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Politics

Lord John Bird’s Future Generations Bill is “the start of a movement”

The draft legislation was introduced to MPs and peers in a packed House of Lords reception as it secured the back of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Future Generations

The Future Generations Bill received a rapturous reception at its House of Lords unveiling as Lord John Bird’s campaign gathered pace.

The Big Issue founder declared to a packed room of MPs and peers that his draft legislation was “the start of a movement” at the parliamentary briefing. The Future Generations All-Party Parliamentary Group closed the meeting by giving the bill, which is due to receive its second reading at the House of Lords on March 13, their full endorsement.

The event attracted politicians from across the political party spectrum, including the bill’s House of Commons sponsor Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, Lib Dem Wera Hobhouse, Conservative peer Lord Nick Bourne, crossbencher Lord Michael Hastings and Labour peer Baroness Ruth Lister.

And Lord Bird told them that he was in the House of Lords to “dismantle poverty” and “prevent creating the next generation of Big Issue vendors”.

The crossbench peer said: “It’s time to rethink how we plan for the long-term, and that involves rewiring how our democracy works.

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“My Future Generations Bill offers a way to level up opportunity between current and future generations. It’s a chance to build a country we all want to live in.

“This bill is the start of a movement.”

The aim of Lord Bird’s bill is to revolutionise how laws and budgets are made in the UK by requiring policies to enhance the environmental, economic, social and cultural wellbeing of current and future generations.

As well as creating a ‘future generations test’ for all new policy changes, Lord Bird’s bill calls for (a citizens’ assembly-agreed) wellbeing goals for the whole country to work towards, creates a UK Future Generations Commissioner to act as a guardian for the unborn, sets up a Committee on Future Generations in Parliament, and requires budgets to measure and increase their preventative spending.

The bill is modelled on the existing Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 and the Welsh Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe also attended the event and shared her experience of the Welsh act. Howe explained to UK politicians how her role had scrutinised motorway extensions, rail franchises and future of GCSEs and faced questions on how Lord Bird’s bill would deal with devolution and diversity.

She said: “The UK’s intergenerational divide is crying out for a solution to ensure that politicians test the impact of policies on future generations.

“Never has there been a greater need for legislation similar to the groundbreaking Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 covering the UK Government.”

Professor Daniella Tilbury, Gibraltar’s Commissioner for Sustainable Development, also spoke of her efforts to bring sustainability and long-term thinking to the island at the event.

Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees was among the attendees impressed by the bill.

He told The Big Issue: “You have to accept that it is very hard for private members bills to get through all the hurdles, but I think that this meeting is a very good start.

“We have to realise that we are moving towards a world where there is a risk of dystopian trends and we must ensure that the views of young people are properly represented.

“This bill will have the effect of making people think about the long-term issues.”

Today’s event gave the Future Generations Bill another boost in its bid to move through parliament. The Big Issue’s Today for Tomorrow campaign has already attracted plenty of backing from politicians with 72 MPs, including all the main party leaders, took The Big Issue’s Future Generations Pledge.

Lucas was one of the MPs to take the pledge — while the Green Party she represents also included the bill in their election manifesto.

She told The Big Issue: “This bill has the potential to transform the way we are governed, removing the overriding focus on GDP as a measure of success, and shifting instead to wellbeing. This huge cultural change will take time, but our Future Generations Bill starts us on that journey.”

Images: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

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