UK Government defeated on key points in the Mental Health Bill

The Mental Health Bill foundered once again yesterday as the UK Government was defeated on three points in the House of Lords during a report stage debate.

One of the key elements of the Bill to be defeated was the Government’s proposal that the ‘treatability test’ – the provision in the 1983 Act which stipulates that patients can only be detained if treatment is likely to alleviate or prevent a deterioration of their condition – be replaced. This, critics argue, would mean people being detained even if it is unlikely to be of help.

But peers yesterday voted that treatment could only be given to someone with a severe personality disorder if it will do them good.

The Government was also defeated on two other points. The Lords voted that people should not be detained because of factors such as their sexuality and cultural or religious beliefs; they also voted that detentions can only be renewed if a patient is examined by a medical practitioner.

The current Mental Health Bill going through Parliament is an Amending Bill that will make changes to the existing 1983 Act. A Draft Mental Health Bill, intended to replace the 1983 Act, was abandoned last year in the face of considerable opposition from service users, carers and health professionals, and criticism by a Joint Parliamentary scrutiny committee.

Speaking about yesterday’s defeats, Bill Walden-Jones, Chief Executive of Hafal, said: “When the UK Government introduced this Amending Bill, which contained some of the worst elements of the Mental Health Bill defeated last year, we were concerned that poor legislation would be introduced ‘through the back door’.

“That’s why we are heartened be the voting of peers on these issues. The amendments to the 1983 Act are fundamentally flawed, and the Members of the House of Lords have obviously recognised this – and taken into account the many concerns of service users, carers and mental health professionals.”

The Amending Bill currently working its way through Parliament has been criticised for not including any rights to early treatment, and for focusing on taking away a patient’s rights.

The National Assembly for Wales has already voted to condemn the Bill’s “focus on compulsion and containment” and agreed that “any new laws must be focused on patient autonomy and access to care, with compulsory treatment used only as a last resort”.

Recently questions were raised about why Wales could not have its own Mental Health Bill, as is the case in Scotland. In a plenary session on 28 February 2007 the Assembly will discuss further the possibility of requesting framework powers on mental health.

For more information on the development of the Mental Health Bill, keep checking