HC Deb 18 November 1964 vol 702 cc586-94

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Whitlock.]

11.0 p.m.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

I would like to apologise to the hon. Lady the Minister of State for the Home Department for detaining her at this fairly late hour. She was kind enough to see me earlier in the week about a constituent of mine in Macclesfield, Mr. Clifford Hurst, who unfortunately, at present, is serving a prison sentence in the open prison at Sudbury, in Derbyshire. There are special circumstances relating to his affairs.

He is due for release on 25th January next. All is not bad with Mr. Hurst; in fact, there are many good things which can be said about him. He served his country well in the last war, he was torpedoed and very badly injured, and is in receipt of a pension of some 48 per cent. for disability. He has suffered very considerably; in fact, he has been in the prison hospital since last May. In presenting these matters to the House, I should like to make it clear that I have, of course, since I saw the hon. Lady, been in touch with Mrs. Hurst, and she asked me to proceed with this debate. I will try to explain why she has done so in the course of a few minutes.

As I say, Mr. Hurst has been in the prison hospital since last May, which is quite a long time. He was on parole in his home town last September, when, I believe, all went well, and, during that period, saw his own doctor, who was extremely anxious about his health—a great anxiety neurosis and having to take sedatives many times during the day. There is no doubt that the man's health was in pretty poor shape. He was examined by a Dr. Charles Baker of Guy's Hospital to see whether it was advisable for him to undergo an operation, and since we had our discussion of the last few days a bed has been arranged for him in Guy's Hospital at the end of next week.

This is satisfactory as far as it goes, but I understand that the Home Office on 17th October—which is the day after I saw Mrs. Hurst—made inquiries as to whether it would be detrimental to his health if he remained in prison. They were informed by the prison doctor, so I understand, on 19th October, that his health was deteriorating. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst have seven children, all below the age of 18 years, although two, I think, are in the care of the local authority, and Mrs. Hurst is working. She is desperately worried, of course, about the whole situation.

Mrs. Hurst came to see me on 16th October, the day after polling day, when I was the Member for the constituency. I wrote to the Home Secretary on 20th October. I received an acknowledgment by postcard the following day and I wrote to the Home Secretary again on 4th November while these events were taking place. I recognised that there was a new Government, but I thought that at least the permanent staff would be the same people. I had five telephone calls myself with the Department, during which I asked the Principal Private Secretary to get a move on with this case, as there was a real need for urgency.

He assured me that he would and that he would telephone me back, but I never received a telephone message. So I decided to use the privilege of a private Member. I am glad we have these privileges because it does enable a Member, as a last resort, to come to the floor of the House, and, whatever the problem may be, to present the problem to the House of Commons, where it will be gone into in great detail. I asked that the case should be looked into; I did not hear anything until I got the Adjournment debate tonight in the ballot, and I informed the right hon. Lady I was successful and, as I said, she very kindly asked to see me earlier in the week.

I want to make the point that when an hon. Member writes letters and has five telephone calls with a Department there is no excuse for this rather slack way of dealing with what is a very human problem. I do not want to be too critical of the officials, because they cannot defend themselves, but I think that if they knew some of the facts they would have got a move on in dealing with this case. I do not want to say too much about that because Mr. Hurst has served the bulk of his sentence. He is not a hardened criminal; he was in a financial racket dealing with the hire purchase of motor cars. There are seven children involved. He served the country well. He has served practically the whole of his sentence. Mrs. Hurst is working. She is frantic with worry.

If Mr. Hurst goes to the hospital on Saturday and the specialist decides that an operation is not necessary—there is just a chance that he may so decide—will he be sent back to prison? Alternatively, if the operation takes place in the next few days and there is a period of convalescence between then and 23rd January, will he be sent back to the hospital prison to complete that period of convalescence?

My purpose is to ask the Minister to try to make an exception in this case. We heard in the winding-up speech of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for Housing and Local Government about giving people a Christmas present. It would mean a great deal to this family if this were to happen. He has been out on parole, and I understand that he behaved himself extremely well. If he has an operation and there is a period of three or four weeks between then and release, he should be allowed to spend his convalescence either in his own home or, if that is not suitable for convalescence, in a convalescent home which is not the prison—somewhere where he would get proper treatment and supervision reasonably near his family.

That is the case. The hon. Lady was kind enough to see me and she has made many investigations. I do not blame her. I hope that she will give me the assurance for which I have asked.

11.12 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Department (Miss Alice Bacon)

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) for the moderate way in which he has presented his case, although from one point of view I am rather sorry that he felt it necessary to bring the case before the House, because I fear that the publicity could do no good to the man he wishes to help.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I said that after I saw the hon. Lady I got in touch with Mrs. Hurst, and it is at her express wish that I ventilated the case tonight—otherwise I should not have done so.

Miss Bacon

I understand the difficulty in which the hon. Member was placed.

This is in many ways a distressing case, and I will do my best not to add unnecessarily to the anxiety of this man and his family about their future. Mr. Hurst is serving a sentence of three years' imprisonment imposed at Lancaster Assizes on 1st February, 1963. He is at present in Sudbury open prison near the hospital there, and his earliest date of release would be 25th January, 1965.

He is suffering from a heart disease known as coarctation of the aorta, and early last summer the medical officer who attends Sudbury Prison referred him to the consultant physician at the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary. The latter advised last July that the medical officer should ask a consultant of Guy's Hospital in London to see Mr. Hurst and advise on his treatment, with particular reference to whether an operation should be undertaken. This was a question of some difficulty, not because of the fact that Mr. Hurst was in prison but because of his age. I am told that coarctation in young people is best treated by surgery but that danger can never be absent from a serious operation when a person is approaching middle age, as Mr. Hurst is.

Mr. Hurst was seen by the consultant at Guy's and there is a letter in the files from Mrs. Hurst expressing her thanks to the prison authorities for the way in which her husband was allowed to see the consultant at Guy's Hospital. The consultant advised that there should be an investigation as to whether there should be an operation. I must make it clear that up to now there has never been any firm decision as to whether there should be an operation. He advised that Mr. Hurst should go into Guy's Hospital to see whether this was necessary.

Early in October Mr. Hurst petitioned the Home Secretary for early release so that he might have an operation. On 20th October the hon. Member for Macclesfield wrote to my right hon. Friend, and that was the first letter my right hon. Friend received. It should be remembered that 20th October was about the first full day that my right hon. Friend and I had at the Home Office.

Any decision on an operation would have to wait on a period of observation and investigation of Mr. Hurst by a consultant in hospital conditions, and the prison medical officer advised that an application be made for a bed at Guy's Hospital. This application was made and the consultant and the medical officer were, fortunately, able to make arrangements for Mr. Hurst to be taken into Guy's as soon as a bed was available. Last week I learned that this was to be on 21st November, next Saturday. I think that the hon. Member for Macclesfield will agree that we did very well indeed, particularly considering that the first letter we received from him was dated 20th October.

This shows beyond any question that all those concerned with the welfare of this prisoner did their utmost to obtain for him the best kind of treatment at the earliest possible opportunity, and I would like to express the thanks of my my right hon. Friend to those whose efforts have made this prisoner's admission into hospital possible at such short notice.

The impression appears to have been left strongly with the hon. Member that the medical officer made a firm recommendation for this man's permanent release on the ground that his condition was deteriorating. It is true that on 19th October, the day before the hon. Member first wrote to my right hon. Friend, the medical officer said in a report to the prison department that in his opinion Mr. Hurst's condition would deteriorate while awaiting a decision on his admission to hospital, but he added that this would be the case whether Mr. Hurst was in prison or at home; that it was waiting to get into hospital that was causing the trouble rather than waiting to get home.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that a person waiting to go into hospital naturally suffers anxiety. What is the difference between waiting in prison or waiting at home to go into hospital?

Miss Bacon

I will come to that. Inquiries were then made—I asked for them to be made—and the medical officer explained that the deterioration was due to the natural anxiety of waiting for a serious operation. The medical officer was asked whether the anxiety was so serious as to make it necessary to release Mr. Hurst before he went into Guy's Hospital, to which he replied, without hesitation—and this is particularly important—that it would be bad for him medically if he had the upset and un-heaval of going home and having to be looked after there; and the medical officer said that it was his opinion that the prisoner was much better off in the hospital at Sudbury Prison and that it was better for him to go straight from the hospital in Sudbury Prison to Guy's rather than to go home, this requiring two removals, one from the prison to his home and then from his home to Guy's.

I inquired if the prisoner would stand any better chance of being admitted to Guy's Hospital if he were released from prison than he would if he remained in the prison hospital and I was told that this was not the case.

Unfortunately, as hon. Members know, there is often a delay in anyone gaining immediate admission to hospital, except in an extreme emergency. I said that the first consideration was Mr. Hurst's health, and from the advice I received it seemed clear that there was nothing to be gained—indeed, there might be something lost—by Mr. Hurst being removed from the prison hospital, then home and then removed again to Guy's Hospital.

I want to make it clear that when Mr. Hurst goes into Guy's Hospital on Saturday morning there will be no question of his being under escort while there. Arrangements will be made by which medical considerations and the rules of the hospital alone will govern visits to him by his family. The hon. Member asked me when I saw him the other day whether he would be able to visit Mr. Hurst in hospital. I want to make it clear to him that it will be only Mr. Hurst's medical condition that will determine that, and if it is possible for him to receive visitors, and the hon. Gentleman wishes to see him, arrangements will be made for the hon. Gentleman to do so.

The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about remission of sentence after hospital treatment. It would be wrong of me to hold out hope of Mr. Hurst being released to his own home before his normal release date next January. However I shall be kept informed of any further developments after his admission into Guy's and, naturally, if there is any significant change in the situation the case will be reviewed. I am not saying that it is so, but it might be better for Mr. Hurst to go back into a hospital rather than to go home, but I promise to reconsider this when I see the results of his going into hospital.

The hon. Member implies that there was some delay in dealing with his letter—

Sir A. V. Harvey

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady again. She has kindly said that she will look into the case again when Mr. Hurst comes out of hospital. If it is necessary for him to go into hospital, can arrangements be made for him to go to a local hospital—in, say, Macclesfield—if facilities are right for his case? Will that be considered?

Miss Bacon

Everything will be considered, but I do not want to make any promise about that because, as we all know, there are, unfortunately, many prisoners who need hospital care and receive it in hospital. Much will depend on the reports I get from Guy's Hospital while Mr. Hurst is there.

The hon. Member complained that there was some delay in dealing with his letters, but I can assure him that there has been no delay. In fact, the Department has worked very hard indeed in the last three weeks to get Mr. Hurst a place in hospital as soon as possible. As I have said, the hon. Member wrote to my right hon. Friend on 20th October. On receipt of his letter, inquiries were immediately started and, as a result, the medical officer at Sudbury Prison was authorised to apply for a bed for Mr. Hurst at Guy's Hospital and to arrange for his removal there when a bed became available.

A reply to that effect was ready for dispatch to the hon. Gentleman when we received his further letter on 4th November enclosing a letter from Mrs. Hurst. This held up a reply to the hon. Member while further inquiries were made. The Department then got into touch with Guy's by telephone, and the hospital authorities subsequently agreed to take Mr. Hurst as soon as a bed could be found for him. The letter to the hon. Gentleman giving this information was actually in front of me and ready for signing when notice was given that this case would be raised tonight.

I think that I have said enough to show that we have acted expeditiously and with humanity and, I believe, in the best interests of the hon. Gentleman's constituent. In conclusion, may I say that I hope that Mr. Hurst's health will improve and that the anxieties that he and his family have had will prove to be groundless.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I should like to thank the hon. Lady for the trouble she has gone to in this case. She has given an assurance that she will follow it sympathetically, and for that I am grateful.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes past Eleven o'clock.