Discussions are continuing between Home Office and Department of Health and Social Security officials, and within the DHSS, to seek ways of promoting good practice in the case of patients with chronic mental illness who have a history of offending. The objective is to ensure that such patients remain in contact with psychiatric services and do not find their way back into prison. The DHSS also intends, later this year, to lay before Parliament and to publish a code of practice for the guidance of people involved in the treatment of mentally disordered offenders.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the option of remand to a psychiatric unit for some convicted prisoners awaiting sentence and who have psychiatric problems is sometimes frustrated by the unwillingness of medical and other staff to accept individuals who have behavioural problems?
Yes. My hon. Friend's interest in this matter is well known and greatly to be welcomed. Officials of the Home Office and of the Department of Health and Social Security are proposing to undertake urgent talks to see whether it would be possible to persuade the regional health authorities to increase the number of beds available for the kind of persons to whom my hon. Friend has referred.
Will the Minister persuade the DHSS to slow down the programme of community care because of the problems that have been highlighted today of the release of people into the community? Will he tell the DHSS that many of us are very suspicious about the programme, which involves the closing of hospitals for the mentally handicapped and selling the sites for private development? It is important that this sort of attitude should be stopped and that plenty of money should be made available for local authorities to provide community care before any changes are made.
That question is really a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) will, I think, welcome the Government's policy on this matter, which is, first, to try to divert from the prison system those who are better off in hospital, secondly, to try to provide better care for those in the prison system; and, thirdly, to provide better support for prisoners who are discharged back into the community.
Is my hon. Friend aware that his remarks will be very welcome indeed? Is he further aware that many of those in our prisons at present are there because there is not a bed or a place for them in a psychiatric hospital? When someone is discharged from a psychiatric hospital in the first place and commits some minor offence in the community, the court often has no alternative but to send him to prison because of the lack of a place in a long-stay psychiatric hospital. Therefore, will my hon. Friend seek to ensure that his Department's views are drawn forcefully to the attention of the Department of Health and Social Security, which is carrying through an over-rapid closure of psychiatric hospitals, in some cases for the reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)?
My hon. Friend has made a very important point, as one would expect of him. The Home Office recognises that in some areas there is a need for more beds of the kind described and intends to have talks urgently with the Department of Health and Social Security to see what can be done to persuade the regional health authorities to make such provision.
Before I call the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), I remind him and others who may be called that the Birmingham bombings case remains sub judice. If questions are confined to later events concerning Dr. Skuse's retirement, they will be in order.