Mental Health Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 19th February 2007.

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Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 19th February 2007

My Lords, this debate and the whole debate on principles are about legal clarity. If the courts have legal clarity, they can enforce laws made by Parliament. If they do not have legal clarity, I am afraid that we will get laws made by judges, because they will be left to interpret opaque determinations by Parliament. The rule in Pepper v Hart enables courts to look particularly at ministerial statements made in debates such as this. Pepper v Hart discussions are a poor substitute for clear and enforceable law. The Minister will know that there is no area in which judges are more inclined to make or reinterpret law than in the area of judicial review. I urge him, when he responds to the debate, to take the view that the more clarity that emerges from this Parliament, the less likely it will be that judges, who can sometimes be naïve in their interpretation of that often hilarious concept—the intention of Parliament—will try to interpret what we have decided in a way that is far departed from our true intention, if we understand that intention.

I am sure we all agree in this House that it is essential that some people should be detained compulsorily. However, those who are so detained can face long detentions, sometimes for the whole of their natural lives. Those of us who have visited hospitals such as Rampton, Broadmoor, and St Andrews in the private sector, have seen very high quality care provided for mentally disordered people in those institutions. But it needs to be very high quality, because such institutions are accommodating them for a very long time. Furthermore, in many cases, they are accommodating people who do not understand why they are detained compulsorily or who are unwilling to be detained for as long as they come to be. I am sure we would all agree that it is essential that those who are detained should have a right to challenge that detention, which both they and the courts should understand with certainty. It is essential that the basis—the principles—on which they are detained are understood.

In 1999, which is seven and a bit years ago now, the expert committee chaired by Professor Genevra Richardson, now of King's College London, not only recommended that principles should be set out in the mental health Bill that it was considering—the first version of a three-edition attempt to reform the law—but set out those principles in its report. The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 set out in legislative form the principles that underline all decisions about compulsory detention in Scotland. Some pretty insulting discussions have taken place in this House about the size of Scotland and differences between Scotland and England, but I understand that there is no difference between Scotland and England and Wales in terms of the removal of freedom from citizens of the United Kingdom. I am puzzled at how the Government can justify a difference between citizens of the United Kingdom living in Scotland who are detained and citizens of the United Kingdom living in England and Wales who are detained, and I remain to be persuaded that there is any sound basis for it.

In March 2005, the joint scrutiny committee, supported by evidence from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and numerous others, reported that it was essential for principles to be in the Bill. Whatever the Minister says today, the Government have had over seven years to consider this. During those years they have indulged in a form of intellectual hokey-cokey that is perplexing to those of us who try to take a serious and consistent view of the issue of principles, and the Minister will be aware that when the Government responded to the joint scrutiny committee, they indicated that they were well disposed to including at least some principles in the Bill. The joint scrutiny committee set out the principles we believed should be included, and although the Government did not indicate that they accepted them all, they certainly did not make it clear in their response that they thought that no principles should be included or that they should be minimalist. Surely a strong argument can be made for consistency on this issue between different pieces of legislation. The Children Act 1989 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 include principles, and the purpose of those principles in these complex Acts is clear. As the committee said, they make clear to everyone implementing the legislation what they are trying to achieve and what considerations should guide their actions. I suggest that those principles and that form of clarity should be jettisoned only for sound and compelling reasons.

I am reluctantly prepared to support this amendment because I regard it as minimalist; it is better than nothing, but it is nothing like what the joint scrutiny committee wanted. I shall listen with great care to the Minister, but I urge him not to try to persuade the House that nothing is something, because we will not be persuaded. As the former chair of the joint scrutiny committee, I for one am absolutely determined that if the Government do not make a meaningful concession in this regard, we will return to this issue in the future.