HC Deb 19 December 1957 vol 580 cc719-38

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)

My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) has initiated a debate about a bus shelter. I want to refer to another shelter, a shelter which is not liked by those who live in it. Its name is Rampton Mental Hospital. Rampton has many important facets which require investigation, but I can deal with but two or three in this debate. The others will in due course receive my attention and that of the House, because I believe that there is something radically wrong at Rampton. Tonight, I want to show that because of inadequate parliamentary supervision, bureaucracy has gone mad with a flagrant disregard of the wishes and intentions of Parliament, causing unnecessary suffering to patients and relatives alike.

Rampton came into existence as a result of the passing of the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913, when a new provision was made for mental defectives as separate from the insane under the Lunacy Acts. After reading the 1913 and subsequent debates on mental defectives, including that associated with the introduction of Regulation 89 of the Mental Deficiency Regulations, 1948, I am appalled at the way officialdom has ignored and is still ignoring the rules of the game laid down by Parliament and also by the way that officials strive, by hook or by crook, to preserve what is in part an evil system.

The position is made that much more serious when the present Minister of Health indulges in making such criminally foolish remarks about the soothing effects of patients on their knees scrubbing stone floors for hours on end. For my evidence in respect of the betrayal of Parliament by officialdom, I commence with extracts from the speech of Mr. Reginald McKenna, the then Home Secretary speaking in the debates on the Mental Deficiency Act in 1913. He said: The number of institutions to be set up under paragraph (e) will be extremely small. We do not propose to transfer all the defectives, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme seems to think, to these institutions, which will be specially for lunatics who are criminal or dangerous—I do not mean criminal in the way of petty thefts or offences of that sort, but really dangerous and violent criminals. I emphasise that latter statement. He went on: We anticipate setting up not more than one or two of those institutions.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1913; Vol. LVI, c. 446.] That was the tone set by the Home Secretary in 1913 and as a consequence of that Act, Rampton came into existence. There is another institution at Moss Side, but I will confine my remarks to Rampton about which I know something.

I believe that there are hundreds at Rampton whom Parliament never intended should go there, hundreds of non-criminal types who are neither violent nor dangerous, but who are there mainly because of repeatedly absconding from ordinary mental institutions. I appreciate that constant absconding can be a great nuisance and that something must be done to restrain activities in that form of enterprise, but I submit that there is no justification for sending such people to Rampton to live for many years with murderers and other violent or dangerous criminals.

I submit that the atmosphere is inevitably poisoned for the non-criminal types. Violence and brutality there must be—that is inevitable with some of the desperate types at Rampton. It must be obvious that all that is extremely harmful to obtaining the best curative treatment in a mental hospital. I am fortified in my submission because the staff at Rampton feels the same way about it. Here I quote from the News Chronicle of 8th October this year, which says: Efforts are to be made to prevent murderers and other mentally defective criminals sharing the lives of non-criminal mental patients in State institutions. The staff at Rampton, at its annual conference in October passed a resolution deploring this. I quote again: A staff official said last night: 'We have evidence that it causes great distress to relatives, and we believe that it has a bad effect on non-criminal patients.'. If that is what is felt by the staff, I feel that this matter should not be ignored. It substantiates up to the hilt one of the main planks in my campaign, namely, that at Rampton or any other State institution non-criminal types, as outlined by the Home Secretary in 1913, should not rub shoulders with criminals. If they do, the efforts to obtain a cure for the non-criminal types will be made that much more difficult, because of the poisoned atmosphere.

I would ask those who doubt this to ask the relatives of non-criminal patients for their opinions about Rampton. It is called Rampton Hospital. To me it is a prison, and to anybody who says it is not I would say that a rose by any other name smells the same. If people do not think that it is a prison I should like to have it explained to me why its staff are members of the Prison Officers' Association.

One of the evils of this business is that once a mentally defective patient has been branded as a "Rampton Special" he bears a very heavy load for the rest of his life. To pass through Rampton's portals is to pass into another world. Every effort should be made to spare mental defectives this experience, no matter what their nuisance value, provided that they do not conform to the very bad types specified by Parliament. I have heard it said in official circles that even when some of them have improved in their conduct, and the question arises of their going to an ordinary mental hospital, many refusals are received from medical superintendents who do not want to take them because they are the Rampton type.

At this stage I want to introduce some official information, given in reply to a Question I raised with the previous Minister of Health in an effort to ascertain the number of non-criminal types at Ramp-ton. In his reply the Minister informed me that at that date the number of patients at Rampton was 1,074, and out of that number, five hundred and fifty-six were not dealt with as mental defectives either by the courts or by the Secretary of State whilst being detained in prisons, approved schools or elsewhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1957; Vol. 571, c. 890.] In other words, I submit, that they are not criminal types and should never have gone to Rampton.

The previous Minister of Health said that all the patients at Rampton have either violent or dangerous propensities. I want to challenge that statement. I thoroughly disagree that all those patients who are not criminals have either violent or dangerous propensities. I challenge the Minister or anyone else in that regard, and I shall continue to do so until the matter is cleared up. A thoroughly independent body should investigate the reasons why each non-criminal patient has been sent to Rampton. I believe that if it did there would be a revelation which would shock the public out of its apathy on this subject. I prophesy that many will be found to be absconders from the ordinary mental hospitals. Is that to be wondered at when we consider what goes on under our mental laws?

By way of illustration I will quote from a Question and Answer which appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT a few days ago. I asked the Minister of Health: …how many patients in mental institutions, at the latest convenient date, are held as certified mental defectives on the ground of being found neglected when they were at the time already in the care of the local authorities or of an approved charitable organisation… The Answer was: On 1st December, 1957, 4,455 mental defectives were detained in Mental Deficiency hospitals under the circumstances mentioned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1957 Vol. 580, c. 6–7.] They were neglected, yet they were in the care of local authorities or approved charitable organisations. What is the secret of this? For a long time now it has been the custom for some unfortunate children, particularly orphans and those whose fathers have run away and left the mother to look after three or four children, to be put into homes. When they reach the age of 15 or 16 they cannot be kept in the home, and something has to be done. One of the easiest ways is to certify them as mental defectives on the ground that they are neglected.

I heard of a case the other day of a man called Allgood who was discharged recently at the age of 57 after having been for nearly half a century in homes and mental institutions. I found on investigation that he was certified in 1932 He was taken to the county hall in custody, and there certified as being found neglected. For 11 years he hail been in a mental hospital at Dartford. After he was certified and until a few days ago he was a patient at the place where he had been found neglected. I know that lawyers can make some funny results occur from the use of the English language, but to say that a person is found neglected when he is in a home and to certify him as neglected when he has been there for 11 years is taking matters a bit too far.

If my submission is correct, thousands of unfortunate young children have been taken away from homes and certified on the grounds that they are found neglected. Is it to be wondered at that many young men and women who seem to be facing a life sentence as cheap or slave labour decide to abscond? There are people who may object to the expression "cheap or slave labour", but what else is it if they receive only a few shillings a week? If they got the trade union rate for the job, a lot of them would be out of institutions pretty quickly. That was a proposal put to the Royal Commission by one expert, who said that absconding from such places could be a sign of intelligence and not of mental deficiency.

Those content to exist under conditions of that kind were probably rightly certified. But those with any "guts" at all would try to get out of it. If they do so, they find themselves on the road which leads to Rampton. The dice is heavily loaded against anyone who has been in a mental institution particularly when they try to get a job. Seldom do they escape capture for long. Conduct of this kind may land them in Rampton without their having been criminals or possessing violent or dangerous propensities.

From my investigations, I believe that there are many of that type at Rampton. In these cases, where it is claimed that they possess these propensities, certain inquiries ought to be made as to why they have them, bet there are no records to show that they possessed them before they went into a mental institution. An investigation which would show how they developed them would be exceedingly interesting, and many people now deprived of their liberty would be outside, where they ail want to be.

Having mentioned all this, I now ask what explanation or justification is there for children to be in the Rampton atmosphere? Even if they are in separate villas, the children are known to have expressed their pleasure at being next door to the "lifers". For this part of my case. I want to quote again from HANSARD a Question and Answer on 2nd December, when I asked the Minister of Health what was the number of mental defective children at present detained in the Rampton Mental Hospital, and the reply was: On 14th November, there were thirteen boys and three girls, of whom one boy was 5 years old on admission. What a departure from 1913. I assumed that we had made some progress, but we have gone back a long way. The Minister then explained: The admission in 1953 of the boy in question was quite exceptional because no vacancy existed for him at that time in a mental deficiency hospital, and he had become unmanageable in the convent where he then was."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1957: Vol. 579, c. 31 and 32.] What an indictment of this great country that we have to send a child of five years of age into the atmosphere shared by murderers and other criminal types. If one can go, how many more can go? I would submit that the excuse that they live in different villas is no excuse at all. Take the villas 100 miles away, put them somewhere else; when they are in the grounds of Rampton, the children are provided with a poisoned atmosphere.

I have a great friend who has made a calculation about the cost of Rampton, and here I quote: Treatment for a propensity seems to be a lengthy business. Twenty-five per cent. of the inmates of Rampton have been there longer than ten years, while probably a considerably larger proportion have been there for over five years. He dealt with the number discharged and the costs at Rampton, and then he says this: This works out at a cost of approximately £8,000 per cure. Since, moreover, they are only discharged, for the most part, to other homes, this means that only their propensities are cured and not their mental defect. What a lot of money—£8,000 for each cure. I am satisfied that with the poisoned atmosphere of Rampton we are not getting proper value for our money.

I should now like to deal with some aspects of the treatment to which patients, criminal and non-criminal types alike, are subjected to in Rampton, and again I quote from HANSARD of 9th December. I asked the Minister of Health under what circumstances patients in Rampton Mental Hospital are required to scrub stone floors, and, in his answer, the Minister said: The maximum time a patient may be employed is the normal working period of about six hours, of which about four hours might be on actual scrubbing. Among the curative benefits of such work, and of all the occupational training, are the satisfaction of honest work, the instillation of the rudiments of hygiene, and the soothing effect on disturbed patients."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1957; Vol. 579, c, 884.] The Minister does not seem to get away very easily with that because the News Chronicle, winding up some comments on it, said: If we were not told that this was said by the Minister of Health in the year 1957, we might pardonably have assumed it to be a quotation from Dickens Then I should like to quote from Time and Tide, the independent weekly, of Saturday, 14th December. Commenting on what was said from both sides of the House, it winds up by saying this: He had to explain that floor scrubbing was actually designed by kindly authorities for the benefit of the patients. I daresay very similar arguments were advanced by his predecessors in defence of the treadmill and the galley slave. All equipment, they would have explained, including oars and whips, was supplied free. Benches were provided on the galleys. What could be more satisfying than sixth honest work or more soothing than its regular rhythm? Even this Minister cannot see just what decent people think about his statement. Because of that attitude of mind on the part of the Minister it is vital that I should make a New Year resolution that in 1958 I will redouble my efforts to expose the evils of this system.

Finally, I would quote from a letter. I have had lots of letters from people who have experienced the scrubbing of the stone floors in Rampton. One of them is a boy, a very naughty boy he must have been. He has improved sufficiently to be discharged in the last four weeks. He puts in words very much better than many relatives and patients have been able to do what the scrubbing means. I would like to read extracts from his letter, which was written to the Minister: As a patient released from the Rampton State Institution three weeks ago whose certification order has since been discharged, may I challenge your statement in the House of Commons earlier this week concerning the scrubbing of stone-floor by patients as being inaccurate, misleading and creating a totally false impression? I write with some authority. During my 11 years in Rampton, I spent 13 periods in the D.I. refractory ward where the scrubbing takes place ranging from a few weeks to one period of two years. If anybody goes to Rampton and talks about punishment, they hold up their hands in horror and say, "There is no punishment here." The letter goes on: I last scrubbed floors last February. I have spoken to men who did so as recent as last October. When I left Rampton, conditions had not changed. First your statement that no man spends more than four hours scrubbing the floor. This is not true. When a man enters D.I. usually for the first fortnight he does a whole day's scrubbing, a total of 8½ hours. He starts at 8.30 a.m. and finishes at 6 p.m. with two half-hour breaks for meals. For that entire period he scrubs a 7 yard patch of corridor. When he finishes it, often the nurse kicks the bucket over and he starts all over again. Only after this fortnight, when he is allowed exercise in the afternoons, does he do only four hours in the morning. The scrubbing is continued for a fortnight, after which the man gets exercise in the yard outside. I continue the letter: Second, you state that patients get a satisfaction of honest work. But it is stupid, senseless and degrading work. If a man sews mailbags, there is a constructive element present. Scrubbing a patch of stone floor so clean that you can eat a meal off it and scrubbed so shiny that it is dangerous to walk on is a form of punishment no man should be allowed to inflict on another and certainly not in a place for the mentally inflicted. If I had more time I could read out more extracts to show what a shocking thing this is. To claim that this practice is soothing is one of the worst defences that any person could have made of it. This is done in a ward to which people are sent because they have done something wrong; it is punishment. I challenge the Minister on this matter. Even the hands and the knees of the patients are red raw. If this punishment is soothing we should look somewhere else for the people to run these places. Let us get back as quickly as possible to the mentality of the Parliamentarians of 1913 who said that an institution of this sort should be a place from which the non-criminal types should be excluded.

I have had some experience of the briefs given to Ministers. The Parliamentary Secretary has the last word and sometimes briefs have been very misleading. There will come another day on which to answer if in the brief tonight there is something which is not accurate.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I wish to say a word following the speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) and I hope that he will not want to contradict what I say. I, too, have visited Rampton. Although, admittedly, my visit was shorter than his, my experience makes me feel that this ought to be added to what the hon. Member said. There are a large number of staff employed there, giving most selfless service to what, perhaps, is the most difficult of all tasks. No one who visits Rampton can fail to get an impression of what that service means to anyone there, particularly in some sections in which the worst cases are looked after.

I remember asking whether members of the staff were relieved from duty with the hardest cases at Rampton. The answer I got, which, I think, was a true one, was that those members of the staff were most reluctant to change their duties because they did not like leaving the people who, they felt, had become dependent upon them. I am sure that in the case he made the hon. Member would not wish to obscure the kind of work which the bulk of those people do, no matter what the regimen may be, or the quality of service they render. I hope be will forgive me, therefore, for interspersing those words.

Mr. Dodds

Does the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) appreciate that I have not been speaking about the staff, who go there willingly, but about the "poor devils" who go there against their will?

9.47 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Richard Thompson)

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), who was fortunate in the Ballot, chose as his subject one which we know, from his assiduity at Question Time, is one to which he has devoted a great amount of time and study. Before the debate he was good enough to see me and, in the usual way, to let me know the principal points to which he proposed to relate his argument this evening. Although the hon. Member has ranged wide, he has dealt very largely with two points which I propose to cover in a little detail.

The first was the propriety of the scrubbing of which we have heard so much this evening—whether it has any value and whether it ought to find any place in the regimen—and, secondly, the question of the juxtaposition in Rampton institution of what one might loosely call criminals and non-criminals, those who have been convicted for an offence at some time and those who have not. If I can confine myself largely to those two points I think I shall be dealing fairly with the hon. Member and in the way in which he indicated to me would be appropriate.

I have visited this institution. I spent a long day there. I do not say, of course, that I know all the ins and outs of the matter; that would be quite unreasonable. On the other hand, when something is a matter of controversy it is helpful to have gone there and seen for oneself, because one cannot assume that the really devoted people who run the establishment—the doctors and nurses, of both sexes—have a great deal to conceal which they tuck out of the way when one visits.

Another point I want to make, because I think some people may be inclined to forget it, is that, by definition, Rampton is an institution for those of violent or dangerous propensities. I do not think that we can ever get away from that. We are dealing with very exceptional people with whom the ordinary mental deficiency hospitals cannot cope. Therefore, it would not be surprising if we found that their treatment was exceedingly difficult and probably prolonged.

First, let me say a word about the scrubbing. The hon. Gentleman spoke about treadmills, galley slaves and matters of that kind.

Mr. Dodds

Those were not my words, but the newspaper's words.

Mr. Thompson

Then let me say that the hon. Gentleman quoted, I think with approval, a reference in the Press in, those terms.

A great deal has been made of this and perhaps I could bring a little personal experience to bear on it, as I have done a great deal of floor scrubbing. For a year I was an ordinary seaman in the Navy, and I regarded it as part of the routine to scrub out my mess and my part of the ship every morning, with a number of other people. The work was tedious, but not particularly arduous, and was regularly carried out in conditions of wind and rain—and occasional enemy action—far in excess of anything that patients at Rampton normally have to endure.

It is utter nonsense to talk about this work as a kind of brutalising performance. It is nothing of the kind. As I said, it is rather boring, but not particularly arduous work.

Mr. Dodds rose

Mr. Thompson

The hon. Gentleman has had a good innings.

Mr. Dodds

The Minister is not a mental defective. The patients are there to be cured.

Mr. Thompson

I am grateful for that tribute. As I say, the hon. Gentleman has had a good innings and must not mind if I have one, too.

Why is it necessary to have scrubbing at all? I must ask the hon. Gentleman to accept this from me. This occupation is essential for these unfortunate people with whom we are dealing, particularly for refractory patients. There is a limit to the types of useful work in which these disturbed patients can be employed.

For instance, these patients cannot be given tools which might be turned into offensive weapons. Many of the patients at Rampton work in workshops and perform useful work, but that involves their handling tools. For refractory patients, the people whom the hon. Gentleman had particularly in mind, there is a grave and unacceptable risk involved if they are put into workshops in their disturbed state of mind. They can do serious injury to themselves and to those who work with them.

For this reason, it is surely better that they should have some kind of simple occupation until they settle down and are capable of accepting more advanced kinds of work. It is surely better that they should do something like that than be isolated in strong rooms as used to be the case many years ago.

That is virtually the alternative: whether they shall be given simple work until they settle down and can be given something more imaginative, something more therapeutic perhaps, or whether they shall be treated in the old-fashioned way, which does them no good at all, and be isolated and kept under restraint. That is why this scrubbing routine is resorted to, and if I may pray in aid my own modest experience scrubbing is not a degrading and disgusting thing. Moreover a patient is not employed on scrubbing work if he is medically unsuited for it.

The hon. Gentleman said that he believed that there were hundreds of people at Rampton who were not criminals. I think that that is a fair summary. Classification into "criminals," those who have been convicted, and "non-criminals," those who have not, is misleading in a hospital—and in spite of what the hon. Member said about Rampton being a prison, it is, in fact, a hospital, run by doctors and nurses.

Mr. Dodds

Members of the Prison Officers' Association.

Mr. Thompson

The hon. Member seems to think that it is a matter of great consequence that the nurses at Rampton are members of the Prison Officers' Association. There is a perfectly understandable historical reason for this, which I am sure he knows. In any case, I am sure that he would not suggest that the people who do this work should be compelled to join an association not of their own choosing just because it might have a more attractive nomenclature and because this is a particular kind of hospital.

Returning to the point about criminal and non-criminal patients, the "criminal" defectives represent roughly 50 per cent. of the whole. The hon. Member knows the sources of these patients. They comprise defectives transferred under Section 9 of the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913, by order of the Secretary of State from prisons, approved schools and kindred institutions, and defectives sent under Section 8 of the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913, direct by a court or transferred from other institutions to which they have been sent by the court.

"Non-criminal" defectives are defectives transferred from other institutions or admitted direct. A number of patients who have been admitted as non-criminal defectives may well have committed acts for which they would have been prosecuted, but the police did not prosecute because they knew these were ascertained mental defectives and, consequently, merely arranged for them to be returned to hospital.

The patients who have been charged and convicted as criminals are not necessarily the most difficult patients. To assume that the people who have been convicted of the worst crimes are the most dangerous and truculent type is quite wrong. To separate them according to the legal definition in a hospital would be misleading, because we might well find that somebody who had a shocking criminal record was a docile patient. The only criterion applicable to all classes of defectives admitted to Rampton must be whether they have dangerous or violent propensities.

In general, no distinction is made between those who have been convicted and others, except that those who have been charged with or convicted of murder are generally kept in the central ward longer than others, for understandable security reasons. Apart from this, all are treated as patients in a hospital and the classification is by mental condition and progress. In my opinion, that is exactly as it should be, because I reject absolutely the suggestion that Rampton is a prison and not a hospital.

A limited time remains to me, and perhaps I may conclude. The duty of doctors, administrators and the courts is to try to do what is right for the patients and the public, and the evidence on which they decide cannot always be set out so as to convince people who have not full experience of these matters. It is right that the public should take an interest in State institutions, and lay criticisms can be constructive and useful.

It is only reasonable that the layman should approach the problem of these most difficult patients with humility and a sense of responsibility, bearing in mind the harmful effect that uninformed criticism and ill-judged publicity can have on the patients themselves and on the feelings of their relatives.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Thompson

It is difficult if not impossible for those trained in this sphere to know just what should have been done at some past time. Justification for past actions should not be questioned to a point where it imposes a heavy burden on those who have to deal with the patients and who have devoted their lives to the subject. In this connection, I greatly welcomed the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). All of us in this House would wish to associate ourselves with what he said about the devotion of the staff and the intensely difficult task with which they are confronted.

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford made a point that, on the question of the juxtaposition of what he called the criminal and the non-criminal types, he had the support of the Prison Officers' Association, according to a resolution which he quoted. That resolution was supposed to have been sent to my right hon. and learned Friend. When it was mentioned by the hon. Member in the course of a supplementary question some time ago, my right hon. and learned Friend stated, as was the case, that he had received no such resolution. I can only say that, knowing what this debate was to be about today and thinking that the hon. Member would probably raise the matter, I took particular care to inquire whether that resolution had since been remitted to my right hon. and learned Friend. We have still not received it.

I do not say that that is because there was not such a resolution, but I cannot help feeling that the association concerned may well feel that perhaps the hon. Member is not the best man to urge it in this House in view of his attitude towards Rampton and the people who work there.

Mr. Dodds

Does the hon. Gentleman doubt that the resolution was passed? Whether or not I am the right sort of man, if it has been passed by the association, will he not take any notice of it? If he wishes to know, I am meeting the staff at Rampton in January.

Mr. Thompson

I am aware of that. If the hon. Member looks at HANSARD tomorrow morning, he will see that I said words to the effect that I do not doubt that the resolution was passed.

On the question of convicted criminals and those who have not been convicted being in the same institution, I have already pointed out that this place is a hospital it is run as a hospital, albeit with exceptionally difficult patients. That is not, therefore, a criticism of substance.

The hon. Member quoted at considerable length from a letter sent to my right hon. and learned Friend by a patient recently discharged from Rampton, making certain extremely damaging criticisms and statements, which ought not to be allowed to go unchallenged. I want to say straightaway that patients are kept under the very closest supervision, including the time when they are scrubbing out their quarters. This is because some inflict injuries on themselves to avoid work. Only fit men are put on scrubbing, and any with sore knees or hands are put on other work.

Mr. Dodds

How do they get the sore knees?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Thompson

The patient to whom the hon. Member has referred is now, I am glad to say, in the outside world and will, I hope, make a success and rehabilitate himself and become a useful member of society. In the past, however, he has made a habit of making complaints without foundation which he has subsequently retracted. His letter to the hon. Member is typical of allegations which he has made in the past and which, in the event, he has retracted.

My concluding word is this. We all want to see Rampton run as efficiently and as humanely as an establishment of this kind can possibly be run, but if the hon. Member or anybody else is to base his judgment concerning the running of this administration on statements made by present patients or, possibly, parents of patients who are themselves in a worried and distressed state of mind, if he discounts what the devoted doctors and nurses in this institution themselves say about it and if he discounts the evidence of Members of this House who have been there to see the place for themselves, all I can say is that the picture that will go out to the country, to the detriment of the patients in Rampton and of the devoted people looking after them, will be a very damaging and completely inaccurate one.

Mr. Dodds

If that is what the Minister feels about this, will he accept the challenge to have an independent investigation, on the lines I have mentioned, to clear up this matter?

Mr. Thompson

I consider that no such investigation is required on these facts.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

It was not my intention to intervene in this debate, but I too have a case which disturbs me.

A girl from my constituency finds herself in Rampton. I do not want to give her name, because I do not think it would be in her interests or in the interests of the Department to bandy about names. I think I am a reasonable man in many ways, but I ask the Minister to consider the effect of the sort of secrecy which surrounds people when they get to Rampton.

This girl was sent there. She had a history of running away. As a relatively sane person myself, I do not regard it, as apparently many medical authorities do, as a sign of insanity when a person to whom nothing abnormal has happened for many years, who has a reasonably good record and who suddenly finds herself in a mental institution, tries to abscond. To me that would seem the natural thing to do. I should certainly do it myself in those circumstances. However, it seems to be regarded at Rampton and other places as being the last word in irresponsibility and a reason why nothing much can be done.

I have tried to find out by writing to the medical superintendent and to the Board of Control exactly what is the matter with this girl. Correspondence has been continuing on and off for some months, and I have taken up the matter with the National Council of Civil Liberties, which seems to me to be doing good work; but it has not enough money to send medical specialists to undertake the independent medical examination which I wanted for this patient. I am still in the dark about this.

I say to the Minister that this is most wrong. I have visited many mental hospitals, especially in the Midlands, before I came here, when I was a city councillor and, in support of the view of the hon. Gentleman, I would say that I have found most of the people serving those institutions to be very devoted indeed. I would not say a word against them. I have never been to Rampton and, therefore, I will not say a word against anyone at Rampton.

But it makes one extremely suspicious, in the case to which I have referred, when I find it impossible to get any information. It is impossible to find out why the girl is still being kept there, what treatment she has been having and what progress she is making. In view of this and that my hon. Friend has drawn this subject in the Ballot—

Mr. Speaker

There is a slight misunderstanding. The hon. Member did not draw it in the Ballot; I selected him for this subject.

Mr. Howell

I am very happy to be corrected, Mr. Speaker. I think it would be out of order for me to congratulate you on that selection, but I certainly regard it as a very happy event, for it has enabled me to listen to the debate and to express my own views.

I should like to have a few words in private about this case, and I know that the Minister will accommodate me. I must say that, unless I can obtain some more reasonable information than I have so far, I shall feel like going to Rampton, and I do not think it does Rampton or any other institution very much good if hundreds of Members of Parliament descend on the place. I do ask the Minister kindly to see to it that when we as Members of Parliament inquire of medical superintendents and the Board of Control about cases in which we are interested we are given, even if in confidence, the fullest possible information so that much of the suspicion which surrounds these institutions can be removed. That is the plea I make.

Members of Parliament do not take up these cases until they have thoroughly investigated what they have been told by the complaining parents and others. We are entitled, I think, to the fullest possible information, and when we suspect that we are not getting it we really begin to think that there is something radically wrong—perhaps more wrong than is apt to be the case. I hope that the Minister will try to bring more light to bear on these cases and ensure that better information is provided for Members and other complaining bodies.

10.12 p.m.

Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)

It was not my intention, when I came here, to intervene in this debate. I think it is well enough known that I share the views of the hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Dodds), who initiated the debate. I regret to say that, able as he made his case, my hon. Friend who answered him did not convince me otherwise.

I intervene only to further the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) about secrecy. There is no question that the information we get—information is hardly the word—the communications we receive about patients in mental hospitals or mental deficiency hospitals are remarkably uninformative. We are made to feel as if we are nuisances, but I do not believe that we are always necessarily nuisances either in individual casts or upon more general matters.

I should like to add a slightly more cheerful note to this debate, if I may, by quoting a case of a constituent of mine, about which I have already spoken personally to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. This is the case of a girl, or young woman as she is now, whose parents came to me about a year ago with the story that is all too familiar in these cases, that over twenty years ago they had given permission for her to go into a mental defectives home, the local county one.

The parents had signed their consent not realising that it was an irreversible consent. She had remained there two or three years, disturbances had occurred, which, since they had occurred some twenty years ago, one is obviously unable to express any opinion about, and she had gone to Rampton. She was there for twelve years, and for a further five or six years circulated between Rampton and Moss Side. She had then gone to a more open institution up at Prudhoe-on-Tyne in Northumberland, where she had committed this awful sin of trying to abscond. The result is that she came back to Moss Side, where she was at the beginning of the year.

I am pleased to say that an attitude more liberal than usual was taken on my intervention in this case, and, by the courtesy of the then Minister, my right hon. Friend's predecessor, and the medical superintendent at Moss Side, I was able to visit the institution, see the girl, and have a conversation with her. To cut a somewhat long story short, I am hoping that the representations which I was able to make to the medical superintendent after my conversation with her did smooth away certain difficulties and misunderstandings. At any rate, the result to date is a happy one. Within six months the girl behaved very much better, and this was for the simple reason that she felt that at last someone was on her side and intervening on her behalf, whereas for years she had been in a melancholic state because she thought that everyone was against her. Within six months she was able to be transferred to our county institution, and since then she has been practically a model patient.

The medical superintendent took an entirely fresh view of her case—I am most grateful to him for it—and placed trust in her, and put her in an open position, which she appreciated. According to an Answer that I received earlier this week, it is hoped that the girl will soon be in a fit condition to be discharged.

I quote this case as an example of helpful intervention and to show that on occasions Members of Parliament can perhaps be of help in curing people, instead of being nuisances, as they are regarded by so many.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes past Ten o'clock.