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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.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 4:45 pm, 8th September 1999

One of the drawbacks of being called towards the end of a debate is that everyone has said what you were going to say. However, the benefit is that you can work out the terms of the debate.

I listened to the minister, to Mr McLetchie and to Mr Jackson, and there appears to be much unanimity and consensus on many areas-and on two areas in particular. First, everyone accepts that we are focusing on a narrow area of law. Secondly, we are not undertaking a fundamental review. I will not canvass how we arrived at that position, but it is accepted that a fundamental review will have to be considered by the MacLean committee and the Millan committee. At some stage-either next year or the year after-the Parliament will doubtless have to revisit and reconsider the matter, because we are debating and discussing an area of law and psychiatry that has proved to be fundamental over the past 20 to 40 years.

We need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve in the interim. I have a great deal of sympathy with Dr Dyer, who was mentioned earlier. I appreciate his point of view, because the number of people we seek to address in the legislation is relatively few. Everyone accepts that there are a significant number of people in Carstairs, but the number who will be affected by the legislation can be counted, if not on the fingers on one hand, on not many more. The number of those who will be affected will also be reduced on the recommendations of the Millan committee and MacLean committee.

I can understand why Dr Dyer says that we should seek to amend section 3; I can appreciate his position. However, I think that the public would view the Parliament as being derelict in its duty if it failed to address the possibility that the people affected, who may be counted on the fingers of one hand, might be released without conditions or without any element of treatability being addressed.

On page 3 of his briefing, Dr Dyer says that we should not do that. He says that should Parliament wish to add the term "personality disorder" to the category of mental disorder, it should do so in addition to the terms "mental illness" and "mental handicap", as that is in keeping with current psychiatric thinking, which views the concept of personality disorder as different from the concept of mental illness. That point was canvassed by other MSPs, in particular Mr Jackson.

We must recognise that the issue will be dealt with by the MacLean committee, not by a fundamental review. The failure to address section 17 of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 is a glaring anomaly that has occurred because we are trying to deal with a narrowly focused area that affects a limited number of people over a short period. If we are to do that, we must try to achieve a balance.

As my colleague Mr Matheson commented, the difficulty is that the term "personality disorder" affects many people and is wide-ranging. Numerous people in Carstairs, the state hospital institution, might be affected by the proposal and, although they might not be the most sympathetic of those we choose to associate with, we have a duty to look after their interest and to take cognisance of their rights. That means that the definition of "personality disorder" must be tight. We are talking not about someone who is slightly eccentric, but about people who are a danger. That is what the public wish us to address and where I differ from Dr Dyer.

In considering personality disorder, we have a duty to ensure that the remit is as tight as possible, which means that we must specify those with whom we are dealing. I believe that amendment 28 deals with that. It shows that we are dealing not with personality disorder per se, but with "personality disorder manifested principally by abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct".

The public have charged us as parliamentarians with dealing with those people. We have to be quite strict and tight in our definition, so that in the general rush to introduce the emergency legislation, we do not catch the innocent among those whose position needs to be addressed seriously and which we have a duty to investigate.