It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Gareth Snell, who spoke with characteristic concern for his constituents and characteristic courtesy. I am grateful to him.
In the brief time available, I will argue why it is inappropriate for the Government to be rushing this Bill through Parliament. There are three reasons: the potential for an under-scrutinised Bill to have unintended consequences; the Bill’s lack of clarity on responsibility and resourcing; and the lack of calibration between this Bill and the much more carefully thought through and inclusive approach of the recent review of the Mental Health Act. As I detail those objections, I will refer to the specific concerns mentioned to me by my constituents.
I am well aware, as is everyone who has spoken on this Bill, that the current system is not functioning appropriately, but there has been a need for change since at least 2014. The question is whether we have had sufficient time to consider whether these measures are the appropriate ones, and I would argue that we have not. We had a discussion about the equalities impact assessment just now. I saw that a webpage was produced just yesterday with an equalities impact assessment allegedly produced in December—presumably giving the impression that it was produced yesterday. It refers to the independent review of the Mental Health Act being sure to report at the end of this year, but it has already reported. This is a dog’s dinner, and we cannot have it in relation to such a significant piece of legislation. We know about all the amendments made in the other place, which we have discussed. In that context, the time allocated to this Bill is just insufficient.
Even in this debate, we have seen the lack of clarity. The Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place, seemed to be unaware of expert calls for advocates being available to all, not just those objecting. He also did not agree with a comment made by a colleague who said that the new approach would potentially allow the deprivation of liberty for three years. However, the equalities impact assessment I just referred to, albeit that it is a flawed one, says that the Bill provides that authorisations could last up to three years where appropriate—after two initial authorisations of up to one year—compared with a maximum of one year under the existing DoLS system. The Government seem to be rushing this new approach in because of the existing backlog of DoLS cases dating from 2014, but it is not clear to me that the new measures will deal with that.
The Secretary of State said earlier that there would be a larger role for healthcare providers, but that seems to contradict what was stated in the other place. I am confused, and I think others are too, and that ambiguity is leading to the significant concerns expressed by many stakeholders about the potential for a conflict of interest. He said he would deal with that by tabling amendments in Committee, but in my experience we have not always seen that collaborative approach in Committee from the Government. I hope we will see a change, but presumably others can understand why there might be concerns about that.
It is unclear how local authorities and clinical commissioning groups will be able to perform their role expeditiously under these measures in the current financial climate. No fewer than 38% of assessments under DoLS in Oxfordshire required more than a year to be performed, according to the latest statistics. That is not just because of the regime; it is also because of funding constraints. Oxfordshire County Council has just announced that it will be cutting its contribution to mental healthcare funding. It has one of the lowest levels of mental health funding in its budget compared with other healthcare funding. Just as with lengthening waiting lists for accessing mental health provision, if we do not deal with this resource issue we will only hit the brick wall of inadequate funding.
Lastly, I wish to say that that review of the Mental Health Act involved thousands of service users from the off. In fact, it had someone who had been sectioned as a vice-chair. We have not had that level of inclusion in respect of this Bill.