining county of Nottinghamshire. When I was young, my mother bleached the whites over coal and we heated the house with coal; I warmed my clothes, before I went off to school on a frosty morning, in front of a coal gas fire. That was our way of life. Along came the Clean Air Acts, in the interests of future generations, and air quality swept away that way of life. That was an interest made in the interests of future generations which had an impact on the present. Those kinds of tensions and challenges go on all the time in policy making.

The question is over the mechanisms in the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, which are quite far-reaching and specific. As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, my noble friends Lord Moylan and Lord Flight, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, and others, there is a balance to be found on the question of legislation and on the question of ensuring how we think about future generations. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, had a particularly interesting and balanced speech on that.

There is no single view, and one of the problems of creating a commission with the statutory enforcement powers that are proposed and which is made up of people who would serve for seven years is that it may embed a particular view of the future. Is not the purpose of politics, of Parliament and of this House for distinct views to come together here to debate and consider the future? We and the public bodies that are responsible to Parliament must have that place in reconciling differences of opinion. The Government share the scepticism around imposing a statutory frame- work, so I express our reservations about the Bill, although, having heard the fascinating debate today, I look forward to further discussion in Committee.

The Bill is very broad in its scope and nature, and we do not see that as the best way forward. The Government are committed to, and are already, delivering sustainable long-term action in the environmental, economic and social well-being spheres both now and for generations to come. We have heard discussion of Covid, and the Government have of course set out their aspirations and plans in terms of levelling up, using—as the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, referred to —the opportunities as well as the challenges and problems presented by the Covid crisis to build back better for all citizens. We will publish a landmark levelling-up White Paper later this year, which I hope will set out bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity in all parts of the United Kingdom.

I ask noble Lords to cast their minds back just a couple of weeks to the G7 summit, hosted here in the UK, and the shared commitment from global leaders, led by the UK, to building back better for a more equal, environmentally friendly world for future generations. That is something to which this Government are committed and give their full support.

There is already in place a requirement for public servants to take account of the Government’s wider goals when designing and implementing policy. That is fully expressed in Her Majesty’s Treasury’s Green Book guidance to policy officials about how to maximise the social value of public spending and therefore improve outcomes for the public. The Green Book sets out government guidance on the design, appraisal and approval of new public spending in terms of optimising social—that is, public—welfare. Many aspects of social policy have been referred to in this debate, including the importance of concern for children, which so many noble Lord stressed.

The debate is not so much about ends, on which most noble Lords have spoken and where the Government are on the same page, but about mechanisms; it is here that the Government have reservations about whether the legislation as set out by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, would be practicable and effective. For example, the Bill provides for the creation of a number of public bodies including, as I have already referred to, a very powerful future generations commission. The Government’s policy is that new arm’s-length bodies should be created only if there is a clear and pressing requirement—a clear need for the state to provide the function or service through such a new body, with no viable alternative. We are not convinced that the aims of this Bill meet the criteria, given the concern for the future that is embedded in the mechanisms of government policy-making. The creation of such a body could in fact leave departments off the hook, by outsourcing the thinking on this subject.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, referred to enforceability and extolled the potential role of the courts—as well he might. However, from our point of view, it is hard to see how legal enforceability would work in practice in relation to duties in this Bill.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, my noble friend Lord Bourne, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and others all referred to the Welsh example. We will no doubt examine this closely in Committee. Supporters of the legislation consider it ground-breaking in the United Kingdom context to require public bodies to take a long-term view that might not come naturally; detractors see it as bureaucratic and unnecessary, a blunt tool that shoehorns longer-term thinking into a prescribed process. I am sure that we will explore whether it is a drag on policy in terms of bureaucracy or whether it has an advantage.

Regarding the longer term, many noble Lords referred to climate change. We are committed to the COP 26 conference later this year, which I hope will satisfy people ofthe concern and long-term intentions of the Government regarding sustainable goals and a sustainable world.

I hope that, if not today then in Committee, I can assure noble Lords of the Government’s commitment to long-term thinking. Despite the reservations that I have expressed about the statutory nature of what is proposed, I take the opportunity to repeat my personal admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Bird, his outstanding work and the very thoughtful debate that he provoked and which his Bill will no doubt continue to provoke in the months ahead.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 1:15 pm, 25th June 2021

I thank noble Lords for getting behind this debate. It has been very interesting; I have learned an awful lot. I learned that I am anti-democratic in nature from my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. I remind him that those railways that were built ran into the sand in 1936, when Stanley Baldwin had to rescue them and nationalise the railways, the first big industry that was nationalised. I am also really glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, brought in Lenin, because I can now remind the House that Lenin said—appositely, in my opinion:

“The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them”.

There is an element—is there not?—that if we rely on the market in the way that things go, we will move inexorably towards a much worse world, in which we fail 37% of our children at school and fail when it comes to biodiversity. Our consciousness of the environment over the past 50 years has increased enormously, yet 50% of all the damage ever done has been done in the past 50 years. It took us thousands of years, up to 1970, to do half the damage. In spite of our having committed Governments, reports and thousands of organisations created to look at saving the world for our children, we still have a situation where things are getting worse for our children and the quality of life they lead. A lot of them, including my own children, are led by the domination of their digital separation from each other. There are all sorts of problems like that, and I do not think we can leave it simply to a Government—any Government—to put on a kind of patina, a surface of future.

I have spoken to Ministers and I can tell noble Lords that they nearly always say, “We take the future into account”, and I say, “I’m sorry, I don’t believe you’re really embracing the needs of today”. What is happening with the people I work with, the homeless? I am sorry to return again to something I keep bringing up in this House, but we are facing one of the biggest crises of homelessness we have ever seen. Some 800,000 people are facing eviction because they are behind on their rent and 200,000 children are sofa surfing. That was not the case 30 years ago, when I started the Big Issue. Things got better, and then they got worse. Maybe we are going to leave it to cycles.

I just want to say that I think there is an urgency. I wanted this brought forward with urgency. What my organisation will be doing, and what I will be doing as an individual, is going around the country and stirring the people up, so that we have extra-parliamentary arguments as well as parliamentary arguments, because it is not working. When I go up north, I see the damage that was done because we did not replace the industries we destroyed. Then I look at the mental health situation. I am no defender of mental asylums—I have been to many of them, with members of my family and people I have worked with, and I would never defend them—but it is indefensible to close something and provide nothing to replace it. We did that in the north, we did that in the Midlands, we did that with the coal mines and we did it to our mentally ill. I am sorry to say that we have done it to our children. If a child today presents with mental problems at school, they may wait three, six or nine months to be handled, because there is no real provision for children with mental health problems.

I am also a very badly beaten child; that subject was returned to. I have spent the whole of my life struggling with the problems of what happened to me as a child. I meet ever more children who are going through that now, and that is what I want to avoid. I beg to move.

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

Sitting suspended.