Queen’s Speech leaves gaps in law but a chance to strike right balance

The Queen’s Speech was supposed to be a landmark day for people
with learning difficulties and mental health problems.

It was expected that the government would introduce legislation,
outlined in the draft mental incapacity bill published earlier this
year, giving new rights and powers to those likely to be unable to
make decisions in the future because of reduced mental capacity.

Although highly unpopular, there was also a possibility that the
controversial draft mental health bill could have been

As it turned out, neither materialised. A spokesperson for the
Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), which is leading on
the Mental Incapacity Bill, says: “We are involved in five other
bills – there is finite parliamentary time”.

Although this will not consign the Mental Incapacity Bill to the
departmental closet for ever – a spokesperson for the DCA insists
the department is “keen on pushing it through” – its absence has
been met with disappointment and raised fears that it could create
further uncertainty.

The Making Decisions Alliance, a coalition of groups working with
people who have difficulty in making or communicating decisions,
says its omission from the Queen’s Speech leaves a gap in the

Alliance co-chairperson Steve Broach says: “People will be left
vulnerable and unsupported to make decisions over issues such as
the treatment they receive, how they spend their money and where
and how they live. It is frustrating. Millions of people who could
have been granted more control over their lives have been let

Older people’s charity and coalition member Age Concern describes
the absence, after 14 years of campaigning and six years of
consultation, as a “devastating blow for thousands, even millions,
of people”.

Director-general Gordon Lishman says: “They are left without the
prospect of a legal framework, so their views and preferences could
be ignored by people making decisions about their personal lives.”

But Lindsay McCulloch, deputy director of learning difficulties
charity Values into Action, is pleased with the decision not to
push ahead with a bill because of concerns that people’s rights
would not be safeguarded by the draft proposals.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists thinks it would be “sensible”
for any legislation on mental incapacity to precede a mental health

The government’s announcement on the day of the Queen’s Speech to
revisit the draft mental health proposals and bring forward a
revised bill for pre-legislative scrutiny as soon as possible have
been welcomed.

Mental Health Alliance chairperson Paul Farmer says the decision is
an “important sign” that ministers have listened to concerns, and
that it paves the way for a “consensual approach” to legislation.

Matt Muijen, chief executive of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental
Health, says it is a “big step forward” because the draft bill is
already outmoded. “The government’s recent moves to extend choice
into mental health services and to promote social inclusion sit
uneasily with a draft bill that sacrifices human rights for public
safety.” Muijen believes pre-legislative scrutiny will provide a
chance to strike the right the balance.

But Mind chief executive Richard Brook says the needs and concerns
of people with mental health problems need to be properly taken
into account in the scrutiny process and in any new legislation.

Something of a surprise was the government’s decision to commit to
the introduction of a draft disability bill after many years’
campaigning by disability organisations.

Jo Williams, Mencap’s chief executive, welcomes this and is urging
the government not to allow the consultation to “drift aimlessly
into the next election”.

Disability charity Radar says the announcement has made it clear
that the government intends “to fulfil its commitment to building a
comprehensive platform of rights”, including introducing new duties
on public sector employment. CC

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