Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Incapacity Bill First Report

2 Chapter 2: Conduct of the Inquiry

11. Following an initial motion in the House of Lords on 12 June, the Joint Committee was set up following resolutions of both Houses on 9 and 11 July 2003 respectively[19] with a remit to report on the draft Bill by the end of November 2003. A list of Committee Members is given on the inside cover of the Report.

12. Our first meeting was held on 15 July 2003, when Lord Carter was elected Chairman by acclamation. Because of the impending Parliamentary Summer Recess, it was not possible for us to meet again until 9 September 2003. At that meeting, Professor Anthony Holland and Ms Penny Letts were appointed as Specialist Advisers to the Joint Committee.

13. We issued a combined Call for Evidence and Press Notice on 17 July 2003.[20] This noted that we expected to concentrate our Inquiry on the following themes in relation to the structure and content of the draft Bill:

  • Was the consultation process preceding the publication of the draft Bill adequate and effective?
  • Are the objectives of the draft Bill clear and appropriate?
  • Does the draft Bill meet those objectives adequately?
  • Are the proposals in the draft Bill workable and sufficient?
  • Might lessons be learned from similar legislation already implemented in Scotland or elsewhere?
  • Are there relevant issues not covered by the draft Bill which it should have addressed?
  • In what other ways might the draft Bill be improved?

14. With so little time available to complete the Inquiry, because of the Summer Recess, we decided that the deadline in our Call for Evidence for submission of memoranda should be set at 1 September 2003. Understandably, this provoked numerous complaints from those who said they would have great difficulty in meeting our deadline. We regret the inconvenience caused, but it was unavoidable: we wanted to allow as much time as possible for written submissions to be considered before we started taking oral evidence, but equally realised that we would have to start taking oral evidence, but equally realised that we would have to start taking oral evidence as early as possible in September so as to give as many witnesses as possible the opportunity of addressing us.

15. In practice, we decided to accept and consider written memoranda long after the 1 September deadline had expired. Altogether we received over 1200 separate written submissions, all of which were circulated to Committee Members and given due consideration.

16. Between 10 September and 22 October we held nine oral evidence sessions at which evidence was given by a total of 61 witnesses, culminating in evidence from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Lord Filkin, and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Ms Rosie Winterton.

17. Details of the witnesses giving oral evidence are listed. Transcripts of the oral evidence given are published in Volume 2 of this Report. We decided it would not be possible to publish all the written memoranda received, but a selection is printed in Volume 2 of this Report together with a list of all those who submitted written memoranda.

18. We are very grateful to all those who submitted written memoranda and especially to those who spared time, often at very short notice, to give us the benefit of their knowledge and experience in oral evidence.

19. It has been a daunting task to assimilate all this evidence in such a brief time, especially given the complexity and sensitivity of the draft Bill and the strong opinions expressed about it.

20. We have been greatly assisted in this task by our two Specialist Advisers, whose expertise, sound advice and willingness to work under great pressure have been outstanding. We must also pay tribute to the hard work and skill of the Committee staff, who are listed on the inside cover of this Report.

21. With hindsight, the deadline set for the Committee was clearly unrealistic. The delay in publication of the draft Bill, compounded by the delay in setting up the Committee, meant that we could do little work as a Committee until mid-September against a deadline of the end of November. We have worked hard and done our best but the importance of this draft Bill, and the complexity and sensitivity of the issues involved, deserved much more time and careful consideration than we have been able to give.

22. We recommend that consideration be given to a new procedure for setting deadlines for Joint Committees carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny to enable them to give full and proper consideration to all the issues involved and to allow those wishing to offer evidence to the Committee a fair and adequate opportunity to do so.

23. We understand that the timescale was partly driven by an initial perception that the Government intended to bring forward legislation based on the draft Bill early in the next Parliamentary session. We appreciate that this Inquiry has given the Government much more food for thought about the Bill. We also recognise that the difficulties and implications raised later in this Report will need to be dealt with in consequential amendments. Nevertheless, we would be extremely disappointed if the Government felt unable to continue to give the Bill due priority. Those whom it is intended to help have waited long enough and deserve to have the benefits which the new legislation can bring in the very near future.

19   HC, Vol. 408, Cols 1481-2, 10 July, HL, Vol. 651, Col 570, 574, 11 July Back

20   See Annex A Back

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Prepared 28 November 2003