Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 18th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 6:20 pm, 18th December 2018

We judge a civilised society by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, so getting this legislation right is vital. My hon. Friend Alex Cunningham said, “There by the grace of God go we all,” and I agree: we could all find ourselves or family members involved in this. Norman Lamb raised the issue of the Cheshire West case, which demonstrates that we do need change because we have got people whose human rights are being denied at the moment. It is not the case, therefore, that we can just do this at our leisure.

Is the Bill flawed? Yes, in its current state it is, but change needs to happen among the voluntary sector and others and we need to put some principles behind this, and one of them must be putting the person at the centre of the legislation. We should also only use these measures where there are no alternatives; they should not be used as a recourse of first resort or for financial or convenience reasons.

The review of the Mental Health Act 1983 introduced the least restriction principle and that should be written into this Bill. It is also key to ensure that individuals and families not only know their rights, but have access to them. Also, the length of detention should be kept to a minimum, and certainly kept under regular review. The care plans of individuals must be kept up to date with the individual’s situation, too. The access of individuals and families to independent medical advocates must be a central part of this Bill as well, and if people do not have family or relatives an independent advocate should be appointed to them automatically. The possibility of conflicts of interest has been raised and I am not yet happy that this Bill addresses that. There are issues that need to be looked at. Referring to the Mental Health Act again, having second opinions is important; we must tighten that up in this Bill.

A lot of this could be covered in the code of practice. The Government have not yet produced that, and it needs to be produced before the Bill goes any further. It would also be important for it to be incorporated into the Bill.

Reference has been made to the interface with the review of the Mental Health Act. I have read it and know Simon Wessely, and he is clear in that report that he does not want this legislation held up, and he does not think that fusing the two Acts would be a way forward. He makes a suggestion on how to use the two Acts: for objection we use the Mental Health Act, and for not having capacity we use this mental capacity Act. He also deals with the issue of cases that cover both, offering some ideas around tribunals and judges and court protection. I would also like the Minister to address the issue around 16 and 17-year-olds and how this interplays with the Children Act 1989 which gives certain rights to parents.

The right hon. Member for North Norfolk said that the situation needed to change, because people are now being detained who are not having their human rights observed. I have to say that I agree with him, and that is why I cannot support the reasoned amendment. Throwing the Bill out at this stage would be a huge mistake. I plead with the Minister to look at a number of things. The delaying of the Committee stage that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned would be important, and I believe that we should extend the sittings of the Committee if we need to. We ought to take as much time as possible in Committee. With good will, we can get there.

Is the Bill perfect? No, it is not, and I am not happy with it as it is outlined, but we can get some changes into it. I know that the Minister is an advocate for the sector and that she is passionate about doing the right thing, and it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to get to where we should be. To throw the Bill out at this stage would be a mistake, because my fear is that it would not come back, owing to a lack of legislative time. That would mean that the legal crisis would continue. Also we would be missing an opportunity to change the legislation. We can make the necessary changes if the good will is there.