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Big Issue founder’s Future Generations Bill returns to the House of Lords

Peers got the chance to debate the Lord John Bird's Future Generations Bill for the first time at Friday’s second reading

Future generations bill john bird

Big Issue founder Lord Bird. Image credit: Impact Hub/Flickr

Peers will debate Lord John Bird’s Future Generations Bill in the House of Lords for the first time on Friday as the draft legislation is given a second reading.

The Big Issue founder’s private member’s bill is aiming to shake up decision-making in Westminster, bringing long-term thinking to issues such as poverty and climate change by introducing wellbeing targets that consider the impact of choices on generations to come.

In total, 37 peers will speak in the two-hour debate on the bill, which is inspired by legislation already in place in Wales, on Friday.

Opening the debate, Lord Bird said: “I would like you to imagine how you approach a government, any government, and when you speak to them they always say they take the future into account. They always say actually what we’re doing is probably enough.

“I say actually we need to do more with the future because the future is always being postponed. This is the problem I have: how do I get the Conservative government to seriously look at the future in the way that the Welsh are seriously looking at the future? And at the same time trying to keep them onside and befriending them and being nice to them and kind to them and thoughtful and never ever telling them off.

He added: “I want this bill to be about the future today, I don’t want the future to be continually put off.”

Watch the debate on the Future Generations Bill here

The bill received the backing of peers from across the political spectrum.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett was among the bill’s supporters, he told the chamber “avoiding the tragedy of mistakes of the past involves us examining what we’re doing in a mode of thought”. Labour peer Blunkett cited the end of Sure Start centres and the Education Maintenance Allowance – better known as EMA and paid to college age students to support their education – as two examples of how the bill could have stepped in.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Conservative counterpart Lord Michael Bates backed the bill after being inspired by young people of today.

Lord Bates said: “When tested during the pandemic their adherence to rules even though they have sacrificed and surrendered most has been inspirational and worthy of our admiration and thanks.

“It is worth us embarking on efforts to build back better for them.”

Lord Bates was not the only one to cite the UK government slogan. Non-affiliated peer Baroness Pola Uddin also said the bill would “integrate into the levelling up and building back better agenda”.

However, Lord Nicholas True, the minister representing the Cabinet Office, said the UK government is “sceptical” that the mechanisms of the bill would boost wellbeing.

Lord True said: “We all have a common interest here. I don’t believe there is anybody coming into this house, the other place or the humblest parish council in the land who does not have the aspiration of doing their best for not only this generation but future generations as well.

“I, therefore, welcome very much the tone of the debate but I won’t be able, on behalf of the government, to support the mechanism.”

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill, as it is officially known, also aims to hold public bodies, including government bodies, to account on how they hit environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing goals.

The bodies will be required to carry out impact assessments and account for preventative spending to stop future generations being affected by decisions made today.

If the bill makes it into law unamended, a Future Generations Commission will be set up to assess progress as well as extending the duty of the Office of Budget Responsibility to consider wellbeing and the future generations principle in their work.

The draft legislation is attempting to make it into law for a third time after the 2019 General Election and the pandemic ended its progress. Lord Bird introduced the bill to the Lords in the current parliamentary session on May 20.

This time the bill is being given priority status for the limited parliamentary time available to debate private members’ bills after Lord Bird was among the first to be drawn in the House of Lords bill ballot.

The Future Generations Bill was also introduced into the House of Commons on June 21 via a presentation bill from Barrow MP Simon Fell. Fell read out the title of the bill in the chamber to give the draft legislation its first reading before MPs get their first chance to debate the bill on September 10.

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