New health minister Jacqui Smith has offered hope to mental health groups concerned by the tenor of proposed law reforms by ruling out the use of preventive detention and promising to make sure compulsory powers are used with 'an emphasis on therapeutic intent'.

In her first major speech - to the Royal College of Psychiatrists - since becoming health minister with responsibility for mental health, she made conciliatory noises to members who had expressed 'grave concerns' about the white paper's emphasis on social control.

'I want to stress in the strongest terms that I do not want new legislation to be used to fill wards with people we all know do not need to be there, ' she said.

But Ms Smith dashed hopes that the non-appearance of mental health in the Queen's speech might mean a U-turn on any of the white paper's most controversial elements.

In an exclusive interview with HSJ, she said the extra time would be used to 'consolidate' rather than re-think proposals, and could 'provide an opportunity to continue to work to make sure the legislation will fulfil the priorities that we laid down'.

'I hope we can address some of the concerns that have been raised, but we are determined to deliver the policy objectives, ' she insisted.

She cited further work planned 'to define the small number of patients who are going to be treated under compulsory measures and the best way to treat them' as evidence that the government is listening to concerns from mental health charities' experts.

But she quashed speculation the government might sift out proposals for dangerous people with severe personality disorders from mainstream legislation on mental health.

Immediately after Ms Smith's appointment a month ago, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Professor John Cox wrote to her, expressing 'grave concerns' about an impression the white paper on reform of the mental health act gives of a 'radical shift towards social control and risk management and away from therapeutic concerns'.

Speaking ahead of the conference debate, Professor Cox said: 'To the best of our knowledge, the exclusion of the Mental Health Bill from the Queen's speech was not an accident.'

He said he hoped it was 'a good example of the government listening.'