My Lords, this has been a short debate about the place of secure children’s homes in the youth custodial estate. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, it is something of an appetiser for what I know is to come during the course of this afternoon and evening.
I recognise on behalf of the Government that much good work is done in secure children’s homes, and that they often accommodate some of the most vulnerable young people in custody. The Government are clear that we will continue to provide separate specialist accommodation for those who need it. We have also made clear that, while we believe the secure college model could cater for the majority of young people in custody—that is, a secure college rather than a secure children’s home—it will not be suitable for 10 and 11 year-olds or for some young people with the most acute needs or vulnerability.
This year, we have demonstrated our commitment by continuing to provide places in secure children’s homes by entering new contracts with nine homes to provide 138 places. I know that many noble Lords will have observed the decline in the number of places in secure children’s homes that the Government contract, but that, as was acknowledged on Monday in your Lordships’ House, reflects a substantial and welcome reduction in the number of young people in custody overall in recent years.
The current arrangement is that the Secretary of State may provide places in young offender institutions and secure training centres; the Bill seeks to give him the power also to provide secure colleges. In addition, he has the ability to enter into contracts for the provision of youth detention accommodation in secure children’s homes. Amendment 107 would change this by giving the Secretary of State the power to provide secure children’s homes directly. The power to provide these homes rests with local authorities, not the Secretary of State, and we think it right that this should remain the position. Secure children’s homes are created by different legislation with the purpose of ensuring that there is provision for children whose welfare needs are so acute that a court decides they must be accommodated securely. Meeting the needs of this particular group of children is the important distinction between secure children’s homes and other forms of custodial provision.
The Secretary of State has a duty to ensure that there are sufficient places in youth detention accommodation for young people remanded in or sentenced to custody, and in discharging this duty he continues to contract places in secure children’s homes for those young people who require them. We think that that is the right arrangement, rather than the Secretary of State providing secure children’s homes, which are intended to serve a greater purpose than simply accommodating convicted or remanded young people.
I recognise the concern about the future of secure children’s homes and we will no doubt come back to that when we consider the substantial group of amendments that follows this debate. The Government are clear that there continues to be a place for them in the youth custodial estate, but we consider that the position is adequately catered for by the current arrangements. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.