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Mental Health Act (White Paper)

Volume 951: debated on Tuesday 13 June 1978

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6.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects the White Paper on the Mental Health Act to be published.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects the White Paper on the Mental Health Act to be published.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects the White Paper on the Mental Health Act to be published.

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects the White Paper on the Mental Health Act to be published.

Preparation of the White Paper is at an advanced stage. While I cannot today give a precise date for publication, I hope that it will be published before the Summer recess.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does this mean that it is still the Government's policy to raise mental health patients from their status of Cinderella to a higher priority? Will he soon introduce a policy on medium security units?

The status of mental health cases has already been determined without any amendments to the Mental Health Act. Within our present priorities we have been channelling an increasing proportion of available resources towards helping the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped. This is part of Government policy. In the answer to a number of other questions we can see the result of this at local authority level. This is being done without any need to amend the Act.

Will the Secretary of State explain why the White Paper has taken so long to produce? Surely he is aware of the deep concern which has been felt for some years about the lack of adequate provision for the mentally ill, particularly mentally handicapped children? Will the White Paper, when it is produced, indicate when we shall have positive proposals for dealing with the disgraceful situation under which magistrates are recommending for treatment mentally ill young people brought before them, yet there are no facilities for such treatment to be given?

The main problems that are dealt with in the White Paper are concerned with the law. The White Paper is not so much concerned with the actual provision of services, which continues anyway, although I am not saying the White Paper will not also deal with that. The main reason why this has taken a long time is that this is very complicated legislation. The consultative document was sent out in August 1976. There have been 300 representations, most of them from organisations, although some from individuals. They deal with very complicated matters. That is why it has taken a good deal of time to bring the White Paper to fruition.

Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether the White Paper, which has been a long time coming, will give some regard—despite its complexity—to problems such as the personalised clothing systems in psychiatric hospitals and whether it will take into account the fact that on the latest data about one family in three in this country will require some help for their mental problems in the course of their lives?

The White Paper deals with the rights of patients. That includes questions of property, correspondence and so on. The White Paper does not deal with the resources to be made available for mental health, be it mental handicap or mental illness, because it deals with the 1959 Act. Resources raise a quite different issue.

It is nine months since the Secretary of State outlined his thinking on this subject to the Mental Health Foundation at Oxford. While I entirely accept that these are very complex matters, will he also accept that there needs to be a very full, public and open discussion in the newspapers and elsewhere of what are extremely difficult matters? Will he now bring forward this White Paper so that this discussion can take place publicly at the earliest opportunity?

I absolutely agree. There is no doubt that we need to have a very wide debate in this House and among the organisations concerned. That is why, if we are to have a responsible debate, we must have a responsible White Paper which deals very carefully with the difficult issues involved. That was why I decided that we should proceed first on the basis of a consultative document, which has led to very wide consultation, and then with a set of proposals from the Government, again with adequate time, so that they can be explored.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned about the arbitrary procedures of the Mental Health Act 1959 under which people can be committed? Will his White Paper make any recommendations for amending these procedures?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the White Paper will deal with the position in which people who are perhaps marginally of unsound mind, and who might a few years ago have been kept in detention but who have now been released, as a result of a more enlightened attitude, to live in communities, which may be small or large, to live as far as possible a normal life, can sometimes, as the Minister knows, cause great havoc to those who live in what otherwise is a peaceable community?

It certainly does not deal with those who are no longer the subject of legislation, namely, people who may have had a mental illness and who have now settled back in the community. I am sure it would be quite wrong for legislation to deal with that. However, it deals with the definition of mental disorder, which undoubtedly needs to be brought up to date following the 1959 Act.