‘Civil liberties key to changing Bill’

Opponents of the forthcoming Mental Health Bill must adopt the civil liberties approach that succeeded in defeating parts of the government’s anti-terrorism legislation, a nursing conference heard last week.

Mental Health Alliance chair Paul Farmer said that the alliance intended to target the 49 Labour rebels who voted against the government’s plans to detain suspected terrorists for up to 90 days without charge.

Farmer told the Mental Health Nurses Association annual conference that he expected the bill to be announced “sooner rather than later” but predicted a “fierce” debate once it was tabled in parliament.

“If people feel really strongly about this then this is the time to stand up for mental health,” he added.

MHNA professional officer Brian Rogers said many Labour MPs now had a taste for rebellion and ministers might have to compromise.

Rufus May, a clinical psychologist at the centre for citizenship and community mental health at Bradford University, told the conference: “I’d like to see a civil liberties movement around mental health like we’ve had for other areas of oppression – race, gender, sexuality. That’s the only way things really change.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has said the consultation on the race equality impact assessment on the bill will end on 25 November.

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