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Mental Health Act 1983 (Amendment)

Volume 586: debated on Wednesday 15 October 2014

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Colleagues who are perambulating around will no doubt leave the Chamber swiftly so that we can move on to the ten-minute rule motion.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983; and for connected purposes.

Thank you for clearing my line of vision through to you, Mr Speaker. As you are well aware, the useful advantage of the ten-minute rule Bill mechanism is that it can, if a Member so wishes, be used to introduce small changes that cannot easily be fitted into the flow of legislation through the House. My Bill would make a tiny amendment, and I wish it to be supported as a classic example of such a Bill.

I am sure that you are aware of the police parliamentary scheme, Mr Speaker. I highly recommend it to any Member who would appreciate seeing how the police act in the field under existing legislation. It is a great opportunity to be made aware of small changes in legislation that would assist the police in their duties. I am currently part of the way through the course.

A few weeks ago, I joined two young uniformed police officers based in Wandsworth in their police response car. The first call was a blue-light-and-siren dash to a Wandsworth council residential tower block. As it was a Wandsworth property, the lift was clean and fully functioning. We progressed to the source of the emergency call, which was a flat on the 14th floor. The mother of the household nervously let in one of the two officers to see her daughter, aged 22, who was standing on the window ledge and threatening to jump. It was quickly elucidated that she had a short history of having made a previous attempt to commit suicide, but I am not sure if that was by the same means.

The appearance of the uniformed officers did little to ease the problem; but fortunately, we were backed up by two plain-clothes officers, and the young female officer seemed to be acceptable to the young lady on the window sill. With great expertise, she after some time persuaded the lady to come down off the window sill and, eventually, to sit on the bed beside her, as they calmly discussed the problem. The police officer suggested that she might wish to go to a place of safety for medical and psychiatric help. This was refused, and was followed by agitation and more threats to dive out the window.

As all that was being played out, the officers outside the flat had contacted St George’s hospital psychiatric unit to obtain assistance. After a couple of hours, such an individual arrived with an ambulance and a crew of two. Their introduction to the young lady required more re-calming, and we went through the whole procedure all over again. Offers of help, particularly of psychiatric help, caused more alarm and more rejection. The NHS gentleman who had arrived with the ambulance then indicated to the police that the young lady really needed to be taken in for care. The fact that that was glaringly obvious is of course beside the point. A struggle ensued, which required some of the officers to hold her, and in due course she was transported to St George’s hospital as the designated place of safety.

This whole pantomime had occupied up to five police officers and three NHS staff, and it had taken three to four hours to sort out. It was quite obvious from the very beginning that the young lady needed help. It appeared to me that the police officers managed the situation well, and that they could themselves have taken the young lady in for care well within the 45 minutes during which they expeditiously persuaded her. That would have reduced not only police officer and NHS manpower hours, but the time taken and the risk of the young lady dashing back to the window and leaping out.

From discussions with the officers, I found, first, that this kind of situation is far from unusual, and secondly—this surprised me—that if this incident had occurred in a public place, the police would have been able to act immediately. I fail to see why the fact that it happened in a private place meant that they were unable to do so. I therefore wish to make some small changes to the legislation.

I should like section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to be amended as follows. First, the heading, “Mentally disordered persons found in public places”, should be changed to, “Mentally disordered persons found by the police in the course of their duties”. Secondly, the words

“in a place to which the public have access”,

should be changed to, “in the course of carrying out his duties”. That is a small change, but it demonstrates that at the moment we are prepared to place our trust in the police in a public place, but apparently not in a private place. I think that that small change would be very effective, as the example that I have portrayed demonstrates.

I usually call Paul Goggins to present such Bills with me but, regretfully, he cannot do so, so I am doing it on my own.

Question put and agreed to.


That Sir Paul Beresford present the Bill.

Sir Paul Beresford accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 October, and to be printed (Bill 98).