HC Deb 22 February 1960 vol 618 cc24-7
36. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Minister of Health what tests have been made to the warning siren at Broadmoor Institution since 1st January, 1960, consequent on representations which have been made to him that it did not effectively warn those living nearby on that day.

40. Sir A. Hurd

asked the Minister of Health what is the effective range of the warning siren sounded when there is an escape from Broadmoor Institution; if he is satisfied that the siren is clearly audible everywhere in the area where it is considered right that residents and schools should know immediately when a dangerous patient is at large; and if he will make a statement.

45. Mr. Emery

asked the Minister of Health whether, due to the lack of public confidence in the escape warning siren at the Broadmoor Institution, he will authorise further or additional escape warning devices to be used for the benefit of the outskirts of the surrounding area.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Except in certain climatic conditions, the siren is clearly audible within a radius of two miles, and can often be heard clearly in many considerably more distant places. It is the best that can be devised, and in my view is fully adequate for the purpose it is intended to serve. In accordance with standing arrangements, it was fully tested and overhauled by the manufacturers a fortnight ago.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Does the Minister appreciate that, in raising this question, nobody is trying to blame him, his Ministry, or those responsible for the technical arrangements for this siren, but why does he reject the evidence from responsible sources which many people—including myself—have brought to him, that this siren, in spite of all the trouble taken with it, is not doing its job and that what in fact is required is a linked siren with Camberley, Wokingham and Bracknell? Does he appreciate that the real tragedy of the situation is that the institution at Broad-moor has lost the confidence of the public and nothing would restore it more than if this siren were working effectively?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I think that the siren is working effectively. No matter how effective the siren, there is always the chance that some people, even within the range of audibility, will not on every occasion hear it, but it is the best that can be devised from the technical point of view. It is subject to these frequent tests, and it is also possible to reinforce it by police car loudspeakers within the close radius of the hospital when any incident occurs. While I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern in the matter, I think that we are doing all we can in alerting the neighbourhood when these escapes take place.

Mr. Emery

Will the Minister consider reamplification by some electrical means on the outskirts of the two-mile area to carry the sound further? This is what is demanded and desired by many inhabitants on the outskirts of the Institution.

Mr. Walker-Smith

We have aimed at a radius of about two miles. As I have said, the siren can be heard beyond the two-mile radius, subject to climatic conditions and the lie of the land. I think that we must have some limit beyond which we do not propose to sound this siren. I think that what we have now is about right, but, if my hon. Friend has any specific technical suggestions to make, I will refer them to my advisers.

37. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Minister of Health what disciplinary action has been taken consequent on the report submitted to him by the Board of Control on the escape of Leslie Parr from Broadmoor Institution on 1st January, 1960.

Mr. Walker-Smith

None, Sir.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that at this time last week he announced that one of the findings of the committee of inquiry which reported to him was that no patient should be allowed in future to work inside a private house and out of direct observation? This clearly implies that this had been happening. It is generally known that the man who escaped had been used as a glorified domestic servant by the chief medical superintendent. Does my right hon. and learned Friend mean to tell us that no word of his displeasure has gone to the chief medical superintendent?

Mr. Walker-Smith

As I explained last week, it is an old established practice at Broadmoor that certain selected patients, obviously a very small minority of the whole complement, should undertake this type of work as part of their rehabilitation. As a result of the committee of inquiry, I have promulgated the new principle to which I referred last week, but I cannot really accept that there was any negligence in regard to the employment of Parr in this way.