HC Deb 06 June 1935 vol 302 cc2173-8

Order for Second Reading read.

10.40 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."


On a point of Order. Before we start to discuss this Bill I should like your guidance Mr. Speaker, as to what is to be the procedure to-night—it is now 20 minutes to 11 o'clock —if we intend to go on.


The Bill can go on until 11 o'clock.


This is a simple little Bill.


It is not so simple.


There may be one or two small matters which can be dealt with in the Committee stage, where the wording can be carefully considered. In this matter the Government are entirely in the hands of the House, but I hope that when I have given this explanation we may be able to get the Second Reading to-night. As hon. Members from Scotland know very well, the situation which has caused this Bill to be produced is a very unsatisfactory situation. It may be that there are points in the mind of the hon. Member which could be dealt with at some further stage. I do not think it is necessary to go through the Clauses of the Bill, but it is clear that the building at Perth is inadequate and out of date, and it is purely for that reason that we are anxious to proceed with the erection of a new building on land which belongs to—


Why not explain the other Clauses, about taking over criminal lunatics?


Will the right hon. Gentleman explain particularly Sub-section (2) of Clause 4, which is entirely a different matter from the erection of a new criminal lunatic asylum?


I do not want to make a speech, but merely to ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain the changes he is making with regard to the criminal lunatics and their asylum status. Will he explain the reason for making the changes?


The reason is a very simple one. It is that the present situation at Perth needs a complete overhaul, and the Bill will authorise the establishment and maintenance of a new criminal lunatic asylum to take the place of the existing institution at Perth. Legislation is necessary in order to enable the criminal lunatics who are now detained at Perth to be detained at some other place. At the same time we thought it well to ask Parliament for powers to erect at Carstairs a new State institution for defectives. That is the sole purpose of the Bill. I am not anxious to hurry the House, but I thought that the Bill was a non-controversial Bill, which will lead to a certain amount of work being done on the proposed new building near Carstairs, which is long overdue. There is still a quarter of an hour left, during which we might have a short discussion, and then, perhaps, get the Second Reading.

10.43 p.m.


I have asked for an explanation of Sub-section (2) of Clause 4. I agree that the present conditions at Perth are quite unsatisfactory, and that the erection of a new criminal lunatic asylum is necessary; and if the proposed new premises at Carstairs are going to be used for the segregation of the younger criminal lunatics who are put there, there again I think we should be able quite easily to agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I take it, however, that in Clause 4 new powers are being asked for, because otherwise it would be unnecessary to insert it in the Bill, in view of the powers which already exist in the law regarding criminal lunatics in Scotland. Sub-section (2), which probably is really the essential part of the Clause, says: Where it is certified by two duly qualified medical practitioners, with in fourteen days before the expiry of the sentence imposed on any person detained in the criminal lunatic asylum in pursuance of the last foregoing Sub-section, that such person is insane, that he cannot be set at liberty with out danger to the public or to himself, and that it is advisable that he should be detained after the expiry of his sentence in the criminal lunatic asylum rather than in any other asylum, the Secretary of State may order that he be detained accordingly, and thereupon such person may be dealt with in like manner in all respects as if such order were an order for his custody until His Majesty's pleasure be known. This is a matter upon which the Minister might have given us a brief explanation, which might have cleared away some of the fears which are entertained by Scottish Members. As this Clause stands, with out any safeguards, two doctors can be brought in with in a fortnight of the end of the period of the term of imprisonment of someone who has been so mentally defective that he is looked upon as criminally insane, and can so certify him that the Department of Scotland under the Secretary of State will have power, after his sentence has expired, to detain him in a lunatic asylum for the rest of his life. Surely, in a new law affecting even those who are criminally insane and may have committed some horrible crime there should be something done to safeguard the m. The re should be periodical re-examination of the individual to see that he is not kept confined for the period of his life.

10.48 p.m.


I regret very much that a Bill of this importance, but which appears to be a small one, should be taken at this hour of the night. After all is said and done, it is a Bill which affects the liberty of the subject, and I for one strongly resent the introduction of a Bill at this time of night where the liberty of the subject is cencerned. I yield to no one in my admiration of the attempt of the Scottish Office to deal with prison reform. It is a very good step indeed, and I am satisfied that hon. Gentlemen, after a full and free discussion of a Bill of this kind, would gladly welcome any steps in the direction of reform. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) made a very strong point the other day when he suggested that there should be differentiation between convicted and unconvicted persons. It would be a very good thing. It does not exist in Scot land, but it exists to a great extent in England. The reason why I support this Bill is that we are establishing in Scotland a Broadmoor which we have never had before. In England you have a prison devoted entirely to criminal lunatics. If a murderer is found insane he goes the re. The inmates are separated from all the other prisoners in the Country. That is a very good thing in itself, but it is a very great mistake, before we have any opportunity of discussing fully and adequately a Bill of this kind, that we should be asked at this time of night to give it a Second Reading. There is no great and immediate hurry; we have waited years for this. We resent, as Scottish Members, that a Bill of this kind should be brought forward at this hour with out full and free discussion. The re are not more than half-a-dozen Scottish Members in this House, and it is unfair that this House should be asked to proceed with the discussion now.

10.51 p.m.


I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill. The need for a new asylum is urgent, but I want to take the strongest possible exception to Clause 4. This is the Clause which deals with the detention of criminal lunatics. When a man has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment he goes to prison, and, if he is in good health, he performs his allotted task, whatever that may be. He experiences the ordinary routine of prison life. If he falls out of health, he is removed for treatment to the prison hospital, and serves his sentence there. But if his malady takes the form of mental illness and he becomes insane and treatment in the prison hospital is inadequate, then he is transferred to Perth and put under the control of the Criminal Lunatic Department. When the Financial Resolution speaks of the Criminal Lunatic Department it is not referring to the Scottish Office; it means a department of the general prison at Perth. What happens to him after his sentence has expired 1 I can tell the House what I think ought to happen, and I think the House will agree. He has served his sentence and the slate should be wiped clean. He ought to be re stored to the ordinary status of a citizen.

I do not suggest for a single moment that all control should be relaxed. In our country anyone, whatever his rank in life, who becomes insane is liable to be placed under control. The machinery for dealing with people who become insane is that there must be two medical certificates by doctors, an application to the sheriff, and the sheriff orders his removal to a civil asylum. I have signed many of these warrants when acting as a sheriff. But look at Clause 4 and see what it provides. Clause 4 provides: (2) Where it is certified by two duly qualified medical practitioners with in 14 days before the expiry of the sentence.. That it is advisable that he should be detained after the expiry of his sentence in the criminal lunatic asylum rather than in any other asylum, the Secretary of State may order that he be detained accordingly… for a period unspecified. It may be, whether he likes it or not, for the remainder of his life. That is utterly wrong.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present


In these circumstances somebody might say: Surely, his relatives could apply for a writ of habeas corpus, or what corresponds to that in Scotland, a petition to the Court. If this Bill becomes law petitions to the Court are of no avail. The wisdom of Parliament will have handed over the man's destiny to two medical men and a Government Department. He has served his sentence, he has paid his debt to society, and paid it in full. He has purged his offence, and yet he may be confined for the rest of his life in a criminal lunatic asylum. Anyone who has passed along the road in front of the penal settlement at Dartmoor will have noticed the motto carved on the granitegateway—"Parcere victis". If the Government want a motto for our new criminal lunatic asylum at Carstairs, I would suggest that the only appropriate motto would be: "All hope abandon ye who enter here."

But I am not concerned solely with the interests of the victim. It is bad enough for the man himself, because surely even a person of deranged mind has some civil rights. The associations and surroundings of a criminal lunatic asylum may occasion him acute distress. But what about his relatives? It may be that a man or a woman has been convicted of some minor offence and sentenced to a short terms of imprisonment. He or she becomes insane and the insanity proves incurable. The man, say, is to main at Carstairs criminal lunatic asylum for the rest of his natural life. His children want to write to him. They must conceal the address from their companions. pay periodic visits. They must be surreptitious visits, because the neighbours must not know where they are going. I know what the answer is going to be. We shall be to ld that this Bill makes no change in the existing law. I am well aware of that. Since at any rate, 1862 this has been the law of Scotland. But the public have little idea what our lunacy laws are. I have not the time or the inclination to undertake a crusade for a reform of our lunacy laws, but it is another thing when the Government invites hon. Members to sanction afresh a grievous injustice and when it asks the House by express statutory enactment to perpetuate a wrong. I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, but 1 shall await the Committee stage and there renew my protest, and I hope that I shall not be alone in it.


I rise to point out—

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.