My Lords, this amendment is an appetiser for the main course that awaits us in the form of secure colleges, about which we will hear a good deal.
Secure children’s homes care for some of the most damaged children, necessitating intensive and, it has to be said, expensive care. The numbers have been reduced in recent years. There are now 138 places in secure children’s homes. In Committee, I suggested adding them to the facilities that might be provided by the Secretary of State alongside existing young offender institutions and secure training colleges and the secure colleges that the Bill seeks to establish.
In his reply, the Minister explained the failure to include secure children’s homes, on the list, on the basis that local authorities had the power to provide such homes, and the Secretary of State does not and never has had that power. He went on to say that it is for local authorities to provide sufficient places as are required in secure children’s homes, and we think it right that they retain responsibility for this.
However, the amendment does not require the Secretary of State to provide secure children’s homes; it gives him the power to do so. In any event, it is surely desirable that such provision is seen as part of a range of different facilities. Given the pressure on local authority budgets and the concerns that secure colleges, if they are to be included under this legislation, might reduce the demand for such places, it is surely reasonable for the Secretary of State to have some involvement—potential, if not immediately actual—with this part of what should be seen as essentially one service aimed at providing for these children of varying degrees of vulnerability and difficulty, albeit in different ways.
I hope the noble Lord will acknowledge that this is meant to be a constructive amendment, which does not impose a duty but opens up the possibility of having a whole-system approach to this group of young people. I beg to move.