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It covers only whether the person is cared for, not whether that person needs treatment or is a danger to themselves or others. That is because, back in 1890,
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there was no treatment. If there was a danger to self or others, it was assumed that the police would use common law to gain entry. However, their common law powers are greatly circumscribed by section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which allows them to enter only in dire emergency

If, therefore, someone who lives alone harbours paranoid beliefs about their neighbours but can still care for themselves, the professionals have no power to gain access to them to assess the need for admission. They must effectively wait until an assault has been committed and that person can then be arrested. By the same token, a warrant cannot be obtained when the person is living with someone else who does not neglect or ill treat them, even if that someone else is a child, infirm or unable to allow access. In some cases, family members, far from ill treating or neglecting the mentally disordered person, are concerned about them and desperate for them to receive treatment but are too frightened of them to let the police and the professionals into the house against their wishes. A high proportion of cases in which access is plainly justified do not fulfil the existing criteria, forcing approved social workers to misrepresent circumstances to obtain a warrant.

We have modified the new clause since it was first debated in the Lords to tackle a valid objection by the Minister in the other place that it deleted an existing power to obtain access to someone who needed care other than for mental disorder. The new clause now retains existing powers but deletes the stigmatising phrase “not under proper control”. As a witness to the Joint Scrutiny Committee put it, inclusion of the phrase made it sound as though we were talking about dogs.

The new clause now provides for access to be gained in any circumstances in which it is necessary for the professional to carry out an assessment for possible admission under the 1983 Act. However, it also imposes a new restriction that a warrant can be granted only when it has not been possible to gain access without one. That is designed to prevent the widespread misuse of the current system whereby the police insist on obtaining a warrant even when access has not been denied or it is not certain that that will be the case.

We believe that the restriction would require the approved mental health professional to demonstrate to the magistrates that all reasonable efforts had already been made to gain access by non-forcible means. It is therefore likely that the new clause would reduce rather than increase the number of warrants issued. Lest there is a concern about increasing the range of circumstances in which the police can enter private property, it should be noted that clause 228 of the 2004 draft Mental Health Bill—may it rest in peace—which the Government abandoned more than a year ago, contained much greater powers for the police to enter private property by force without a warrant, and purely at the request of an AMHP in circumstances in which a person was in urgent need of care and control to prevent him from causing serious harm to himself or others. Even the extension of police powers that the
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new clause proposes would not extend as far as that, as a case for forcible access would always have to be made in the magistrates court.

The new clause is slightly technical but the law is clearly out of line with current practice and I hope that the Minister will accept it in the constructive and positive way in which I move it.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I rise to move amendment No. 88. I have never moved an amendment in the House before and I cannot think of a better one with which to start. [Interruption.] Am I not speaking about amendment No. 88? Am I not on the right track? I appear to be causing hilarity.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman may speak about amendment No. 88, but he is not moving it at this time. At the moment, only new clause 11 is being moved. If and when there is any question of a vote on amendment No. 88, the hon. Gentleman may move it formally.

Mr. Walker: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your guidance. In my excitement, I was getting ahead of myself. I shall try to stay within the bounds of parliamentary protocol.

Amendment No. 88 is designed to change the definition of a place of safety so that, as far as possible, it is not a police cell. Too often, people who have a mental episode that results in a disturbance or act of violence end up in a police cell. As far as possible, we would like to ensure that a place of safety is actually in a therapeutic environment. If that is not possible, however, we would hope that within 24 hours of someone being placed in a police cell after an episode of mental illness, they would be found a place in a therapeutic environment where they could receive appropriate care.

I believe that the amendment is hugely important because it sends out a message about how we regard mental illness, which is not a crime. In certain cases, it may drive people to commit acts that could be perceived to be criminal or, indeed, are criminal, but mental illness in itself is not a crime.

I have personal experience of being around people who have had extremely violent and aggressive episodes of mental illness, and I have to say that it is very frightening, but I can say now, with hindsight, that a police cell is not what these very ill and sick people need. It really is not. The police are not trained to be the jailers of the mentally ill; it is outside their range of competence. They are not skilled at managing the symptoms. The police are not clinically trained. I would have thought that locking someone up in a police cell could only add to the trauma and make that sick person even sicker.

If we do not progress with the amendment, I hope that the Minister and others will look further into the way that mental illness is approached in the community, particularly by the police, and try to find ways of ensuring that when the police are confronted with a violent mentally ill person, they can recognise the situation and call on the help of clinical experts to help them to manage it— [Interruption.] I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is getting agitated, so I shall give way.

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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that warm words, though very welcome if forthcoming from the Minister, will not on this occasion suffice? We need some sort of formal commitment that mentally ill people will speedily be put in a place of safety other than a police cell. Very often, they will not be able to give voice to their own anxieties. They look to this House to protect them—and protect them we must, otherwise there is a real danger of what I would call careless and accidental incarceration or careless cruelty. We have a responsibility to avoid that.

Mr. Walker: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point in his usual eloquent way. The amendment would allow the House to send a message to people who are mentally ill that we care about their welfare and about alleviating their troubles and that we want to ensure that, in as many cases as possible, they are in places that best meet their needs as ill people—as patients.

I recall describing in Committee something that happened in my constituency, but I shall not go into it in detail again. It concerned a young girl of about 14 who was having a violent episode. I was with the police on that occasion and we were called to the house. It sounded as though there were about 30 people in that house, throwing things, screaming and yelling, but it was actually just one tiny 14-year-old girl. This little girl was walked out in between two policemen. I cannot remember whether she was handcuffed—I hope she was not—but she was put in a police car and taken to a police station. I, a totally untrained observer, could recognise that the girl was mentally ill. What was happening to her was completely and utterly not in her interests. It was a moving experience for me. By accepting this amendment, I hope that we can ensure that such circumstances are kept to the absolute minimum in future.

In providing a therapeutic environment, we must strike the right balance between having beds and community facilities. I know that there is a big move to close beds and move services, particularly day services, into the community, but in many cases we still need beds and secure places for such young people.

8.15 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is there not another practical point? We heard from the Ministry of Justice today that police cells are going to be used for criminals because there are not enough places in our prisons. If we have a Ministry of Truth in a few days’ time, perhaps it will be honest enough to admit that there will not be enough room in police cells for this, so we need something better.

Mr. Walker: I understand where my right hon. Friend is coming from. It is just not right to take people who are mentally ill and put them in police stations and in police cells next to criminals. If we are serious about ending the stigma attached to mental health, this is one practice that we should stop as soon as possible.

Dr. Iddon: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the police would have great difficulty if they arrested a drug addict who was also mentally ill? The police would probably see the drug addiction beyond the mental illness. Does that not create a problem for the amendment?

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Mr. Walker: I appreciate that there will be difficulties of interpretation at the margins, but I come back to the 14-year-old girl. It was not difficult to interpret that decision. What happened to her was clearly wrong and could not be justified in any society that claimed to be civilised in its approach to people with mental illness. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, but we are here to navigate our way through these difficult issues and I am sure that there is a way forward. I know that the Minister will have something to say about it. Briefly, then, we must ensure that there are facilities and beds within the community.

I was heartened by what the Minister said yesterday about age-appropriate facilities. The most important people we need to look after and remove from police cells are the young. Everyone is important, but Rome was not built in a day. If we could get more age-appropriate facilities in the community, near people’s homes—it does not have to be next door; we accept that there will be resource issues—it would be a fantastic and positive step forward. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak to this important amendment.

Ms Rosie Winterton: May I say that I understand the sentiments behind both these amending provisions, but that for reasons I shall set out, it is difficult to accept them? I intend to set out what we are trying to do in respect of the issues covered by amendment No. 88 and to discuss some changes in the Bill that impinge on them.

New clause 11 is designed to amend section 135(1) of the 1983 Act. Let me explain that the purpose of that subsection is to protect a person who may have a mental disorder from ill treatment, neglect or an inability to care for themselves and to ensure that they receive any care or treatment that they need. Obviously, the use of that subsection is quite a serious step, which can involve considerable interference in the person’s home and family life, so we have to be very careful when we talk about making changes to it.

New clause 11 amends that section so that it would apply to virtually anyone with a mental disorder who might need care or treatment. That brings us back to the concern that the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) himself raised in pointing out that there had been rather a large presence when the person concerned was a young vulnerable girl.

Social workers have raised the issue of getting a warrant more quickly and easily, but we must try to ensure that every effort is made to gain entry in a voluntary manner before resorting to obtaining a warrant. Obviously this does not always work, as was illustrated by the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman outlined. It is feared that opening up new clause 11 in this way would extend those rather intrusive powers. That is why we have a problem with it, and why it is unacceptable. Concerns have been expressed by social workers about this issue, but we have looked at the matter carefully and want to make improvements to the present arrangements at local level between, for example, mental health workers and the police, without taking the rather intrusive powers proposed in the new clause.

Amendment No. 88 was splendidly moved by the hon. Member for Broxbourne, no doubt building on the experience that he gained in Committee. I recognise that concern has, quite rightly, been expressed about the use
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of police stations for the detention of mentally disordered people. I have recently met representatives of the Police Federation to discuss their concerns about the issue. We also debated this in Committee, where we went over a number of the arguments. I said that I agreed that a police station was not the ideal place to detain such people, and that a hospital-based facility was more likely to be suitable in almost all circumstances.

That is what we are aiming for, but we need to recognise that there will sometimes be occasions when a police station has to be used; my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) outlined an example. There could also be circumstances in remote rural areas in which this might have to happen. I am glad that the amendment goes some way towards recognising that, and that it does not try to limit the circumstances in which a police station may be used.

It is true that 72 hours is a long time for someone with a mental disorder to be detained at a police station. It is important to remember, however, that that is the upper limit. Recent data produced, I think, by the Independent Police Complaints Commission showed that the average length of time spent in police custody under section 36 of the 1983 Act was 10 hours, and that the vast majority of people left within 18 hours. In 2005-06, only about 5 per cent. of the people detained remained in custody for more than 24 hours. That is reassuring, but we still need to do better, because it is also clear from the figures that some people are detained for longer than that. The amendment would make it impossible for such people to be detained, which causes real practical problems in regard to our accepting it.

Mr. Redwood: Would it be possible for the Minister to take away the more sensible words that she has used in the House this evening and ask the draftsmen to incorporate them in a suitable change to the Bill? What she has said is rather better than what is in the Bill.

Ms Winterton: I have been setting out what is in the Bill at the moment, but amendment No. 88 seeks to change some of that. When this was debated in the other place, where it was also a matter of concern, we tabled amendments to sections 135 and 136 of the 1983 Act to allow people to be transferred from one place of safety to another. That will enable a person who has initially been taken to a police station to be moved to another, more suitable, place of safety when appropriate. That was not possible under the current Bill, so we have changed the legislation so that a person with a mental disorder may be moved from a police cell to another place of safety. That will help to reduce the amount of time that some people spend at a police station.

We are backing up this strategy with money: £42 million has been made available to improve the mental health estate, and £58 million this year. Some of that money will facilitate an increase in hospital-based places of safety, which will also reduce the amount of time that some people spend in police stations. In the new code of practice for England, we also intend to reinforce the aim for police stations to be used as a place of safety only as a last resort—for example, only if nowhere more suitable is available. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that the code will have some force, particularly in legal cases.

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James Duddridge: The Minister has spoken eloquently about the period of time that a person might spend in a prison cell. I have heard anecdotal evidence that there is an additional concern about the same individuals repeatedly being taken to a place of safety, usually a police cell, having been pulled off the street perhaps several times a month. What research has the Department undertaken into people with mental health problems who are repeatedly taken into police cells, even if only for short periods of time?

Ms Winterton: We have held discussions with representatives of the Police Federation and, if my memory serves me correctly, they produced some figures from a particular area. We said to them that it would be helpful to look at best practice and to determine where the relationship between the health services and the police worked well, with a view to getting people into a hospital-based place of safety as quickly as possible. That is why they were pleased about the changes that we have made in the Bill. We also hope that some of the wider measures that we are taking through our amending Bill, such as introducing supervised community treatment, will prevent the kind of revolving-door syndrome that the hon. Gentleman has described, whereby people are discharged from hospital, become ill and are taken in again.

I cannot agree to the new clause or the amendment, but I must reiterate that I understand some of the feelings behind them. If the hon. Member for Broxbourne would be interested in seeing how we are changing the code of practice, I would be more than happy to engage him in that process. I hope that that will offer him some reassurance that we are determined to improve the situation.

Tim Loughton: I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I am particularly grateful for her invitation to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne to visit her for coffee and biscuits and a full and frank discussion of the code of conduct, an invitation that my hon. Friend will no doubt accept.

I said I did not want to linger on new clause 11 and amendment No. 88 because we wanted to proceed to the final group of amendments, and our proposals may well be taken up in another place. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3

Changes to exclusions from operation of 1983 Act

Tim Loughton: I beg to move amendment No. 91, page 2, line 24, leave out from ‘Act)’ to end of line 26 and insert ‘after subsection (2B) insert—

“(2) Nothing in this section shall be construed to cover paedophilia.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) above a person shall not be considered to have a mental disorder as defined in this section solely on the grounds of the following—

(a) his substance misuse (including dependence upon, or use of, alcohol or drugs);

(b) his sexual preference or gender identity;

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(c) his commission, or likely commission, of illegal or disorderly acts;

(d) his cultural, religious or political beliefs.”.’.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendment:

No. 69, page 2 , leave out lines 25 and 26 and insert—

‘(3) A person shall not be considered to be suffering from a mental disorder for the purposes of this Act solely on the grounds of—

(a) his substance misuse (including dependence on alcohol or drugs);

(b) his sexual orientation or gender reassignment;

(c) his commission or likely commission of illegal or disorderly acts; or

(d) his cultural, religious or political beliefs.’.

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