House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
Publications on the internet
General Committee Debates
Mental Health

Mental Health Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Frank Cook, Ann Winterton
Boswell, Mr. Tim (Daventry) (Con)
Browning, Angela (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
Coffey, Ann (Stockport) (Lab)
Duddridge, James (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
Gibson, Dr. Ian (Norwich, North) (Lab)
Gidley, Sandra (Romsey) (LD)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Hillier, Meg (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
Iddon, Dr. Brian (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Loughton, Tim (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op)
Pugh, Dr. John (Southport) (LD)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Ward, Claire (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon) (PC)
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Minister of State, Department of Health)
John Benger, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 24 April 2007


[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

Mental Health Bill

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the room. I also remind hon. Members that, as a general rule, adequate notice should be given of amendments. I and my fellow Chairman do not intend to call starred amendments. The Committee will have received a lot of textual submissions. I have done my best to approve them quickly so that hon. Members receive them as early as possible. I hope that they are of assistance. Membersof the Committee may remove their upper, outer garments, if they so wish—nothing more than that.
10.30 am
The Minister of State, Department of Health(Ms Rosie Winterton): I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 24th April)
(a) at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 24th April;
(b) at 9.25 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. on Thursday 26th April;
(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 1st May;
(d) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 8th May;
(e) at 9.25 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. on Thursday 10th May;
(f) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 15th May;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clause 1; Schedule 1; Clauses 2 to 23;
Schedule 2; Clauses 24 to 32; Schedules 3 and 4; Clauses 33to 38; Schedule 5; Clauses 39 to 47;
Schedules 6 to 8; Clauses 48 to 50; Schedule 9; Clauses 51 and 52; Schedule 10; Clauses 53 to 55; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday 15th May.
I am sure that I speak on behalf of all members of the Committee when I say how pleased we are to be sitting under your expert chairmanship, Mr. Cook, and that of Lady Winterton. We are very much looking forward to the debate.
The Bill certainly raises some extremely sensitive issues. I wish first to emphasise the Government’s objectives, which are to make sure that people with serious mental health problems receive the treatment that they need; to modernise mental health law in line with the development of services; to tackle current European convention on human rights incompatibilities and to strengthen patients’ rights.
As right hon. and hon. Members know, the Government wish to make changes to the Bill that has come from the other place, but I emphasise that that is because we consider it vital that treatment and help are given to some of the most vulnerable people in our society—the subject of the Bill. It is important to point out that we need to see the Bill in the context of the improvements that we have been making to mental health services during the past 10 years, particularly through the national service framework. Many of the changes that we are proposing under the mental health legislation are because of the many new services that we can now offer to people with mental health problems.
I pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of the many thousands of staff in our mental health services who have done so much to improve what we can offer to make sure that we have high-quality services that are accessible to people who need them. I shall conclude my remarks by again thanking all those who have helped to draw up the legislation and I look forward to the forthcoming debates.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): May I reiterate the comments of the Minister in welcoming you, Mr. Cook, and Lady Winterton to the chairmanship of the Committee? As you are aware, Mr. Cook, this is a fairly contentious piece of legislation and we are likely to have a full and frank exchange of views during the debate, which I am sure you are more than familiar with.
May I also reiterate the Minister’s comments about welcoming the fine body of men and women on both sides of the Committee? A great deal of expertise has gone into the Committee, which I am sure will come to the fore. It gives those of us—certainly the Minister, myself and others—who have been working with the Bill for many years something of a strange sense to be here. The Bill has been some eight years in the making. We have had two draft Bills and an excellent pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, which I had the privilege to serve on under Lord Carlile. Now, at last, we have the Bill in front of us in black and white as it continues its progress.
The strong interest that we saw in the Bill on Second Reading is symptomatic of the many people who have an interest in getting the legislation right. On that basis, I am pleased that the Government have given us six sittings in the programme motion. I hope, Mr. Cook, that given the strong issues of principle involved, particularly in those six areas of the Bill that were substantially amended in the House of Lords, you will allow some fairly substantial debates, because those issues remain contentious. The issues are also fundamental to the acceptability of the Bill, not just to Members on either side of the argument here, but to a great many people outside this place.
Given that no fewer than 80 organisations representing mental health professionals, service users and service providers, particularly in the voluntary sector, have formed the extraordinarily close Mental Health Alliance, which has been going for some years and has gone from strength to strength, we will want to probe in Committee to find out why the Government seem to be standing in “splendid isolation”—as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) described it on Second Reading—and why they appear resolute in overturning the scrutiny and the excellent amendments that improved the Bill during its passage through the House of Lords.
Only today, the British Medical Association issued a press release that stated:
“the mental health Bill will not help vulnerable patients, say doctors.”
We want the Minister to justify why she, her Department and her Government think that the BMA, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Law Society, Rethink, Mind, the Sainsbury Centre for MentalHealth, the Royal College of Nursing and assorted other highly reputable organisations, which are often quoted by the Government, are wrong to oppose the way in which the Government are trying to overturn the Lords amendments to the Bill.
We want to have a full debate on six issues: treatability, exemptions from mental disorder, the renewal of detention, age-appropriate treatment, impaired decision making and, perhaps most contentious of all and an area on which we want to spend as much time as possible, community treatment orders. I envisage that we will have some voting action in the process of the Committee as well.
May I put in a plea, Mr. Cook, for the Committee to have every opportunity to scrutinise all the available evidence in the six sittings? You will be aware that the Government controversially published their report on the international experiences of community treatment orders, which the Minister’s own Department had commissioned from the Institute of Psychiatry last year. According to the institute, that report was available in a format that could have been published,at least in interim form, many months before it was,on 7 March. The Government, however, decided to publish that report the day after the House of Lords had finished its proceedings. Yet community treatment orders were a very important part of that debate. My plea is that, now we have had an opportunity to lookat that report, which offers no empirical evidence to justify community treatment orders being introduced, any further evidence that the Government may have commissioned or may be considering that is germane to the Committee’s proceedings should be made available to it at the earliest possible date.
I am particularly alarmed by comments by Labour Members on the recent tragic shootings at Virginia Tech. One right hon. Member who spoke on Second Reading drew a close parallel between what happened in Virginia and what could happen here, subject to our deliberations on the Mental Health Bill. I fundamentally disagree with those implications, which are based on no evidence whatsoever. I know that the Minister’s Department has been in close contact with mental health experts from the university of Virginia school of law and that the Minister’s mental health tsar has invited an eminent professor to meet a group of Members of Parliament on 5 June, but I have not been made aware of anysuch meeting. What happened in Virginia may have implications for our deliberations on the Bill, but if the Government think it relevant to invite an expert, the Committee should be aware of what might come out of that meeting. We need to have that information sooner rather than later.
On a general point, I hope that other evidence that will be useful in our deliberations will not come out when it is too late. We all want a Mental Health Bill that will work. The primary purpose of the Mental Health Bill must be to improve services and safeguards for patients, reduce the stigma of mental disorder and ensure that the public are protected. That was the view of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, on which I served, and its report was widely acclaimed by many people. I hope that we can have a full and frank debate on all the evidence available, on the basis that all hon. Members—whatever side of the argument they stand on in relation to the technicalities of certain parts of the Bill—want to achieve a better situation for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
We must also be aware that mental health legislation can contribute to stigma. People suffering from mental illness are some of the greatest victims of stigma in our society, so we must ensure that our deliberations are fully conscious of that and that our final resolutions lead to something that can, at last, help to reduce the stigma from which so many people with mental illness suffer. I hope, therefore, that we can do a great dealof good in producing a piece of legislation fit for the 21st century and that it helps those people that Committee members want to help.
Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cook? When we were last in a debate together you used a rather vivid canine metaphor to describe Liberal Democrats, from which I hope that you will temporarily exempt me and my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey.
I, too, was overawed when I saw the list of Committee members. Never have I seen such a thoughtful, experienced group of individuals assembled for a Bill as controversial as this. It is fair to say that we do not have a Committee of yes-men, or yes-people. I take that as a relatively hopeful sign, because if people take fixed, immovable positions, stake out the ground, raise their flags, and rehearse and repeat the same arguments, there is a serious danger of our easily entering into a dialogue of the deaf.
The Lords debate, as we have seen already, was not like that; it was thorough, eloquent and well-informed. Copious amounts of research material and submissions have been made available and I assume that every Committee member has read those thoroughly to the last letter. We do not need to rival or equal that debate. Our job should be much more modest; we should see whether we can bridge the gap between the Government and, not the Opposition, but a large section of the mental health community—the professionals, the carers and the sufferers. The Opposition, to some extent, stand proxy for those people and many of the amendments tabled by the Opposition are formulated by them. We must tease out and clarify the differences that currently exist and see, where possible, how those can be bridged.
It would help if, in the initial stages, we could park our views about the Government’s intentions and adopt as little forensic language as we need to. At this stage, we need not air views about what rogue psychiatrists may or may not do with particular proposals. We must concentrate simply on what the proposals say and do, because the legislation that we will produce is, ultimately, likely to affect millions over decades. We owe it to them to progress matters as rationally as possible. The issue is about not simply liberties—although liberty has been talked about a great deal—but some of the most intense suffering known to man. It genuinely ought not to be decided simply by political force majeure, or by the lottery of the wash-up or the ping-pong. In that spirit, we would like to begin examining the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Ms. Winterton.]
10.45 am
Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 25 April 2007