HC Deb 05 May 1959 vol 605 cc289-92
Mr. K. Robinson

I beg to move in page 29, to leave out lines 12 to 14.

This Amendment goes with the next Amendment in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends, in page 29, line 15, leave out "three" and insert "two".

There was considerable discussion during the Committee stage about the frequency with which compulsory patients could have access to the mental health review tribunals. Two Amendments which I moved were taken together, and I think that that unfortunately led to some confusion. The effects of the Amendments were, first, to eliminate the limit of twenty-eight days after a period of detention had been renewed during which an application to a tribunal had to be made; and, secondly, to give a patient an annual right of access to the tribunal.

During the discussion in Committee the Minister put forward some objections to having an annual right of review, but he said: So I will content myself, if that is the right expression, with accepting the principle of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, if he will leave it to me to get it into order on the Report stage of the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 12th March, 1959; c. 453.) With some surprise and some pleasure, I withdrew my Amendments. To do him justice, the Minister very soon saw that there had been a misunderstanding and he wrote me a letter saying that what he had intended to do was to accept the first of my Amendments, which eliminated the twenty-eight days' proviso, but that he could not accept the second Amendment which gave an annual right of access to the mental health review tribunal. I quite understand that his remarks were made in good faith, as was my acceptance of them, but this is one of those misunderstandings which occur from time to time. 7.0 p.m.

I am glad to see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has tabled an Amendment which eliminates the period of twenty-eight days. By these two Amendments we are seeking to go not quite so far as I wished to go during the Committee stage. Although I do not altogether accept the arguments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I do not think that any of us wish to run the risk of overloading these tribunals. They are to be an extremely important safeguard for the compulsory patient in future, and must be in a position to do their job properly, with plenty of time for full consideration of the cases. I doubt whether even an annual right of access would so overload them, but we have tried to go half-way to meet the Minister in these Amendments.

The frequency of the right of access to the tribunal depends on the periods for which detention is renewable. The first period is for twelve months, and then for two years and after that for periods of three years at a time. The patient can have access to the tribunal once in each of these periods.

In effect these Amendments eliminate the three-year period and make the detention periods renewable after one year and then after two years and so on for periods of two years at a time. The effect is that no compulsory patient detained under the provisions of this Bill would have access to a mental health tribunal less frequently than once in two years. I am sure that this modification of our previous Amendment will not overload the tribunals. I do not think that any administrative difficulty will result from having two-yearly instead of three-yearly renewal for the residue of chronic patients, and in those circumstances I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendments.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to second the Amendment.

This point was argued at considerable length in Committee. I hope that the Minister will feel able to concede what is after all a relatively modest request, which represents a compromise between his position during the Committee stage and that adopted by hon. Members on this side of the House.

Mr. Walker-Smith

As the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) has said, I was unable to accept the suggestion made during the Committee stage discussions that we should have an annual period, for the reasons which I gave on that occasion. But this represents a compromise, and I think a valuable compromise, which will improve our procedures and be a reinforcement of the safeguards for the liberty of the subject. Therefore, I have much pleasure in recommending the House to adopt the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 29, line 15, leave out "three" and insert "two".—[Dr. Summerskill.]

Mr. Walker-Smith

I beg to move, in page 29, line 44, to leave out from "period" to the end of line 46 and to insert: for which the authority for his detention of guardianship is renewed by virtue of the report This Clause provides for the renewal of authority for detention or guardianship at stated intervals with a right of application to the mental health review tribunal by the patient at each renewal. As the Clause stands, the patient has to apply within twenty-eight days from the date at which the authority would have expired had it not been renewed. By this Amendment we dispense with the twenty-eight day limit and a patient will be able to apply to the tribunal at any time within the period for which the authority for his detention or guardianship is renewed. It implements the undertaking which I gave during the Committee stage discussions when we debated an Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson).

Mr. K. Robinson

This Amendment and the two Amendments just accepted by the Minister mark a considerable extension of the safeguards for the liberty of the subject. As he says, this Amendment is in line with the undertaking given in Committee, and we are grateful to the Minister.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

It will be open to a patient to appeal at any time during the second, third or fourth period and so on, but there is still a limit on the first period. We have dealt with the part of the Bill relating to that, but I am not certain that the two things will tally with one another. I do not expect my right hon. and learned Friend to give an answer now, but perhaps he will consider the matter and decide whether it will be necessary to make an Amendment at a later stage.

Amendment agreed to.