HL Deb 01 February 1972 vol 327 cc666-9

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take steps to secure that Miss Pauline Jones be released from prison and given medical treatment.]


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary obtained full medical reports about Miss Jones but was unable to find grounds which would justify him in interfering with the sentence which the court thought it right to impose. He has, however, arranged for her to be transferred from Holloway to the open prison at Askham Grange. She is receiving all the medical attention she needs.


My Lords, I think the Home Secretary has acted perfectly correctly in transferring Miss Jones to an open prison, but is it not a fact that many psychiatrists disagree with the advice which has been tendered, that Miss Jones should he kept in prison for the remainder of her sentence? In the wholly exceptional circumstances of this case, would not the noble Lord make representations to his right honourable friend that a further review with other psychiatrists should be undertaken so that Miss Jones could be released and given proper medical treatment in a hospital and not in a prison?


My Lords, the Home Secretary did take a second opinion on this matter just before Christmas from a distinguished psychiatrist. The report he received was that Miss Jones was not mentally unfit for imprisonment and that there was no reason to suppose that any psychiatric attention she required would not be available to her in prison.


My Lords, may I ask three supplementary questions relating to this sentence, to which I want to know the answers? First, was Miss Jones in receipt of social security payments during her sojourn with the baby in Hull? Secondly, is it true that she was planning to take the baby abroad and, if so, who was financing the expedition? Thirdly, if she was in receipt of social security benefit, would it be possible to recoup those payments from the very large sum of money which Miss Jones will receive on leaving prison for her serialised, "ghosted" story in the News of the World or the People?


My Lords, I have taken note of those questions and will provide the answers for the noble Baroness. But I think she will accept that they do not arise out of the Question put on the Order Paper by the noble Lord.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, has just said, is it not a fact that the administration of justice is sometimes shown to be startlingly lacking in imagination? While we must never forget the agony of mind through which the parents of this baby must have gone, nevertheless are there not characteristics of this case which are in common with the case of Ruth Ellis who was executed some years ago, when it seemed to many of us that justice had been very severe and unimaginative?


My Lords, the Home Secretary is not a further court of appeal, and it would be wrong for him to allow himself to be drawn into reviewing the decision of the court in this case. There was an appeal. The Court of Appeal, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, reviewed all the evidence and no new evidence has since been brought forward. It would not be right for the Executive to interfere with sentences passed by the courts.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us—I think most people—will understand the emotional disturbance of this girl that made her commit the offence for which she has been imprisoned? We understand that there is some difficulty if the medical advice given to the Home Secretary is such that he is diffident about releasing her, but is the Minister aware that those of us who have visited Askham Grange think that in sending Miss Jones there the Home Secretary has gone as near as possible to releasing her? Is he aware that the women at Askham Grange are allowed tremendous facilities to go out to work and to live a normal life, and that the experiment carried out there has proved very successful?


My Lords, I hope that the relaxed atmosphere at the open prison at Askham Grange will be helpful to Miss Jones and that she will receive guidance and training while she is in the prison. There are minimum physical restrictions placed on the liberty of women in open prisons.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I do not disagree with the decision of the Home Secretary in this case because I think of the anguish and the terrible time that the mother went through when her child was stolen?


My Lords, the Government are pleased to have support from whatever quarter of the House it may come.


My Lords, if the Home Secretary were to release Miss Jones, thus taking her away from the psychiatrist at Askham Grange, is there any way in which he could ensure that outside prison Miss Jones would undergo any medical treatment?


My Lords, that is another point. As I have explained, the Home Secretary does not feel that it would be right for him in the circumstances to order the release of Miss Jones.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the standards of the hospital at Holloway Prison are second to none in this country?


My Lords, it is true that, while the physical conditions of Holloway Prison leave much to be desired—and that is the reason why it is being rebuilt—there are four medical officers at Holloway, two of whom are qualified psychiatrists and all four of whom have recognised psychiatric experience.


My Lords, further to the noble Baroness's question, may I ask whether anybody has actually asked Miss Jones whether she would be willing to accept treatment on a voluntary basis if she were released from prison? May I ask the noble Lord to make it clear to the House that the only purpose served by keeping Miss Jones even in an open prison is the purpose to which attention has been drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Blyton; namely, retribution?


That is not right, my Lords. The noble Lord really has not followed the debate and all the public discussion if that is the impression that has been left in his mind. The Home Secretary has—and everyone, I think, has given him credit for this—been into this case personally with the greatest care, including taking a second medical opinion. But he has made it quite clear that it would be wrong for him, in an arbitrary act because of the amount of public interest that has been shown in the case, to set aside a sentence passed by a court of law. That is not a proper function for a Minister of the Crown.