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Guardians of Britain's future generations?

A new report has been launched in Westminster on how to restructure democratic institutions to take care of future generations.

Last week in Parliament the new ‘Green House’ thinktank launched with a report I’ve authored on how to restructure our democratic institutions to take account of those who are not here yet: future people (here are some pictures). The 30 page report prepared with the assistance of the new ‘Alliance for future generations’ umbrella-group of NGOs is called Guardians of the Future and you can access the PDF here.

The starting point of my thinking on all this is this question: ‘Democracy’ means ‘government by the people’, but who are ‘the people’?

I insist, following Burke, that society exists over time and decisions taken today can have significant consequences for people yet to be born. My report argues therefore that the interests of future generations should be formally represented within our existing parliamentary democracy. Building on the philosophies of Plato and of deliberative democracy, and on the precedent of Hungary’s innovative office of Ombudsman for Future Generations, my report proposes the creation of a new legislative house, to sit above the upper house – ‘Guardians’ of Future Generations. The members of this body would be selected by ‘sortition’, as is current practice for jury service, in order to ensure independence from present-day party political interests. This is of course the same method recommended by Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty in their The Athenian Option.

The Guardians would have a power of veto over legislation that was likely to have substantial negative effects for society in the future, the right to review major administrative decisions which substantially affected future people and perhaps also the power to initiate legislation to preserve the basic needs and interests of future people.

The proposal includes the creation of such ‘Guardians’ locally, nationally, and internationally (e.g. at the U.N. level). A modest version of such a proposal (for an international ‘High Commissioner’ for future generations) is going forward to the Rio-plus-20 governance discussions (see this ).

The proposal has had some coverage including the Guardian, the Telegraph (saying the idea of looking after the unborn is "megalomaniac") and Liberal Conspiracy (where I plugged it). Michael Bartlett has already offered a partial response to it here, on OK. The House of Commons launch last week was attended by journalists, politicians and civil society representatives. Speakers at the launch included Caroline Lucas MP (Leader of the Green Party), Jon Cruddas MP (a leading Labour intellectual), and Norman Baker MP (a Lib Dem junior members of the government). The Hungarian Ombudsman for Future Generations sent an statement of support to the meeting.

Well, all good ideas must start somewhereand I'd like OurKingdom readers to take a look, you can read it here.

About the author

Dr. Rupert Read is Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. He was a two-term elected Green Party councillor in Norwich. He now Chairs the Green House think tank.

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