My Lords, 20 years ago last week I made my maiden speech in a debate on the care and protection of people in custody. This was in the context of my work at the time, which involved visiting police cells as a member of the police authority. Following that, I spoke in a debate initiated by Lord Longford. It took place late at night and there were few in the Chamber; at the time I was a coward about speaking in front of a full House. Lord Longford asked me if there was anything else to do with the penal system which I would like to debate. I have great respect for much of what was done by Lord Longford. However, when I said that I wanted to talk about protecting people who were in custody, particularly young people, from emotional, physical or sexual abuse, he said, “We do not debate the problems in American prisons in this Chamber.” I could have agreed with Lord Longford on many things, but not on that.
My experience as a councillor, and as a visitor to schools and to units with young people, taught me that protecting people who are in custody, particularly the young, is an incredibly difficult task. We have heard that many have suffered violence, abuse and sexual or psychological abuse, and those of us who work with these young people know that on many occasions their behaviour plays that out.
I plead with the Minister to take this provision back. Having been in his position, I know that there can be difficulties if members of the Government in the other place are not here and are not listening to us. There is a message that could go back. The Government could come forward with their own proposals rather than risk defeat here. That would have the good will of the House and of the organisations which have written in. Most of all, it would allow those of us who are concerned about it to be as sure as we possibly can be that the quality, experience, framework and situation of the young people in this circumstance will be as advantageous as possible.