Opposition politicians and campaigners say there will be no mental health bill during this parliamentary session and the bill may be dropped in favour of reform of the 1983 act.
Their claims follow a parliamentary answer last week in which minister Rosie Winterton declined to confirm that the legislation would be introduced this session, which ends this November.
Promises of further consultation with ethnic minority groups before the bill’s publication are also yet to be met.
Responding to a question from shadow health and children’s minister Tim Loughton about whether a bill would be introduced this session, health minister Winterton merely said it would be tabled “when the legislative timetable permits”.
A Department of Health spokesperson said that the government’s position on the draft legislation had not changed and it still hoped to introduce a bill this session.
However, Loughton said he understood that there were difficulties getting the bill agreed by the cabinet because of all the other contentious legislation in the pipeline. He suggested it would be “quietly dropped”.
Loughton also argued that moves to bring the 1983 act up to date rather than table a bill were now “a strong possibility”, a view backed by key figures in the mental health community.
Liberal Democrat peer and chair of the joint committee on the draft Mental Health Bill Lord Carlile recently told a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on mental health that it was unlikely legislation would be introduced during this session.
One of the major problems facing the bill is its ability to pass a race equality impact assessment, following accusations that the department had not consulted fully with ethnic minority service user groups.
Ministers had promised further consultation before the bill’s publication, but Peter Blackman, chief executive of the Afiya Trust, which administers the Black Mental Health Network, said it had “all gone quiet” since early January.
He said that given that the first national census on ethnicity and mental health, published in December, found that the 1983 act was not race neutral, there was little chance a more draconian piece of legislation would be seen as neutral.