Feltham a Young Offenders Institution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 2:22 pm, 24th July 2019

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, if not for his tone. This may be the first time I have faced him directly across the Dispatch Box for an urgent question, and it might also be the last time—who knows? He asked a number of specific questions. He will be aware that, following his comments in 2017, the chief inspector said subsequently that it is no longer the case that there is no safe institution. It is important to draw that to the attention of the House and to mention again the Wetherby report. It is clear that this is not a systemic problem in the youth custodial system. That said, none of that, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, detracts from the fact that what has been reported from Feltham is a cause of deep concern and must be addressed as a matter of priority.

Since my appointment last summer, I have been following the performance of Feltham and, indeed, all the other youth custodial institutions in my portfolio. I have held a number of meetings both with the governor and with the director of youth custody service, to discuss progress in Feltham and what more needs to be done. As I have made clear, considerable additional resource has been put in, so this is not a matter of spending or resource, and a considerable number of additional staff have been put in, so it is not down to that, either. It is important that we put that on the record rather than indulge in rhetoric about cuts, which do not apply in this case. The smile on the hon. Gentleman’s face suggests that I have a point. I continue to take a very close interest in the issue, particularly in recent months, and I have engaged with Seema Malhotra and kept her up to date.

The hon. Gentleman asked when the temporary ban on placements will be brought to an end and how the House will be involved. That is an operational decision to be made by the director of the youth custody service. I am not able to bind my potential successor to how that is handled, but I am sure that whoever stands at this Dispatch Box with that responsibility will wish to keep the hon. Lady and, indeed, the House informed on that important issue.

The hon. Gentleman concluded with comments about leadership at the Ministry of Justice and the number of Secretaries of State and Ministers. I have to say that his characterisation of how the Ministry of Justice works certainly does not accord with my experience of working there every day. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Gauke, who has recently departed the role of Secretary of State for Justice. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the number of Ministers, but I suspect that their departure and the churn rate has little to do with his performance as their shadow and rather more with other factors. This Government and whoever leads the Ministry of Justice are entirely clear in their view that we must do everything we can to ensure that any children detained in custody are accorded care and support of the highest quality and are safe.