Report (2nd Day)

Part of Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 22nd October 2014.

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Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 22nd October 2014

Last Thursday, my noble friend Lord Faulks and his ministerial colleague from another place, Mr Selous, gave noble Lords the opportunity to hear from both Ministers and to look, not for the first time, at the physical plans for the secure college. Some changes had been made to the plans since the last time we had seen them. Those included carefully separated provision for girls and vulnerable boys in the younger age group.

When the plans were presented it became clear that what was being provided was the best one could manage on that site, in the view of the Government. What they have provided, in the plans that we saw depicted, is a way of transferring the girls and vulnerable young boys from their accommodation to health and education provision whereby part of the site is locked down from other students while the youngsters and the girls are being moved around. This is not a way in which any sane person or organisation would design a school or college. One only has to ask any teacher who has ever had to deal with the separation of boys and girls of the age that we are talking about—even, for example, when moving them to and from sports facilities—to know the kind of potential trouble that exists even in the best ordered institution. And we are not talking about an institution in which the students will in all cases be volunteering their co-operation for good order.

When we examine the situation further, we find the following. Unless my noble friend can point to something that we have not yet seen, no independent organisation assessing the merits of education provision has reported that this is a good design for such a college. Nobody has reported independently or empirically that this is a good way of dealing with girls and young vulnerable boys in such an institution. I repeat, as I did at the meeting, that I am grateful to the Government for finding another 2.5 acres on the site for some additional—though, I apprehend, still inadequate—sports provision. But the truth is that the Government are going to spend £80 million on this site for one reason alone—the fact that they already own it.

I wonder whether the local planning authority, which I believe is Blaby Council, will be as calm as the Government about the quality of the provision, its security and how satisfactory it is for this very young age group and for girls. I very much hope that it will not. It would not surprise me if the local planning authority raised some difficulties. As I said, the college is there simply because the Government own the site, and in order to fill that site they wish to shoehorn in girls and young vulnerable males as well. Those people should not be there at all, as the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Beecham, and others have made absolutely clear.

I want to say something about Amendment 110, and particularly health needs. Your Lordships do not need my next remark to be repeated, although I will repeat it merely for the record—namely, that almost all the children in an institution like this will have at least one identifiable mental health condition and many of them will have multiple mental health conditions. Those mental health conditions will have been exacerbated by poor parental care, possible sexual abuse and violence at home. I regret that I have observed that the first time many young people have somewhere comfortable and secure to sit down is when they are in custody—in other words, they have multiple serious needs, many of which have to be met through child and adolescent mental health services. There will be self-harmers among them, particularly, I fear, among the girls. This is well documented in relation to teenage girls. Self-harm is extremely difficult to manage. Taking a girl through a secure tunnel or walkway to spend a little time in a health centre, however good it may be, and then walking her back under the same conditions to her accommodation just will not do. It is not the way in which child and adolescent mental health services work.

The Bethlem Hospital has provision for teenage mentally ill people. By the way, it has a school so it is interesting as a comparison. If my noble friend were to visit that hospital, he would find that the children in question are moved into a single room in which they are watched constantly. When they start to self-harm a little less, they are watched every five minutes and so on. It is a very complex process. I have heard no assurance that there is provision for girls, or any other children in this institution, to be managed under the medical model followed in the best child and adolescent mental health services. I repeat that this just will not do. It is inadequate in the absence of evidence of nearby residential mental health facilities with education provision to which these young people with these awful conditions can be moved. They are not lost causes. I can tell my noble friend that young people do recover from self-harming. I have seen plenty of examples of that, including one closely connected to myself. They recover from these conditions—they may recover permanently—and may lead completely useful, normal and, indeed, very profitable lives. However, they must be provided with the facilities to enable them to do so.

Frankly, those who have looked at the plans of the proposed site, with its shoehorning of people on to a property owned by the Government, as I mentioned, despair that any real thought has been given to the merits of these cases. Despite the effort that has been made—I am truly grateful to my noble friend and other Ministers for keeping us well informed—I cannot support a provision like this, which I confidently predict will be visited in an official capacity in a few years’ time by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, or somebody with his knowledge and experience, who will condemn this college as failing the most vulnerable in the age group concerned.