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Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:30 pm on 8th September 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 5:30 pm, 8th September 1999

We move immediately to a consideration of stage 3 of the bill in a meeting of the full Parliament. This debate will be on motion S1M-121, in the name of Mr Jim Wallace, which seeks the Parliament's agreement that the bill be passed, and will be followed after 30 minutes by a decision.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 5:31 pm, 8th September 1999

I will not dwell on this, as we have had a proper and full discussion of these matters. This is the first time that Parliament has discussed a bill at stage 3. As we are moving toward passing the first bill in this Parliament, I acknowledge the help that the other parties, and Mr Canavan, have given, and the constructive way in which they have approached this emergency legislation, while at the same time highlighting important matters and allowing us to have proper debate and consideration of the legislation. I also put on record thanks to the officials and to the draftsmen, who have worked exceptionally hard in the aftermath of the Ruddle judgment to allow us to bring in legislation today.

Voting for the bill does not mean that everybody has to agree on how the Ruddle case was handled or how mental health legislation should be framed for the next century. We are rightly responding as a Parliament to an urgent call to protect the public with a short, considered and targeted bill. This is an important measure for Scotland. We can and should complete it today.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

On a point of order. I draw attention to the fact that the motion should now read that the bill "as amended" be passed, as amendments were accepted.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Bill, as amended, be passed.

I am grateful to Mr Gallie.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 5:33 pm, 8th September 1999

This has been an arduous, although not very long, procedure. I hope that we will not have to do this too often.

It needs to be said again that it is a matter of regret that we found ourselves in this position. The tone of the letters on the legislation that we have received from the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, and from Bruce Millan, is also a matter for regret. It is obvious that they are grievously concerned about aspects of the legislation. Notwithstanding their concerns, we all feel that we must push ahead.

We are not here as lawyers or medical professionals. Although we may take the advice of such people, we are here to express our concerns about public safety-that has been paramount. The concern that we on the SNP seats-I was going to say benches-have had throughout these proceedings has focused principally on compliance with the European convention on human rights. We have been assured, both earlier and again today, that compliance has been achieved. I would have wished to receive greater specification, but I accept the assurances that have been given. I serve notice that we will hold the minister to all the assurances that have been given in all the debates, both last Thursday and this afternoon. Nevertheless, we accept those assurances in the spirit in which I sincerely hope they were given.

None of us can be happy about the procedure being forced through. In the interests of public safety, however, it has been necessary to legislate. We can only hope and pray that the assurances that have been made throughout the debates, last Thursday and today, will be adhered to, and that none of what we now pass into legislation will come back to haunt us.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 5:35 pm, 8th September 1999

It falls to me to seek a moment of time for reflection-although I am not pre-empting tomorrow's debate-on the whole matter of the legislation that is before us today.

There can be no doubt that the Noel Ruddle affair has become the hot potato of the summer. No one wanted it to be so, but the Executive's action, or lack thereof, has forced us to the unfortunate point at which legislation of such a complex and sensitive nature has had to be rushed through as an emergency, with little time for thorough debate and measured consideration.

The Conservatives regard the bill as, at best, a temporary expediency, born out of necessity. It is, in other words, a sticking-plaster, and will have to be reviewed once the conclusions of the MacLean and Millan committees are known. It is regrettable that we did not have their detailed input but, unlike our own, their deliberations cannot be rushed.

Some areas of the bill are perplexing, but the principal concern is one of public safety. It is with relief that we have heard the justice minister's assurances that public safety concerns were at the forefront of his consideration. With that in mind, we served notice that we were broadly in support of the legislation and reserved the right to move amendments when we had had more time to consider the matter.

There have been amendments from all sides of the chamber. Many of the amendments were probing and sought to clarify what was in the minds of the minister and his team of civil servants when they were framing the bill. If ever there was a time when the phrase, "You can't please all of the people all of the time" was appropriate, this was it.

There were outbursts of unanimity, agreement and, although I hate to use the "c" word, consensus, notably among David McLetchie, Gordon Jackson and Kenny MacAskill. I particularly welcomed Richard Simpson's contribution. The distinctions that he drew were illuminating and helpful.

The Conservatives offer cautious support to the bill. As we have indicated, we support the enactment of the emergency legislation. We reiterate our concerns, however, about the rush that has accompanied the bill, and hope that it will not have been prejudicial to its content.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 5:38 pm, 8th September 1999

I want to place on record the fact that "it is a matter of great regret to us that a complex and difficult area is being dealt with by emergency legislation, in a timescale which has made it impossible for us to consider the terms of the Bill with the care that it requires."

Those are Bruce Millan's words, not mine, but I agree with them entirely. I am only sorry that the Scottish Executive has not shown more respect for Bruce Millan, who is chairing the important committee that is reviewing the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984.

I take some consolation, however, from the minister's having reiterated his commitment to ensuring that this legislation will be reviewed and that Parliament will have the opportunity to review the legislation in the light of the findings of the MacLean and Millan committees. I look forward to being able to give those important reports the consideration that they deserve.

What will eventually emerge from the Parliament will not be hastily passed legislation such as this, but something that will ensure public safety, as well as ensuring the rights of people in Scotland who suffer from mental illness, only a small minority of whom pose a danger to the public.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The minister is not seeking to wind up, so I put the question, that motion S1M-121 be agreed to.

Motion agreed to.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

As there is no decision time, that brings us to the end of the meeting. On behalf of Patricia Ferguson and myself, I would like to thank members warmly for their co-operation. We have had a most workmanlike session and the Scottish Parliament has just passed its first bill.

Meeting closed at 17:40.