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Mental Health (Approval Functions) Bill

Volume 552: debated on Tuesday 30 October 2012

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is simple, but urgent. The Secretary of State described to the House yesterday how the need for it arose and came to light, and I hope that hon. Members will bear with me if some of what I say today repeats what he said then. May I begin by reiterating my gratitude to Opposition Members for the highly constructive approach that they are taking to the issue, without which we would not be able to respond with the necessary speed?

Detaining a mentally ill person in hospital and treating them against their will is clearly a matter of the utmost seriousness, and it is treated as such by the law and by health and social care practitioners. The statutory framework is contained in the Mental Health Act 1983, which sets out that, for assessments and decisions under certain sections of the Act, including detention decisions under sections 2 and 3, three professionals are required to be involved: two doctors and an approved mental health professional, usually a social worker. One of the two doctors must be approved under section 12 of the Act. When strategic health authorities came into being in 2002, the Secretary of State at the time quite properly and lawfully delegated to them his function under the 1983 Act of approving the doctors able to be involved in making these decisions.

Early last week, the Department of Health learned that, in four out of the 10 SHAs—North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands and East Midlands—the authorisation of doctors’ approval was further delegated by the SHAs to NHS mental health trusts over a period extending, in some cases, from 2002 to the present day. The issue was identified as a result of a single doctor querying an approval panel’s processes. I was informed later in the week, as soon as the extent of the issue became clear, and since then, the Secretary of State and I have been kept informed of, and involved in, the action being taken.

This is an issue of great concern. Can the Minister reassure the House that the four areas that he has identified are the only areas in which this has happened, and that it has not taken place in other regions?

I can assure the hon. Lady on that point. All SHAs have undertaken an assessment of the position, and the position has been regularised for future cases in those four SHAs. Of course, individual patients may be moved to different parts of the country, but the problem relates to those four SHA areas.

Rampton and Ashworth are involved, and patients from Wales travel to those hospitals. Have there been any discussions between the Minister’s Department and the Wales Office or the Welsh Government on the implications of this for patients from Wales?

Yes, I can confirm that that is the case. The Secretary of State spoke to the relevant Health Ministers this morning. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman reassurance.

Following on from what the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) has asked, may I ask the Minister, in relation to Northern Ireland, what investigations have taken place to ensure that no one was detained illegally, and whether there are likely to be challenges from people who have been sectioned? I am afraid that they might have reason to claim against the Government for that purpose, given that no legislation was in place. Please excuse the condition of my voice, by the way.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I am afraid that I struggled slightly to hear all the points that he was making. Perhaps the best way of dealing with all this is to ensure that I respond in writing to all his questions. I can also assure him that the Secretary of State spoke to the Northern Irish Minister yesterday and briefed them fully on the situation. There is good liaison there.

Our current assessment is that about 2,000 doctors were not approved properly in line with the provisions of the 1983 Act, and that those doctors have participated in the detention of between 4,000 and 5,000 of the patients currently detained in NHS or independent sector hospitals. There are two important points that I would like to make clear now. First, the decision to detain a patient under the Mental Health Act is primarily a clinical one. There is no suggestion, and no reason to believe, that the irregularity of the approval process for these doctors has resulted in any clinically inappropriate decision being made, whether the decision was to detain or not to detain. Nor is there any suggestion that the doctors approved by mental health trusts are anything other than entirely properly qualified to make these recommendations.

All the proper clinical processes were gone through when these patients were detained. There is no reason why the irregular approval process should have led to anyone being in hospital who should not be—or vice versa—and no patients have suffered because of this. The doctors had no reason to think that they had not been properly approved; they acted in total good faith and in the interests of the patients throughout this period. As of Friday last week, the SHAs concerned had corrected their procedures and all the doctors involved had been properly approved. I hope that that addresses the question raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds).

This may be a naïve question, but will the Minister tell us whether doctors approved in one SHA area are then approved automatically for other parts of England or possibly parts of Wales, or is the approval confined to the particular SHA area?

My understanding is that people are approved for the SHA in which they work, but it is an important question and I will happily confirm the position to the hon. Gentleman in writing.

In the light of our legal advice, we do not believe that any decisions made about patients’ care and detention require review because of this irregularity. Doctors should continue to treat patients who are currently detained under the Mental Health Act in the usual way.

My second point is that we have been advised by First Treasury Counsel that there are good arguments to show that the detentions involving these particular approval processes were, and are, lawful. Given the seriousness of the issues, counsel also argues the need for absolute legal clarity and advises that this is most safely resolved through emergency retrospective legislation. We are taking that advice. As soon as the irregularity was identified, the Department moved swiftly to identify the best course of action and to put the necessary preparatory work in place. Officials immediately sought initial legal and clinical advice, and then swiftly analysed the options, including the reassessment of all the potentially affected patients, working with the health leads in the regions involved and clinical experts from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

When I was briefed on the situation, I asked for detailed information on the time it would take—the Secretary of State has also sought and obtained this advice—and the clinical risks involved in reassessing all potentially affected patients. Last Friday, the Secretary of State asked for an emergency Bill to be drafted over the weekend as a matter of contingency, and he briefed the Prime Minister personally the following day. Following further discussions and analysis over the weekend, the decision to introduce emergency legislation was taken on Sunday.

At all times, the Secretary of State’s priority—and, indeed, mine too—has been to resolve this in a way that follows clinical advice. That is the most important thing. In the interests of a group of highly vulnerable individuals, it is important to do this in the most sensitive way. It would not have been feasible quickly to reassess all the patients and it may well have caused great distress to them and their families.

We have worked to remedy the problem as it relates to current and future detentions. The accountable officers for the four SHAs in question have written to Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, to confirm that they have made the necessary changes to their governance arrangements. Furthermore, the accountable officers in the other six SHA areas have written to Sir David to confirm, in the light of this issue, that they have reviewed their own arrangements and are in full compliance with the Mental Health Act. That directly addresses the question asked by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East. I can confirm, incidentally, that approval in one SHA applies elsewhere in England. The Bill will put right those doctors’ approvals wherever they are now practising. That again gives complete clarity to that particular point.

Although we believe that there are good arguments that past detentions under the Mental Health Act were and are lawful, it is vital that doctors, other mental health professionals and, most importantly, patients and their families have absolute confidence in the decisions made. That is why, in relation to past detentions, we have decided that the irregularity should be corrected by the Bill.

On this serious matter, will the Minister give a fuller explanation of why, given that the proper procedure was not followed, making it irregular, it is none the less his advice that it remained lawful?

I cannot provide full detail, but I can repeat that the legal advice received by the Department was that there are good reasons to believe that the detentions are, and remain, lawful. Absolute certainty is essential in the interests of the patients concerned, whose care is paramount, and indeed of their families. That is why it is so important to proceed straight away with this retrospective legislation.

Although we are only aware of the problem in the four areas going back to 2002, the Bill applies in principle to the approval of all doctors under the Mental Health Act since its introduction in 1983. It retrospectively validates the approval of clinicians by those organisations to which responsibility was delegated, up to the point when all the relevant doctors were fully re-approved and their status put beyond doubt. The Bill will not deprive anyone—this is a really important point—of any of their normal rights of redress if they have been detained for any reason other than the narrow issue of the delegation of authority to approve by the SHAs. All the other rights remain exactly as they are. The provision addresses only the narrow issue of the nature of the authorisation. Nor will it affect any future detentions or legitimise any similar failures in the future—again, an incredibly important issue.

Necessary as it is to address the issue in that way, it is also important that we get to the bottom of how this happened. The Secretary of State has asked Dr Geoffrey Harris, chair of NHS South and former chair of the Buckinghamshire mental health trust, to undertake an independent review to look at how the responsibility was delegated by the four SHAs and, more broadly, the governance and assurance processes that all SHAs use for delegating any responsibilities. The Secretary of State will ask him to look at that in the context of the new NHS structures that come into force from next April to see whether any lessons need to be learned.

It is imperative that that review is swift. The Secretary of State has asked Dr Harris to report to him by the end of the year with recommendations to ensure that every part of the system employs the highest standards of assurance and oversight in the delegation of any functions.

In conclusion, I stress that both the Secretary of State and I have reviewed thoroughly with lawyers, clinicians and NHS managers all possible alternatives to introducing this retrospective legislation. The Secretary of State has been advised that all alternatives would be highly disruptive to the welfare of many of the most vulnerable patients in the mental health system, and would also deprive many other patients—another critical point—of the care they need while any action is undertaken. That is why, in such exceptional circumstances, we are proposing this retrospective legislation.

Detaining people under the Mental Health Act raises fundamental questions of individual liberty and public safety, requiring the most careful consideration. I am sure that there is general agreement across the House that the circumstances in which we find ourselves today are far from ideal. Members on all sides will want to use the time we have to satisfy themselves that the measures that the Government are asking the House to approve today are justified.

Emergency legislation tends to be forward looking in its scope, so the retrospective nature of the Bill before us is unusual and potentially troubling for Members. As I said yesterday, we will need to be sure that this is the only real course of action available and that it is not setting a precedent whereby emergency legislation can be used as a convenient means of correcting administrative failings, which could in itself breed a culture of complacency in public administration.

In asking those legitimate questions, however, we must have at the forefront of our minds the simple fact that the uncertainty which has arisen in the past week affects thousands of highly vulnerable people and their families, as well as having serious implications for patients and public safety. If we leave that uncertainty hanging, it will have the potential to cause real harm to the individuals concerned, and to damage public trust in our systems of individual and public protection.

The Secretary of State was right to act quickly, and to come to the House yesterday to make his exceptional and urgent request for legislation. I am surprised that he did not make the case for that legislation to the House in person today, but the Opposition have nevertheless concluded that, on balance, the public interest is best served by our supporting the Government in the swift action that they propose, and we will ensure as far as possible that that pragmatic approach is reflected in the other place.

In reaching our judgment, I think we can take some comfort from the fact that the main mental health organisations, as well as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, are, for now, supporting the Government’s course. However, concerns and questions have already been raised today—not least by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith)—which have not been fully answered. I must say to the Government that it is vital for the fullest possible answers to be given to the House today before any approval is given to this exceptional retrospective measure. I shall be seeking answers not just to the questions that I am about to ask, but to questions that the Secretary of State did not answer yesterday. There are matters of detail here, but matters of principle also arise, and I want to cover both in my speech.

May I clarify something? I had intended to make the Second Reading speech earlier, but I will be winding up the debate, and during that speech I shall seek to address any points raised by the right hon. Gentleman—and, indeed, any outstanding points raised by other Members.

I thank the Secretary of State for his intervention. We understand that these are urgent matters, and I am sure that he is receiving briefings from the Department, but I think that there is a sense among Opposition Members that that is not good enough, and that he should have been here to answer the questions that were asked. We appreciate that he will be winding up the debate, but I hope he will take careful note of all the questions that are asked, and will give every Member present the fullest possible answer.

First things first: let us begin with the detail. I think it would help the House to know more about the extent of the checks that have been carried out on the 4,000 to 5,000 cases involved. The very fact that the number remains vague suggests that there has not yet been a thorough case-by-case review. Does the Minister—or, indeed, the Secretary of State—agree that it is essential to conduct such a review, and to put a precise number on the extent of the problem? I asked yesterday whether the Department could tell us how many of the people concerned were in high-security hospitals. I think that that is an important aspect of the issue, and I should be grateful if the information could be given to us at some point this afternoon. Without detailed case-by-case checks, how can we be sure that this procedural defect was the only technical irregularity in the process that was operating in the four SHAs concerned? We need to be reassured that there are no further problems that will need to be corrected at a later date.

That brings me to another question that was not answered yesterday. Families of the people involved will have heard yesterday’s news, and will no doubt have been unsettled by it. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important for the Government to make arrangements, urgently, for direct communication to take place with the families who have been directly affected so that the issue can be explained to them more fully, and in isolation from some media coverage that may not give them the reassurance and support that they seek? Have such arrangements been made, and has any facility been provided enabling questions to be answered so that people can be given that reassurance and support?

That, in turn, brings me to another important point. If the Government were to leave a vacuum in terms of advice and communication, it could of course be filled by less scrupulous elements of the legal profession seeking to initiate compensation claims. We have already read warnings today that efforts may be made to encourage patients to sue for £500 or £600 a day, the amount that a prisoner would receive in compensation for unlawful detention. I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that any such activities would be highly unsettling, and would amount to the potential exploitation of vulnerable people. I hope he will join me in sending the clearest of messages to the legal profession that that would not be at all welcome. On the other hand, we would not want to see any curtailment of individuals’ legitimate right to challenge the decisions made affecting their liberty as a result of the Bill.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made that second point. The fact that some people are litigious, possibly as a result of their condition—of which that is a notorious aspect—should not detract from their right to pursue a case if they wish to do so.

That is a good point. So many cases are involved that challenges may have already been in progress before this technical problem arose. There may have been complaints about the nature of the decision-making process, the number of professionals involved, or any matter relating to the process by which the decision was made.

I hope that it will reassure the hon. Gentleman to learn that I have been given access to Government lawyers—the Secretary of State promised that yesterday, and I am grateful to him for arranging it—and I have been assured that the Bill will not wipe away an individual’s right to issue a legal challenge on a different point of process. That is a fundamentally important point, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me an opportunity to put it on the record. We would certainly not support the Bill if it were intended to wipe away an individual’s rights retrospectively, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not either. We are grateful for that reassurance from the Government.

Along with the urgent steps that are being taken to correct the legal position, we need a review of how this came about in the first place. If it had happened in a single SHA, the explanation might have been easier to ascertain and understand, but the fact that it happened in four SHAs points to a more widespread issue of concern. It raises the question whether the problem arose from historical practice among clinicians and NHS bodies in the four regions concerned, or whether a piece of Department of Health guidance that was circulated in the past may have been responsible. I hope that the Minister or the Secretary of State will be able to enlighten the House further.

We want the Harris review—which I support—to cover all the technical issues surrounding mental health, so that the House and the public can be absolutely certain that no other technical failures or breaches of regulation have been identified. Let me make two appeals to the Secretary of State. First, I ask him to consider widening the remit of the review, and ensuring that in future it can take the broadest possible view of arrangements for sections under the Mental Health Act 1983. Secondly, I ask for the review to be conducted as swiftly as possible, so that it can inform the current reorganisation of the NHS.

It seems to me that the crux of the issue is the interrelationship between the 1983 Act and the potential for reorganisations of the NHS to disturb important existing arrangements and procedures for the carrying out of these essential public functions. That is the crux of the matter. I accept that a problem may have arisen as a result of the introduction of SHAs and PCTs in 2003, and we will have to wait and see whether that was the case. Regardless of the answer to that, however, the Government still have to face a relevant and current issue: they have to be absolutely sure that the changes they are proposing—and which the Opposition continue to believe are unnecessary and highly disruptive to an NHS that is functioning well for the vast majority of people—will not run the risk of causing further confusion.

We have not had anywhere near enough clarity from the Secretary of State—or his predecessor, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), who has just left the Chamber—on how some of the essential functions of NHS bodies to do with safeguarding and public protection are to be handled in the new NHS structure. Many months have passed since the publication of the Government’s first White Paper, yet there are still doubts in the minds of clinicians and others practitioners on the ground. That is an indictment, and shows the confusion the reorganisation has created. We are seeing the emergence of myriad new bodies in the NHS whose functions are not yet fully understood or specified by the Government. This crowded landscape has the potential to cause for further uncertainty. I therefore today ask for more clarity on this matter.

As things currently stand, what will the NHS arrangements be for sectioning people under the mental health provisions to be introduced from April 2013? I do not yet know with confidence what those arrangements are, and if I do not know there is a good chance that the wider public and many people working in the NHS have no idea. The Government need to answer these questions.

There is a further specific question the Department needs to answer, and it goes to the heart of the issues under discussion. I am sure I heard the Secretary of State say yesterday that the secondary approval function that SHAs are meant to carry out will come back to the Department of Health following the Government’s current reorganisation of the NHS.

The Secretary of State is nodding from a sedentary position, so I assume that is correct. Surely, therefore, a concern arises that the SHA part of the process is no more than a rubber-stamping exercise. The Department will be entirely remote from the local situation on the ground relating to the individuals involved and the clinicians and institutions making the judgments. If this process is taken up to the national level, will that not give rise to more concerns that mistakes might be made in the future, because of the distance between the process of approval and the individual cases on the ground? Has the Secretary of State had discussions with mental health organisations about whether they believe those arrangements are acceptable? I must say that I have serious concerns about them.

That is a very important point. Following the logic of my right hon. Friend’s argument, does he agree that the Government would be well advised to ensure there is independent professional involvement in auditing and overseeing that process?

That is a tremendously important point. Over the years, in terms of crucial public functions such as those we are discussing—and, indeed, in wider considerations such as assessments of new treatments with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence—there has been a trend towards independent decision making, so that people can feel that there is no political, or departmental, interference, such as through changing local resource decisions.

The taking of these powers, and the rubber-stamping of approvals to section people, up to the national level will give rise to concerns about whether the process is sufficiently independent and people’s rights are being properly considered. I hope Ministers have listened to the important point my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East has just made.

I will end by addressing a point of wider principle about mental health policy and the place of mental health within our society. I believe it is possible that this whole unfortunate episode is symptomatic of a wider cultural problem: that mental health simply does not get sufficient focus and resources in the NHS at both the local PCT level and the regional SHA level—and, indeed, within the Department of Health. Beyond that, I do not believe that mental health gets the consideration it needs in Government or in this place. We do not give sufficient consideration to the hugely important issues relating to mental health.

When I was Health Secretary, hundreds of submissions would come across my desk in the course of an average week, and it was unusual if just one of them related to mental health. It is very much seen as a fringe consideration, pushed to the edges of the system—a peripheral concern in PCTs and SHAs, and all the way up to the Department of Health. That situation must not be allowed to continue.

The culture of separateness in the way we consider mental health, as opposed to other NHS issues, has deep roots in our society. Mental health services have often been provided in buildings that are out of sight, out of mind and on the fringes of the mainstream health care system.

That has to change. In the 21st century, we demand it. In our lives, we are all now dealing with much greater levels of stress, change and upheaval, and sometimes we are all left reeling by the sheer pace of modern life. We are discussing today between 4,000 and 5,000 very vulnerable people as though they are somehow apart from the rest of us. They are not. Any family can suffer the terrible consequences of serious mental health issues. In such circumstances, we would all want to be assured that those affected are not forgotten and pushed to the fringes where proper procedures are not carried out because there is a somewhat out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. These issues are central concerns because they go to the heart of 21st century living.

Mental health must no longer be left at the edges of our national debate about health and care policy. It has to come to the very centre of our health care system. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 includes one good measure at least: to create parity of esteem between physical and mental health. I must say that it was a Labour amendment in another place that introduced that improvement into the Act, but, to be fair to the Government, I should add that I am pleased that they accepted it.

Will the Secretary of State explain what parity of esteem means in practice? What action has the Department thus far taken to put parity of esteem into effect in the national health service, and what plans does it have for the future? We have learnt in recent days that the budget for mental health has been cut in the last financial year, which suggests to me that the NHS is reverting to its default position in tough times.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that role models in society could do a lot more to help to improve cultural attitudes to mental health issues?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and we have the seen the beginning of the kind of campaign he advocates with the work of the Time to Change group. There has also been incredible bravery from individuals such as the cricketer Marcus Trescothick, who spoke out very publicly about the difficulties he had faced, and just a few weeks ago in this House we witnessed some incredibly powerful contributions from Members on both sides of the Chamber: for the first time Members spoke personally and publicly about the difficulties they faced.

I think a change is under way, therefore. People who have been suffering alone will take great heart and encouragement from these developments. We are beginning to challenge the last taboo—the last form of acceptable discrimination in our society—but that does not come a moment too soon. My feeling is that Parliament is finally waking up to the full scale of the mental health challenge we face. A Bill before us at the moment will outlaw the discrimination that exists whereby somebody who has suffered a serious mental breakdown is unable to be a Member of Parliament, a company director, a juror or a school governor. It is so important to remove that discrimination from the statute book because it sends a message that recovery is not possible, and that if someone has a serious mental breakdown there is no possibility of their coming back and playing a full part in our society. The further problem with that legislation is that it prevents those people from being in leadership positions in those organisations—in schools, in Parliament and in companies—where they could develop a better understanding of mental health and what policies need to be put in place to support people who may experience those problems.

Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern, and that of organisations such as Mind, that the rate of compulsory detention seems to be growing, as does the rate of detention in police cells?

We need to look carefully at those trends. I remember the moment when my thinking about mental health changed. It came when I was Secretary of State for Health and I received the Bradley report on mental ill health in the criminal justice system. I recall the moment when I read the statistic that seven out of 10 young people in the system have some form of undiagnosed or untreated mental health problem. My jaw dropped and at that moment I realised that we were seriously failing many thousands of people by failing to give them the support they needed when they needed it, and so they went into detention and down a path of failing to fulfil their potential. That is a terrible indictment of our life today. In addition, the level of prescribing of anti-depressants has almost doubled over the past decade. We are issuing almost 40 million prescriptions for anti-depressants, which suggests to me that insufficient alternatives to medication are available in our communities and people are being given very old-fashioned, outdated interventions by the authorities which are not meeting their needs. That is why we cannot allow this complacency any more and why we need a modern approach to good mental health care.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right when he says that mental health has been the poor relation of the health service, but does he agree that, within that mental health service, children’s mental health services have often been the poor relation again? Does he hope that the Government will address specific services for children who need mental health services?

Order. As important as the debate is, the wider considerations of mental health and its treatment are not actually the subject for today—that is the Bill before us. So in rising to answer his hon. Friend’s problem, I am sure that the shadow Secretary of State will come back to the specifics of the Bill.

I will indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a Second Reading debate, so I was just taking a moment to speak more widely. However, I believe that this comes back to the central point I made: the reason why this situation has arisen and why it was undetected for so long—10 years—in the Department was because of this culture of failing to put sufficient focus on and give attention to mental health. The issue is still on the fringes of our system. My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. We hear that not only is the budget for adult mental health being cut, but the budget for children’s mental health is being cut even further. That brings me back to another point I was making: in tough times the NHS reverts to its default position, which is to focus on the mainstream and to ignore mental health. That is a worrying sign, so we press the Government to say what parity of esteem means in practice. What actions are the Government taking to change this culture to ensure that the resources and the focus are in place?

In conclusion, although the Opposition will give the Government the co-operation they need to get this measure through the House today, I say again that we need to have full answers to all the concerns I have outlined. That is the least the Government owe Opposition Members. One of the good things that we hope may come from this unfortunate episode is that it may jolt us out of our complacency on mental health, and that Parliament will begin truly to work for more parity of esteem between physical and mental health and ensure that finally mental health gets the resources and the focus it desperately needs.

Yesterday I expressed bewilderment about how we have ended up in this situation, given the high profile given in this place to the issue of legal detention, particularly during the passage of the Mental Health Act 2007, on whose Bill Committee I served. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said that this issue has not been taken seriously during the past decade, but it has been in the House of Commons—it has been taken very seriously and has been debated at extraordinary length. I now see the Government’s problems over the issue and recognise the gravity of the situation. I understand the need for a rapid solution and the absence of any real viable alternative. However, I am not yet convinced that this retrospective legislation offers an unproblematic or wholly sufficient solution.

Let me explain why that is and underline my concerns. Let us suppose this were not an issue of mental health, and somebody was judicially processed and forcibly detained via a flawed process. Let us suppose that they were arrested by an officer who was competent but not properly authorised to arrest or that such a person were sentenced by a judge who was skilled but not properly appointed. Irrespective of the person’s actual guilt or the reasonableness of the evidence, they would be released, after an application had been made, on a technicality. That is how the law would work for those who do not have mental health issues to address. If we apply different principles for those who have mental health issues, we discriminate, and it could be argued that we might be doing so unfairly. Ironically, this week, we are beginning the Committee stage of a Bill to outlaw unfair discrimination.

If we add to that the fact that the job of determining who assesses cases was delegated to organisations such as care trusts, which are also providers of patient care and are paid for providing it, we see a legal challenge under human rights law starting to take shape. Mersey Care NHS Trust owns and runs Ashworth, and although I do not think it is one of the offending trusts in this case, it would have been a relevant example here. A consoling thought—the consoling thought—is that we believe that no one has been improperly detained or is being improperly detained, and nothing would have changed if authorisation had been done differently. However, it is not possible to be sure about that.

These cases are often genuinely difficult. I have met psychopaths who appear, on the surface of it and when encountered, to be very normal. Equally, when anyone is incarcerated it can be difficult to prove their normality. A classic pseudo-patient experiment was carried out by David Rosenhan in 1973, when mentally well researchers were admitted to an institution under false diagnoses in order to observe life and treatment there, and to conduct research. At the end of each day they wrote down their observations, and the nurses retired to their rooms and wrote down in their case notes, “Patients exhibit strange writing behaviour”. If this place was assumed to be an asylum, I often wonder what exactly would disabuse people of that perception.

Closer to home, I conducted an evening class many years ago at Park Lane hospital, which was the predecessor institution of Ashworth hospital. I encountered there a very articulate and seemingly responsible young man who appeared ready for discharge. Years later, I saw the same individual on a TV programme about Park Lane hospital applying for a discharge, arguing on camera with his psychiatrist for release and asserting his sanity. His willingness to argue and his insistence was taken by the psychiatrist as an indication of his lack of insight. Until he agreed with his psychiatrist that he was still sick he would get no joy—that is a kind of inverse Catch-22. There are those with less cause who genuinely think that they should not be detained, and they have lawyers and access to the courts. They will contest this legislation and we cannot be entirely sure what the result will be, especially as we are forced in this case to act in haste.

We have to go ahead with the measure, but it may not be sufficient for our purposes. We may have to consider judicially reviewing all flawed cases to ensure that there is a sustainable basis for continued detention. I would genuinely prefer to believe that in this case I am wrong.

Like the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), I see no alternative but to proceed with the Bill, but I too have concerns.

Clause 1(1) states:

“Any person who before the day on which this Act is passed has done anything in the purported exercise of an approval function is to be treated for all purposes as having had the power to do so.”

The clause then defines the approved function in relation to the Mental Health Act 1983, but will the Secretary of State tell us why the concept of “any person” needs to be so broad for the Bill? It could be taken to legitimise approval by anybody. Should it not have been limited to the four trusts in question, if that is the problem the House is addressing—as it is—rather than being so sweeping?

My next question relates to my intervention earlier, when we were assured that there were good legal reasons to suppose that while the procedures that had been followed were irregular and not in conformity with the legislation, they were none the less lawful. The Secretary of State owes it to the House to spell out why they were regarded as lawful even though we are having to act in such a precipitate fashion to put things right.

I see that the Secretary of State has certified the Bill as being in compliance with the European convention on human rights, but as the previous speaker pointed out, the use of such retrospective legislation, which impacts on something so fundamental as the citizen’s right to liberty, may raise questions under the charter of human rights, so I should be grateful if the Secretary of State reassured us that the most careful attention has been given to that most precious of issues.

I state an interest as a member of the all-party group on social work. Before I was elected, I was for a short time an approved social worker under the Mental Health Act 1983. I was also a member of the Joint Committee that looked at mental health legislation before the passage of the National Health Service Act 2006. As far as I remember, the issue was not addressed that winter when we looked at the legislation in considerable detail.

First, to state the obvious, compulsory detention is a serious matter, as hon. Members and right hon. Members have said. The deprivation of liberty without the legal processes of the courts has always been subject to great safeguards. I accept that this is an emergency, but it is undesirable in the extreme that the subject is dealt with in such a manner. Emergency legislation should always be used as sparingly as possible, in particular in mental health.

The House will be interested to learn that the expert group examining mental health legislation in the winter before the 2006 Act was looking at legislation from the previous century. As I said at the time, they had been looking at it for years and years, not just overnight.

As I have said, I acted as an approved social worker for some time, and I was briefly a mental welfare officer under the Mental Health Act 1959. That measure was extremely unsatisfactory and, to contextualise the subject we are discussing, there was particular concern about section 29 of the Act, under which people could be taken into hospital compulsorily as an emergency for up to 72 hours, on the basis of one medical recommendation. Recourse to that provision was particularly high in rural areas such as mine where one could not get hold of a second approved doctor. That was one of the reasons why the 1983 Act tightened things up as much as it did.

The 1983 Act brought in safeguards and followed a long campaign by Mind, among other organisations, led by Larry Gostin. The burden of the Act is that better human rights safeguards must be in place, and I welcomed it at the time. One of its provisions was that two properly approved doctors should look at any application. That is the context for the worrying statement made by the Secretary of State yesterday.

I was glad to hear the Secretary of State’s assurances that the measure is a technical matter and that no one was wrongly detained, that proper clinical processes were carried out and doctors were properly qualified for the roles they undertook—apart from this technicality. I agree that the position should be regularised as soon as possible.

However, I take the points made by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) and the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith): there are rightful worries about compulsory detention and there could be further cases. We must get to the bottom of how the situation arose and find out why it has taken so long—more than 10 years—to come before the House. Did it not come up in any of the Department’s visits in its inspectorial role? I worked briefly as a freelance for the inspectorial arm of the then Welsh Office, so I know how much detailed care went into that role at the time. Why has the issue not come to the fore until now?

I have some questions that I will ask now, even though it is a Second Reading debate. Perhaps the Secretary of State could answer them when he winds up. As background to the Bill, I read that there are between 4,000 and 5,000 current patients. Can the Secretary of State confirm that they really are current patients? If so, are there many thousands of former patients who might have been sectioned who also have an interest in the matter? Is the figure current or a cumulative total? Does it include only in-patients? What about patients in the community on compulsory treatment orders? There could be many thousands of them. We need clarity about the size of that population.

I asked in an intervention whether only particular strategic health authorities were involved. Rampton was certainly involved; it takes patients from Wales and elsewhere. I was not sure whether Ashworth was included. The hon. Member for Southport seemed to indicate that Ashworth—Park Lane, as it was—had not been drawn in. Could the Secretary of State provide some confirmation?

There are questions about informing patients and their families about the problem that has arisen. Those people may be very vulnerable, given their condition. Some patients are likely to be anxious as part of their illness, and this situation could exacerbate their condition. We need to make sure that these events do not exacerbate existing conditions, so I should like some assurance from the Secretary of State about how patients, former patients and their families will be contacted. Will independent advocacy services be involved? I am not talking about lawyers or ambulance chasers, but about the many services properly set up in the community to support people.

Communication must be appropriate. The code of practice for the 1983 Act specifies that communication with patients must be made appropriately on the basis of age, gender, race and language. One of the reasons I am speaking in the debate is that some Welsh-speaking patients might have been involved, so I want to be sure that they will be contacted and communicated with appropriately. Because of this incident, the process might be upsetting for people who have been sectioned in the past, so I should be grateful for reassurance that long-term support will be available if that is a disturbing factor in their condition.

The briefing notes, which I read with interest, refer to compensation, which should be the last thing on anyone’s mind at a time like this. I was reassured, however, to learn that people can bring cases. Some individuals can be litigious. Sometimes, as part of their condition, they are notoriously litigious, as I said earlier, but that does not detract from their right to bring cases unless the court rules otherwise.

I have some concerns about doctors. I asked earlier whether approval by a strategic health authority automatically enabled people to act elsewhere. The Minister initially said that it was just within the strategic health authority area, but then he said it was throughout England. I should like that matter to be cleared up and, as a Welsh Member, I should like it to be cleared up in relation to Wales and possibly Northern Ireland and Scotland. I am worried that doctors may slip through the net because they have acted outside the four areas that have been identified.

What discussions has the Secretary of State or the Minister of State had with doctors’ representatives? I appreciate that time has been short, but I hope that doctors have been fully involved. Are there any implications—I cannot think of any—for the second doctor involved in sectioning? I should be grateful for reassurance on that point. Equally, are there any implications for the social worker, as it is usually a social worker who is involved?

Finally, has the Wales Office been involved in any way? I am glad that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been informed. It is more of an issue for Wales, given that we share many clinical services and people from Wales are often treated in England: special hospitals are an obvious example. I hope that there has been the closest co-operation possible between the Wales Office and the Welsh Government in Cardiff. I am glad that an independent review under Dr Geoffrey Harris has been announced. I hope that the Wales Office and the Welsh Government will be involved to the degree that they should be.

I wish to make only a couple of points about this emergency legislation, which I support. The Government still have a number of questions to answer. First, further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith), I should like to press the Secretary of State on legality. In the explanatory notes, the Government say:

“Although we believe that there are good arguments that detentions under the Mental Health Act were and are lawful, it is important that there should be no doubt about this.”

If legislation does not permit the authorisation and delegation of power to doctors under that measure, does that accord with the law? I am not lawyer. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House served in that profession before first coming to Parliament, but I am not one of them. However, if the previous measure did not permit such a delegation of power, doctors acting without that permission were not proceeding according to the law. I should therefore welcome clarity on that point.

Secondly, with regard to what happens from now on—the Bill is retrospective in effect—the Government propose to abolish strategic health authorities. As far as I understand it, SHAs were named in the original legislation. What will effectively take their place when they are abolished and will further amendments need to be tabled by the Government?

The Opposition do not oppose the Bill. We are aware that much of this activity took place under a Labour Government, and we are anxious to work in the most co-operative way possible to resolve the situation. However, I would do the House a disservice if I did not set out the in-principle objections to retrospective legislation of this kind.

I should like to quote someone whom Government Members may take more seriously than some of us. In the “The Road to Serfdom”, Hayek said of the rule of law:

“Stripped of all technicalities [the rule of law] means the government in all its actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand—rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances, and to plan one’s affairs on the basis of this knowledge.”

I shall set out objections to retrospective legislation, because despite the urgency of the situation and the problems that might arise if it were not introduced, we should recognise that it is a very serious matter to introduce retrospective legislation of this kind. The Opposition, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) said, were a little surprised that the Secretary of State for Health did not open the debate.

If retrospective legislation is undesirable in principle, it is particularly undesirable when it concerns the liberty of the subject. There is no precedent for retrospective legislation on such matters. We are dealing with the mentally ill and the sectioning of people under the Mental Health Act 1983. Due process is even more important in relation to issues under that Act than in relation to other matters of criminal justice, as we are dealing with vulnerable people who are not in a position to advocate for themselves. Due process is not less important in relation to Mental Health Act matters; it is more important.

I urge the House to pause for a second and see the situation from the point of view of the mentally ill, their families and their supporters. For people engaged with mental health legislation, the process may appear Kafkaesque and labyrinthine. They now know that 5,000 people—perhaps more—were sectioned, strictly speaking, illegally, which can only cause unhappiness and uncertainty. As hon. Members have said, it may even affect the condition of those people.

I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Lady has said, but I should like to clarify something. Is she basically saying that she supports what the Government have done, but is putting on record the fact that the measure must not be seen in any way as a precedent? This is an exceptional and unique set of circumstances. Is that effectively what she is saying?

I have been a Member for 25 years. I have never seen retrospective legislation of this kind. Although we support what the Government are doing, we do not want it to be seen in any way as a precedent; nor do we want it to be thought that, because the measure relates to the Mental Health Act, it is less significant than if it were a broad criminal justice concern. That is the point that I want to put on the record.

As I have said, for patients and their families, the mental health system may appear labyrinthine and Kafkaesque at the best of times. Now they find that for a long period—some of it under a Labour Government—people were being sectioned without proper due process. Ministers have said, both today and yesterday, that this is a technicality, but due process means that people should abide by the technicalities. Only in that way can we defend the liberty of the subject, and only in that way can the subject have any recourse. If we do not abide by the technicalities and if the rule of law does not apply, where do our constituents and other ordinary people turn if things go wrong?

Ministers have made a series of assertions. They have said that no patient has been wrongly detained or received care that was not clinically appropriate. They have said that no doctor was unqualified to make the decisions, and they say that urgent action is being taken to correct the situation. But I would be interested to hear from Ministers whether there has been an individual case review of these cases. How can they assert that no patient has been wrongly detained or received inappropriate care if the Government have not reviewed each case individually? How can Ministers assert that no doctor was unqualified to make the decisions if they have not reviewed each case individually?

I am not raising these issues to stop what I understand is an urgent process, but it would not be right for the House to railroad the legislation through without paying attention to the individuals and the individual cases involved. If there has been no individual case review, the question raised by other hon. Members whether the Bill will stand up to judicial review comes to the fore. Is the Minister in possession of robust, irrefutable evidence to show that none of the more than 5,000 patients detained by the approximately 2,000 not properly approved doctors was subject to clinically inappropriate detention or hospitalisation?

Will the families and carers of those individuals be advised of the situation and given an opportunity to raise any concerns that they may have? When a relative is detained under the Mental Health Act, the question whether that is appropriate can be one of the most difficult and traumatic questions that a family has to face, and to dismiss the lack of due process as a mere technicality, as Ministers have come dangerously close to doing, is not fair to those individuals and their families—our constituents.

Although I accept that the doctors concerned have acted in good faith, I hope the Minister will agree that we are dealing with a highly vulnerable group of individuals—the patients and their families—and they need to have absolute confidence in the Government’s response. We understand that introducing urgent legislation is part of offering such reassurance. It will protect vulnerable patients from a potentially exploitative situation in relation to what are commonly called ambulance-chasing lawyers, but when their relative is taken away from them, people also want to know that this is not a mere rubber-stamping process. I have heard nothing so far that would reassure me, if I were the mother or a relative of one of the people detained under a defective process, that Ministers do not regard this as a mere rubber-stamping process and that all the Bill does is alter in some technical way the nature of the rubber stamp.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh made the point that we need to move forward with a very different attitude to mental health. We need to look for parity of esteem between mental health and physical health, but in this matter, in relation to the liberty of the subject, we also need to look to parity of esteem when someone’s liberty is taken away under the Mental Health Act and under broader criminal justice legislation. If people had been held in prison and there had not been due process, it would not be good enough to railroad through retrospective legislation in an afternoon in the House of Commons. There would be much more uproar.

We want to impress upon Ministers that we must take seriously the liberty of people detained under the Mental Health Act and demonstrate that we are doing so. A number of questions have been raised by hon. Members on Second Reading, and we hope that the Minister will be able to answer them. I thank right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. As I said earlier, I hope the Government will try to involve the family and carers of those affected more closely in the process of bringing clarity. I hope that the Government will seek to remove any uncertainty and will explain to them what they can do to seek redress.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, I commend Ministers for their attempt to move quickly on a very difficult issue. We want to offer the Secretary of State any assistance that we can as he seeks to answer questions from patients, families, carers and the wider public, but we say to him that retrospective legislation is very serious. It cannot be dismissed as a technicality. The liberty of the subject is, so to speak, the ground zero of parliamentary democracy in this country. It cannot be dismissed as a mere technicality. Sadly, I do not believe that the debate this afternoon will be the last that we hear on the matter. It is extremely important that those of us who are in the House this afternoon tease out the answers to the questions that have been put.

I start by apologising to any Members who had hoped to intervene on me at the start of the debate, but I hope that I will now be able to give a fuller answer not just to any interventions, but to speeches made by right hon. and hon. Members. I thank the Opposition and the whole House for the very responsible attitude that they have taken towards this extremely sensitive and difficult issue. I intend to respond fully to all the points made by right hon. and hon. Members about the need to act so fast and retrospectively. Those are important issues that deserve the fullest attention.

It is important to record our appreciation at this stage for the invaluable help and advice that we received from partners outside the House, such as Mind, Rethink and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Their primary concern is naturally those whom they represent so ably, but we are genuinely grateful for the mature and calm way in which they have responded. Everyone in the House has shared the same ultimate objective—to do what is best for the patients directly affected by a technical error.

Let me go through the points raised in the debate. I shall try to respond as fully as I can. With respect to the devolved Administrations, I have spoken to Health Ministers in Wales and Northern Ireland today, and I spoke to the Advocate-General for Scotland yesterday. They have been extremely supportive of the position that the Government and the whole House have taken, and they understand the need for speed. In Wales it is a sensitive matter because the Welsh Assembly is in recess, but I managed to speak to the Health Minister and go through the issues involved.

A number of Members asked about the extent to which we will be communicating with patients. We are working closely with the Royal College of Psychiatrists as to the best way to do this. That also extends to the families and carers of patients. Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, is writing to all strategic health authorities, stressing the need to communicate broadly across all mental health organisations, including patients and their families, and including, as has been mentioned, not just the patients who are directly affected, but potentially other patients who have been detained under the Mental Health Act, who may also have concerns. We have not been able to complete that communication exercise at this stage, because of the speed necessary to pass the Bill, but we will need to make sure that it proceeds as a matter of urgency.

We welcome the exercise being carried out by the NHS chief executive, but it is not the same as a personal communication to the individuals directly affected, so will the Secretary of State address the specific point of whether or not they will receive explanatory information from him or the Department?

Yes. What Sir David Nicholson is doing is ensuring that all SHAs have a proper communication process in place, but we want to follow clinical advice on the appropriateness of individual communications with individual patients. Where we are advised that is clinically sensible, we must ensure that it happens, but we want to listen to the advice carefully because of the vulnerability of some of the patients involved. The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. We must do this properly but, as I know he will agree, we must proceed with extreme care and caution.

I will start with some of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised, particularly the role of the review being conducted by Dr Geoff Harris. He is absolutely right that it needs to be done speedily because of the changes being introduced by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. I want to reassure him that Dr Harris’s review will not be simply a retrospective review; he will not just be asking, “Why did this happen?” He will also be stepping back and asking, “Where might this happen again and are our governance procedures sufficient to ensure that it does not?” In particular, he will look at the new structures that will be put in place over the next few months to give us good and independent advice on whether we have the safeguards in place to prevent this from happening again. That is an important point.

With regard to how many people are affected, the figure is up to 5,000. We think that the number includes all the patients at Rampton and 57 patients at Ashworth, but we are still verifying the exact numbers. I will keep the right hon. Gentleman informed as more information becomes available.

The right hon. Gentleman’s other point was about the new arrangements that are being put in place. He wondered, legitimately, whether, as the powers are returning to the Department of Health following the abolition of the SHAs—he was correct to pick that up from my comments yesterday—there is a danger that the process could be more remote for local areas. We will keep him informed of our plans in that regard, but we do not intend to have a single national panel doing this. We intend to have a structure that draws on local and regional expertise to help us to make the right decision on the suitability of doctors for the role. That is also something we hope Dr Harris will advise us on when he conducts his review.

I will move on to some of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith). Independent oversight is also something we will ask Dr Harris to look at. He is independent and he is looking at it. We will also ask him to look at the general issue of independent oversight and whether it has been missing in the structures we have had to date and, therefore, whether it contributed to the concerns that we are now addressing.

The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) raised another issue: the wording we have been using, the fact that we believe there are good arguments for saying that the detentions that happened as a result of approvals made by the doctors in the four SHAs were and are legal and, therefore, why we feel the need for emergency retrospective legislation. It is a reasonable question. The answer is that we believe that there is legal precedent for why, in so sensitive a situation, a court, in deciding whether a detention was lawful or unlawful, would consider what the will of Parliament was when it passed the original law. Therefore, we believe that we have a good argument for why a court should rule that these detentions were and are lawful.

However, because of the technical irregularity in the process of approving some of the doctors who made the decisions in the four SHAs, that argument could be challenged. That is also an important part of the advice we have received. It is because it is so important to put the decisions beyond doubt, with respect to this narrow and technical issue, that the Bill is so incredibly important. However—this might help to address some of the concerns raised during the Opposition winding-up speech—this piece of retrospective legislation refers only to that narrow and technical issue. If people question the grounds for their sectioning under the Mental Health Act on clinical grounds and claim that the wrong clinical judgment had been reached, for example, or if they do not agree with what the panels have said, the Bill will not affect their right to challenge the decision and, if the court upholds the challenge, to get compensation if they have been detained. The Bill relates only to the very narrow issue of the technicality.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and for his response to one of my earlier points. As he is adopting a belt-and-braces approach to this—a sort of “We think it was lawful, but let’s make absolutely sure” approach—would it not also be wise to arrange, if not in the Bill then as an executive action, for the doctors in question to be re-approved by the correct process?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. I am pleased to reassure him that that has happened. That was one of the first things that happened, and it was completed yesterday, so all the doctors who are currently making these approvals in the four SHAs were approved using the correct process. We are confident that the problem will not arise in future, but we still have the issue of the decisions they took when the technical process had not been followed.

We have taken a number of actions to deliver parity of esteem for mental health services. I wholeheartedly agree with the concerns that have been raised about mental health issues having been for too long the poor relative in a number of areas. The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will know that in July we published the implementation framework for our mental health strategy, “No health without mental health”. We have legislated, with his party’s support, for parity of esteem. The operating framework for the NHS expands access to psychological therapies, which is one of the key things we can do. The number of people accessing psychological therapies has increased to 528,000 people this year, which is more than double the figure for last year, and the amount of money going into it has increased from £364 million to £386 million. Those therapies have a very good success rate of about 45%, and we think that we can get it up to 50%. I want to reassure right hon. and hon. Members that we note the general view of the House that more emphasis needs to be put on mental health services.

But overall there has been a significant real-terms reduction in spending on mental health, as the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman’s colleague in the House of Lords a few weeks ago indicate, which suggests that the NHS is making disproportionately more redundancies in the field of mental health than in other areas and that it is reverting to that default position. Therefore, although I appreciate the Secretary of State’s words at the Dispatch Box today, the reality on the ground suggests that, as ever, mental health is bearing the brunt of some of the reductions and redundancies taking place and that the capacity of people to deal with these kinds of issues will perhaps be reduced. What will he say about safeguarding against that?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I believe that in actual terms the spending on mental health has increased slightly, but when we take inflation into account it might have gone down slightly in real terms. I do not think that it is a significant drop, but overall, as he knows, the NHS budget has been protected. I would be extremely disappointed if, as we go through a process of finding important efficiency savings in order to meet the increased demand on the NHS, the picture that he paints were to be the case, but I will be watching the situation very carefully. I will expect him to hold me to account for my commitment to ensuring that mental health services are properly addressed.

Crucially, it is not just about what we say but about what we deliver, particularly as regards the progress that we make towards improving access to mental health services, which were never included in the waiting times targets that were introduced by the previous Government. There are obviously financial implications in doing that, but we are working on it. Parity of esteem needs to include access to mental health services and not just the availability of those services.

Does not parity of esteem also, crucially, need to apply to research funding—a point that was made earlier during the urgent question on Winterbourne?

Order. We are again going very wide of the Bill and the points that are supposed to be made in relation to it. The right hon. Gentleman’s question does touch on that, but I would be grateful if the Secretary of State, in responding, returns to the Bill by focusing on the items that we will be voting on today.

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is yes. I will now return to the specific questions asked about the Bill.

The hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) talked about the important issue of discrimination—that is, whether we are behaving differently because these patients have a mental illness. Removing discrimination does not mean treating everyone exactly the same. In fact, we will remove discrimination in the mental health field by better understanding the vulnerabilities and needs of people who have serious mental health problems, and that might mean treating them differently to account for that. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say, as was the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), that important human rights issues need to be considered. I want to reassure him that, even in the four SHAs where the technical irregularity in the approval of doctors arose, the criteria were as rigorous as those used to make the clinical assessment that it was necessary to detain someone under the Mental Health Act. The same quality of expert advice was drawn on in order to make those decisions.

The right hon. Member for Oxford East asked why we are not limiting the legislation to the four SHAs where we have identified this technical irregularity. That is because we do not know at this stage whether the problem may have predated the establishment of SHAs—we should remember that these powers go back to the Mental Health Act 1983—and therefore, to make sure that we deal with the problem in its entirety, it is better to include the whole country in the legislation lest we find at a later date that the problem had existed in other parts of the country, perhaps prior to the foundation of SHAs.

On human rights, I have signed a piece of paper saying that I believe that the Bill is compliant with the European convention on human rights. I did that on the advice of Government lawyers and of the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General believes that, were a case to be brought now, people would be entitled only to nominal compensation because this is a technical, not a substantive, irregularity, and it is therefore not, on this occasion, a breach of people’s human rights to pass a law retrospectively.

The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) asked why this has taken so long—why, for example, the Mental Health Commission did not identify the problem in its years of existence. That is a very important question. I cannot pretend that I have the answer now, but I want Dr Harris to look into that issue in enormous detail because I want to know whether there is a risk that other errors, similar or related, might exist in other parts of the system. The House needs to understand much better whether we should be concerned about that and whether the right governance procedures are in place.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned advocacy. As he will know, all patients have a right to an independent mental health advocate, but that process has not always worked as well as it should. I want to use the opportunity of the transfer of those responsibilities from primary care trusts to local authorities to make sure that we have proper procedures in place so that people really do get the advocacy support that they need.

Let me confirm to the hon. Gentleman—we received this piece of information as my hon. Friend the Minister was speaking—that someone approved in one SHA is able to practise in other SHAs. That is partly why the legislation needs to be UK-wide. We have had a lot of discussions about this with doctors’ representatives, particularly the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I do not believe that there are any implications for the second doctor or the social worker, but if I receive advice to the contrary I will write to him to let him know.

I think that I have covered most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East. She asked what is going to happen when the SHAs are abolished. We will be asking Dr Harris to address that when he carries out his independent review.

Finally, I turn to the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and her important comments about the seriousness with which we must treat any retrospective legislation. She referred to what Hayek said about that, with which I wholeheartedly agree. I did not think that we would be agreeing across the Dispatch Box about Hayek, but there it is. She made the important point that due process is about respecting technicalities, so we cannot brush it aside. That is why this legislation is necessary. A failure of due process—a failure to observe technicalities—puts us in an extremely difficult situation where ordinarily we would want to say that due process should be observed in all circumstances and that we should not pass retrospective legislation on that. In this particular case, however, it would have been against the clinical interests of 5,000 highly vulnerable people were we simply to consider that single legal perspective; the broader clinical perspective needs to be recognised.

The advice that I received from Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS, was very important in persuading me that we needed to take the route of emergency retrospective legislation. He said that the alternative, which was to go through all 5,000 people and redo the entire sectioning process now that all the doctors have been properly validated, presented serious clinical risks to those individuals. It is a very difficult matter. As the hon. Lady and I are trading political thinkers, perhaps I could refer her to Isaiah Berlin and say that sometimes important moral principles are not totally consistent with each other. This is one of those occasions, and we have to weigh her very important points about the need to avoid retrospective legislation, even on technicalities, against the clinical interests of a highly vulnerable group of people.

In a previous life, I sat on the board of a Mental Health Act scrutiny committee in a west midlands mental health trust. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this retrospective change does not in any way undermine the fact that every single one of the patients he has mentioned has been through a very robust system of checks and balances throughout the sectioning process in order to be sectioned, and then while they are sectioned, and has access to a very robust appeals mechanism that the Bill in no way undermines?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The key point is that those patients are free to challenge any element of the clinical decisions made as part of that very thorough process. This proposed law is about the technical irregularity only, and it is precisely because of the legal risks associated with that irregularity that we think it is necessary, in the interests of those 5,000 people, to enact this Bill.

I totally accept the point that the clinical need trumps the patient’s right to due process, but if the clinical need is questioned by the patient themselves it becomes more arguable, does it not?

If the patient wishes to challenge their clinical assessment, they are free to do so and the Bill will not affect that in any way. It is important that that point is understood. In fact, the Bill is very narrowly defined for that precise reason, and I think that is why the Attorney-General felt comfortable saying that it complied with the ECHR.

In conclusion, we have had a constructive debate on this very important and sensitive issue, but there are broader lessons to be learned about the importance, more generally, of mental health issues, and I and my colleagues in the ministerial team will take those very seriously as we progress. I am grateful to all hon. and right hon. Members present for their contributions to this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).