§ Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law with respect to the assessment and detention of dangerous people with severe personality disorder.As the title suggests, the Bill would allow the assessment of individuals with a severe personality disorder and their detention if they were felt to present a danger to the public. It specifies that they should be detained in establishments that provide a reasonable level of security for the public and services for the management and treatment of the disorder, although, unlike at present, it would not be a condition of any detention order that such treatment should be likely to alleviate or prevent deterioration in a person's condition. The Bill would allow for the periodic review of any detention and the release on licence of any individual who was no longer considered to present a danger to the public.
The Bill is not a panacea. It would not deal with everyone with a personality disorder. Some of them present a very low risk, and some no risk at all, to the general public. It would not deal with all paedophiles, although a small proportion of the people whom it would affect may be paedophiles. It would deal only with a small minority of people, but at present the risk that they pose to the public is not dealt with adequately and attempts to treat them are insufficient.
Every day, psychiatrists, psychologists and other clinical specialists, as well as police, probation officers and social workers, make life-and-death decisions about how much risk individuals present to the public and whether that risk has reduced enough to allow them into the community. Those who make the decisions are trying to protect the rights of the individual and the community. The Bill would not change that. Such decisions still have to be made. I recognise that the decisions are not always clear cut and that those who make them are in a no-win situation. Inevitably, sometimes they get it wrong. Often they are criticised for taking someone's liberty away when the risk is low. More often, they are criticised—usually with the benefit of hindsight—for releasing someone into the community who offends or reoffends. I do not want to join in that criticism. I recognise that for every case that goes tragically wrong in a blaze of media attention, there are hundreds in which we have got the balance right and the correct decision has been made. The aim of the Bill is to make it possible for a small number of people to be detained under a similar process when, after a proper assessment, they are shown to be a serious danger to the public.
I am proposing the legislation not because of a morbid interest in the subject or as a theoretical exercise, but because the problem exists and to ignore it and do nothing is not an option. Last year I was faced with the prospect of a special unit being set up in Nottingham prison in my constituency to house paedophiles. My immediate reaction was hostile, as was that of the local press and people in the area. The story was not an example of good communications by those involved. News about the unit leaked out before there had been any consultation, including with me.
168 Because people were not aware of all the facts, many invented their own. Dozens of rumours began to circulate. Because I did not know the truth, I could not squash those rumours. At one stage I was told that 30 paedophiles were coming to the area, some of whom would be resident, while others would visit on a daily basis. I was told that a door would be built in the prison and they would have keys so that they could go in and out as they wanted. It was all nonsense being peddled as truth, but I found it impossible to undo later much of the damage that was done at that time. Many local residents were whipped up into a fury. Without the full facts, that was understandable, but even when we had the facts many questions were left unanswered.
Initially, it was planned to house three dangerous offenders. In the end, only two bedsits were constructed. Two notorious paedophiles are now in occupancy away from the community. Initially I was not thrilled at the prospect. I met my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, Ministers, civil servants and experts in dealing with such offenders. Only then did I realise that the alternative to having them housed inside the prison behind five locked doors, with closed-circuit television cameras and 24-hour surveillance, was for them to go out into the community. Admittedly, that may not have been in Nottingham, but it would be somewhere in the community where they would have much more opportunity to reoffend. I was told that those people would reoffend: not that it was possible or probable, but that it was certain. Everybody agreed on that—the police, the probation service, the psychiatrists and the psychologists.
Unfortunately, as the law stands, if someone is dangerous and a psychiatrist says that they can be treated, they can be held somewhere secure for that treatment. However, if someone is dangerous but a psychiatrist says that they cannot be treated, it is deemed that they cannot be held anywhere. That is not quite as daft as it sounds, and I appreciate why that is the case. Nevertheless, one does not need to be the Lord Chancellor to recognise that, in many circumstances, that is unacceptable.
The six months that the paedophiles have been in Nottingham prison have been a great success. I acknowledge that there has been no incident during that time, and that no child has been at risk. I am sure that children would have been at risk had those people been out in the community. However, that is not a long-term solution, which must involve new legislation and new resources. The Bill is an attempt to develop that long-term solution and to take the first tentative steps towards it.
This is a complex area of law that requires careful legislation. To remove someone's liberty without trial is not a course of action that anyone should contemplate without careful consideration. Unlike some sections of the media, I do not condemn the Government for not introducing legislation. The last thing we need is a knee-jerk reaction to the problem. It was right and proper that, before legislation was embarked upon, there should have been proper consultation with all the relevant agencies. I have used opinion B in the Government's consultation document as the basis of the Bill.
I see the Bill as a practical solution to a real, not theoretical, problem. I am grateful to the agencies which have contacted me and offered advice and constructive criticism: the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, MIND and Liberty have all given good advice on the pitfalls of legislation. I have said to 169 all of them that I see the difficulties and the problems. I recognise that it is important that we get the Bill right and, with careful deliberation, we can get it right. I am determined to press ahead unless someone can furnish me with a real alternative.
Many people were upset when I would not demonstrate against the Government putting two paedophiles in Nottingham prison. The reason for that was not pressure from the Home Secretary, or any other Minister. I was under no pressure—there are no votes in the House on these issues, and no whip is applied. There was not a party line for me to follow. The reason why I would not join others in condemning the proposals was simple: I could think of no real alternative that did not put children at risk. I still think that I was right, and I am in a similar position now in that I see no real alternative to the Bill.
Some of my constituents have offered solutions ranging from marooning those individuals on a desert island to drowning them. The most common solution put forward was the one that seems to be the standard solution proposed to almost every problem—I refer, of course, to chopping off their goolies. I apologise if that is unparliamentary language, Madam Speaker, but that is how it is often put to me. That is not a real option, and we can see that it is neither practical nor possible within the law—and, as has been said, it does not work.
Today, coincidentally, the Select Committee on Home Affairs has published its report on managing dangerous people with severe personality disorders. Some may not believe it, but that is a coincidence. If anyone believes that I have enough influence to persuade the Whips to give me a ten-minute rule Bill spot on the day that the Select Committee produces a report that proposes the same conclusions as my Bill, they must think that I have the same reputation as Machiavelli.
The Bill would provide a good option for dangerous people with severe personality disorders. It would offer them more than they are offered at present and would also offer protection to the public.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Heppell, Mr. Vernon Coaker, Jane Griffiths, Mr. Nigel Griffiths, Mr. Steve McCabe, Siobhain McDonagh, Mr. Ian Pearson, Ms Bridget Prentice, Mr. Terry Rooney, Mr. David Taylor, Mr. David Watts and Mr. Phil Woolas.