Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
Third Reading
Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Secure 16 to 19 academies, otherwise known as secure schools, are an innovative new form of custody for children and young people that the 2019 manifesto committed to trialling. They will be schools with security, rather than prisons with education. Normally when children commit an offence, they are managed in the community with community sentences, but sometimes the offences committed are so awful or the offending is so frequent that a custodial sentence is necessary. Thankfully, that is not common; there are currently around 530 children in the secure estate, and the House may be interested to know that fewer than 12 of them at any time in the last year have been female children.

Many of these children have significant social, emotional or mental health issues, which are root causes of some of the offending behaviour. Even if they have very long sentences, they will come out into the community at a relatively young age, which means that they will have a long time free to contribute to society if they can be effectively given greater rehabilitation opportunities in prison.

In Sleaford, we have a secure children’s home that takes younger children into a small environment and gives them a better chance of turning their lives around. The first secure school will be built in Medway in Kent, providing education to a small number of young people —up to 49 of them—and giving them a good opportunity to bring themselves on to the straight and narrow.

The Government have already acted, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, to establish the secure 16 to 19 academies in legislation, and this Bill makes further necessary amendments to the Academies Act 2010 to make specific provisions relevant to the establishment of new secure schools, as opposed to other types of academies.

The changes proposed cover the termination period in which the Government continue to fund the secure school should there be a need to end a funding agreement into which they have entered. In general, normal academies would have a seven-year period, but the Bill will reduce that to two for the secure estate. The seven years is calculated on the basis that students would normally spend seven years at a school, but in the case of secure schools, the sentences vary considerably, and the amount of time that a child spends in such an establishment is determined primarily by their legal status. The Bill will enable the Government to prioritise value for money, which we would expect a Conservative Government to continue to do. It will also provide more flexibility should there be any need to terminate a funding agreement with a school provider.

For such an important part of our vision for the future of the youth custody estate, it is important that we have efficient processes for opening new schools. The Bill will modify the consultation requirements in the 2010 Act so that they do not apply to secure schools, and help future secure schools to open with minimal delay. For example, anyone who wants to open an academy is required to consider the impact that it will have on pupil numbers in other local schools, but clearly that is not a relevant consideration for a secure school. Engagement with local communities is a key part of the Ministry of Justice selection process for new custodial sites. The Bill gives providers the opportunity to engage with their local community, ensuring a more constructive consultation process that will seek to consult on how the secure school works with local partners. It should be noted that a proposal to build an entirely new site would of course go through the regular planning procedures too.

By supporting the Bill, the House has an opportunity to tailor the legislative framework for secure schools, thereby creating better services and strengthening the impact of secure schools on the lives of children in the justice system. I have been most grateful to hon. Members across the House for their support and valued contributions during the Bill’s passage so far. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (Dr Evans), for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) and for Southend West (Anna Firth), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), my hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool (Jill Mortimer) and for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) and for Neath (Christina Rees), and the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) for participating in the Bill Committee. I thank in particular my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire and the hon. Member for Neath for their valued contributions in Committee. I also thank the Ministry of Justice officials who have been so helpful to me with the Bill; the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), for his support with it; Anne-Marie Griffiths in the Public Bill Office; and my great team for Sleaford and North Hykeham.

I hope I have addressed the aims of the Bill and the positive impact it can have, and I am proud to move its Third Reading.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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I am conscious that this is a small Bill, but it is an important one. It recognises the need to make sure that the legislation is up to date and does not limit the opportunities for secure academies to proceed. I have two prisons in my constituency, and during my time as an MP one of them has been a young offenders institution. Warren Hill is now a category C prison, but when I visited it as a YOI, I saw how important it was to have that educational ethos. I am conscious that young people who are housed in YOIs have often performed pretty horrific crimes, but I think there is an opportunity with this Bill to expand the focus on education while maintaining aspects of the relevant categories.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) on taking on what is perhaps a less attractive area of legislation, but one in which important things need to be done. I know that her Bill, if it flies through the Lords as it has through the Commons, will be a really good legacy for her and for thinking about the future of young children.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I call the Opposition spokesperson.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) on securing this Bill and on her speech? Like others, I have a long-standing interest in youth justice, having served on the Justice Committee, but also because I have a young offenders institution in my constituency, which I have visited on many occasions.

Reforms to youth justice are essential, and we support the measures in the Bill. The hon. Member is right that secure schools—schools with security rather than prisons with education—are an innovative form of custody for children and young people. The 2016 Taylor report laid out why we need to reimagine how we care for children who commit offences serious enough to warrant their detention in custody. The Government committed that year to phase out young offender institutions and secure training centres, and to replace them with a network of secure schools, since renamed secure 16 to 19 academies.

Media reports today reference the first secure school being set to open in Medway on the site of the Medway secure training centre, which is set to house 49 children aged 12 to 18 who were sentenced or remanded to custody by the courts. However, as the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham knows, the journey has been beset by delays. The Public Accounts Committee report in 2022 said that the first secure school had not yet opened more than six years after it was recommended, and costs had indeed spiralled—from an estimated original £4.9 million, I think, to £40 million—because of unexpected additional requirements that had not been factored in. The first secure school was originally set to open by autumn 2020, as the Public Accounts Committee identified; the former Medway STC site was then to open by November 2023, but was again delayed to February 2024, and it is still yet to open. The main point, with which I am sure the hon. Lady will agree, is that we need effective planning and risk management to be much better than we have seen to date in the history of the secure schools implementation. I will make a couple of further comments in that regard, but will first make our comments on the proposed changes, which we support.

We support the reduction of the minimum notice period; as has been mentioned, the seven-year termination period was clearly intended for continuity of education provision for those who might be in year 7 who might expect to be able to go on to year 13 in their school. It is also right to say that secure schools are not competing with other schools in their area.

On the third amendment, on consultation with appropriate persons on how the school will work with local partners, the hon. Lady made an important distinction between where there might be new developments to go through a full planning process and where an existing facility may be adapted or refurbished. On the latter, I hope that the hon. Lady will agree that we want people to be confident in these schools and to feel engaged in what is happening in their community. It is important that we have learning and best practice from the implementation of the first secure school as well, and that we keep under review the way in which communities are being engaged.

I hope the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham will also agree—perhaps she will comment on this—that it is important to keep under review the continuity and quality of the education being provided. As she says, the children going into these secure schools may be there for a period of months, or they may be there for longer. Bearing in mind there has to be an assessment of their education on entry, what consideration is there for the continuity and quality of that education, as well as the maintenance of relationships with family? Children as young as 12 are being cared for in these secure schools—that is very young. How will visiting arrangements and temporary release arrangements be determined? It is important that risk assessments are followed so that families and communities continue to have confidence in the reforms as they are rolled out.

I will also make a point on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), who would have spoken in this debate, about levels of violence. How would they be considered on the youth estate, and how would they be managed in secure schools to ensure confidence?

I want to raise two important matters. The first is around capacity and the implications of a lack of capacity on the quality of provision. Based on analysis of data from the Department for Education, Article 39 says:

“At any one time, around 25 children each day are waiting for a secure children’s home place and around 20 are placed by…local authorities in Scottish secure units due to the lack of available places. The…number of secure children’s homes places means that, even when children get a place,”

they are likely to end up living far away from home. Given the severe shortage of places in secure homes, and although the first secure 16-to-19 academy is set to be run by Oasis, there is no guarantee that, with the growing pressure to create places as we see the reforms continue, other quality education providers with the necessary expertise across both education and justice, youth justice in particular, will come forward.

I hope the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham will agree that we need to monitor how we build capacity, otherwise the outcome will be to sacrifice the quality of provision for children against the pressure to create places. I would be grateful for her comments on that.

The second challenge is about rehabilitation, to which the hon. Lady referred, and prevention. At the moment, there is no cohesive plan to stop young people picking up knives, which is why Labour has announced a Young Futures programme that would require new local partnerships to identify the young people most at risk of knife crime and to build a package of support to prevent them from ever offending. This will draw on up to £100 million a year, based on combining existing commitments to fund new youth mentors and mental health hubs in every community, youth workers in pupil referral units and A&E, and a programme of public sector reform to deliver a targeted programme in every area. She may have broadly considered this in relation to her amendment on community engagement, but the community engagement of secure academy providers may be important to wider community youth crime prevention.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on this important Bill, which I wish every success as it continues its passage through the House.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mike Freer)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) for her excellent work on this important Bill, and for navigating it to this point. It is to her great credit that the Bill has such support.

It is a sad reality that a small number of children commit offences so serious that there is no option other than to deprive them of their liberty in order to protect the public. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that they receive the appropriate support to prepare them for their eventual release and to turn their life around.

As the House will be aware, Charlie Taylor published his landmark review of the youth justice system in 2016. The report made a number of important recommendations, including on the need to reimagine how we care for children who commit serious enough offences to warrant detaining them in custody. His proposal was to create a new type of custodial environment, focused on the delivery of education, to offer children the opportunity to gain the skills and qualifications necessary to prepare them for their release into the community.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 established secure schools in legislation as secure 16-to-19 academies, under both the Academies Act 2010 and the Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015. The first ever secure school, Oasis Restore, is in the process of Ofsted registration and hopes to welcome children in the very near future. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), visited the site yesterday to see for himself the impressive progress made on the school’s facilities. As work has continued, and as we near the opening of the first ever secure school, this Bill is now needed to ensure that the specific provisions of the Academies Act are relevant to secure 16-to-19 academies.

Why do we need secure schools? The number of children in custody has fallen drastically in recent years, with 82% fewer children under the age of 18 in custody than in 2010. It is right that we should deprive children of their liberty only as a last resort, and the decline has rightly been commended as a success of the youth justice system. However, for children who commit the most serious crimes, there remains a need to protect the public by detaining them in custody.

The children now in custody are among the most complex and vulnerable in society, and they present with very challenging behaviour. The majority have committed violence-related offences and are much more likely to reoffend upon release than adult prisoners. The latest Government statistics show that 62% of children released from custody go on to reoffend within a year. Secure schools are a necessary change to break this cycle of reoffending. The children in custody are also more likely than their peers to have had a disrupted education. Government analysis shows that around 90% of children sentenced to custody had a record of persistent absence. That means that these children have lost out on months or years-worth of learning. The evidence about the importance of education as a preventive factor in childhood offending is clear. Secure schools offer these children an opportunity to re-engage with education and make the most of their potential.

The secure school model has been developed in accordance with the best available evidence of what works in addressing the underlying causes of youth offending. That is why secure schools offer small and homely environments, with healthcare and education at their heart. In secure schools, children and young people will engage with integrated care services, including health and education, tailored to their individual needs. On entry, each young person will have a full assessment of their needs, to establish a baseline against which progress can be measured and to ensure that any unmet health and special education needs are identified. They will have personalised programmes that build on their strengths and develop their potential, with the use of evidence-based interventions that help them to build resilience and develop vital skills that will help them in the future.

Curriculum delivery will take place in appropriately sized groups, including through one-to-one interventions where needed. Children in secure schools will have the opportunity to make educational progress on a par with that of their peers in mainstream schools, proportionate to the length of their sentence. Secure schools will work closely with youth offending teams, with education, health and other community service providers and with young people’s families where appropriate. Planning for resettlement will start when a young person enters a secure school and will be adapted to support transition to the adult estate where appropriate.

The Government support the Bill, because secure schools are a landmark reform in youth custody that, as has been mentioned, will help to reduce reoffending and ultimately lead to fewer victims of youth crime, thereby protecting the public. However, it is only by ensuring that secure schools function well, with proportionate termination measures, and appropriate and efficient processes for opening new schools, that we will achieve that goal.

In closing, I would like to thank the Opposition for their support for my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, and also officials at the Ministry of Justice for supporting her in preparing the Bill. I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend for bringing it before the House. I also reiterate with great pleasure that the Government support this important Bill. I wish it well in its progress in the other place.

Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Caroline Johnson
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I rise to thank again those who have helped with the passage of the Bill. In Sleaford, we have a secure children’s home that runs a small unit providing great education and rehabilitative care to those young people. I welcome the fact that the Bill will help to extend that educational and holistic approach to helping young people to turn their lives around.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I again congratulate the hon. Lady on piloting her Bill through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.