Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I should like to begin this discussion about future generations with an observation about myself. I started my social intervention work very much in the world of emergency responses to a social crisis called homelessness. I spent an enormous amount of time working on trying to perfect my ability to be a damn good intervener in the crisis of homelessness as it presented itself on the streets of London and other cities, and subsequently in other parts of the world. I began at the sharp end of things, where the problem presented itself at its most acute. People were on the streets for myriad reasons. I would say, “Let’s remove them from the streets but, first of all, let’s stop them committing crime”. We had to get them away from wrongdoing through shoplifting, prostitution or aggressive begging. That is where I started, and that is important because I want to take the House on a journey to show why I ended up with the future when, at one stage, I was very much in the present.
To some extent, the only reason I was in the present was because the past had failed. The people you met on the streets were those who had accumulated all sorts of problems in their pasts. That presented itself as an inability to find a place to live and an inability to function in the economy, have a family with children and to lead a rich and healthy life. The crisis was where I began: in a very myopic, small-minded but essential place to be, because that is where the crisis is. You could say that I was a kind of one-man Médecins Sans Frontières. I revolted against many other people who were working with the homeless as though they were very difficult—almost as though they represented a cocktail of social failure. They were dealing with that, but I said that the first thing we had to do was get them out of the sticky stuff. We had to get them away from crime and wrongdoing. We had to take them away from violating other people in order to violate themselves because many of them had drink and drug problems.
As I reported in the article I wrote for House magazine, I was asked by the Times what I was going to do after 10 years of the Big Issue. I said that I was kind of sick of continuously mending broken clocks. What I wanted to do was to prevent those clocks breaking in the first instance. That is a bit of rhetoric because it was so difficult to talk to anyone about prevention. It was very difficult to talk to Her Majesty’s Government, of whatever political shade, when you said, “Why do we not move more towards prevention? Why do we not put an enormous amount of money and effort into prevention? Why do we not try to prevent the problem happening so that we do not have to clean it up?”
Anyway, after many years I developed a methodology called PECC—prevention, emergency, coping and cure. It was the simplest and dumbest methodology; all it meant was that when you encountered a social intervener, you could say, “What are they? Are they a preventer, are they emergency, are they coping or are they cure? Or are they all of those?” Very few organisations cover them all. Some 80% of the money spent on social intervention goes on emergencies. Human beings are brilliant when things go wrong. We are so clever, but our entire philosophical thinking is based on responding to the horse when it has suddenly left the stable.
I am sorry about this rather long and turgid introduction—noble Lords will know all this about me—but I was cheesed off by that. When I entered the House of Lords I said that I had come to this place to dismantle poverty. That is a bit like saying that I came here to give us a permanent summer and we will all live wonderful lives. I came here to prevent poverty and to dismantle it. I can tell noble Lords that no Administration has ever got that one right. Most Administrations are always ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving. I sit on the Cross Benches and take my Cross Bench-ness very seriously. All my friends are rank Tories—sorry—or divine Labourites. I mix and match with everyone. I do not really care about the nomenclature of people’s political positions, largely because in my work I have been hurt and helped by the right and hurt and helped by the left. It comes and goes, but I came here to dismantle poverty.
If you analyse the work of this House and the other place, you can see from the figures, which are not mine, that around 70% of our time, effort, energy and resources goes into the question of poverty. When we look at poverty, in this country we might be talking about between 20% and 22% of adults and 33% of our children. We are talking about a minority, but an incredibly large one. The world works for quite a number of people, certainly the majority, but that section—we are hyper- ventilating about how large it is—takes up 70% of our work. It ties every one of us up in one way or another. We worry about the size of that minority.
I do not think we can find a way of doing anything about poverty unless we reinvent the future and bring it forward to today. Unless we can find a methodology and the laws to go with it, I do not think we are going anywhere. If anybody asks me, “Having started in poverty, why do you now go on about climate change and all sorts of erudite things for the person on the streets who is suffering?”, I say that if we want to stop having our streets filled up with the most needy, we need to embrace tomorrow now as well as doing the Médecins Sans Frontières thing—creating brilliant emergency responses. We have to engage with the future.
I was blessed by wandering around on many occasions and sleeping—rough, I have to say—in virtually all the shires. That is how I got to know Great Britain, as it was then, before it became the United Kingdom. I spent quite a bit of time in Wales. I like Wales, because—
You cannot but love the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. I have spent a bit of time in Wales. Just after the Brexit referendum, I heard that the Welsh Assembly was interested in looking at what we were doing on PECC and considering whether projects were about prevention, emergency, coping or cure. If somebody wanted to invest their money, they would do so on the basis of wanting to get people out of poverty rather than making them comfortable. The Welsh Assembly was looking at this on the basis of wanting to save money, because it realised that after Brexit there would possibly not be so much money around, considering that it gets a shedload of money from Europe. I was touched by that, because it took it on and talked to me as though I were a grown-up—and that is wonderful when you are not a grown-up.
The other thing is that all this information started to come down about the idea of future generations legislation. It was passed into law, and there is a future generations commission. We started to work with it and to look at what it was doing. Every one of my questions about preventing our need to spend 70% of our time and energy on handling the problems of maybe 20% to 30% of the people in this country was answered by the future generations legislation and commission in Wales. Wales is leading the way in the world, I have to say—
Please, can we throw out some of these Welsh people? One of the countries of the United Kingdom—I describe it as a bijou economy—had the space, time, energy and desire to change the way it encountered the future by creating the future generations legislation. This was everything I wanted to do. I could actually go home; all I needed to do was turn the UK Welsh. How about that?
Excellent. That is my thinking. I hope we open a debate today. I am really pleased that we have such a long list of people who will begin to talk about how we need future generations legislation and how we need to change the way we budget, change the way we supply our children with education, and stop doing ridiculous things such as closing libraries or making it impossible for our bookshops. We are destroying the intellectual space on our high streets; what are we going to do about that? Preventive spending on future generations is the way forward.
In a way, I have come here today only to start the ball rolling. I will be inaugurating a Private Member’s Bill. I had one a few years back about the need to give honesty and integrity to people in need who were paying so much for their credit. What I really want to do now is move the argument on. Let us embrace the future and not be frightened of it. If we do not do what we have to do—embrace the future and look carefully at the legislation carried out in Wales, the commission and its first four or five years—we are missing a major chance.
We have a real problem: we are not the only ones hyperventilating about the future. The public is hyperventilating more. My 12 year-old daughter, who has organised strikes about the environment, is hyperventilating. My 14 year-old son, my 43 year-old son, my 53 year-old daughter and my 42 year-old daughter—everyone around me—are hyperventilating and getting excited about the possibility of changing the future, and that means we have to bring the future nearer. The best methodology is to adopt a future generations Act.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bird, is not only a damn good intervener but a hard act to follow. I thank him not only for initiating this debate but for another powerful speech. As a member of the recently reported ad hoc Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak. Given the subject matter, I am rather surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and I are the only ones from that committee.
Younger and older generations have always been politically different. The old saying that, “If you are not a socialist when you are young, you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when you are old, you have no head”, is by no means a new concept, but today this alignment of political intentions has reached extraordinary extremes. Some 83% of Conservative voters are now said to be over the age of 45 and apparently just 4% are under the age of 24. The age at which you are more likely to vote Conservative than Labour is apparently 51. Before the 2017 election campaign, this was just 34. In two years the tipping-point age has increased by 17 years. This is not a problem just for the Conservative Party, though. A sizeable proportion of older voters will now not even consider voting Labour, imposing a hard electoral ceiling and threatening that party longer term as the population ages.
This is a dramatic shift and a reflection of the disillusionment young people feel with politics today. As we uncovered in our recent Tackling Intergenerational Unfairness report, the millennial generation is likely to end up worse off than their parents—the first such generation—as may the generations that follow. The concerns and interests of young people have never been more important, just as their prospects have never looked quite as challenging.
As a House with plenty of wisdom but rather lacking in younger voices, including in today’s debate—although I am glad to see some younger viewers in the Gallery—we must seek to represent them by listening and learning from them, as we did when taking evidence. In the few minutes that I have, I will look at the economy, education and the environment and I will lean on the research report, Generation Why?, published by the think tank Onward.
Members on the Benches opposite may claim that they stand up for young people’s interests. Noble Lords may say that young people want an interventionist state with high public spending and high taxes. However, polling evidence shows that 18 to 24 year-olds are most in favour of keeping taxes low—more than any other age group. Some 58% of 18 to 24 year-olds want the Government to balance public finances and to live within their means. Those of the next generation, and Generation Z in particular, are not some homogenous lefty block, but a complex and thoughtful section of the electorate who largely, even if they do not know it, support centre-right policies.
When Tony Blair set the 2001 target for over 50% of young people to go to university, many saw it as a bold and positive vision. However, as shown by another Onward report, A Question of Degree, a decade after graduation a 10th of current undergraduates will earn less than £25,000, and 83% of student loans will never be paid back in full. The system not only saddles young people with debt that can loom over them for decades, but the lack of income return from many university degrees means that the taxpayer bears the brunt of this broken system. It is therefore no surprise that 44% of people think that too many people go to university, as opposed to 25% who say not enough. University is not for everyone and, as our report recommends and as evidence we took showed, we should prioritise apprenticeships and retraining. The importance of skills and vocational education was one of the key conclusions. The labour market is changing and much more investment is needed in both vocational education and lifelong learning to prepare younger generations for a 100-year life.
As we have seen from the recent Extinction Rebellion protests and the visit of Greta Thunberg to the UK, protecting the environment is crucial. For us Conservatives, there should be a clue in our name. It is no surprise that 18 to 24 year-olds rate concern about environmental issues in the top three challenges facing Britain today. We are the first major economy to make a commitment to a net zero emissions target, which follows our impressive record on emissions reduction since 2010. However, a target must be followed by a clear plan of actionable and affordable policy which will allow us to achieve this. We cannot protect the interests of future generations if we cannot protect the natural world in which they will live.
As a country, we are at a critical moment in our history. We must listen to what young people are saying and find out what they are thinking. We must prioritise jobs, housing, the environment and education, because if we do not grasp this opportunity to win over the next generation with a positive vision for the future, our political system will not survive, and nor will it deserve to.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on having secured this debate and on his characteristically forceful introduction. My approach is a bit more macrocosmic than his, but I hope that it slots in.
The American satirist Yogi Berra once said:
“The future ain’t what it used to be”.
It was intended as a flippant remark, but it actually pinpoints crucial aspects of our society today. Throughout 99% of the human past, the future was indeed mostly what it used to be. For thousands of years, through the rise and fall of numerous civilisations, the vast majority of people lived much the same as their forefathers had done. Only about 200 years ago, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, it all changed, and it has progressively speeded up. In the 21st century, we live in a world of dizzying transformation. Do not believe those who say that globalisation has come to a halt. Especially with the advent of digital communication, this is far and away the most connected and interdependent world ever.
There are two sides to this. The opportunities are huge. Think of the example of China, which has moved not far short of 1 billion people out of grinding poverty in some 40 years. The risks, however, are at least as great and some of them are truly global. Moreover, most of these cannot be assessed or responded to in terms of the accumulated knowledge of the past, because they are too new. Here indeed, the future ain’t what it used to be. They include humanly induced climate change, nuclear war, global population increase, economic crisis on a global level and others, plus of course the overlap of all of those. By any reckoning, that is pretty awesome stuff.
What a distance and distinction there is between all of this and the evanescent nature of day-to-day politics. When David Cameron became the leader of his party, in his opening speech he said:
“I want to talk about the future”.
He pointed to Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying:
“He was the future once”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/12/05; col. 861.]
Only a few short years later, leaving the political cockpit for ever, he was to remark:
“After all, as I once said, I was the future once”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/16; col. 294.]
Of course, there are some mechanisms in place to counter the short-termism of everyday democratic politics. What the populists deride as the “deep state”—an impartial and effective Civil Service—is one key way in which continuity is sustained and long-term planning is carried out. It has often been effective; the UK has a good record in reducing climate emissions since the last Labour Administration through to the present. Yet far more radical thinking is needed and, in my view, global activism.
There have to be several planks to such a strategy. One is to draw local and national politics away from its concentration on the here and now. The same, however, has to be true of markets, and that cannot be emphasised too strongly. Markets are driven by short-term pursuit of profit on a global level. The other is to shore up international collaboration. That is crucial and inescapable in an interdependent world such as ours. It is not stretching it too far to say that democracy across the world is in crisis, but crisis very often promotes rethinking and renewal. There are many initiatives in different countries designed to think about the future. They include the Think Long Committee for California, the Future Design movement in Japan and the youth-led organisation Our Children’s Trust. Here I understand that there is an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Future Generations, set up, I gather, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Rees. He is the guru of the future, as I am sure noble Lords know. On an economic level, impact investment is crucial. Impact investment is more long-term investment, and can counter one of the most noxious things in our world, the short-termism of global economic markets.
Perhaps the greatest problem as the future increasingly bites into our present is the unstable nature of the international system, which is riven with conflicts just when global co-operation is so urgently needed. The year 1989 was supposed to mark the end of history, but it has ceded its place to a world that is in some ways even more unstable. Nationalism has returned in full force at a time when global interdependence is at its highest level ever. Humanly induced climate change, once again a Yogi Berra-type phenomenon for which there is no historical precedent, is an existential threat for future generations. In the light of the recent IPPC report, that threat is no longer distant. Some of the world’s most powerful leaders today are active climate change deniers. The counterforces are none the less strong and global. Who is going to come out on top: Greta Thunberg or two well-known, prominent, populist world leaders? Noble Lords will know where my sympathies lies and where my expectations are heading.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing this debate to us. Despite wanting to say one or two things, I hope to listen and to learn from the wisdom of others. This debate is particularly pertinent at a time when phrases such as “the will of the people” are being bandied around, without specifying which people. If we are going to take this seriously, it must include people who are not people yet: future generations. Too often that term is used as a static term. It references the past. It does not create any vision for the future. It takes today seriously at the expense of tomorrow.
I recognise that others in this debate are going to speak on the detail, so I will focus on what I think are more fundamental questions to do with political culture. I had not thought of them in terms of the word “macrocosmic”, but perhaps they are. I shall make three points. First, long-term policy-making demands maturity, wisdom and leadership. It must transcend the short-termism that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has just spoken about. In our own generation, Sure Start made a massive difference and was aimed at influencing the lives of families, children and young people as they grew. Where is it? Killed.
Secondly, we cannot indulge in tokenism when we talk about young people—but there is quite a lot of that about. I am very grateful to the staff of the Library for the briefing for this debate, which drew attention to a number of very imaginative initiatives on listening to and engaging with the voices of young people, but they are limited and they must not be tokenistic. Greta Thunberg has been referenced several times as the voice of young people, but am I the only one who feels that sometimes the response, particularly from politicians, is patronising? They say you have to listen to young people, but I say that you should not ask for the views of young people if you do not want to hear what they say. If you say that you are listening but do nothing about it, you will create an even bigger problem in the future, which is rank disillusionment.
Thirdly, and finally, what has run through many debates, particularly over Brexit, is the idea that human beings are economic commodities or consumer targets. Almost the entire Brexit debate has been framed in terms of economics and trade. I keep asking the question: for whom does the economy exist? It is for the good of human beings and wider society; it is not an end, it is a means. We must consider the language we are using and the anthropological assumptions we are making about what a human being is. We are seeing in our education sector a diminution of arts and humanities because they do not guarantee a particular training for a trade or a particular economic return, yet they are crucial to what it means to be human beings either individually or in society. From the expansion of the imagination comes the imagination of a different way of being and a different world. So we need our young people to frame the future narrative and not just inherit the past. This is an issue that we face across the board. I come back to Brexit and the future of Europe. If we are constantly referring back to what our young people are inheriting from the middle of the 20th century, in another 20 or 30 years that does not create a vision for the future.
We have to ask ourselves what future our children are building. I used to visit Kazakhstan—as you do. I have been there a number of times and watched the development of that country as an independent state and the building of its institutions and even its cities—Astana in particular. What used to strike me coming back from Kazakhstan, central Asia, to Frankfurt, Amsterdam or London, was that in Kazakhstan so many of the young people were proud of what they were building, even though there were issues of corruption and lots of other questions about what was going on. They were building something for the future, and that captured their imagination, their energy and their will. When you come back to western Europe and ask what young people are building—what is firing their imagination and energy—the answer is, nothing, because they are simply expected to inherit something that has been handed on to them, and then protect it. This is not good enough. Our young people are the only ones who can write the narrative that will guide the future. If we are going to listen to their voice, we have to be prepared for what they are going to say.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for facilitating this fascinating debate. I identified with most of his comments, although I cannot claim his personal involvement.
I will speak briefly from our experience in Wales, as the National Assembly four years ago passed the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act with cross-party support. The objective of that Act is to put sustainable development at the centre of decision-making so as to ensure that we in Wales meet the needs of today in a manner that does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs in the context of their own time; in other words, to ensure that we do not build hostages to fortune in the way we conduct government at all levels.
For the purposes of the Act, sustainable development is identified as the,
“process of improving the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales”,
by acting in line with the,
“sustainable development principle, aimed at achieving”,
seven specific “well-being goals”. These are defined as,
“a prosperous Wales … a resilient Wales … a healthier Wales … a more equal Wales … a Wales of cohesive communities … a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving language … a globally responsible Wales”.
Most of these are self-explanatory, but I will expand on two. “A resilient Wales” is defined as a nation which,
“maintains and enhances a biodiverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems that support social, economic and ecological resilience and the capacity to adapt to change (for example climate change)”.
“A globally responsible Wales” is,
“a nation which, when doing anything to improve the … well-being of Wales, takes account of”,
the effect that has on global well-being.
The Act places a well-being duty on public bodies, including local government, to establish their own well-being goals to comply with the Act. The Act requires such public bodies to take into account five principles: balancing short-term and long-term needs; prevention measures to limit adverse factors; integration to ensure that its well-being goals do not undermine those of other public bodies; collaboration with other bodies to meet objectives; and involvement, encouraging individual citizens to help meet those goals.
The Welsh Government in 2017 adopted 12 well-being objectives to achieve the Act’s basic aims as the foundation of government strategy. It also created public service boards for each local authority area, to ensure co-ordination between central and local government functions, other public bodies and the voluntary sector. Sophie Howe has been appointed the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. Her job is, inter alia, to advise public bodies on whether their policies are conducive to achieving their well-being objectives. Public bodies are required to take all reasonable steps to follow her recommendations.
The Welsh Government have produced a suite of statutory guidance for public bodies to take into account when fulfilling their legal duties. An in-depth study of current generation attitudes in every county has sought to identify policy priorities regarding that which is important about the environment, social issues, the economy and the culture of the area, which need to be safeguarded or improved for future generations. In my home county, Gwynedd, some of the issues raised should serve as a wake-up call for government, such as the “loss of educated people” and how “lowering levels of anti-social behaviour increases self-confidence”—an interesting dimension. The strongest negatives relate to poverty, the strongest positives to the beauty of our environment.
I realise that this approach has been seen as bureaucratic and that it is one thing to adopt high-minded ideals as objectives; the challenge is to turn them into practice. Successive Welsh Governments have excelled at producing ambitious objectives—economic, environmental and cultural—but been less effective at turning those aims into reality. So is this legislation making any difference? It is early days, but there is evidence that the Welsh Government’s financial priorities have changed to take account of the Act. The Wales Audit Office notes that local authorities are “working differently” as a result of the Act. There are micro-policy examples, such as how wildfires are being prevented and how public authorities recycle office fixtures and fittings—it is as micro as that.
The law has its critics. It has been accused of being toothless, as in the case where parents in the Neath Port Talbot area resorted to the Act to challenge the closure of Cymer school. Mrs Justice Lambert dismissed the case, saying that the Act could not trigger a judicial review. Swansea Council has been accused of selling foreshore land in violation of the Act. Similarly, Bridgend Council has been criticised for selling a school playing field.
There is also criticism of decisions apparently taken in line with the Act’s requirements. The Welsh Government recently rejected the proposed M4 improvements at Newport, and it is believed that the future generations Act contributed to that decision, for better or worse. Only yesterday Dr Dai Lloyd AM questioned in the National Assembly how our Government track the implementation of the Act’s principles.
It is too easy to shrug off our individual and collective responsibilities for sustainability, biodiversity and global warming. It is easy to forget that our actions may undermine the well-being of others around the globe and jeopardise the world that our grandchildren will inherit.
Wales’s Act should be relevant to rolling out the UK Government’s aim to be carbon neutral by 2050. It can accelerate this rollout and help formalise methods of consultation to carry local communities in support of such government decisions, and help those decisions to reflect local aspirations.
The fact that these aims are challenging is no excuse for turning our backs. We as individuals, communities and nations have a responsibility in all parts of these islands to open our eyes to the threats implicit in our actions and to take the necessary action to safeguard the well-being of others.
I welcome this debate and the fact that legislators at Westminster are seriously addressing this matter and will consider how such policies are working out in Wales. Policies adopted in Wales have already commended themselves to other Governments on these islands. Our smoking ban, our plastic bag charge and our organ transplant legislation are just three examples.
The United Nations has commented, in the context of the Welsh future generations Act:
“What Wales is doing today the world will do tomorrow”.
In that spirit, I am delighted to support the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in his endeavours.
My Lords, I welcome this debate about what is a central issue of our time. It is an ethical issue because the starting point of ethics is that every human being matters equally. This means that future generations are of equal importance to our own. However, they are not in a position to speak for themselves, so we have to act for them and invest in their future as if it were our own. In that context, I want to discuss two of the most important legacies we will leave to the future: the climate and social infrastructure.
For reasons that are well known, we cannot allow the temperature to rise by more than 1.5 degrees centigrade above the pre-industrial level. How can we achieve this? We must have regulations, and these involve an element of sacrifice. Surely, however, the most important thing is to invest in research and development because, once clean energy is cheaper to produce than dirty energy, the problem is solved at no further ongoing cost. This requires a scientific effort similar to that needed to win a war, produce the atom bomb or land people on the moon. We need such an effort that is internationally co-ordinated.
Interestingly, this is exactly what has been happening in the field of semiconductors. The astonishing pace of cost reduction in this field was no accident; it was achieved by a major international division of research effort co-ordinated through the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, which had much public money behind it. We now need the same effort in the field of energy research. We have the existing Mission Innovation, which was influenced by six Members of this House and Sir David King, but it has very little profile and no clear target. What we now need is an international effort with a high profile, a clear target and very powerful funding. Britain is well placed to play a leading role. We already have the Faraday Institution on energy storage, and Cambridge has launched a major research centre for climate repair under Sir David King. I urge the British Government once again to take a lead and to propose to the G20 a high-profile, well-funded, well co-ordinated, green research programme with a target—this is the key point—to produce clean energy in every country at a lower cost than from fossil fuels by 2030. We need a clear target and a race to solve this problem; otherwise, the climate will not survive in a way that maintains our existing way of life.
I turn to national infrastructure. I believe the most important infrastructure we leave to future generations is social infrastructure. This was conclusively illustrated in Germany after the Second World War, when the country’s physical infrastructure was shattered but its social infrastructure was largely intact. It recovered rapidly. I find it quite upsetting when it is assumed by, I think, probably most Members of this House that we now need a lot of investment in physical infrastructure and that that is our problem. No: our main problem is our social infrastructure.
The case for this has been compellingly made in the recent report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics concerning the principles that should guide the next spending review. I strongly recommend that report to your Lordships and I will say a little about it. It is based on key findings from the new science of well-being, which are influencing our friends in the Welsh Government and throughout the world. This is the new way of thinking about public policy.
What are some of these findings and implications? First, the single biggest cause of misery in a rich country is mental illness, so the NHS should have a separate budget for mental health, which should go twice as far as the budget for physical health. Secondly, looking ahead, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, did, the best predictor of a happy adult life is mental health in childhood, so we should make child well-being a major goal of our schools. We should encourage schools to measure child well-being and use well-tested ways of promoting it.
The next key thing for young people is when they leave school. We must have equal treatment for the 50% of people who do not go to university. This was said earlier, but what is not recognised clearly is that there is one single key to achieving that, which was not even mentioned in the Augar report: just as people going to university have uncapped automatic per capita funding if they go on, we absolutely have to have that in the system of further education and apprenticeships. Finally, we must invest better in social care for when we reach the end of life.
I applaud the Welsh initiative. It is the right way of thinking. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, is absolutely right. We must think more of the future, we must use science to save our climate, and for goodness’ sake, let us give priority to social infrastructure.
My Lords, I too welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, very warmly for bringing it. I welcome his proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said, the foundation is a moral and ethical case. That moral case has shifted in recent years because of the realisation of the effects of the Anthropocene era. Humanity’s effect on the environment means that the interests of not just the next generation but every generation beyond that need to be protected in our policy-making and debate.
As a number of noble Lords have said, the world is living through a deepening environmental catastrophe. The impact of change on our climate is already severe. It will become worse with each decade and every generation. The world is currently heading for average global warming of 2 degrees and more by 2050. Global net carbon emissions continue to rise. The risks of unforeseen and catastrophic compound effects on the environment increase with every year.
The two Biblical images of hell are a burning planet, too hot to sustain life, and a rubbish dump. We are in danger of bequeathing both to our children, our grandchildren and every generation that follows. It is hugely irresponsible to take short-term decisions in the interests of only the current generation or the current economy, and so, as other noble Lords have done, I warmly welcome the Government’s historic commitment to a net zero carbon economy by 2050, and congratulate the Prime Minister on naming this goal as a vital part of her legacy. I welcome the Government’s international leadership and the bid to host the vital 2020 climate summit. These goals need support across Parliament, and the voice of those future generations needs to be strengthened in that debate.
Future generations also need to be protected in the rapid pace of technological change. Here I speak as a board member of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The pace of change and the effects of technology on the mental health of the young are significant. I warmly commend the Information Commissioner’s Office, and its recent guidelines on age-appropriate design, which aim to protect the most vulnerable from the predatory technology companies. I also warmly commend the Government on bringing forward the online harms White Paper. I hope both will be turning points in the development of new technologies which protect rather than exploit the most vulnerable. In the coming years we will need agility and public leadership in responding to new technologies and data in the areas of health, education, the labour market, smart cities, algorithmic decision-making, facial recognition and the regulation of the mining of personal information for commercial gain. The interests of future generations will also need a voice.
Finally, these proposals are so helpful in that they address a decrease in social cohesion taking place across the generations, which noble Lords have noted. The All-Party Group on Social Integration recently published a comprehensive study of intergenerational connection and its decrease. The generations have become increasingly segregated. We can either allow that process of drift to continue, with serious social consequences, or we can exercise leadership to build and protect social capital between the generations. Families and faith communities have a vital role to play, and are part of the glue which binds generations together. Local government has a role, as do business and the third sector, but national government must play its part. It has been hugely instructive in this debate to hear of the lessons being learned in Wales.
The proposals to give a structured voice to the interests of future generations are warmly to be welcomed. I warmly support the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and hope that they will attract support across the whole House.
My Lords, the House owes a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this important debate, and for introducing it with such passion. It is important because what could be more essential than ensuring that future generations have a say in what will be their future, whatever it may bring? I was much struck by the quotation from the excellent Library briefing:
“the standard approach to policy making is to prioritise the interests of current generations”.
I would like to offer some comments on the importance of involving children and young people in decision-making, about their lives now and the lives of their generation and beyond.
I too have worked with young people in Kazakhstan. In the UK and other countries, there are excellent examples of involving young people, but we have no co-ordinated strategy. As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states, children—this means up to the age of 18—have the right to be heard. This not only gives them respect and self-confidence; children and young people can also contribute to better laws, policies and strategies. They have a fresh eye and experience policies and strategies for themselves. I have seen this happen time and again.
Today, I want to give some examples of how young people participate in the UK. All the initiatives I shall describe have made an extreme effort to involve children from vulnerable and diverse backgrounds, not just the elite in a tokenistic way. One positive involvement is of course that of school councils: children from the youngest age give their views on all aspects of the school, be it school meals, toilet facilities or, on a higher plane, teaching programmes. Our brilliant charity sector often involves children at local and national levels in strategies on projects, as do the UK’s Children’s Commissioners.
All the nations of the UK have youth parliaments. Our own Parliament here has an exciting education department, which involves children in visits to Parliament and in conducting their own debates in your Lordships’ Chamber. I have experienced two of those and they were absolutely superb. The Lord Speaker’s Peers in Schools programme involves Peers addressing school audiences up and down the country. We also have an APPG on future generations.
As a further example from sport, the young people’s cricket charity Chance to Shine recently held an open day at Lord’s cricket ground where 450 children—boys and girls from around the country—took part in a range of activities, including an assembly in celebration of cricket. I should declare an interest as a Lady Taverner. The children talked about the values of cricket, focusing on teamwork, perseverance and fair play. There are many lessons there for future policymakers. Chance to Shine focuses mainly on inner-city schools; maybe one of these children will one day be president of the MCC.
The message is clear: first, inspire and engage children; then develop their skills and self-confidence, listen to them and involve them in planning for the future. In Scotland during May delegates from East Lothian Council, the Scottish Government, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and representatives from the NGO sector joined 13 members of the Children’s Parliament, a local partnership and a youth centre to consider how to embed a children’s rights approach across services and facilities in Tranent. The local MP, Martin Whitfield, took part and gave me this information. I know that similar initiatives have taken place in Wales and Northern Ireland.
There are examples of police forces consulting and involving children and young people. I was most impressed a few years ago, when chairing the APPG for Children, that the police took part in an inquiry—with children—to discuss policies such as stop and search and the holding of vulnerable children, sometimes with mental health problems, in police cells overnight. Things changed then because Ministers listened to young people.
Ministers have also listened to young people in forming a joint Council of Europe/UK Parliament seminar on child mental health and child-friendly justice. The seminar worked in mixed groups of children and adults, where one girl said, “We are experts by experience”. These young people have since developed dialogue with Ministers and expanded their group. Jackie Doyle-Price and Edward Argar have been particularly enthusiastic.
The recent NHS long-term plan involved consultation with the NHS Youth Forum, while the British Youth Council ran an engagement event for seldom-heard young people. The Association for Young People’s Health, of which I am a patron, ran a survey of young people as part of the Young People’s Health Partnership; it then held a stakeholder event for 14 young people, working alongside 57 professionals. It was an excellent collaboration with young people, using their experience.
I have given but a few examples of protecting and representing the interests of young people and future generations in policy-making. Would the Minister be prepared to pull together all this excellent practice and look at what could be shared and acted upon? Perhaps she could call together a group from those debating today to suggest ways forward: for example, a House of Lords Committee to take evidence and form a strategy on the involvement of young people in their future. I look forward to her response.
My Lords, I welcome this debate and I welcome the thinking that is starting to happen on this topic around the world. Like my noble friend Lord Bird, I am attracted to the Welsh model and support his call for a UK equivalent. I am also grateful to him for giving me the opportunity not only to talk about this but to be made to think and read about it in advance, and bring it to top of mind.
There is a clear set of problems here, as noble Lords have said. Climate change and national debt epitomise this clearly. We are passing a burden to future generations, and we should not underestimate or neglect that. As has been argued in the papers that the Library has produced, our current means of economic analysis of future costs tends towards more short-termism. This is aggravated by the political cycle, which encourages short-termism and, at the moment, is further aggravated by the lack of political vision in the country. It seems that maybe my noble friend Lord Bird has got his timing absolutely right: where there is a lack of vision, there is also an opportunity. Maybe this is the sort of opportunity that an incoming Government—assuming that we have another stable Government in due course—might see as something that could help unify the country. Bring people together to think clearly about the future, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds mentioned about Kazakhstan, where I too have dropped in occasionally, as one does. In countries such as Kazakhstan they focus on the future and think about what is coming, whereas we perhaps concentrate more on the past.
There is also a problem today, as noble Lords know and have said, that younger people as a whole are disadvantaged compared with older generations such as mine, in matters as radical and important as life expectancy—which seems to be going down—opportunity, access to owning their own homes and student debt. Some people feel completely left out of society and its benefits, and many are becoming cynical, not least about politics. Here I note the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, that it is dangerous if people, particularly the young, lose trust in our political system.
Maybe there is another way to look at this. It could appear as if we in the older generations are being asked, reluctantly, to give up some of our power and privilege for future generations. But what do we stand to gain by doing so? Is it not in our interests as well? Generations are different, as has been said. It is interesting, from talking to employers with major workforces, that there are four or five different generations, with different needs, expectations and ways of working today. Different generations are different. They are different from us and see life in different ways. I am conscious of this in working with a lot of young nurses and doctors. They have different needs, different skills and different talents. They have an enormous amount to offer. Here I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Massey.
It always seemed an enormous paradox that most planning is done by the over-55s, and they promptly retire five years later. As I have learned today from the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, most planning is done by people who have just decided to become Conservative voters—if I understood what she said. Could we not do something different? Is it not better now, instead of just representing the interests of young people, to engage and involve them? There is a simple point here: should that not be good practice in all our planning mechanisms, not just in a single commission? I know we now try to organise ourselves to have gender and ethnicity balance, but should we not always engage younger people and make sure that our planning programmes always have some people aged 35 or under?
A common-sense new-normal way of thinking about the future and planning things should engage young people in every location where planning is underway. This adds to the richness of the debate. I know, because we have done that deliberately in the last two commissions I chaired. We have not had a youth group to advise us but people who actually have a seat at the table. On a good day, we in the older part of the committee or commission add a bit of wisdom and experience, and they add some new insight and energy, though we both have our bad days as well, when different qualities come to the fore.
It is worth noting that young people tend to create the future. This is not a new thing about tech pioneers. I mentioned I am working with nurses a lot at the moment, and it is interesting to reflect that, when Florence Nightingale was in the Crimea and doing the sorts of things that started to change the world of nursing, she was in her early and mid-30s. This is not a new phenomenon. Young people have a great deal to offer us, and those of us over 55 need perhaps to create a few more spaces at the table.
That is perhaps more directly relevant to the debate on Monday in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, when we will look at the composition of public bodies, so let me return to the point about a commission and a real focus from policy nationally on future generations. I agree with the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, which proposes a UK commissioner, reform of the National Infra- structure Commission and imposing statutory duties on Ministers and public bodies to publish the implications of policy. Those need to be worked through, but they seem a good starting point for the future. How do the Government plan to think about these things and respond to such proposals?
Finally, action related to the future generations along the lines that we have talked about today could be one of the great unifying issues for a new Government. I commend this point to the Minister.
I join others in offering profound thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing forward this thoughtful debate and asking how we might get away from “presentism” and instead figure out how to prevent ourselves, as people and as a society, harming one another. It is in an incredibly honourable cause in which I want to try to help. However, I shall start by sharing with the House some of my reservations about the approach being suggested.
I worry about political interventions that seek to speak on behalf of people who are not present and do not have a vote at the time. I worry about political groups that claim to have some more profound insight into the human condition than the voting man or woman. I worry about anyone who feels that they somehow care more about the world than the mother, father, son or daughter in the voting booth on election day.
A commissioner for future generations or a future generations Act has been spoken about persuasively and fondly, but I confess to the House that I come from a political tradition that was cast from radical liberalism and fired in the Cold War and that such words send shivers down my spine. To quote Dennis Thompson of Harvard University, who has spoken powerfully on this subject, I worry about,
“utopian idealists, religious zealots, or radical revolutionaries”,
who claim to speak on behalf of future generations, but who,
“call for great sacrifices from the present generation”.
I do not want to be too vivid about it, but a commission for future generations creates for me images of autocrats whose cold logic, divorced from the disciplines of the ballot box, leads to extreme decisions.
I also question some of the assumptions made in this debate: that our democracy is uncompromisingly short-termist, populist or self-indulgent. How else would we, Britain, have stood alone in 1941 and mobilised a citizens’ army or, more recently, enshrined in law a commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on foreign aid, or reduced our carbon emissions by 40%—or any number of policy commitments that sacrifice present benefits for future generations or those living in other lands?
Instead of disrupting our democratic institutions and traditions, we should look to bolster the traditional sources of challenge and insight that we have in our country already. I would guide the conversation away from bureaucratic mechanics such as impact assessments, officeholders such as commissioners or legal structures such as future generations Acts. For instance, I am sceptical about whether we need more bureaucracy such as a Committee for the Future, as in Finland. The excellent briefing note put together by the Library contains an incredibly persuasive but worrying list of examples from other countries. I am also sceptical about intergenerational impact assessments. In my experience, the much less complicated impact assessments that are already in place do not shed much light and are probably an unnecessary burden on our overstretched civil servants.
I am very open to the idea of strengthening the capabilities of this House. Having read the thoughtful report from the Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Jenkin, I support the idea of a standing House of Lords committee to study such threats; that would be a sensible development.
There are three others that I endorse and will direct the attention of the House towards, to ensure that my four horrible children are protected and their interests taken into account. The first is a cultural point. To meet the challenge of climate change, which is probably a stand-out example of where future generations’ interests should be considered, we have to overcome the partisanship of modern times and refind the spirit of cross-party consensus building that is necessary for long-term solutions. How can we possibly find a solution to UK issues such as the housing and social care crises, or major international ones such as migration and climate change, if we do not tackle the political culture and learn to work together? We will just lurch around ineffectively instead of building strong solutions. I am concerned that Acts of Parliament and commissioners will not necessarily contribute to that.
Secondly, we absolutely have to break the electoral stranglehold of Britain’s gerontocracy by making a much greater commitment to civics and ethics in the curriculum. The lesson of Extinction Rebellion is not to create a new bureaucracy around future generations but that the kids are interested in politics when there is something they care about. We are just not talking to them in an engaging way.
Lastly, we need to bring the public back into Parliament. It is great that we have the TV cameras here, and I thank those who are watching us from above. However, it saddens me that we are talking about the challenge of future generations and the balconies are half empty. As part of the refurbishment of Parliament that is on the horizon, I would like to see a massive investment in opening it to people. Let us clear out the ground floor and make it wide open to people. In particular, I would like to see every schoolchild in Britain visit Parliament as part of the curriculum, partly so that they have a bond with their future and partly so that we can see them there, watching our decisions as we talk about their future.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, in his wise words. We clearly have to rebuild the spirit of cross-party consensus and ensure that the public thoroughly understand the workings of Parliament. The buck does stop here. I am a little concerned that, if we farm out responsibility to commissioners and others, we might not work so hard to build consensus on the way forward—although I can also see virtues in the other approach. I am most grateful to my noble friend for securing this important and highly stimulating debate. I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said about the social infrastructure. Back in the 1950s in Stepney, families were facing the outcome of the Blitz on low incomes and with insecurity. But grandmothers, and their daughters, held those extended families together. When those families began to move out, they became less resilient and began to break down.
In protecting the interests of our children in the future, we would do well to consider how we make the best possible childhoods for them. What can we do now to ensure good childhoods for our future children? Part of that is being more coherent and consistent in policy and more consensual in what we do. We make up and then undo; we build and unbuild; we invest and disinvest. We cannot build a good future for our children if we cannot find a more consensual approach. Most basically, children need stable relationships. In the earliest days, they need a strong attachment to their mothers. They need important people in their lives who stick around. They need secure housing and schools that they can rely on not being moved away from.
This is thoroughly recognised in the care system. So many times over so many years I have heard young people in care saying that the most important thing to them is a stable, long-term, benign relationship. This is recognised in policy: it is called permanence. So there is a push towards more adoption and longer-term foster placements. There is a push towards staying put—allowing young people to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21. There is a push towards staying close—allowing young people to remain near their children’s homes when they move out of them. We recognise that. The trouble is that in our culture as it plays out today, everything seems to militate against the stability that we need for our children. The law in this country, for instance, is based on an adversarial system; politics is based on an adversarial system. This is very different from many of our continental neighbours, who are far more willing to compromise. In this country, “compromise” is a dirty word—but on the continent any politician realises that one should never get all one wants; it is not helpful always to get all one wants.
I will give an illustration. Sure Start was announced by Gordon Brown and launched by Tessa Jowell in 1998. To paraphrase her words, the first three years of life are so important, I believe we should invest in this way. It was a very welcome introduction, yet a parliamentary briefing tells us that between 2015 and 2017 a large number of children’s centres—I think it may have been 308—closed down. I spoke to health visitors earlier this week who were bemoaning the fact that there are few clinics that are easily accessible to mothers. They have responded to that by developing telephone services, which is a way of responding, but it is certainly not as good as being able to see mothers face to face. On the other hand, there is the situation with health visitors. There was a rapid decline in their numbers in the 2000s, a rapid building up in the early 2010s, and now they are declining by a quarter. This investment and disinvestment is so unhelpful: our children need stability but our political system does not give it to them—not as it currently stands.
If we look to Germany, we see a country with long-term, stable coalition Governments, which I think is very helpful. We can look abroad and try to learn lessons. I cannot give any answers as to how we can change, but I can tell noble Lords that I was present when the research evidence on Sure Start was presented at the Institute for Fiscal Studies two weeks ago. Naomi Eisenstadt and Leon Feinstein, important researchers and practitioners, were also present. The main theme was that it is not any particular Government; whenever there is a change in Minister or a change in Government, everything is turned upside-down again. So if we want stable lives for our children, we need stable policies and we must work harder to co-create policies so that when one party comes in, it does not undo what the others have done.
In Finland decades ago there was a political consensus that education was important and that the best way to give children a good education was to recruit and retain the best teachers. Finlanders were not even aware of how good they were, but in 2000 PISA discovered that they were the best in maths, the best in literacy and the best in science. They just stuck to their guns and recruited and retained the best teachers. If we are to do better for the children of the future, we need to be more consistent.
My Lords, when I am buying my copy of the Big Issue on a wet and windy winter’s day in the car park of Sainsbury’s in Cockermouth, of course I think about the young person selling it to me and the life behind them. These days, I find myself thinking about the noble Lord, Lord Bird, as well. I always think: here is the evidence of a man who does not just say, but does. We were privileged to hear his introduction today. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds mentioned the Library note. I am always deeply impressed by the quality of notes produced by the Libraries for our debates.
It strikes me that behind what we have been talking about today is the fundamental issue of whether we regard the globe as just part of our consumer society, to be consumed and enjoyed in our immediate lives, or whether we have and engender a sense of stewardship and responsibility for what we have inherited and what, hopefully, we will pass on. This sense of stewardship of the globe and all its realities is crucial.
When I came out of government in 1979, I remember my young children asked me very bluntly, “But, dad, what have you learned from your ministerial experiences?” I remember saying then, “What I have learned is that tactics are the total enemy of strategy”. Everybody is so busy managing and dealing with the immediate crisis, difficulties and challenges that no one is really looking at things in perspective and thinking strategically. The list of issues which we hand on from the past is immense; therefore, the list of issues that will affect the next and future generations is also immense.
There is the issue of education and libraries, which the noble Lord, Lord Bird, mentioned. I liked the way he mentioned that they enable young people to have space in which they can discover themselves, grow in confidence and the rest. One major tragedy of our society is that we have confused training and education. Training is desperately important to enable people to do jobs efficiently, but education is indispensable, enabling youngsters to discover their potential—what they could be—not going to their graves never being what they might have been but having had a chance to discover who they are, what their talents are and how to develop them.
There is also the issue of climate change, to which noble Lords have referred. Here, of course, we are challenged by the younger generation itself; it has taken over and is challenging us, demonstrating that this is the key issue for it. Then there is Brexit, and the immense disillusion and disappointment among so many of the young. I had it put to me, “You’ve deprived us of our future—we wanted to belong to the world, and you seem hell-bent on going in the opposite direction”. Therefore, if we have another referendum, I pray that it will follow the example of Scotland and bring the 16 to 17 year-olds in, which worked so well in the Scottish referendum.
There are so many other specific issues: the PFI, for example—all Governments are responsible for this. They are just handing it on to future generations, burdening them with the expenditure rather than facing up to what we could really afford. Then there is the collapse of social services and the burden this will place on future generations. There is also the issue of nuclear waste, which often preoccupies me; if we are going into another generation of nuclear energy, which I am not against, we have to find a solution for the waste. That solution must be the safest possible, which means making sure that we look at every corner of the UK to find the best and safest place in which to put it.
The noble Lord mentioned Wales, where there is a powerful story, which the Library note mentions. There is the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the Future Generations Commissioner and the Auditor-General for Wales, who has responsibility to ensure that public bodies are meeting their sustainable development objectives. Other countries have taken the lead over us—Finland, Hungary, Singapore and Israel.
We must wake up. The future belongs to future generations, and we must ensure that they are in the driving seat.
My Lords, we should indeed be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for inspiring this debate. Young people in this country face the future with foreboding as well as hope. They confront radical disruption to the nature of work, unequal opportunities and social fragmentation. However, my remarks will focus on concerns that are more global: environmental degradation, unchecked climate change and unintended consequences of advanced technology. I declare an interest as co-founder of a centre in Cambridge with that focus, and I am half-Welsh.
Climate change is a prominent concern. Under business-as-usual scenarios, we cannot rule out, later this century, catastrophic warming and tipping points triggering long-term trends such as the melting of Greenland’s ice. A child born today has a high chance of living beyond 2100. If you care about that generation and those beyond, you should deem it worth paying an insurance premium now to protect against those worst-case scenarios. As economists such as Stern and Weitzman have argued, these are contexts where it is inappropriate to discount the future at the standard rate that a developer planning an office building with a 30-year lifetime would use. As a parenthesis, stimulated by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I note that there is one policy context where a zero discount rate is applied: to radioactive waste disposal, where the depositories are required to prevent leakage for at least 10,000 years. That is somewhat ironic, given that we cannot plan the rest of energy policy even 30 years ahead.
And another thing: if humanity’s collective footprint gets too heavy, the resultant ecological shock could irreversibly impoverish our biosphere. A UN report this year claimed that 1 million species were at risk of extinction. That is 10% of the total estimated number of species—many are not yet identified. We are destroying the book of life before we have read it. To quote the great ecologist E. O. Wilson,
“mass extinction is the sin that future generations will least forgive us for”.
However, politicians will not gain much resonance by advocating sacrifices now when the benefits seem to accrue mainly to distant parts of the world decades in the future. Even within our own country, there is reluctance to spend enough on disaster mitigation—vaccines, flood defences, et cetera. Unless there is a clamour from voters, manifest in politicians’ inboxes and the press, Governments will not properly prioritise measures crucial for future generations. Sustaining that clamour needs effective campaigning, not just experts, and enlisting charismatic individuals to change the public mindset. To quote the great anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
I give two examples. The papal encyclical Laudato Si eased the path to consensus at the Paris climate conference in 2015. The Pope got a standing ovation at the UN. He has 1 billion followers, mainly in Latin America, Africa and East Asia. There is no gainsaying his impact nor the Church’s global reach, long-term vision and concern for the world’s poor. More parochially, I doubt that Michael Gove would have become exercised about non-degradable plastic waste had it not been for the BBC’s “Blue Planet” programmes, fronted by our secular Pope, David Attenborough—especially the footage of an albatross returning to its nest and regurgitating plastic debris, an image as iconic as the polar bear on a melting ice floe is for climate campaigners. As many noble Lords have emphasised, it is encouraging to witness more activists among the young. They hope to live to the end of the century. Their campaigning is welcome and their commitment gives grounds for hope.
I close with a thought that strikes me when I visit the great cathedral at Ely, near where both I and my noble friend Lord Bird live. Its builders essentially knew of nothing beyond Europe. Many thought that the world was a few thousand years old and might not last another thousand. Despite these constricted horizons in both time and space, despite the deprivation and harshness of their lives, and despite their primitive technology and meagre resources, they conceived a glorious building that they never lived to see finished and which still elevates our spirits centuries later. What a shaming contrast it would be if, despite our far greater resources and wider horizons, we pursued policies that denied future generations a fair inheritance. Our perspectives should be global and stretch at least a century ahead. Our responsibility to our children, to the poorest and to preserve life’s diversity surely demands nothing less. That is why we need institutional changes to enshrine long-term thinking more firmly in decision-making.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Bird for securing this important debate. It is an honour to follow my noble friend Lord Rees and the other noble Lords who have spoken with such vision on how to include young people and enhance their involvement in public policy planning.
It is clear to me that the current structures for public consultation on a range of issues neither involve enough representation of the younger members of our society nor consider fully the impact of policy-making on future generations. Rather, we get into a cycle, associated with our electoral cycle, of short-term solutions to long-term problems. The excellent Library briefing for today’s debate states:
“Some theorists have suggested that future generations should not be explicitly represented in policymaking”.
Such theorists argue that “family and institutional ties” take cognisance of future generations’ interests when formulating policy. I believe, however, that hearing younger voices and responding to their ideas is vital. If countries such as Singapore, Israel and Hungary have introduced formal representation for future generations into policy-making, surely the UK should develop an equivalent. As has been acknowledged, there is a Future Generations Commissioner in Wales, where I did my master’s degree, and a Futures Forum in Scotland.
Without a more formal approach to involving young people in decision-making, I suggest that policy-making will continue to favour the current generation of policymakers. Thompson, a Harvard academic, suggests that,
“presentism is not entirely unwelcome”,
in a democracy. He further states:
“Compared to other forms of government, democracy is not disposed to sacrifice”.
I suggest that this is true in this House as well as in wider society. We as a body have very few, if any, Members under the age of 40. We are appointed based on a variety of skills and expertise, but we are appointed for life, making it difficult to refresh and renew our membership. We are trying hard to reduce our numbers: we voted in favour of new appointments to this Chamber being for a fixed term of 15 or 20 years—but not to apply that principle to those of us fortunate enough to sit in this House already.
I can submit further evidence of recent policy that has adversely affected younger generations rather than the generations making up the cohorts of parliamentarians in both this House and the other place. The decision to introduce and then to increase university fees rather than a graduate tax is one such example. Young people who have recently been at university have large debts charged at higher interest than most mortgages at present. Those earning over £25,000 a year are in effect paying basic rate tax and 9% on top of that in loan repayments. They also pay national insurance and, in the public sector, pay into occupational pensions that will be calculated on lifetime earnings rather than final salaries, unlike my own generation.
Priority issues that concern the younger generations raised through school councils, higher education student bodies and other networks include, as other noble Lords have outlined, the environment, employment, education, housing and homelessness, health and access to care and treatment services. If we are to hear and respond to their voices in developing policy, I believe that there needs to be a more formal structure in each of our four countries and a UK-wide body to democratically develop a greater emphasis on young people’s rights to inform and develop policy. This should ensure that we put the needs of future generations at the heart of policy development.
I believe that a “young people’s parliament” would be able to identify key areas where they wish policy to change. If there were a formal mechanism for Parliament to be held accountable not only for receiving and listening to these concepts but also a duty to formally respond, this would make our democracy truly democratic. Parliamentarians would become more accountable to future generations and avoid the notion outlined by Thompson that,
“democracy is not disposed to sacrifice”.
For example, if young people place significant value on building more homes, what would our response be? Let me postulate that building new homes rapidly would reduce homelessness and children being brought up in bed and breakfast accommodation but might also result in a reduction in the value of some properties owned by older people. Would we as policymakers accept that the benefits for younger generations outweigh a reduction in the value of some of the homes already purchased by older generations? I wonder, in this slightly utopian vision of younger generations informing policy, whether they might wish to raise a graduate tax and stop student loans? Would they want to ensure that our tax system encourages saving, increases funding for social care and reduces means-tested benefits for older generations? I am sorry but I may have said that the wrong way around: introduces means-tested benefits for older generations. I do not know, but I am certain that we should be consulting them more widely. What plans do HM Government have to work further to ensure that they protect and represent the interests of future generations in policy-making and what plans do they have to further expand and strengthen this work?
Finally, I end on a note referred to earlier: does the Minister think that this House would benefit from a range of new Members who were considerably younger than our current membership and could this be achieved by all of our current Members agreeing to a fixed period for our own tenure?
My Lords, we have listened to a reliable tour de force from the noble Lord, Lord Bird, to start the debate, and now we have to ask ourselves a series of questions, many of which have been heard before. What are we supposed to do about tomorrow? This question has been raised throughout the debate. We all think that change should happen as long as we do not inconvenience ourselves. It should be done by somebody else. Nimbyism is the greatest enemy of recycling plants that use incineration, which is a great way of getting rid of plastics, and of having a windmill that generates clean energy. Nimbys say, “We do not want new houses if mine will go down in value”—because anybody who has a mortgage has to know that there is something there. We have to try to counter all these things, and the only way we will do this is if we allow ourselves to be reminded that we are only the caretakers. That was probably the last really important speech by Lady Thatcher, in which she pointed out the green agenda. We are the caretakers of the planet. That probably proves that no one party has ever had a monopoly on virtue. Everybody has to approach it and go through.
How we are reminded—the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was the most strident against institutions reminding us—is a question that we will have to engage with. The great praise that goes to those across Offa’s Dyke today, which is probably justified, means that it is a model. The Government must be looking at this. It is important to know when they will have an idea of how it works and how they would like to change something in this way. Having something here that does not work to remind us of the future is really just another useless bit of legislation—and let us face it; we have all seen plenty of those. How many bits of legislation have we had in this House that have not even been used? How many hours of our lives have we given to those?
Will we have something effective that does this? How will we bring in the young—the group that do not vote en masse? When they do, political calculations are destroyed; I refer in evidence to the 2017 election. When you actually get down and try to engage, how do you make sure that they know what is going on and give them an issue? If you are voting against something, you are back to populism: “No, you can’t do that to me; you can’t interfere with my life”. You have to get some process of continuous engagement.
The environment is clearly the one subject on which we have had consistent pressure, for many decades now, to look at the future. What are we prepared to give up and restrict ourselves on, to make sure that we deliver there? How are we prepared to do it? How much tax do we want to pay? How much money are we prepared to sacrifice somewhere else? It comes together with housing, which I have already mentioned. Are we prepared to pay for slightly more expensive housing that is cheaper to run and does not affect the environment as much? How are we prepared to bring these together?
I am sitting even closer to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, than I am to those on my own Benches today. He spoke about investing in human capital. I thought that this might be one speech in which I did not mention special educational needs and dyslexia—but what the hell. If we are going through on this, not properly engaging and identifying problems in the education system means that we will have a poorer society and more people who cannot interact with it. This means that we are carrying more burden than benefit. In a modern world where you need many skilled workers, if you do not identify people who need extra help in the education system, you have problems. I am an example that you can get through, with a little adjustment—it is easier now.
I have a computer that 40 years ago was pure science fiction; I talk to it and it writes stuff. There are dozens of other things that talk back to you; it is pure “Star Trek”, is it not? We are there. But there are other ways that bring in other groups and make them productive. We have knowledge and interaction. At the moment we have a dysfunctional situation in which there are laws that say you should be helped but insufficient money to do it, and it is mainly falling on those areas. We will have to invest to get the best out of this group. If you do not, you have a burden. This is just another example of having to make a sacrifice or restructure now to get a future benefit. We all know that unless we get some reason or prod to do it, the easy answer is to take today’s cake, not to invest for tomorrow and to go forward.
The young will be a good way of encouraging us to do this. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, talked about getting a few under-35s involved. If I remember correctly, I had 17 and a half years as the under-40 representative in this House. Those days are gone. It was a case of, “It’s jolly nice to have you in the room, but you’re actually saying something?”. That is in us all. We have to institutionalise a way of getting them to come in and be listened to and interacted with. Groups that have input from outside will say something new.
To mention the things that I am interested in, if you put political parties and sporting groups in a darkened room where they can comfortably talk shop to each other in language that they have always used, they will come out with exactly the same answers as they have always done, because that is what we are like. We have to make sure that there is action and that we are challenged. That is why the institutional challenges are helpful. There is no other way of guaranteeing to make sure that it is there. We have to make sure that you come in, challenge and turn it all around and say, “There has to be something else”.
There also has to be a long-term objective and it has to be more solid than just, “We must do something at some point”—because you rapidly run out of road there. On the environment, we are rapidly coming to the end of the road. We are in emergency measures. It is time to stamp your brake down hard and hope that you have judged it correctly—not, “Let’s slow down and see if we can do it”. We are going to hit those barriers: it is probably just a matter of how hard. What do we do?
I will try to draw my comments and those of everyone else who has spoken in the debate to a conclusion. To guarantee the future we have to make sure that we continue to listen to those outside the normal groups, particularly those who are not included, and the young. The young are busy living their lives and instructing themselves, so we must encourage them in. It is no use saying, “Why don’t you go and talk to a group of 45 to 55 year-olds who are running a political party, a pressure group or a residents association?”. You have to introduce them in.
We know this in sport. When there is a world cup in rugby or netball, you get new people into that group once they become interested in it. You prepare somebody to welcome them. Politics can learn something from sport. You have to have somebody who is interested on the door. We know from experience that if they turn up and all they see is a bunch of people doing their normal thing and saying, “We might get round to dealing with you in a minute”, they will leave. We must find ways of bringing them in and making sure that they are listened to, talked to and shown a path. If we do not do that, we will merely end up going over the same stuff again, except that it will be a slightly tweaked version of the same thing and the accepted wisdom. We do not have time for that slowness of change.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on the subject that he chose and on his speech. As ever, he identified those who have had some of the worst deals from society and deserve not just our sympathy but our aid. At the same time, he succeeds in being optimistic about what we can do. That is a real virtue. I was very pleased, having been born in Tredegar, that he should choose Wales as the home of optimism today. He made a strong case indeed for the Welsh legislation that is making some real changes with regard to Welsh political culture. There is absolutely no reason why all the home countries cannot learn from that and make aspects of our legislation that much more relevant.
This debate was bound to range very widely. I am all too well aware that my noble friend Lord Giddens is really happy only when people are responding to global economics and the challenges presented by what is, after all, one of the greatest problems of resource allocation that one can conceive of. We are always very grateful when he comes along with his lucid arguments on these points. But today we should probably have a narrower focus, if only to pay due respect to the pitch made by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in his opening speech.
That is why I appreciated the speech by my noble friend Lord Layard; unfortunately, there have been speeches in this debate to which I am now not able to pay sufficient regard. He said that the first issue is climate change. That was echoed by many speakers in this debate. Of course, it is the first issue. Unless we get all our resources devoted to guaranteeing the future of the planet, our hopes for any improvement in society will be as naught. We all know that we are running out of precious time. That is why we are at the point where really significant responses need to be made by the nations of the world. Of course, Britain has a special responsibility to play some leading part in this as we led the Industrial Revolution which created the circumstances in which our present problems abide.
My noble friend Lord Layard also mentioned energy. Without doubt, it is crucial; first, because lots of the energy we use at the moment is the most polluting of the problems that we have with regard to the climate; and, secondly, because we can make breakthroughs. We can see the science and technology that will make breakthroughs in cheaper, more efficient and, above all, safer energy, which can guarantee that we can expect our societies to flourish.
My noble friend’s third point was about the health of the individual. We all respect the fact that the more we can improve the health of our nation, the more we will increase the level of happiness that our people enjoy. There is no doubt that the area we have neglected in the past has been mental health or that at present we need strategies that ensure that mental health gets the biggest bang for the buck. We must find the resources to make improvements there. That helps also to bring the totality of this debate into some concern about the welfare of our fellow citizens.
We should not underestimate the challenge that we face. I have to confess the significance of this point. I remember when the Club of Rome produced The Limits to Growth in the early 1970s. The whole world was aghast not because it was talking about limits to growth in terms of the dangers to the planet that we are looking at now but simply because we would run out of the resources that we would need to translate into economic goods and benefits to society. The Club of Rome continues to produce work and is still active, but I do not think that it figures with the degree of prominence that it had for a decade or so in the 1960s and 1970s when it identified the threat. In a sense we have overcome aspects of the physical threat because we know how to garner our resources to make improvements, although certain resources are becoming increasingly scarce. Our problem is the climate, which is a much greater problem than the shortage of resources because we are poisoning our inheritance.
The importance of change was recognised in the UK at the beginning of this century, in two ways. First, we began to address, through the Stern review—behind that, of course, was not just a British citizen but a Member of this House—which played a significant role in identifying the threats of climate change. Secondly, we started to look with a view to the future in perhaps a more significant way than at any time since the 18th or 19th century, when England was the world’s oyster with respect to technological development. At that time, you could build a railway line wherever and as fast as you wanted, provided you had the resources. Our equivalent—there will not be total agreement on this—is HS2.
We have made a commitment to long-term investment in our infrastructure; the rewards for HS2 are still more than a decade away, and there are still doubts about its final structure. Governments always feel that democracies have desperately short-term aspects, but HS2 indicates that democracies can commit themselves to long-term allocation of resources. We are doing that in this instance, and we need to. I do not agree with the point that democracies cannot engender sacrifice: people responded to the sacrifices demanded by democracies from 1914 and again from 1939. People knew that they and their families were paying a terrible price when young men went off to war, but they were responding to the democratic impulse that their country needed them.
We are capable of facing up to the greatest challenges of our society. We have to recognise that our progress can be quite significant. Recent reports indicate the way we can go forward. The institute of accountants has indicated that intergenerational relationships are under strain, and we have had enough evidence in this debate to recognise that. It is true that people in generations with the poorest deal are resentful. We have to face the facts. I have a quote here from the chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, Torsten Bell. He said that certain people are dealt a poor deal. By the age of 30, young people are,
“earning no more than those born 15 years earlier”;
the resources going to them are the same 15 years on. On housing, young people today are paying more, owning less and commuting further. That is a pretty poor deal, which brings me to the other two themes that I want to talk about.
To produce a good society, we need two priorities to get past this generational block. We have to concentrate resources on housing, to give our young people the chance to get and rent houses at reasonable cost, where they are currently being exploited. The other thing we must do is to provide lifelong education. We have to create a structure whereby young people, as they go through their work in a rapidly changing technological environment, can develop the skills to match up to it. These are two of the greatest challenges that we face. My party is working hard at the present time on how we will generate the resources to produce lifelong education and a vast improvement in housing policy.
My Lords, I hope that everybody will join me in saying what a great debate this has been. The contributions have been excellent, and emotions have quite rightly been stirred on various issues. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for instigating the debate. He is persistent and consistent in his drive for prevention and all the issues that go with it. I can safely say that all noble Lords love prevention and would love to dismantle poverty—and that we all love Wales.
It is apt that we are discussing this issue when just last week the Prime Minister announced that the Government would reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, protecting the future of the planet for future generations. The UK is on track to become the first G7 nation to legislate to reduce net emissions to zero. Germany has also recently come out in support of a net zero 2050 EU goal following an intervention from Chancellor Merkel last month.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, the noble Lords, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Lord Layard and Lord Davies of Oldham, and others have all drawn our attention to the issue of tackling climate change. Between 1990 and 2016, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, the UK reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 42% while still growing the economy by more than two-thirds. The UK is a centre for clean growth and innovation. Low-carbon technology and clean energy contribute £44.5 billion to our economy every year. As these actions show, this Government are committed to being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, my noble friend Lady Jenkin and others reminded us that young people have never been so important to us as they are now. Indeed, this Government have consistently recognised the need to think about future generations in the policy of today. In the most recent Budget, for instance, the Chancellor announced a £200 million youth endowment fund, which will be run independently by the charity Impetus, working in partnership with the Early Intervention Foundation and Social Investment Business across England and Wales. This focus is on long-term early intervention—exactly the intervention needed to protect and support young people and future generations by investing early, recognising, as we all do, that prevention is better than cure.
Let me read a paragraph from a letter on mental health that our Prime Minister sent recently:
“Much of our work over the last three years has rightly focused on those suffering from mental ill-health. But I also believe that the next great revolution in mental health should be in prevention—because we should never accept a rise in mental health problems as simply inevitable”.
We are investing in the education of our future generations through our reforms of apprenticeships and technical education. In 2017, our reforms fundamentally changed what apprenticeships are, to improve their quality and the long-term opportunities they can provide. We have invested nearly £7 billion this year alone in education for 16 to 19 year-olds, but we know we need to go further. That is why we are transforming technical education through T-levels so that young people have the knowledge to get the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future. We are backing these reforms with an extra £500 million per year once the new T-levels are fully rolled out. As many noble Lords will know, the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, said, “That and better will do”.
On debt reduction, thinking about future generations is also reflected by the Government’s fiscal responsibility. Our public sector debt is now falling as a share of GDP, reducing the debt interest burden on future generations, meaning that today’s taxpayers are not creating costs that will have to be met by those yet to be born. We must stick to that.
Part of fiscal responsibility is also about targeting spend so that it is deployed most effectively. This means looking at benefits and costs to current and future generations of policies, programmes and projects. To do this, government policy professionals find support in the policy profession unit, which promotes professional standards in policy-making. It also adheres to government guidance, known as the Green Book, which sets out a way to help us make effective decisions. It calculates the costs and benefits of spending on today’s and future generations. Included in this guidance are a number of steps to take so that the impacts on future generations of a policy or investment are fully captured. The Green Book approach has been exported far and wide, from Wales to New Zealand. This means that when we consider investments in our infrastructure, in roads, rail, hospitals and schools for the future, we consider the costs and benefits consistently, so we seek to invest the marginal pound with maximum impact.
The Government have invested in infrastructure at record levels. Public sector net investment is set to reach its highest sustained levels for 40 years—today’s generation investing in the future. It is through economic growth, promoted by investment in capital, that the resources available to society are increased. These can be used to increase social value, such as improving public services, tackling poverty or protecting the environment.
Many noble Lords mentioned social capital, but while we have a good understanding of the costs and benefits of our investment in infrastructure, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, reminded us we also need to understand the impact of our investment in people, which is so important, so that future investment can be better targeted. To improve this understanding, the Government have asked the Office for National Statistics to develop a more sophisticated measure of human capital. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, challenged us to invest in social capital and that we must do.
Many people say that we must have prevention rather than cure. Sometimes we give ourselves the impression that we have not made any progress in this way, but I know that we have. I would be the first person to stand here and say that there is more to do in our welfare reforms and that there are areas that we have to sort out. I am not going to argue with that at all. Sort them we will, but universal credit replaces six benefits with one to simplify the system and make work pay. As a result, people claiming universal credit move into work faster, stay in work longer and spend more time looking to increase their earnings.
When I ran an organisation that helped people get and keep a job, we said all the time that you get a job and then sometimes you lose it. You then had to requalify for benefit. I think it took a month to requalify before you could sign on again. You would then get another job. This would repeat itself for some people, especially those on the margins. We now have a system in which staff in Jobcentre Plus can help someone get a job and, if the person then loses that job, they get hold of them again straightaway to help get them their next job. The person does not leave the system. Also, if, in discussions with your work coach, you say that you need to earn more money, they will help you progress to the next job. This is prevention, and while there is more to do, it is working. Our reforms have made welfare fairer for claimants and taxpayers, and encourage people into work by making sure that work always pays. There are 3.7 million more people in work now than in 2010, resulting in the lowest rate of unemployment for 40 years.
I will answer some of the specific issues noble Lords have raised. If I run out of time, I give you my word that I will write with the answers. The noble Lords, Lord Bird, Lord Addington and Lord Wigley, and other noble Lords, raised the issue of the Welsh system. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, is very keen to see if we can do something like this in England. We are looking very carefully at the Welsh system. The noble Lord shared with me that there is a five-year review. We too will wait and see what that review brings about and consider the findings and our response very carefully.
My noble friend Lady Jenkin, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, raised the issue of student debt and student loans. An expert panel led by Philip Augar published a review that was carried out last month, and the Prime Minister welcomes its findings. It says that there are overwhelming strengths to our education system, but the Government will carefully consider the panel’s proposals and engage further with stakeholders before finalising their approach at the spending review.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, does well to challenge us and remind us that we must confront the problems that no other era has had to. The future is not what it used to be, so we must work together to try to find solutions to the problems we face. Believe me, they are bigger than anything we may have seen before.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds challenged us on the Sure Start centres. I am advised that before closing any children’s centres, local authorities must ensure that children and families—particularly the most disadvantaged—will not be adversely affected. This Government are supporting parents with record levels of childcare support and funding. If noble Lords have particular cases involving Sure Start which they wish to write to me about, although I would not be pleased to receive them, I certainly will look at them. I sent somebody in my village to a Sure Start centre this week, and they have been helped.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigley for so eloquently outlining the work of the Welsh Government, and I compliment Sophie Howe and her team on their excellent work. We have talked about mental health, but I wish to inform the noble Lord, Lord Layard, that the Government are committed to achieving parity of esteem between mental and physical health services. Funding for mental health services will grow as a share of the overall NHS budget over the next five years, as set out in the NHS’s long-term plan.
The noble Lord, Lord Layard, raised the issue of national productivity. We are committed to providing high-quality infrastructures to support economic growth and prosperity across all regions of the UK. The Chancellor has set out how over £24 billion of the NPIF was allocated; it includes £740 million for digital infrastructure, £7 billion for research and development and £6.5 billion for transport. Noble Lords will see that those numbers do not add up to the total, but I will not read all the details out now.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford talked to us about hell. You do not hear much about that in church now, so he is right to remind us that it is hot, and that climate change is a hot subject. He also reminded us of the challenge of technological change and the way that it could affect the most vulnerable, which is why they need education and skills to ensure that they can compete in the labour market.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for the time that we were able to spend together. Yesterday, she was able to enlighten me on the excellent work she has been doing and I was really impressed. She asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would be prepared to support a group that pulled all the excellent work together to share good practice. I give her my word that I will go back to the Minister and ask whether that is a possibility. I will do my very best for her.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, reminded us that there is a lack of political vision. I am reminded that where there is no vision, the people perish. To have a vision for our country and our politics is very important. Florence Nightingale was in her mid-30s when she did some of her best and most important work, so we must listen to and make space for our young people.
I thank my noble friend Lord Bethell for his challenge. I am not sure what I can do about making sure that the refurbishment of Parliament is accommodated in line with his vision, but I will have a go. I will certainly pass on his challenge. I was delighted by his endorsement of the intergenerational fairness report. We await the Government’s response with anticipation, but I am glad that he is supportive of a standing committee in the House of Lords.
As ever, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was a champion for the children. He said that we need stable policies for them. We need stable lives and stable relationships for children, and there is great work going on to achieve that, but some very sad cases come to us by the day. I hope that all noble Lords will do their best to try to improve policy and stop the invest/divest situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, again gave us an excellent contribution. On voting I say to him, in the most pleasant way that I can, that the Government do not have any plans to lower the voting age and were elected on a manifesto commitment to retain the current franchise. The House has debated lowering the voting age in a number of contexts and repeatedly voted against it. For example, during the passage of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill in 2016 there was an attempt to lower the voting age in local elections; it was confidently defeated. My noble friend Lord Bethell also raised the issue of young people’s involvement in politics.
I have some good news for the noble Lord, Lord Judd. At the Budget in 2018, the Chancellor announced that PFI will be “retired”—I think that is the polite word—for new projects on the basis that it is inflexible, overly complex and a potential risk to government finances.
There was a wonderful contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. We are in awe of his understanding of the issues. As we are the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change. Standing by is not an option and we have set targets to do better.
In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and my noble friend Lord Bethell, last year the House appointed a Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and we await the outcome of its report. The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, asked whether we would benefit from having young people in here. I consider myself young at 63 and I imagine that we would. It takes some time to change things here, though, so in that sense perhaps we had better get on with it.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, was another endorser of looking at Welsh policy and seeing what happens there. I have given an answer to that. He is persistent and consistent in his quest for better services for dyslexia, and the benefits that technology can achieve. To the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I say that we are committed to providing high-quality infrastructure to support economic growth. The national product investment fund is going to deliver additional money for that, and we remain committed to HS2.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I always find his interventions refreshingly honest; they stimulate great debate. I will close with a quote from his article in the House magazine:
“If we don’t want to be the generation who knew what needed to be done, but fiddled while Rome burned, we need to take action. After all, the best way to predict the future is to create it”.
I thank all noble Lords.
I really enjoyed that and am glad the Minister has said she will look closely at the Welsh commission and legislation. That was a good way of describing it. I do not know if I got there in the end, but I was trying to bring poverty into the future generations debate, along with climate change and other things. I was trying to explain that I arrived at future generations from my work in poverty, as opposed to considering other wider issues. I am glad we are doing this.
The Minister has pointed out all the work being done, and it is great. There is nothing not being done. Some 80% of social provision in this country—maybe a little more or less—is very good and we should be proud of that. But the 20% or 22% is why we need something more forward-looking for future generations. The 22% are always left behind, and they are the people who take up 70% of the political and social actions of both Houses, and all sorts of local authorities and charities. We are obsessed with and besotted by what is about 20% to 30%. I wanted to mention that.
I also mention the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, because he was the only one who said it is not worth a candle—in the nicest possible sense. At one stage, I was the printer of the Victorian Society and spent a long time getting into Victorian history. I was often in this House measuring, because the Victorian Society had many plans to open up and save the buildings. This was 40 years ago; of course, there was no response, the money was not spent and here we are having to spend billions in the future.
It is interesting to look at the year 1885 and the Great Stink. What did it lead to? The Great Stink led to Bazalgette’s northern and southern outfalls. Who commissioned that? A commissioner did, the public works commissioner. They could not get the partisans together. Who were the partisans? They were not just political, but the local authorities that did not want to invest in drainage and get rid of all the nasty smells. It was the parish councils and business. Business wanted more of the same. It wanted to put all its trash into the river. It was a commissioner, not very different from commissioner Sophie Howe. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, if he really wants to look at the development of this country, look at the occasions when the commissioners stepped in and said, “Enough is enough. We have to do something”. I thank all noble Lords for a very exciting debate. You have been very generous to me.
House adjourned at 5.45 pm.