Jane Harris, Tom Madders and campaigner outside No 10  

Today, an important Bill to limit the use of physical restraint was voted on by MPs to see if it should go on to the next stage, which is a necessary step for it to become law. It was successful! So the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill will now go forward to ‘Committee Stage’. The Bill is also known as Seni’s Law, after Seni Lewis who tragically died after being restrained.

Today’s vote a great step forward. The National Autistic Society has supported this Bill and asked you to contact your MP to ask them to attend today’s debate. Over 1,700 of you took part, which meant that lots of MPs turned up to vote for the Bill to proceed. Several of them mentioned the impact that restraint can have on autistic people.

We have been working with YoungMinds to get support for the Bill as part of our joint Always campaign to improve the rights of children and young people with mental health problems.

Every MP who attended the debate today voted for the Bill, and the Government said that it would support it.

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs and Social Change at the National Autistic Society, said:

“Today’s news, that the vote for Seni’s Law has passed second reading, is a big step forward for the safety of autistic children and adults in mental health inpatient units. Thank you to everyone that got behind this by emailing your MPs.

 “While this is definitely something to celebrate, it is certainly not the end. We will continue to campaign for the Bill to become law and to make sure that all autistic people feel safe if they ever need mental health care and are not traumatised by unnecessary restraint techniques.”

What does the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill say?

The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill would increase transparency and accountability about the use of restrictive interventions, like physical restraint, in mental health services in England. The National Autistic Society thinks this is important because figures from NHS Digital show that people on the autism spectrum or with a learning disability, are at increased risk of being unnecessarily and frequently restrained or secluded in mental health settings. This Bill would apply to services for both adults and children.

Our recent Transforming Care: our stories highlighted concerns about the excessive use of restraint and medication. You can read more about that.

The key aspects of the Bill are:

  • Transparency. Every use of force in a mental health unit will have to be recorded, with a breakdown by age, gender, ethnicity, period of time force was used, and type of restraint used. This will help monitor how often restraint is used.
  • Evidence. Police called into mental health units will be required to have body-worn video cameras. This helps to protect the police from false allegations, as well as providing evidence if things go wrong. Research suggests that the use of force can be reduced by almost half if body cameras are worn. 
  • Accountability. Every institution must have a named individual responsible for having in place a policy on use of force and a plan to reduce the use of restraint.  This will also apply to the police. 
  • Justice. Any death resulting from the use of force will trigger an independent investigation with free legal support for the victim’s family.  A more open approach will allow the system to learn.


What are the next steps?

This Bill is different from most bills. It is a Private Member’s Bill, which means it has been introduced by an individual MP (Steve Reed) rather than the Government. These Bills do not often become law, although some, like the Autism Act, do. Importantly, in today’s debate, the Minister said that the Government would support the Bill. This makes it much more likely to become law and the Minister, Jackie Doyle Price MP said that is what she wants to happen.

Today’s debate was the ‘Second Reading’. That means that MPs debate the Bill before deciding if it should go forward for more scrutiny by a smaller group of MPs, which is known as Committee Stage. Then sometimes MPs try to make amendments to a Bill. Eventually, it is voted on again by the whole House of Commons before going to the House of Lords. You can find out more about the steps this Bill will take.

So, there are a lot of hurdles that this Bill still has to go through. But it is important that today all MPs voted in support of it.

We will continue to campaign for this Bill to become the law. You can keep up to date on all our campaigns by signing up to receive emails.