HC Deb 07 November 1985 vol 86 cc109-11 2.34 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on his decision to reveal the details of a patient whose application for release from Park Lane hospital, Liverpool, is due to be heard at a mental health review tribunal on Monday 11 November.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is charged by Parliament, inter alia, with responsibility for the discharge and recall of restricted patients and is accountable to Parliament and the public for the exercise or refusal to exercise those powers. Since 1983, mental health review tribunals have also had the power to discharge restricted patients. On 9 April 1984 and subsequently on 4 July 1985 in answer to questions from the hon. Member for Barnsley, East (Mr. Patchett), I indicated in the case of the restricted patient referred to in the hon. Member's present question that the then Home Secretary and I took the firm view that that patient was not fit to be released into the community. On 30 October 1985 I gave full details of the discharge and recall of another restricted patient in answer to a question from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival). The matters contained in those answers are on the public record and the propriety of giving those answers has never before been challenged. Subsequently, I drew attention to them in the course of a discussion with a journalist which touched on a number of matters of current concern.

Mr. Soley

It is important to point out that this question does not concern itself with the individual who has been named by both the Minister and the press—it concerns the law and the way in which the law has been used or misused by the Minister.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we in this country do not want trial or tribunal by press, and that the Daily Mail was used by him to strike terror into the hearts of people, even though he has other ways of achieving his aims and ambitions? Was not the law changed by this Government in order to make sure that cases such as this were judicial hearings, as the Government were obliged to do by the Strasbourg decision? Are not both the Minister and the Daily Mail in contempt of the Mental Health Review Tribunal Rules 1983, in particular rule 21(5) which states: Except in so far as the tribunal direct, information about proceedings before the tribunal and the names of any persons concerned in the proceedings shall not be made public"? As the tribunal did not so direct, the Minister is in breach of the Act. In view of the Prime Minister's remarks yesterday about the importance of upholding the rule of law and respecting the courts, we want to know whether the Minister will resign.

Mr. Mellor

He will certainly not resign. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman has put a novel proposition to the House. The restricted patient who was the subject of his question made an application to a tribunal in November 1983 and that tribunal was finally disposed of on 1 August 1984. During the time that matter was before the tribunal, a question was asked by the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and I answered it on 9 April 1984 stating categorically the Home Secretary's view that the man was not fit to be released. No question about the propriety of that answer was raised either after it had been given or by the officers of this House. The individual concerned made a further application for a tribunal in December 1984, and that tribunal is due to consider the application on 11 November 1985. I answered that question on 4 July 1985 in the terms I have already indicated without any suggestion that this was in breach of any rules.

It is an extraordinary assertion that it is perfectly proper to give an answer in this House but apparently not proper to respond to a journalist's question about that answer. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is an advocate of open government, and he seems to be quite remiss in challenging this particularly encouraging example of it.

Sir Ian Percival (Southport)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the vast majority of people believe that, when Home Office Ministers have cause for concern that the release of a prisoner would bring danger to innocent people, they have a duty to voice that concern and the reasons for it as fully and as publicly as the law permits?

The majority will hope that those who have to make such difficult decisions will pay careful regard to that concern and will always put first the safety of those who would be at risk if there were a release.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I should not be content with anything less than the full answer that he gave me about a man who was released from Park Lane nearly six months ago and has now been recalled? Is he further aware that my constituents and I are grateful to my hon. Friend for his concern about the dangers to potential victims and for doing something about it?

Mr. Mellor

I am much heartened by my right hon and learned Friend's remarks and I am grateful to him. I am particularly encouraged because of his knowledge of our law. For the reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend gave, the proposition advanced by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is strange because he knows that the Secretary of State still has the jurisdiction that he has always had and is accountable to the House for the exercise of that jurisdiction. His jurisdiction is in no sense ousted by the existence of a parallel jurisdiction over parts of the matter by a mental health review tribunal. If the hon Gentleman's assertion were right, a grave error would have been made by the authorities in this House in allowing to be tabled and fully answered such questions about a matter of grave public concern relating to public safety and the release of two serious sex offenders. Between November 1983 and today there would have been a period of only three months within which I or my right hon. Friend would have been answerable to the House for the exercise of our powers. That simply cannot be right.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I accept the natural public concern about the possible release of someone involved in the murder of a child, but why has the Minister decided to fight his battles in public via the press instead of coming to the House with evidence if he sincerely believes that the mental health tribunal procedure is not working adequately?

Mr. Mellor

I am heartened that the hon. Gentleman thinks it understandable for concern to be expressed about the release of child sex murderers. I am sure that is a step in the right direction for the Liberal party. As to what might or might not have been said, I have already made it clear that what I said to the journalist echoed and repeated matters which had already been laid before the House. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has a good point.

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