HL Deb 03 February 1975 vol 356 cc658-61

3.6 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 what positive action they intend to take in the near future to help the courts with the difficulties they are experiencing in dealing with mentally abnormal offenders who need psychiatric treatment but who must be kept in secure conditions.


My Lords, as the House will know, the Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders under the chairmanship of Lord Butler is currently considering all aspects of the difficult problems surrounding the law relating to and facilities available for the treatment of mentally abnormal offenders. It is hoped that the Committee will present its final Report later this year. Meanwhile, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced on the receipt of the Committee's Interim Report, Regional Health Authorities have been urged to establish regional secure units and to make suit-able interim arrangements in advance of the completion of the units. The Government are also pressing on with plans for a fourth special hospital at Park Lane, Magull, near Liverpool.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he feels that the courts are placed in a quite invidious position at the present moment because of great overcrowding at the special hospitals? May I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that many offenders have to be given places in custodial care in prisons because there are no secure units in any of the National Health Service hospitals?


My Lords, to some extent this is so, but it has to be determined on the degree of subnormality of the offender. There are three very large secure institutions for this purpose: Rampton, Broadmoor and Moss Side; and some from Broadmoor have in fact been transferred to an advanced unit which is also in the Moss Side area. We are aware of the existing difficulties, but I do not think they are as numerous as we are sometimes led to believe. The very fact that there is some difficulty has caused the Government to make available money for the building of a fourth, which will provide something like 400 places. This will help to reduce the present overcrowding which exists in addition at Broadmoor.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether it is intended to rebuild Broadmoor?


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. The answer is, yes. It is intended that when Broadmoor is completely rebuilt it will accommodate only 500 inmates as compared with the present 800.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that we have had this type of reply now for a very long time? Can he say how many new places have been provided, shall I say, during the last four years? This seems to be almost a recurring decimal, and we do not seem to get very far. We hear of the urgency, and yet the priorities appear to be very low for this type of treatment.


My Lords, without notice I cannot give figures as to how many fresh places have been provided in recent years. My noble friend is quite right when he speaks of priorities; there are priorities in a number of fields. But we must bear in mind that the severely mentally handicapped, including those who are offenders, should be dealt with in the ordinary hospitals for the mentally handicapped. And so far as this Question is concerned we are concerned only with those who are particularly violent or a considerable risk to the community. Bearing that in mind, we have made some progress in recent years.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what improvements are being made as regards the staffing of these institutions; whether there are increases in the staff ratios, and, if not, what measures are being taken to put this right?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that matter because this is one of the problems with which this Government, and any Government, are faced: that is, finding suitable people to undertake the nursing work involved ; people who must have not only a sense of vocation but some rather fundamental training as distinct from basic training. There are training schemes for people who are willing to do this work, but the people concerned are in short supply. But some progress in that field has in fact already been made.


My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Committee are looking into the needs of the under 17s, the juveniles, as well as of those who are older?


My Lords, I do not know that I can give the noble Baroness a firm answer about that question. I am assuming that we are dealing with the severely mentally handicapped regardless of age. Perhaps she will allow me to look at the matter and write to her on this point.