My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate on these amendments, which are important, although they focus on two narrow but, I understand, critical aspects of these proposed secure colleges.
Dealing first with girls and those aged under 15, Amendments 109 and 117A seek to exclude girls and under-15s from secure colleges, or to prevent girls being accommodated on the same site as boys. I entirely recognise that there is understandable caution about the risks involved in allowing girls and under-15s to be placed in a new type of secure establishment, where the majority of young people will be boys between the ages of 15 and 17. I also recognise the importance of secure colleges being able to address the particular educational, health and emotional needs of these undoubtedly very vulnerable young people.
Let me assure noble Lords that we have gone to considerable lengths in our designs for the secure college to ensure that the younger and more vulnerable groups could be accommodated in separate small units. As my noble friend Lord Carlile told the House, following a meeting in July we made changes to the plans to enlarge the site by two acres, and to ensure that the younger and more vulnerable people have their own sports and recreational facilities. This is not merely tunnels—as he describes it—but separate facilities and separate access routes to the main education and healthcare building. In this way, it will be possible to deliver a distinct regime that caters to these more vulnerable boys and girls. In our consultation on our plans, we have also proposed a rule requiring girls to be accommodated separately from boys. I referred to that consultation earlier this afternoon.
However, I should make clear to the House that no final decisions have been taken on who will be accommodated in the secure college pathfinder. This will be determined in light of the analysis of the make-up of the youth custodial population ahead of the pathfinder opening in 2017. I also gave a commitment in Committee that girls and under-15s will not be placed in the pathfinder from its opening, and that any decision to introduce them would be carefully phased. While I entirely recognise the concerns that lie behind these amendments, I believe that the risks can be sensitively and safely managed. This already happens in secure training centres and secure children’s homes, where boys and girls of different ages are accommodated on the same site.
There have been references to the numbers in the youth custodial estate. I can assist the House by saying that at the moment there are 16 girls in secure children’s homes, and 20 girls in secure training centres. That is a total of 36. There are 25 under-15s in secure children’s homes, and 13 in secure training centres, giving a total of 38. In one of the secure children’s homes there are 24 boys and one girl, so we are not talking about a large number.
We are anxious not to preclude, as a matter of strict law, the possibility of admitting to the secure college girls or those aged under 15. However, the House will know that the Youth Justice Board takes the decisions on where young people who are sentenced or remanded into custody are to be placed. These decisions are taken by specially trained staff and informed by detailed advice from the youth offending teams who have been working with the young people. The Youth Justice Board’s placement decisions are based on the individual needs of a young person. They take into account the whole range of factors that you would expect, such as age, gender, vulnerability, location, offence and any previous history. There is a very nuanced assessment before children are even considered appropriate for the secure college. However, the amendment would absolutely prevent it.