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May I say at the outset that I am sorry to hear that the Secretary of State is indisposed? We send her our best wishes. We are sure that it will be only a temporary indisposition and that she will be back performing her duties very soon. However, we are happy that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), is here to speak for the Government on this subject, for which she is directly responsible in the Department.
The purpose of this debate is threefold. First, given that there has been no debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on mental health services since 1997, this debate will permit hon. Members not only to assess the future of those services, but to express their appreciation of the staff who work in them and their understanding of the needs of patients with mental health problems. Secondly, we want to express what I hope will be the view of the whole House, namely, that mental health services must not be the Cinderella services of the NHS that many people have often perceived them to be. The services deserve, and must have, priority, and that priority must be reflected in the delivery of the services. Furthermore, that delivery must not be compromisedand patients must not sufferas a result of present or prospective NHS deficits. Thirdly, we want a reformed Mental Health Bill that people across the range of mental health interests can support to be brought before the House. Such a Bill was promised in the Gracious Speech, but there have been long delays. We want it to contain provisions that will provide dignity and a positive framework for those whom it is intended to serve.
Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con):
Does my hon. Friend agree that this so-called reformed Mental Health Bill must address the considerations of the Scrutiny Committeeon which I satmost of
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which were rejected by the Government? Does he also agree that any reformed Bill will need to have been really reformed?
Mr. Lansley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) also served on that Committee, and he and I are convinced that substantial changes to the proposed mental health legislation are required. The need for such changes could well be the reason for the delay in introducing the new Bill, but perhaps the Minister will tell us why the delay has been so great. There are things that we need from that legislation, and when we see the Bill in due course I hope that it will have been reformed in such a way as to command the support of the House. I also hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), with her experience, will contribute to those debates.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that there would be fewer people suffering from mental health problems in this country if the Government were to reclassify cannabis as a class B drug?
Mr. Lansley: I am glad that my hon. Friend made that intervention. I had not intended to deal with that issue, but I think that he is right. Leaving aside the criminal justice issues, we should not underestimate the public health issues associated with drug use, and especially with the prolonged use of cannabis by teenagers. Some of the latest research by the Medical Research Council is pointing towards the existence of a common genetic mutation, occurring in about a quarter of the population, that could give rise to a substantial increase in the likelihood of psychotic episodes and schizophrenia as a result of prolonged cannabis use during the teenage years. That evidence should not be just put to one sideit should inform directly the calculation of potential harm that is supposed to underlie the advice given by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Sir Michael Rawlings, who leads that council and is chairman of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, ought to be rigorous in his examination of the medical evidence underlying those issues. If that has not been true up to now, I hope that it will be in future.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I happen to think that we should not have reclassified cannabis in the first place, and I did not vote for us to do so. In part, therefore, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I must face the fact, howeverand I hope that he will face it toothat since that reclassification, the number of young people using cannabis seems to have dropped. How will he deal with that issue?
I will not get into a debate about criminal justice issues. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I will make my point about the health issue, which I have put on the record. Many Members want to speak and I do not want to take up too much of the limited time available.
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Let us be clear that combating and overcoming the stigma attached to mental illness is at the heart of what we must do in relation to mental health services. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and I visited the Brent Mind housing project this morning, where we talked to some of the tenants, most of whom have a dual diagnosis of schizophrenia and substance misuse of some kind. In relation to the impact of stigma, our discussion was very interesting. For example, they said that there is still a sense in which the public push the problem not just to the margins, but out of sight and out of mind. There seems to be an assumption that someone who has been mentally ill will not recover, and that the condition is permanent. That is not true. People do recover, medication is capable of assisting dramatically nowadays, and talking and other therapies can be very successful.
At any one time, 630,000 people might be receiving mental health treatment in this country, but that is only a fraction of the number who will at some time in their lives have mental illnessprobably one in four of the population will have mental illness at some time. For many, it is a very traumatic but temporary condition. Therefore, we should not treat people who have mental illness and recover any differently from those who have had a broken leg. People recover and move on. Even if people are on medication, perhaps on a more or less permanent basis, we should not treat them differently. We do not say to diabetics that because they take insulin, their ability to work is necessarily compromised. We support such people, encourage them, help them into work and expect them to be integrated into society. The same should be true of people with mental health problems. Illnesses, whether physical, psychological or mental, should be treated in the same way.
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): As someone who represents a constituency with a high incidence of mental health problems, I find myself in the peculiar position of being in complete agreement with the hon. Gentleman's comments. Can he therefore explain why mental health was not mentioned once in his party's 2005 general election manifesto?
Mr. Lansley: I am afraid that that is not true. The hon. Lady will find a mention of it, and we published substantial material on our approach to the mental health legislation, and the need for it, before the last election. I have a copy of our document with me.
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): My hon. Friend has talked about people recovering from mental illness. Does he agree that what he has said applies particularly to people in prison? Is he aware that 90 per cent. of prisoners have mental health needs, but are treated first and foremost as prisoners, which means that those needs are often neglected? If they are to leave prison, play a valuable role in society and be rehabilitated, should not their mental health needs come first?
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