‘(j) Section 121(5) (visiting and inspection of records),
(k) Section 121 (7) (review decision to withhold post),
(l) Section 121 (8) (review decision to withhold any part of post).’.
The amendment would ensure that the Care Quality Commission retains the same powers as the Mental Health Act Commission in respect of visiting and inspecting records, and reviewing decisions to withhold post. The Minister stated that
“visiting powers are retained in the Bill as far as the existing visiting powers of MHAC are concerned” as the changes to section 120 do not excise the responsibility for visiting. He also stated that
“we envisage that, in areas of particular concern to MHAC, visits would continue with their current regularity.”——[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 10 January 2008; c. 123.]
The qualifying statement
“in areas of particular concern” is of particular concern to me. Unless the Minister can give us a cast-iron guarantee that visits will be reduced only because of the CQC’s judgment of its responsibilities to those detained under Mental Health Act 1983, and never because of simple financial constraints, there will remain a genuine concern for all members of the Committee. As was transparent in the oral evidence sessions, there is a major need for us to respect the enormous benefit of the work of the Mental Health Act Commission, particularly with those who are detained. That came through loud and clear. We must ensure that there is no change and that its judgment carries through to the CQC instead of being supplanted, diluted, qualified or in any way watered down by anybody else having involvement or a contrary or complementary judgment.
On the point about post, and to avoid a lengthy debate on schedule 3, which we shall consider next, I note that paragraph 12 of schedule 3 adds new section 134A to the Mental Health Act 1983, which itself deals with post in sections 121 and 134. What does the proposed new section add to that Act? With that comment, I hope to curtail what might otherwise be a lengthy discussion on schedule 3. I hope that the Minister will address the matter.
The Committee heard a clear explanation of MHAC’s concerns about setting up the new commission and whether its powers will be carried through. We are all aware that there are mental health issues to consider, and we all share the concern that they are addressed and not watered down, to use the hon. Gentleman’s words. We support the amendment and feel that it raises an important point. We look forward to hearing what the Minister says.
I understand the intention behind the amendment, but I hope to explain to the hon. Member for Eddisbury why we think that it is unnecessary and that the matters that it addresses are already provided for.
The amendment would transfer certain functions currently carried out by the Mental Health Act Commission to the body that replaces it, the Care Quality Commission. Those functions are the visiting of patients and inspection of their records, and the reviewing of decisions to withhold the mail of patients detained in high-security hospitals. However, schedule 3 already gives those functions to the CQC. As we made clear in other sittings, the commission is bound to follow the Mental Health Act role.
On the frequency of visits, I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks. It will be a matter entirely for the new commission, and not negotiable. It is a statutory role and we will not seek to interfere in that decision making.
On letters, paragraph 12 of schedule 3 amends the 1983 Act by inserting new section 134A. Section 134 provides for the incoming and outgoing mail of patients detained in high-security hospitals to be examined and withheld in specified circumstances. New section 134A will require the Care Quality Commission and Welsh Ministers to review any decision to withhold mail in those circumstances in response to an application to do so. It will also give the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers the power to make regulations in connection with such an application. New section 134A is equivalent to powers that already exist in section 121 of the 1983 Act, which is being repealed.
I have been mildly surprised by the Minister’s reassurance. I was moving towards pressing the amendment to a Division, but in the light of what he has said I am happy to withdraw it. I hope that there is some sense of the need to ensure, when the guidelines are issued, that the exchange that we have just had might be incorporated in them as an addendum to ensure that the Committee’s joint intentions are clear to those who follow on from the excellent practice currently performed by the Mental Health Act Commission. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.