It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin, and not for the first time. Children and young people have always been my focus in politics. I spent many years as the lead member for them in Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council. I used to meet them in the most positive circumstances and often the most negative too. I celebrated with them, I spent time with looked-after children and young carers, I even did more school visits than I do now, and I listened to the challenges and problems they faced. I know that we have a tremendous responsibility to them all, but there cannot be any group of young people to whom we could have more responsibility than those that the Bill proposes to cover.
We are starting with one of the most important aspects of the Bill. We must, of course, take care when making decisions about how mental capacity will be assessed for all people, but never more so than when young people are involved. The Bill extends these measures to 16 and 17-year-olds, and as a result we must make very specific provision for them throughout the legislation. That starts with and is not limited to agreeing on the involvement of approved mental capacity professionals in all cases involving 16 and 17-year-olds. I know that that has already been clearly stated by others, but it cannot be emphasised enough.
A few minutes ago the Minister said that there were issues with that suggestion because of the possible involvement of others—perhaps family members or other advocates for the young person—but I cannot see how that can be the case. If a young person is being assessed properly, surely anybody involved and the whole system should be ensuring that everybody involved in the care and welfare of that young person is consulted and engaged. I hope the Minister will respond to that later.
In current law, 16 and 17-year-olds are mostly considered to be children—I know they all think they are adults, but they are still children. Although as MPs we do not have the same sort of corporate parenting responsibilities many of us had in local authorities, if anything, we have to give them even more protection—protection, if you like, from the state. Let us remember what a child is. Among other things, they are not allowed to vote. They cannot buy nicotine or alcohol products. They need parental permission to marry. If they work, the law decides that their labour is worth less than that of an 18-year-old. If it is the Government’s position that 16 and 17-year-olds are not adults, we must take special measures to ensure extra safeguards for them and for their families. One is amendment 38, which makes provision for an AMCP to be involved in all cases involving 16 and 17-year-olds. I simply cannot understand why such a provision would be rejected by the Government.
I have been contacted, as I am sure everybody else has, by a number of organisations that have raised concerns. Most of them tell me that the Bill does not do enough to safeguard 16 and 17-year-olds. For example, the Law Society has been particularly vocal about ensuring that an AMCP must review the care arrangements for all 16 and 17-year-olds subject to the liberty protection safeguards. They must also have the right to an independent mental capacity advocate. Mencap tells me that its concern is that the LPS proposals were predominantly developed with the focus on people over the age of 18 and the specific needs of young people to be protected must not be passed over. Mencap believes that they could be.
Young people cannot be an afterthought in the legislation. Extensive consideration is required and I am very disappointed that there has never been a proper evidence session for the Bill, either in the Lords, where the Bill started, or here. There has not been that extensive consultation. Having said that, I know sure that all the organisations involved have been in touch with us to provide us with material. I know there have been written submissions as well. Any decisions taken about young people will affect them for the rest of their lives—in their care, their future education, their employment prospects, their day care and so many other things too, but ultimately their freedom, the freedom that most young people take for granted.
I know that we will get into information and consultation later in the Bill, but it is critical in this context. Most young people have their parents and others to speak up for them, but even those advocates can be shut out in some circumstances so we need to ensure that those young people’s protections are protected in law.
Let us remember what vulnerable young people can be subjected to if and when we apply the provisions of the Bill to their lives. Some of them are spelled out in amendment 37; among them are physical restraint, sedation and covert medication, and a ban on seeing particular people. We cannot have a situation in which some people in our nation can have these things done to them or restrictions placed on them without the strongest possible protections, of which the decision makers must always be mindful.