HC Deb 16 April 1964 vol 693 cc577-9
18. Mr. Wade

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to ensure that when a prisoner serving a life sentence for murder is to be released on licence a thorough medical and psychological examination is always made immediately prior to the proposed date for release.

Mr. Brooke

Such a prisoner is never released except after full consideration, over an extended period, of his physical and mental health.

Mr. Wade

Would not the Home Secretary agree that the general public is very disturbed when it hears of a prisoner who has been released after serving a life sentence for murder and who then commits a similar offence? One cannot explain it away by saying that there was a medical examination before release. I wish to be constructive. Does not a recent case demonstrate the need for very much more research into the diagnosis of psychopathic tendencies in prisoners of this kind? Does not it show that the ordinary medical examination before release does not provide an adequate protection?

Mr. Brooke

We now have the psychiatric prison at Grendon which will be available to us. Although medical examinations are normally undertaken by the prison medical officers in whose care the prisoner has been, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that medical advice is taken from outside consultants when this is necessary. There have been only two cases in this century where a murderer released after sentence to life imprisonment has committed a second murder, and Simcox was one of them.

Mr. Gardner

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that he would be greatly assisted in determining whether he ought to exercise his discretion and allow prisoners of this kind to be released on licence if he were to set up a sort of standing advisory committee of medical experts and others which would be able to give him advice rather than continue the present system where his advice comes, more or less, from indiscriminate sources?

Mr. Brooke

The advice does not come from indiscriminate sources. It is quite possible to get the advice of outside consul ants when necessary. I ask the House to await the publication of the Report on the prison medical services which is relevant to all this.

Mr. Abse

Is it not the fact—it was told to this House in answer to a Question of mine by the Home Secretary—that in the case of Simcox there was at the last trial no outside opinion obtained at all and that the opinion given was given by a prison medical officer who had no psychiatric diploma at all? Is not it high time that serious regard was given to the need to have inside the prison medical service people who have at least the diploma of psychological medicine to give reports of this kind?

Mr. Brooke

There are other qualifications which are necessary besides a diploma in psychological medicine. The doctors who examined Simcox were very experienced men, but the fact remains the after his discharge from prison he lived a law-abiding life for five years end then, tragically, he committed another murder. It was a most exceptional case and I take it very seriously.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the Answer given by his hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary a few minutes ago to Question No. 18? His hon. Friend said that it was not he practice to classify offences by reference to their psychopathic nature. Would not it be a good thing if that became the practice, and would not it meet part of this difficulty?

Mr. Brooke

I have myself set up a committee to consider and report on the method of collecting and collating criminal statistics.