My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate on these amendments and to all those in the Chamber and beyond who have engaged with and helped to shape our proposals for secure colleges. It has been said during the debate that our proposals are rushed and ill thought out, and that there has been a failure to engage.
We have made considerable efforts to engage with a wide range of stakeholders and experts right the way through, from the gestation of this idea to bringing legislation before Parliament and developing plans for a pathfinder secure college. In our Transforming Youth Custody consultation, published in February 2013, the Government engaged with a wide range of organisations in the education, custody and voluntary sectors. Uniquely, we asked them to submit outline proposals for how a secure college might tackle the problems of poor education and reoffending outcomes. What I think there is complete agreement on in your Lordships’ House is that there is far too high an instance of reoffending by young offenders and that education is insufficiently catered for within the secure youth estate.
Those responses directly informed the Government’s response to the consultation, published in January this year. After the Bill was introduced in this House, I hosted an open event in July to outline our proposals, to share our latest plans for the design of the pathfinder secure college—the clue is in the name: pathfinder—and to listen to the views of those with interests and expertise in this area. Peers were assisted by iPads that gave a design and indication of the precise configuration of the secure college and how the various parts would work together. It proved a fruitful exercise, I believe, and the discussion that day with Peers led to substantial changes to our design for the pathfinder secure college.
Following that meeting, we secured additional land for the site, increasing its size by two acres and extending the range of sporting facilities and outdoor space. We also reconfigured the layout of the site to ensure that groups of the more vulnerable young offenders, whom we had already planned to accommodate separately, could access education and health facilities via a different route from older children at the site and would have separate sporting facilities. I was pleased to share those revised plans at yet another open meeting with Peers last week.
Noble Lords will also be aware that, following my commitment in Committee, last week the Government published a public consultation on our plans for secure college rules. It is a substantial document with a considerable amount of detail. I hope that those noble Lords who have felt it appropriate to comment on the inadequacy of the consultation will at least take the trouble to read carefully this consultation and realise the amount of detail that has been provided in order to come to the right final conclusion as to the rules.
The secure college rules set out the proposed policies which will inform those rules, and in respect of the use of force—clearly a matter of considerable importance to the House—set out draft indicative rules to facilitate greater scrutiny of our proposals. Noble Lords will also be aware that the Government have brought forward an amendment to make rules authorising the use of force subject to the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure.
Throughout the process, Ministers have written to and met with a wide range of stakeholders to keep them apprised of our plans. Only yesterday the Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, met a range of children’s charities and groups with an interest in youth justice. We also have been working closely with NHS England, the Department for Education and experts in education and custodial provision to test our designs for the secure college pathfinder. Our revised plans are now publicly available and are being scrutinised by Blaby District Council as part of the planning application for the pathfinder.
I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will recognise that considerable efforts have been gone into and opportunities provided for the views of others to inform our thinking. I have to say I was very disappointed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, whom the House of course greatly respects on this area, suggest in Committee that, notwithstanding our engagement, it was,
“both unreasonable and irresponsible of the Government to expect Parliament to rubber-stamp it until it knows more”.—[ Official Report , 23/7/14; col. 1173]
The Ministry of Justice and my officials have worked extremely hard to provide information about secure colleges. There were also lengthy debates in the House of Commons. I hope noble Lords have had a chance to see them. I have read all of them. A great deal of detail was provided at that stage and then in your Lordships’ House in the lengthy Committee stage. The Government have attempted to give answers to all the various points that have been given to them. It is, therefore, with great disappointment, that we are accused of being in contempt of Parliament.
I will now turn to the amendments. They cover the use of force, secure college rules and the powers of the Secretary of State to contract out the running of secure colleges. I will start by addressing the amendment on the use of force, as this is relevant to the government amendment in respect of the secure college rules. Amendment 121 seeks to restrict the circumstances in which a custody officer may be authorised to use force in a secure college. I am aware that a similar amendment was recommended in the recent report on the Bill by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. While the Government share the view that force must only ever be used as a last resort, and that only the minimum force required should be used, we believe it is right that force be available in a wider range of circumstances than the amendment permits.
In addition to preventing harm, we believe that force must also be available to prevent escape, to prevent damage to property and for the purpose of maintaining good order and discipline. I recognise that it is the final category which has attracted most debate. During a constructive debate in Committee, I set out the Government’s view that custody officers in secure colleges should be able to use force for the purpose of maintaining good order and discipline, but that this use would be subject to stringent controls.
In our consultation document on our plans for secure college rules, we have gone into a great deal of detail about our approach to the use of force. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Marks made reference to the instances given on page 23 of that document of particular examples which he, I think, accepted were instances where there would, in exceptional circumstances, have to be force used in circumstances where one would not normally want it to be used.
We have clarified that force, in these circumstances, may be used only where a young person poses a risk to maintaining a safe and stable environment and where there is also a risk to the safety or welfare of the young person against whom the restraint is used or that of another young person. We have set out examples in the document of the types of circumstances in which we believe the use of force for these purposes would be justified. We are clear that force can never be used as a punishment.
The consultation document makes clear our position that the use of force for good order and discipline would be authorised only to the extent that it was strictly necessary and proportionate; that only authorised restraint techniques could be applied; that the use of pain-inducing techniques for reasons of maintaining good order and discipline will be prohibited; that only the minimum restraint necessary for the shortest possible time must be used; that the young person’s dignity and physical integrity must be respected at all times; and that the best interests of the young person against whom the force is used must be a primary consideration. We have also set out safeguards and procedures to be followed before, during and after any use of restraint for maintaining a safe and stable environment.
The Government recognise the sensitivity and importance of provisions relating to the use of force with young people. That is why we are consulting publicly and in great detail, and we will consider the responses that we receive. However, for the reasons that I have set out, we do not agree with the restrictions that the amendment would place on the circumstances in which force could be used in secure colleges.
As a further commitment to ensuring scrutiny of our proposals on the use of force, we are bringing forward an amendment to the process for approving secure college rules. In its third report of the Session, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that if the Bill is to enable secure college rules to authorise the use of force for the purpose of ensuring good order and discipline, then such rules should, to the extent that they authorise, be subject to the affirmative procedure. We have accepted that recommendation and brought forward Amendment 122.
This amendment will make the entire first set of secure college rules subject to the affirmative procedure, as they will contain provisions authorising the use of force. This will give Parliament additional oversight of the secure college rules, although I cannot agree to Amendment 111, which would require the rules always to be subject to the affirmative procedure—a requirement which does not apply to prison or young offender institution rules, for example.