Monday, April 16, 2007

Second Reading of the Mental Health Bill

After this Bill (amending the Mental Health Act 1983, covering England and Wales - Scotland has its own Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2003), has been seriously mauled by the Lords the Government has announced it is going to valiantly seek to overturn the Lords' amendments.

In the second reading debate many Labour MP's expressed some sympathy for some of the Lords' positions so we shall see. The really interesting part will come in the ping pong that might follow by way of getting the same version of the Bill passed in both Houses.

I managed to watch the whole second reading. There were some interesting comments made by members but ulitmately many of the comments were a little superficial in nature.

I was moved though to hear many first hand accounts of people experiencing mental illness and remembered that in fact many MP's do have quite a lot of contact with service users and their families. The Government seemed very confident of their case and I think are going to reverse as many of the amendments as they possibly can and compromise only at the ping pong stage - if at all.

On many I think the Lords' amendments may be well intentioned but probably shouldn't be retained.

I do think that principles should be included in the Bill (bizarrely and for reasons I don't entirely grasp you can't put 'principles' in an amending Bill......). This is something I think the Government should think again on as I think it would satisfy a lot of people and give much needed reassurance.

Other areas I think the Government should think again are the choice of Nearest Relative and the provision of advocacy.

I definitley do not agree that the Government should accept the Lords' amendment on exclusions, which in my view is mischievous and misbegotten.

Yes it says you can't be detained solely because of your sexual orientation (as well as other things such as culture and religious beliefs etc).

Now we are going to get headlines saying 'Govt removed protection from homophobia'. This illustrates how mischevous the amendment is, in that it creates fear that it seeks to address - that it is possible detain people 'solely because of their sexual orientation'. This is clearly ridiculous (it's not possible to detain someone solely on the grounds of anything, actually - even a serious mental disorder), and therefore would be bad legislation and should be removed so there is a much simpler definition of mental disorder.

The other big issues are 'treatability' - where you have to demonstrate 'therapeutiv benefit' in order to detain someone and a restriction on the use of Community Treatment Orders. This is really the nub of the debate and it will be interesting to see how it proceeds.

It is of ocurse important to get it right and will be interesting to watch.

PS I should add that much of the media coverage is grossly distorted and really beside the point to the current debates.

One example is the BBC which has been asking:

Should the mentally ill be detained against their will?

MPs will be debating controversial plans in the Mental Health Bill that would allow the government to detain the mentally ill, even if they have not committed a crime.

All of this is of course grossly misleading as well as being unfortunate because it is designed to make many people who have a mental health problem fearful of mental health services in a way that is completely groundless.

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