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Let me start by congratulating my constituency neighbour, Mr Reed, on piloting this piece of legislation through the occasionally shark-infested waters of the private Member’s Bill process. He has done a very good job in getting the Bill to this stage. It is a particular pleasure to support it because, of course, it was the terrible suffering of a Croydon resident, one of his constituents, that inspired and motivated him to bring forward this very important piece of legislation in the first place.
This Bill, which I hope shortly will become an Act, does a very important thing in emphasising that physical force in a mental health context should be used as an absolute last resort and only after very careful thought and with great restraint, which, clearly, was not the case in the tragic death of Seni Lewis. I have been encouraged by the declining use of police custody suites as places of safety under the Mental Health Act; it has roughly halved over the past five or six years, which is a very welcome trend. I would like to see that reduced to zero.
Luciana Berger also made a very important point when she said that the use of any sort of physical force in a mental health environment is a symptom of failure. No mental health case should ever be allowed to progress to the point where physical intervention is required, although it may sometimes be unavoidable. Therefore, an emphasis on prevention, early intervention and treatment long before any physical intervention is extremely important. I am pleased that the Government are spending more money in this area. The more we can do to make sure that patients are treated well before things escalate, the better the system will be.
The Bill as amended for our consideration today is a very good Bill. I strongly support it and look forward to voting for it shortly. However, I have a couple of comments and questions that I hope the hon. Member for Croydon North and the Minister might be able to comment on and answer. My first question relates to clause 3, which is about the requirement to publish a policy on the use of force. It requires “the responsible person” to publish a policy, but as far as I can see there is no prescription as to the contours or limits imposed on that policy. For example, one might have expected to see a requirement in the Bill that any such policy limits the use of force to reasonable force. That may be done in regulations, or perhaps there was another reason it was not considered appropriate to put it in the Bill, but one might have expected some explicit statement limiting force to reasonable force. I would be interested to hear from the hon. Gentleman and the Minister why that does not appear in the Bill.
My second point relates to clause 5 on training, about which I have two questions. The first concerns subsection (2)(c) on
“showing respect for diversity in general”.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could amplify a little what that means in practice. I would have expected a requirement that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their background. Perhaps that is what he means, but I am not sure whether “showing respect for diversity” quite conveys that meaning. I would be interested to hear his and the Minister’s comments on that.
My other question relates to subsection (5) on refresher training, which it specifies should take place “at regular intervals”. I wonder whether regulations would specify what is meant by “regular intervals”. Annually would be a sensible degree of regularity, but if someone was not being true to the spirit of the Bill, they might interpret “regular” as once every 10 years, which clearly would not be frequent enough. I would be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s and the Minister’s views on what is suitable regularity and how that will be enforced. My view is that such training should be annually or at least once every two years.