HC Deb 27 February 1956 vol 549 cc821-4
27. Mr. Owen

asked the Minister of Health what farm lands attached to mental hospitals in the Northern Regional Hospital Board have been disposed of; and what effect this has had on the hospital service.

Mr. Turton

As yet, none, Sir. The last part of the Question does not therefore arise.

32 and 33. Mr. Janner

asked the Minister of Health (1) if he is satisfied that the sale of the farm attached to the Towers Hospital, Leicester, will leave the hospital with reasonable seclusion, suitable occupation for the patients, adequate recreational space, and sites for development and future building, in the light of the important contribution farm work and market gardening makes in the treatment of patients of mental hospitals; and if he will make a statement;

(2) whether he is aware that the sale of the farm belonging to the Towers Hospital, Leicester, will increase the hospital's running costs by thousands of pounds; and if he will reconsider the matter, with a view to leasing the land instead of selling it.

Mr. Turton

I am still in communication with the regional hospital board as to the future of this farm.

Mr. Janner

While thanking the Minister for his reply, because he will give second thoughts to this matter, may I ask him to take into consideration the fact that the grounds attached to this hospital are highly essential for the benefit of the patients as well as for the hospital itself; that some employees of the hospital are housed in some of the houses that the Minister proposes to take away, and that some would be deprived of their work? Will he also consider the fact that the farm was actually taken from the Leicester Council without compensation and that people in the district are extremely anxious that the facilities should not be taken away from the hospital itself?

Mr. Turton

All these matters will be taken into consideration; but it must be recalled, as has been clear since 1948, that I have no power to farm land except from the point of view of the treatment of patients. That is the test I have to apply in all these cases.

Mr. Janner

Then why was the land taken away without that consideration? If it was taken, surely there is no point now in saying that what was then taken legally has now been taken illegally.

Mr. Turton

It would not be wise for me to inquire about what happened in 1948, at which time I was not responsible.

Mr. Sylvester

Surely it is ridiculous to sell these farmlands and nursery gardens when, according to the Minister's Written Answer to a Question a fortnight ago, these farmlands and nurseries made a profit last year of £62,000.

Mr. Turton

The question is not how much profit or loss is being made on the farms, but whether the Minister has the power to farm land other than from the aspect of occupational therapy. I do not have the power. That is the position. Therefore, the Public Accounts Committee has pointed out that I must get rid of this land.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the Minister at least give the assurance that he will not allow any lands to be disposed of which are of real amenity as well as therapeutic value?

Mr. Turton

I will certainly give that assurance. I will also give the assurance that in my view the land should first be offered to the local authority whence it was originally derived.

Air Commodore Harvey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the same problem has arisen at Macclesfield, where a farm which was giving great benefit to many patients is now being disposed of? Will not my right hon. Friend consider this matter and see whether he can take a broader outlook on the whole problem?

Mr. Turton

It is not a question of taking a broader outlook. As the Public Accounts Committee of this House has twice pointed out, I have no power to farm except for purposes of occupational therapy; and since 1948 both the present Government and their predecessors have pointed that out by means of circulars. This is the culmination of the action taken originally in 1948.

Dr. Summerskill

Would not the Minister agree that occupational therapy plays a very large part in the treatment of these patients? Week after week we have heard that the mental hospitals are overcrowded and that there are waiting lists. Is it not, therefore, a shortsighted policy for the Minister to take away land which is required urgently for therapeutic purposes?

Mr. Turton

That would be very shortsighted. In each case I am getting advice as to what land is required for purposes of occupational therapy. Not one acre of the land that is required for that purpose is being disposed of, but where the land is not required for that purpose I have no power to hold it.

41 and 42. Mr. H. Wilson

asked the Minister of Health (1) the number of mental hospital farms which have been handed over to private ownership, or are proposed to be so dealt with, in the Merseyside area, and in England and Wales, respectively;

(2) what decision he has reached about the proposal to transfer to private ownership the hospital farm attached to Rain-hill Mental Hospital, near Liverpool.

Mr. Turton

At Rainhill the farm will be disposed of by lease. In the Merseyside area 359 acres of farm land at this and another mental hospital, and in the rest of England and Wales about 13,000 acres at seventy-three mental and mental deficiency hospitals, are being surrendered or disposed of by sale or lease to local authorities or to private persons.

Mr. Wilson

While understanding the Minister's legal responsibilities in relation to the occupational therapy requirements, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he realises that in the case of Rainhill, for example, which is the only one I know, there is the gravest danger of a decision being reached because of a disagreement between the medical superintendent and the director of the hospital farm, and that purely personal considerations may enter into it? Will he look at the case again, and consider any representations I may bring to him?

Mr. Turton

Of course, I shall be happy to consider any representations brought to me by the right hon. Gentleman, but in all these matters I first take the advice of the regional hospital boards. At Rainhill there will be at least a hundred acres of land left to the hospital after the lease has been disposed of.