Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord never nags me. He will remember that when my party was in opposition I spoke in part on home affairs. He frequently raised the issue of the Butler proposals and has done so since we have been in Government. I can fairly say that on every occasion I have stated my own conscientious view that there was a lot to be said for an examination of them.

Obviously, we take into account the Fallon report, but the problem was identified previously. After all, Judge Fallon dealt with the problems of a particular institution--and wider questions, too, I readily concede--but essentially there is legitimate informed public concern about this issue.

The Statement does not entirely follow the Butler recommendations. There will be a reviewable sentence in the context of a finding of guilt and an allegation of crime, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, pointed out. However, we are making it wider than that because we are saying that in some circumstances, with care, caution and safeguards, it may be that some of our fellow citizens will have to be managed by having their liberty taken away, even though they have committed no crime. Therefore, the Statement is wider than the Butler proposals, but it builds on them in the sense that one has a reviewable sentence.

The noble and leaned Lord asked about the possibility of a review every two or three years. That is the kind of scheme we have in mind, but I stress that there are sound arguments for a period shorter than three years. We want to discuss that when the consultative paper goes out.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will my noble friend indicate whether anyone appearing before the courts in this regard will be entitled to legal aid? What will be the position when there are no court proceedings as such? Will legal aid be available to challenge evidence which might be given in support of continued detention? In relation to either situation, will disbursements incurred in order to procure expert evidence be allowable, even if legal aid is available?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend raises an extremely important question in the

15 Feb 1999 : Column 494

context of what I was specifying; care, caution and proper safeguards. There will be legal aid for people facing an order for indeterminate reviewable detention. There will also be legal aid for the periodic quasi-judicial reviews.

Specific disbursements would, in the usual way, be a matter for the authority of the legal aid board. However, if one is dealing with difficult areas of say, medical expertise, one would expect it to deal favourably with such requests. I am happy to give your Lordships the assurances that the noble Lord invited me to give.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, the House will be aware that in Scotland there used to be a sentence called preventive detention which was last used in the 1950s. It is similar to what the Minister is proposing. Has the Home Office consulted the Scottish Office about the reasons why preventive detention was abandoned in Scotland?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we used to have preventive detention in England and Wales, too, but we are not speaking of the same beast. Preventive detention was a weapon of sentencing open to the courts when serious criminals were being dealt with. I stress again that the order of reviewable indeterminate detention will be available to those who have committed no crime, but who can be demonstrated to be severely personally disordered. So preventive detention, although it had its opponents and critics, has nothing to teach us about this new sentence.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, I wish to ask the Minister a question that has been worrying me since the proposal was trailed a few hours ago. How is it proposed to identify individuals who have committed no crime, but are thought to be dangerous to their fellow citizens and therefore to be considered for some form of detention and treatment?

If I walk along the street, see someone who is behaving oddly and think that he may have a personality disorder, am I to go up to the nearest police constable and say, "Take him into custody and have him looked into"? I can see what happens once you have detained the person, but with 50 million people I do not know how one identifies such people who, by definition, have committed no crime.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I hope that one will not start in quite so cavalier a way as the noble Lord suggests, otherwise our numbers in this House might be severely diminished almost overnight! I recognise that the noble Lord asks a serious question. Police officers may well have been alerted when no crime has been committed. Members of social services may have had professional dealings with such unfortunate people. There may well have been contact with the Probation Service or other public statutory agencies. I cannot stress too strongly that one does not want to over-exaggerate the numbers involved; they are relatively small.

15 Feb 1999 : Column 495

I realise that the noble Lord put his case strongly in order to draw attention to an important aspect, but one does not want the "witches of Salem" tendency. Plainly, there must be a careful mechanism before any hearing is set up. I anticipate that the kind of bodies which would bring such cases to the attention of the appropriate tribunal would be those I have specified. However, we are more than happy to have the assistance of anyone who wishes to offer their views on the consultative process.

Lord McNair: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on the nature of the research. Who will carry it out? As it will be under the Home Office rather than the Department of Health, presumably that will have a bearing on the matter. Is it not true that most, if not all, the people to whom the Statement refers have had, in addition to their involvement with the criminal justice system, some considerable involvement with the psychiatric system and the mental health services?

Does the Minister agree that we need to discover the role which psychiatric treatment may have played in the lives of such people? We have had psychiatric treatment for 80 years and the problem does not seem to be getting better. Why are there still so many such disturbed people?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in 1997 we established a network of 11 universities and hospitals for the basis of research. It is called the Virtual Institute for Severe Personality Disorder. We are funding a programme of research which will cover diagnosis, treatment and prevention. I do not believe that I am in disagreement with the noble Lord's approach.

I am thrown back to what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia; there is an extraordinary disparity of view among informed professionals about causation. We can find indicators--I mentioned those in the Statement--such as large families and abuse in childhood. However, we cannot wait until research gives us perfect answers because there is a continuing danger for a relatively small number of people both to themselves and the wider public. That is why we must deal with the matter in this way.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I strongly support the proposal. Not only does it help victims and potential victims for the first time in a long time, but it also saves offenders and potential offenders from themselves. It has taken 24 years to come to life and I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the autumn will not be too late. We must make an effort to ensure that more people are not hurt by those suffering from this problem.

My second question relates to Scotland where we too have people who have severe personality disorders. This provision does not cover Scotland and Scotland will be a devolved issue. Can the Minister give us an assurance that something will happen north of the Border?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, a number of inquiries are continuing in the rather different context of

15 Feb 1999 : Column 496

the Scottish legal system. I anticipate that some legislative alteration will happen in the Scottish context also. The law is different in Scotland but there are a number of committees of inquiry roughly paralleling what has been done in the rest of the United Kingdom. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, said. The Government have indicated that we treat this matter with enormous seriousness. If we put out a genuinely consultative document we have to approach the conclusions with an open mind and legislative time will be the bugbear.

At present there are people who are in prison on determinate sentences who insist to the prison staff--this is partly a response to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff--that they intend to commit further, more violent crimes when they come out. When they come out and their licence period has expired, they have to be approached as non-convicted people for the purposes of this new order because they are not receiving the reviewable sentence directly related to the finding of guilt. They are sometimes a danger to themselves and sometimes a danger to the community. As a government, we cannot justify saying to members of the community that we have done nothing about this because a lot of time has passed since Butler. We are looking afresh at Butler and are not constrained by it. I take the noble Lord's point and know that he will return later in the year to remind me about what I said in February.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, there is a strong case for the reviewable sentence. I listened carefully to what the Minister said and I agree that we cannot establish psychiatric views firmly one way or the other. I have seen cases of people who, we were told, were not at risk of committing suicide and yet within an hour had killed themselves. All that is very real and people live in fear of someone who nearly killed them being released. I am told that when they are released they cannot be checked or supervised by the police. I agree therefore with the concept of reviewable sentences. My concern is the point raised by my noble friend Lord Beloff in relation to people who have never been known to be a problem. I think back to all those women who spent lifetimes in asylums often because they had simply had an illegitimate child. That does not apply today of course; we have a different view of these matters. However, I should like to be assured that there is no way in which a completely innocent party will lose their liberty for a lifetime.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page