Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Section 3 — Meaning of "mental Disorder" in the 1984 Act

Part of Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2 – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:45 pm on 8th September 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gordon Jackson Gordon Jackson Labour 4:45 pm, 8th September 1999

I have some sympathy for the amendments-in particular amendment 28, which was spoken to by Mr Matheson. I observed last week and I repeat that I am not persuaded that the bill is the best long-term solution to the problem. I have reservations about including personality disorder in the category of mental illness.

I have heard the minister say that this is simply a clarification of the existing law. We may or may not agree about that, but it will certainly have legal consequences. David McLetchie spoke of the possibility of it being used in a plea of diminished responsibility. Undoubtedly that will happen. I would like to say two things to David about that. First, one cannot have it both ways. People cannot be defined as bad and wicked for the purposes of conviction, but be defined as ill for some other purpose. Secondly, it will still be for the courts to decide how a person is disposed of. If a jail sentence or life imprisonment is appropriate, that is what will happen. That is not a serious consequence.

Despite my reservations about the bill, I firmly believe that amendment 28 does not help. It is not a better way forward. It involves a detailed definition of a particular kind of personality disorder, which may or may not turn out to be helpful. It puts a particular kind of personality disorder in a class of its own in the overall category of mental disorder. Without boring members to death, I will say that that will also have problems of application and interpretation. Whichever way we approach the problem is not without difficulty.

The bottom line is that we urgently need to review the subject, which is what will happen when the Millan committee and the MacLean committee report. I hope that any changes that we make will be in the round, not in isolation, because anything less than that is not ideal. However, for the moment, we need to close the loophole in the interests of public safety. The simplest, most direct and most effective short-term way of doing that is to create a stated sub-category of personality disorder within the broad category of mental disorder and mental illness.

We should not be scaremongering. The legislation does not mean that anyone with a personality disorder will somehow be whipped off to Carstairs, any more than it means that any person with a degree of mental illness will be taken into custody. There will always be other safeguards and other important criteria to take into account. We must recognise that the legislation means that people-not those with personality disorders such as ourselves, but those who have killed other human beings or who are seriously violent and are a continuing danger because of their mental state-can be kept in a secure environment. That must be our priority.

For now, the bill is a simple, direct and effective way of achieving that, and for that reason we should simply leave it alone.