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Commons Chamber

Volume 550: debated on Friday 14 September 2012

House of Commons

Friday 14 September 2012

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am presenting this Bill today because I was lucky enough to be drawn fourth in the private Members’ ballot. As is often the case in this place, I discovered that not through any official communication but because my inbox was suddenly deluged with e-mails of congratulation and my mobile phone and landline started ringing at the same time. It is good that a reshuffle was not taking place at the time.

It is rare for a Back Bencher to have the opportunity to change the law of the country. I received hundreds of good suggestions—some more realistic than others—and I took my time and thought long and hard before making my choice. I chose mental health for three reasons, the first of which is that it affects so many people. One in four of us will experience a mental health condition in our lifetime, and three in four will see a member of our immediate family experience such a condition. Those numbers have been increasing, and will continue to do so, because although the physical conditions in which we live and work have improved, our lives are busier and more stressful. The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030 more people will be affected by depression than by any other health condition.

Secondly, beyond those headline figures I have seen at first hand how people struggle with mental ill health, and how hard they often find discussing it, even with those to whom they are close. Two of my closest personal friends suffer from mental health conditions, as do two former teachers with whom I have kept in touch. Sadly, both had to retire early, thereby depriving other young people of their excellent tuition. My predecessor as Member of Parliament for Croydon Central, Andrew Pelling, had to take leave of absence from this House in early 2008, although crucially in terms of what we are discussing he was able to return to work and do a good job for his constituents.

Since I became a Member of this House, numerous constituents with mental health conditions have come to me for help—I imagine that all hon. Members currently have constituents who are distressed and struggling with Atos work capability assessments. Two specific cases stick in my mind. The first was a man who came to my surgery because he had lost his job and was at risk of losing his home. He broke down in tears in the middle of the appointment, and openly discussed committing suicide. The second was a resident of a south London YMCA property in my constituency who had witnessed someone committing suicide. He went to his GP for help and was effectively told to get over it. He then suffered a breakdown, lost his job and his marriage, and ended up sleeping on a park bench. Anything we can do—even in a small way—to help people suffering with such conditions must be good.

The third reason I chose mental health was that it has a particularly passionate advocate in the form of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who is sitting in front of me. I hope that he will speak later in the debate so that hon. Members who have not heard him discuss the issue will see that passion for themselves.

My Bill’s purpose is simple: to tackle the last legal form of discrimination in our society. Over the course of my adult life we have made significant progress in tackling racism, sexism and homophobia. Parliament changed the law and sent a clear signal, and, although things are still far from perfect, attitudes have changed. To our shame, however, the law still discriminates against those with a mental health condition. A Member of Parliament or company director can be removed from their job because of mental ill health, even if they go on to make a full recovery, and many people who are perfectly capable of performing jury service are ineligible to do so. As it stands, the law sends out a clear message that if someone has a mental health condition, their contribution to public life is not welcome, and that is an affront to a decent, civilised society.

The Labour party deserves credit for its legislation to tackle other forms of discrimination: the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The Conservative party initially lagged behind on those issues, but it can be proud of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and I hope that the coalition Government will pass legislation to tackle this remaining form of discrimination against those with mental ill health.

The belief that people should be treated as individuals and judged on their merits, and that they should not face stigma and discrimination, is common to all mainstream parties. I believe that, if the Bill gains Royal Assent, we will look back in a few years’ time and be amazed that it took until 2012 to do it.

The Bill is supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. I thank them, my assistant Mario Creatura and the Public Bill Office for all their help. The provisions were originally introduced in the other place by Lord Stevenson of Coddenham in the previous Session. He—not I—deserves the credit for raising the issue.

Lord Stevenson’s Bill had four clear aims, the first of which was to repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, under which a Member of Parliament—including Members of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies—automatically loses their seat if they are detained under the Act for more than six months. There is no equivalent provision for peers, neither is there an equivalent provision if an MP suffers from a physical illness that affects their ability to perform their role. The law, therefore, is clearly discriminatory. It stigmatises those with mental health conditions and gives the false impression that people cannot recover from such conditions.

In the Law Society’s opinion, the law may well breach the UN convention of the rights of persons with disabilities, which the UK ratified in 2009. Article 29 of the convention states that Governments should ensure

“that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected”.

There is also a grave danger that the law will deter Members from admitting to having a mental health condition and from seeking treatment, which would be a tragedy. Ludicrously, the law is harsher than that relating to MPs who are sent to prison, which does not take effect unless an MP is sentenced to more than a year.

Finally, an MP who lacks mental capacity, as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005, can be detained for up to 12 months and not lose their seat. The law is therefore also a nonsense. It has never been used in its current form, but back in 1916, Dr Charles Leach MP was removed from his seat using the provisions of predecessor legislation, the Lunacy (Vacating Seats) Act 1886.

As you will know, Mr Speaker, in January 2010, the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation recommended that the law should be changed. Clearly, there is a debate to be had on what should happen if an MP is unable to perform their role for an extended period. The Speaker’s Conference recommended that the House invite an appropriate Select Committee to undertake an inquiry. In the meantime, my contention is very simple: the current law is both discriminatory and an ass, and we should put that right while we consider the wider issue.

No less an authority than “Parker’s Law and Conduct of Elections” says that, as well as statute, there is common law that

“idiots are disqualified for election to Parliament”,

which may come as news to some of our constituents. Nevertheless, to guard against the unlikely event that the courts would interpret that as a reference to those with mental health conditions, clause 1(2) of the Bill abolishes any such common law.

The second aim of Lord Stevenson’s Bill was to amend school governance regulations, so that people detained under the Mental Health Acts would no longer be disqualified from holding office as school governors. Clearly, someone who is detained is unable to attend governors’ meetings, but that may be for only a short time, and there is no reason that they should not resume their role once they are able to do so.

The third aim was to amend the Juries Act 1974, which applies only to England and Wales, to reduce significantly and better to define who is ineligible for jury service. Currently, as many hon. Members will know, the Act says that mentally disordered persons are ineligible. The definition of a mentally disordered person is extremely wide and includes people who manage their mental health condition through a prescription from their general practitioner or counselling from a psychiatrist. For example, a woman suffering from post-natal depression who is prescribed anti-depressants would—ludicrously—be barred from serving on a jury. Theoretically, that eliminates all sorts of people who would make excellent jurors. In practice, the definition is so wide many people who probably should tick the box do not do so, perhaps including some who genuinely should not be jurors. A person on trial has a right to be confident that the jury is of sound mind. The Bill would better define who should be ineligible broadly in line with the current law in Scotland, thus making it much more likely that such people would identify themselves correctly.

The final aim of the Bill is to amend the Companies (Model Articles) Regulations 2008, so that someone no longer ceases to be a director of a public or private company purely because of their mental health. All companies are required by statute to have articles of association. Model articles operate when a company has failed to draw up its own. Many companies incorporate them into their articles. The model articles include a provision that someone ceases to be a director if a registered medical practitioner who is treating them gives a written opinion to the company stating that they have become physically or mentally incapable of acting as a director and may remain so for more than three months—in other words, the correct test of capacity. However, the articles also include a totally unnecessary, stigmatising provision relating solely to mental health, which my Bill would remove.

The Government have already dealt with one of those aims. The School Governance (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 came into force on 17 March and rightly set the disqualification test for school governors as failure to attend meetings for a period of six months without consent from the governing body. That puts the onus on the local governing body to make decisions on whether someone is capable of continuing their duties. The Government recently confirmed that they would support the other measures in Lord Stevenson’s Bill, subject to some small changes to the provisions relating to jury service, to which I have agreed.

I hope my hon. Friend the Minister does not mind if I pay tribute to her predecessor, who is now the Minister for Immigration, who first raised these issues when the Conservative party was in opposition and who played a key role in securing Government support for the Bill. I thank the Deputy Prime Minister—he cannot be in the House today—who has a long-standing interest in these issues and who has been vocal in his support for the Bill. I also thank civil servants in the Cabinet Office for their help with the detailed drafting and explanatory notes. Finally, before this turns into an Oscar acceptance speech, I thank the official Opposition for their support, and in particular the shadow Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who has already distinguished himself this week in relation to the Hillsborough panel, and whose passion for health issues is self-evident. I thank all hon. Members who have taken time away from their constituency duties to be in the House today to support the measure.

I shall end with three simple contentions. First, the law as it stands sends an appalling message to people with mental health conditions. Charlotte was diagnosed with depression and clinical anxiety in 2003. In 2008, she received a summons to undertake jury service. At the time, she was working as a probation officer and therefore had extensive experience of both magistrates and Crown courts. She declared her condition and explained that she had not seen a psychiatrist for four years and was no longer seeing her GP, and that she was merely picking up repeat prescriptions once every three months. She received a brief message saying she was unsuitable for jury service. She says:

“I felt angry and disappointed...I was very much well enough to cope...and my GP would have been happy to confirm this”.

Angela was told she was ineligible for jury service in 2009 because she sees her doctor three times a year for depression. She says:

“in my early days of mental illness, I would not have been able to sit on a jury. Now I have recovered and gone back to work in research at a university. This blanket ban means that I can’t do my civic duty. It basically implies that I have nothing to offer society because I have a mental health condition, without any regard to how I am actually functioning now. This is totally outrageous”.

I could not agree more.

Secondly, if the Bill is passed, companies, our courts and Parliament will benefit directly from the involvement of more people with experience of mental health conditions. The recent Backbench Business Committee debate on mental health, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who now thankfully sits on the Front Bench, was illuminated in particular by the contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne and the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), both of whom I am glad to see in the Chamber today.

Thirdly, and most importantly, passing the Bill will send a clear message that discrimination is wrong and that people have a right to be judged as individuals, not stigmatised or discriminated against.

If anyone doubts the extent of the problem, I would point them to last September’s excellent Time to Change campaign, run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, which surveyed 2,700 people with mental health conditions. Eighty per cent. said that they had experienced discrimination, two thirds were too scared to tell their employer about their condition, 62% were too scared to tell their friends and, worst of all, more than one third were too scared to seek professional help.

Ensuring that fewer people experience stigma and discrimination is rightly one of the key objectives of the Government’s mental health strategy, “No Health without Mental Health”. As a Conservative, I believe that changing the law does not change society overnight, but it does send a clear signal that this Parliament believes that having a mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of or to keep secret. It is high time that we dragged the law of the land into the 21st century, and I humbly ask hon. Members to support the Bill.

I rise—of course I rise—to speak very much in support of the Bill, which seeks to repeal provisions that are a throwback to a time when mental illness was hidden away and not dealt with. I will confine my remarks mostly to section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, in my role as vice-chair of the Speaker’s Conference, but I support all the provisions in the Bill.

As the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) pointed out, the Speaker’s Conference strongly recommended that section 141 be repealed. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will read the relevant part from the extended summary of the Speaker’s Conference report. It is headed, “Attitudes to mental illness and the disqualification of MPs”, and it reads:

“Society’s response to those who experience mental illness can discourage such people from putting themselves forward as candidates for Parliament. We heard that section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 presents particular problems for this community. Section 141 provides that a Member could lose his or her seat in Parliament if detained under the Mental Health Act for a period of six months or more. The provision has never been used. There are arguments both for and against section 141. It may be said that the reason for this law is not the illness itself but the detention of the Member by law, and the effects this detention may have upon the Member's ability to work for his or her constituents effectively. On the other hand, the law is not consistent or logical in its treatment of various types of illness or disorder. If a Member suffers from serious physical illness—say a stroke—that can leave constituents effectively un-represented in much the same way as if a Member has a serious mental disorder. Yet there is no parallel provision to section 141 for cases of physical illness or impairment. Many people told us that section 141 wrongly suggests that mental illness is in some way fundamentally different in its effects from physical illness. The House, through its medical services, can provide care and assistance for those with mental illness, just as it can for those with physical illness. We believe that section 141 of the 1983 Mental Health Act should be repealed as soon as practicable. There should be a review to examine whether alternative measures should be taken to protect the interests of constituents, and the House, when a Member becomes seriously physically or mentally ill.”

I am truly grateful that section 141 does not apply to people with physical disabilities, because, as you know Mr Speaker, after a recent accident I was away from the Chamber for six months. Had this provision applied to me, I would have been asked to step down as an MP, but thanks to your indulgence, and that of the House and my constituents, I was able to recover and return these past two weeks the House has been sitting. Interestingly, I do not think my constituents necessarily felt that they were being disadvantaged, because obviously an MP has lots of other things to do. Even someone with mental health problems can answer e-mails and direct their staff and casework. So it is rare for someone to be completely out of the loop.

Section 141 singles out mental health as a particular problem, but I believe that it misunderstands the whole nature of mental health. The Speaker’s Conference found that the provision created two main barriers. First, it might deter anyone elected from disclosing and so drive the issue of mental health underground. Secondly, people thinking of becoming or aspiring to be an MP who have a history of mental health problems might not put themselves forward, fearing the consequences if they did.

In the past, Members have not disclosed. That was so until the recent debate when the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) spoke bravely and openly about the issues that have affected them. No one can dispute that they are, and have been, very effective MPs, and their experience has actually made them better MPs, because often they can better understand the issues affecting many of their constituents. It also shows that mental health can be an issue for anyone anywhere, from all walks of life, at any time. It does not necessarily have to be permanent either. Like with any chronic condition, it is how someone adapts and learns to live with the condition that makes them able to participate in society.

Non-disclosure was never a problem for me when I was standing for election—the wheelchair was a bit of a giveaway—so I do not know what it would be like if I had a hidden disability, whether physical or whatever. In the run-up to the 1997 election, would I have said to the electors and political parties, “By the way, I’ve got this hidden health problem”? I do not think so. So I can understand why people with a history of mental health problems might not want people to know about it—after all, it is private, it is their health record.

Nobody asks potential candidates, “By the way, are there any health problems we should know about?” That would be unacceptable in the selection process. I understand, then, why it would be difficult for someone who is new and does not know how it will be taken to tell the world that they have had—they might be perfectly all right now—an episode of depression, post-natal depression or whatever. There is always the nagging suspicion that perhaps their opponents or local press might use it to their detriment.

There were probably people in my constituency in 1997 who did not vote for me—surprisingly enough some people did not vote for me. Actually about 60% of them did not! But some did not vote for me because they thought I could not manage. While out canvassing, one of my campaigners knocked on the door of someone who said, “Oh, I won’t be voting for her, because I don’t see how she’ll manage.” My campaigner said, “Well, if you met her, you’d realise that that’s not the case.” But the man replied, “Oh no” and shut the door. Of course, when I heard about this, I went straight up and knocked on the door, but he did not come to the door. I am fairly sure that he still did not vote for me.

In 1997, some people will have had a niggling doubt at the back of their mind about whether someone with my level of disability could manage. In elections since, many people still have not voted for me, but now it is because they do not like my politics—and that is as it should be. People should base their decisions on the individual’s ability and on the thing that divides us in the House, and that is our approach to certain policies.

The second reason section 141 has acted as a barrier is that anyone who thinks they could be a good MP might be reluctant to come forward. One of the problems was that they could not see anyone in this place who had any kind of mental health issue—no one had shown this “weakness”. However, we know that this is simply not the case, which gives the lie to the idea that MPs do not have mental health problems.

If we look back to history, we remember people saying that a deaf person could not be an MP. “How could they possibly hear the debates and participate in them?” But along came Jack Ashley. Then people said, “Well, somebody who’s blind certainly couldn’t be an MP. How could they read all the papers and see the non-verbal things that happen in the Chamber? How could they manage?” Along came my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). Then people said, “Well we can’t have somebody with cerebral palsy being an MP, because if they had a speech impediment, you wouldn’t be able to understand them when they spoke.” Along came the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). And then, of course, they said that somebody who was mobility impaired would not have the stamina and the strength to get around in a wheelchair, including getting around this Victorian mausoleum, never mind anywhere else. Modesty forbids me from saying who could have come along to dispute that.

On each of those occasions, the House of Commons—indeed, the Houses of Parliament—adjusted. I think Jack Ashley and my right hon. Friend would say that it was a bit of a struggle in the early days. However, in each case the House authorities managed to make the necessary adjustments—as is right and proper—to allow all of us with these various disabilities to participate fully in the work of the House of Commons; and so it should be for people who might have problems with their mental health.

The Speaker’s Conference found that section 141 of the 1983 Act had erected an extra barrier, which was that MPs who were perhaps experiencing stress and falling into a spiral of depression would not seek help immediately. Although the section had never been used, its mere presence on the statute book was enough to make MPs who might have sought help at an early stage—and who might thereby not have deteriorated as far as they did—reluctant to seek that help. Of course, the irony is that if someone does not seek appropriate help at the earliest stage, the problem can deteriorate to the point where it is more likely that that kind of legal provision could be invoked. That was a particular problem we looked at.

Parliament has to set an example. We have to reflect life outside this place if we are going to be able to legislate for that life. We need people with all sorts of experience. The presence of section 141 is a barrier to those who may have had mental health problems in the past or who may still be grappling with them, when those individuals should be welcomed into this place with open arms, because their experience is valuable. This House must reflect all of society. If it does not, we are a lot less effective and we will therefore not make good legislation.

Thank you very much for calling me, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who gave a simply fantastic speech.

I have spoken frequently about mental health over the last six years, often supported by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). It will not come as a surprise to you, Mr Speaker, to learn that I have very little left to say on the subject. I would say, however, that I am simply delighted at what is happening today. We serve in a simply fantastic Parliament. We have fabulous colleagues here and they are doing great things in the area of mental health. Today’s Bill will provide so much hope and reassurance to many millions of people out there. They may not be watching the Chamber—I imagine only 3 million or 4 million are watching this morning’s debate—but over time we will change the view that people have of mental health problems.

On the other side of the Chamber, I see the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who, with me, in June admitted to his own mental health problems. I do not think he was prepared—I certainly was not—for the tsunami of interest that that created. The media were calling us almost hourly, asking for interviews and asking us to comment on what we had said. What was totally overwhelming was sitting in a studio waiting to be interviewed and having the people doing the make-up say, “My husband”—or, “My son,” or, “My father,”—“suffers from mental health problems. Thank you.” Then we would go through to the next level and meet the producer, who would quietly say, “I’ve suffered from mental health problems for a number of years. Thank you for giving me a voice.” Then there would be the woman or the gentleman doing the interview, who would say, “My child has mental health problems. Thank you for giving him”—or her—“a voice.”

For years we felt that the media were not on our page. I think, in fact, the media were on our page, but did not know what to do because, mistakenly, they felt that the public were frightened about people with mental health problems. The media played up to that fear in the headlines, everybody nervously laughing along to the ridicule that was directed towards people suffering with an illness. I think the press now realise that many of their readers and viewers were made deeply uncomfortable by that approach, and that for the last 20 years they got it wrong. What we are seeing is a sea change in the reporting of mental health problems. There is still some distance to go, but things are improving, and they are improving quickly.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) is doing today and what he is going to do over the next few months will probably be his most important achievement in political life. He will find it difficult to make more of a difference than he is going to make over the course of this year and the beginning of next. I am sure he will go on to hold great office—no doubt he will be a Secretary of State and perhaps go beyond—but what he is now doing is so important that it is unlikely that he will ever be able to top it.

I would also like to thank my colleagues in the Chamber today, because they are at the forefront of changing views and changing minds. They are to be celebrated, both in this House and in their constituencies. The two hon. Friends on either side of me today—my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Bracknell (Dr Lee)—spoke movingly and openly about their experiences, and when they did so, they had been in this House for little more than two years. I would not have had the bravery to do that after two years in this House, so I say this to them. I salute you for your honesty and integrity. No doubt your constituents recognise what you did that day in June.

I am going on a little and I did not want to go on too much, so I shall bring my few words to an end. I would like first, however, to pay tribute to Lord Stevenson of Coddenham. I have known him for about two and a half years now, and his energy, enthusiasm and dynamism are incredible. Indeed, I think I do my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central no disservice by saying that if it were not for Lord Stevenson’s enthusiasm for this Bill and his sheer determination, I doubt we would be here today. I would also like to thank—without naming them—the many civil servants who have promoted the Bill in their Departments. They, too, are to be lauded for their contribution.

That is really all I have to say. There are other discriminations out there that people with mental health problems continue to face—for example, a lack of advocacy when they are in crisis. That needs to be addressed. How we look after people in detention and the rights we give people in detention also need to be looked at. Then there are Criminal Records Bureau disclosures, where, under the question: “Is there any other relevant information?”, chief constables will too often write, “We are aware that this individual was detained under the Mental Health Act, but we don’t know whether they are a danger to children or adults. We don’t believe that they are.” All too often that is damning to the individual, so we need to look at that, too.

In the main, however, today is a day of celebration. It is a great day, and I am just so pleased to serve in such a wonderful national Parliament. We are rightly proud—and have the right to be proud—of what we are doing today. It is fabulous to be here. It is possibly the greatest day of my life. My wife and my three children may take exception to that, but it is certainly one of the greatest days of my life. Finally, I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central. You are doing a fabulous thing. Thank you so much for taking this Bill forward.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). I shall start by declaring two interests. First, I am the president of the Chester-le-Street branch of Mind in my constituency. Secondly, I have suffered in the past from depression and still occasionally have what I call my “black dog” days, although I now know how to deal with them, thanks to the help that I have received over the years.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on introducing the Bill. I also congratulate—as did the hon. Member for Broxbourne—Lord Stevenson of Coddenham on his tireless work in this area. I look forward to the hon. Member for Croydon Central joining an exclusive club, of which I am a member, when the Bill becomes an Act. It is difficult for a Back-Bench Member to get a Bill enacted into law, and they need to do a great deal of work, not only on the Bill’s preparation but on ensuring that they are on top of all the issues. Back Benchers do not have an army of civil servants to help them. When I introduced my Bill, which became the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004, I would certainly have struggled without the help of my dedicated researcher.

Like the hon. Member for Broxbourne, I have had a very positive experience since I spoke on 14 June about my mental illness. I have received thousands of e-mails, letters and other communications from people I know and from complete strangers from all walks of life. I have found it quite a humbling experience. Actually, I suspected all along that I might get such a response.

In the lead-up to today’s debate, I have also received a lot of supportive letters and e-mails. I have also been urging other people to support this worthwhile Bill. Earlier in the week, however, I received a communication from—I shall try to use my language carefully—an ill-informed individual who asked, “Why does this matter? Aren’t you just trying to make an exception for MPs? Why should they be different?” As the hon. Member for Croydon Central and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) have already pointed out, this is not just about Members of Parliament. This is about trying to lift the stigma that, unfortunately, even in 2012, still attaches to mental health, and about helping people to come forward to get the support that they need.

When I was thinking about what I was going to say today, I decided to look back at the history of the legislation on this issue. The thing that saddened me is that it has not changed a great deal in 126 years. The use of language might be different but what the legislation actually does has not changed since 1886. Earlier, in July 1849, the then Member for Thirsk, John Bell, was considered, in the language of the day, to be a lunatic. The House of Commons set up a body entitled the Commission of Lunacy, which concluded that he was, in its word, a “lunatic”. He was telling his constituents and friends that he was a bird, and that he could fly faster than a bird because he oiled his wings. The commission found him to be a lunatic, but could do nothing about it. Sadly, he died in 1851.

The Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 has already been mentioned. The very good House of Commons Library found me a copy of it, so that I could see how the law differed from the present legislation. Apart from the use of language, nothing very much has changed. If someone becomes aware of a Member of Parliament being of unsound mind, they are still required to report it to the Speaker. That is a legal obligation under the 1886 Act, whose provisions require magistrates or other persons in whose care the Member might be placed, including those in charge of lunatic asylums or other areas where a lunatic might reside, to certify the committal or detention of the Member to the Speaker.

There is some great language in the 1886 Act. In those days, the Speaker had to submit a certificate

“if the place of such reception, committal, or detention is in England, to the Commissioners in Lunacy in England; if such place is in Scotland, to the Board of Commissioners in Lunacy in Scotland; and if such place is in Ireland, to the Inspectors of Lunatic Asylums in Ireland.”

A report had to be drawn up on the condition of the Member of Parliament in question. If necessary, after six months another report had to be drawn up. If the individual was found, in the language of the day, still to be a lunatic, the Speaker would then make the seat vacant and issue a warrant for a by-election. There was no right of appeal.

I then looked at the Mental Health Act 1959, hoping that attitudes might have become a bit more progressive and that things might have changed. The basis of process was exactly the same, however. The only things that had changed were the language and the people who needed to commission the report. In the 1959 Act, the Member was to be visited and examined

“where the member is to be visited in England and Wales or in Northern Ireland, by the President of the Royal College of Physicians of London”—


“in Scotland, by the President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, acting jointly”.

So nothing had changed apart from the people who needed to draw up the reports. There was still no right of appeal against their decisions, and the Member could still be disqualified if they were found still to be of unsound mind after six months.

I felt sure that the situation would have radically changed by 1983, but the Mental Health Act of that year retains the basis of the 1886 legislation. The procedure still involves the need to report Members who are considered to be of unsound mind, as well as the production of a report, and a further report after six months. The only change is that, under section 141(3):

“The registered medical practitioners…shall be appointed by the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and shall be practitioners appearing to the President to have special experience in the diagnosis or treatment of mental disorders.”

We therefore still have on the statute book a law that dates back to 1886. The only change since that time relates to the people who draw up the reports for the Speaker on whether they consider the Member to be suffering from a mental disorder. There is still no right of appeal, although there would be in most tribunals. It is therefore important that this Bill should be passed through Parliament, and I welcome the support for it from the Government and those on the Opposition Front Bench.

The 1983 Act has never been used in relation to a Member of Parliament, but section 141 is still on the statute book. Other countries around the world, including former eastern bloc countries, use mental health to silence opposition. Sadly, in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, that is still happening today. We have a piece of legislation on our statute book that could be used for that purpose and, if we are to set an example to the rest of the world, it is right that we should pass this Bill.

John Bell died before any legislation was introduced, and he therefore could not be disqualified. The 1886 Act has been used for this purpose only once. Charles Leach was elected to represent Colne Valley in West Yorkshire in 1910, and disqualified in 1916. Interestingly, in the 1910 election, he defeated Victor Grayson. Anyone who knows the history of that period will know that Victor Grayson disappeared, and some might argue that he was another individual who suffered from some type of mental illness.

From what I have read about this former Member for Colne Valley, he was a quite independent minded and progressive individual. He started as a member of the Independent Labour party, but his mental health deteriorated—obviously during a period in which the Liberals were in office—in 1910, and he then stood for Colne Valley. He was also a Methodist preacher and he was appointed as a chaplain to the armed forces. During the first world war, he had to visit in London hospitals those who had been injured on the western front. His mental health clearly deteriorated over time. He was not, of course, sectioned in those days, but he was a committed to what was the aptly named Northumberland house, which was a private lunatic asylum in north London, under the powers of the 1886 Act. Sadly, he died in 1919, aged 72. Some people say that if the legislation has been used only once, what is its purpose?

Speaking as the Member now representing Colne Valley, I want to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell). I also want to praise the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), too, for giving way and for the way in which both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) have spoken so honestly about their own mental health issues. Today is the first day I have ever attended debates on private Members’ Bills; I have been inspired to do so on this important issue. Someone very close to me is tackling mental health issues, so it is an emotional day for me as well. Because the hon. Member for North Durham mentioned Colne Valley, I thought I would stand up to praise him and others who have talked so passionately and emotionally about this important issue.

I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I would like to give a plug for my right hon. Friend Lord Clark of Windermere, who is another former Member for Colne Valley. If anyone wants to read a good book on Victor Grayson, I would recommend Lord Clark’s book—a very interesting read.

As to the need for changing the legislation if it has been used only once, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South said, it is necessary because it stigmatises people suffering with their mental health. There is no such provision for people with physical disabilities. It is possible for an MP to have a stroke or to be in a coma, yet there is no mechanism for removing such an MP from this House. Some Members may recall the vote of confidence in 1979. If the stories that go around are to be believed, some individuals who voted in it were brought into Palace Yard when they were allegedly not compos mentis—and died shortly afterwards. Their alleged condition was no hindrance to them voting.

Is this important for MPs? Yes, it is. Over the last few months, I have received e-mails from young people. One moving one was from a Cambridge graduate who was going through a difficult depression. She said that she had always wanted to enter politics and be a local councillor—I have to say that I questioned her mental health because she was a Conservative—and that what the hon. Member for Broxbourne and I had said had given her some hope that people could still enter public life without any stigma over their mental health. What we are doing under current legislation is writing off an entire group of people who can make perfectly valid contributions to society in whatever role they play.

Another e-mail I received was from a lawyer. She said that she had suffered from depression in the past and was still on medication, yet she practised every week in courts in Leeds. As she said, under the present legislation, she can practise law, but she cannot be a juror. That makes complete nonsense of the law. As we see from examples like this, it is important to raise the wider issue of how we de-stigmatise mental health.

This is the second occasion in only a matter of months on which we have debated mental health in this Chamber. That is important because, as others have said, we are seen to be in touch with what is going on in the wider community. Since I spoke on 14 June—this applies to the hon. Member for Broxbourne, too—I have been surprised by the number of people I meet who say, on the quiet, that they or people close to them have suffered from mental illness. I said it on 14 June and I will say it again—there are no barriers to mental health issues; mental illness can affect anyone.

Following the debate on 14 June, three individuals—I will not mention them by name—contacted me, and reinforced the point about there being no barriers. The first was a senior chief executive of a large council in the north, who I have known for many years. She is a very strong individual, probably the last person anyone would think had suffered from mental illness. Perhaps the most remarkable was a retired general with whom I worked when I was the Minister for veterans in the Ministry of Defence. Again, he is the last person anyone would think had suffered from depression, but he had and, as he said, he still does in his retirement. Most of his peers would have been quite surprised if they knew this. The third individual is a very good friend of mine who is a senior executive in a well-known plc at board level. No one passing him on the street, watching him speak on television or reflecting on his competent manner in running his large international business would think that he had suffered from severe depression. Those examples show that there are no barriers to mental health problems; they can affect everyone.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central paid tribute to Rethink Mental Illness and the Time for Change campaign, which is making a real difference. The Royal College of Psychiatrists should also be mentioned as well as Mind, which has done much in recent work to raise awareness. The clear message that needs to go out is that this is something we need to talk about. It is no good thinking that these issues affect only a small percentage of the population; it affects many.

I welcome the well-known individuals who have spoken out about their own mental health. Alastair Campbell has been instrumental in the Time for Change campaign, along with Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry. It is important that they have spoken out; they are successful people, perhaps even role models, when it comes to talking about this issue. I congratulate Channel 4 on its season a few weeks ago, when an entire week featured programmes about mental health and people who suffered from mental illness. It showed again the variety of individuals who can suffer from it.

Another clear message I want to send out today is that mental illness is no barrier to making a productive contribution to life—whether it be in public life, family life or in the local community. The more we talk about the issue, the better. It will take time to erase the stigma that is still there around mental illness, but I think we are making great strides and that this Bill is an important step forward.

In closing, I say again that we should talk about this issue more—in this place and elsewhere. I am not going to say to individuals in this Chamber, or anywhere else, who have suffered from mental illness that they should speak about it if they do not feel comfortable doing so, as it is an entirely personal decision. I am not pointing fingers and saying that people should do this. I leave affected individuals out there today with this thought—one with which I know the hon. Member for Broxbourne agrees. Since I spoke out—it was not an easy thing to do; but, in hindsight, the right thing to do—I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received not just from colleagues throughout the House but from people elsewhere. To any people sitting at home watching today’s debate who are suffering from the loneliness, agonies and dark places to which depression takes them, I say that they are likely to be surprised at the response they would get—from colleagues, families and friends—if they opened up about their problems. I understand that this is difficult to do when people are in the depths of depression, which is a very private thing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South said, people often feel ashamed, but they should not be afraid and they should talk about it. If they opened up, I think they would be very surprised at the support they receive from a lot of people.

Today’s debate sends a very powerful message, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on choosing to present such an important Bill. It sends a message about recovery: that if a person has experienced a mental health problem in the past, that does not make the person unpredictable or dangerous, and that there should be no barrier to his or her full participation in public life or, indeed, any part of life. However, I think we also need to issue a call to arms. If we are to make people more confident about coming forward and seeking help at an early stage—confident that they will not be discriminated against later in life—we must ensure that primary care in particular is ready for them: that people who present their doctors with a mental health problem are taken seriously, and are given the support and help they need.

This has been a big week for mental health in Parliament. We have seen the launch of the Government’s strategy on suicide prevention as part of their overall mental health strategy, and we should pay tribute to that very effective strategy, which, again, sends a positive message. We should remind GPs, when thinking about suicide and depression, to ask their patients, “Are you depressed?”, to take the issue seriously and ask patients specifically whether they have had any suicidal thoughts, and then to deliver an effective treatment for them.

To anyone following this debate, I would say the same as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones): “You will find that people will feel positive about you and will encourage you, so do have the confidence to seek help and tell your friends; and when you have recovered, make sure that you tell other people that you have recovered, and support them so that they too can seek help.”

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), both of whom, in their own way, spoke movingly—and, in the case of my hon. Friend, from personal experience—about the issue of mental health.

Let me begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on using his success in the ballot so wisely. I consider this to be the correct use of a private Member’s Bill: the Bill is deregulatory, in that it removes rather than adds to the burden of regulation; as we have seen this morning, it has attracted wide cross-party support; and, significantly, it does not add to public expenditure.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, I have no medical experience, but I have been involved in mental health issues from a legal perspective. Although I had not claimed to have special expertise in mental health law, many of my clients presented me with issues that had a mental health aspect, such as dementia or bipolar disorder. It can happen in the twinkling of an eye. I have known clients, and people representing those clients, who at one moment had no idea they would be afflicted with a mental health problem, and a few moments later, as a result of an accident, were very seriously afflicted. The condition can manifest itself in many ways.

The Bill is sensible on two levels. First, it removes discrimination from specific areas of law: section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which applies to Members of Parliament, and the legislation and regulations applying to jurors and company directors. It is simply not appropriate, in the 21st century, for any part of our body of law to employ the terms “idiot” and “lunatic”.

Let me endorse what the hon. Gentleman and others have said about the enormous value of the Bill, and join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on introducing it.

Does the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) agree that the barring of those various categories is particularly invidious because they are all positions of considerable public responsibility? It sends the signal that there are second-class citizens when it comes to the ability to act responsibly. We are taking a huge step forward today in sending the signal that there should no longer be any second-class citizens, and that anyone can be supported through and recover from a mental illness and exercise full responsibility as a citizen.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is why I said that the Bill was sensible on two levels. The removal of the specific discrimination that prevents people from playing their part in public life sends a wider message about the way in which our Parliament wants society as a whole to regard people who are struggling with mental health problems.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill will also help people to come forward and ask for help? I talk to a great many former members of the armed forces who did not experience a mental health problem caused by something that had happened to them during their service careers until much later, after they had left the service. They have a tremendous sense of duty and they have much to offer, but the current legislation erects a barrier that prevents them from seeking help.

I do agree with my hon. Friend. I think that if we send the message that there may be people who are struggling on their own, lonely and in need of help but perhaps frightened of seeking that help, we will be doing a great service.

People have spoken about the fear and stigma that go with mental health conditions. The reason I think the Bill is so important, and the reason I stayed at Westminster today to support it, is that if people feel that their employment and their future may be for ever tainted by the fact that they have had such a condition, not only is that a disincentive to their seeking treatment, but it may remove their hope of recovery and affect their rehabilitation. Giving people the hope of full recovery and full participation in society is a very important part of dealing with mental illness.

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The point is well made. The current law states, for instance, that anyone who has ever had mental health problems cannot serve on a jury, and that sends the message that there can be no recovery. I know, and I am sure that every other Member knows, that that is simply not the case. It must be right for mental illness to be dealt with, and regarded, in the same way as other categories of illness. There is absolutely no justification for the continued existence of specific discrimination against people who have, or have had, mental health issues.

The second strand of the Bill is perhaps even more important, because it sends the wider message that we will tackle the stigma which, sadly, is often still attached to mental health. This Bill will give enormous encouragement to those struggling to overcome the stigma of mental health problems.

I particularly want to pay tribute to the work of the Bury Involvement Group in Mental Health in my constituency. It is a fantastic small organisation, whose volunteers provide services to mental health service users, such as support groups for people suffering from anxiety and depression, which can manifest themselves in many different types of mental disorder. It provides social events so that people suffering from mental health problems can take part in social activities in a warm and welcoming environment, and very soon it will be offering weekly drop-in sessions.

This Bill deserves to be given a Second Reading so it can progress into Committee. While I am sure there will be no shortage of volunteers to serve on it, I would be more than willing, if needed, to do so.

I conclude by reading a brief extract from an e-mail I received from a constituent, Dr Andrew Clark, who is a consultant psychiatrist:

“The fact that one can be turned down for jury service, or be removed from one’s job as an MP or company director because of mental health problems, is discriminatory and outdated. Discrimination on the grounds of mental health is archaic, unfair and not acceptable”.

I am pleased to support this Bill.

The issue of mental health has crossed my path many times throughout my life. In fact, I have seen some of the extremes of it. I once worked on all the wards of a very old-fashioned mental hospital, Oakwood hospital in Maidstone. In the north, I taught at Ashworth’s predecessor institution, known as Park Lane. I am probably the only MP who has had the experience of showing somebody into a padded cell and of helping administer electro-convulsive therapy—that is quite a distinction, I guess. I have seen the extremes, therefore, and my conclusion is that mental health covers a very wide spectrum—a whole range of issues.

There are two fallacies to which I strongly object. First, there is the idea that the world is divided into those who have perfect mental health and those who do not—hands-up anybody in the Chamber who has got perfect mental health. It is undoubtedly the case that some people cannot do certain kinds of work because of mental health issues, of course, but it is also the case that many people work despite having mental health issues; they might work through mental health issues with occasional mental health episodes while at work, and some people will be oblivious to the mental health issues they have. It is a fallacy to think there are people who are available for work with perfect mental health, and those who are unavailable for work, who lack perfect mental health.

The second fallacy is that having an acute episode of a mental health issue permanently disqualifies someone from work. That must be resisted entirely. The philosopher Nietzsche said that what does not destroy us makes us stronger, and there is plenty of evidence to support that; some people are strengthened by having had a mental health problem. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) has been able to work very satisfactorily for his constituents and in all sorts of jobs, which serves to show that people can work through chronic mental health problems. I worked with colleagues in the teaching profession who had obsessive compulsive disorder. Lots of people manage to cope with, and overcome, chronic mental health issues and go back to work.

Belief in either of those fallacies leads to the unfair discrimination that the Bill seeks to tackle. Discrimination itself is not a bad thing, however. We frequently need to discriminate; we do so all the time. Older Members will remember the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch about the one-legged man applying for a film role as Tarzan, and we can think of circumstances in which having certain mental health issues would disqualify people from following a profession: it is probably not a good idea for those with a phobia of heights to apply for a job in the Shard, and it might well be inadvisable for those with suicidal tendencies to apply for a post involving firearms. The generalised stigma that prevails throughout wider society is wholly inappropriate, however.

I looked up the Mental Health Act 1983. Its provisions apply not to MPs with mental health problems, but to MPs who are subject to compulsory detention under that Act, such as, perhaps, those with suicidal impulses or those with delusions and hallucinations, and where the prognosis is poor. The question then is what to do. We are torn between discrimination, which we reject, and the need to make sure people have proper and adequate representation. That question requires a solution of some subtlety. As has been said, this is not an issue of mental health; it is an issue of the capacity of an MP, and to make it merely an issue about mental health is pure discrimination.

It is an honour to take part in this debate on a Bill that, at a stroke, will make huge leaps forward in how we approach mental health in respect of people who serve in this House, on a jury or as a company director, and in how we address the role that people with mental health conditions play in our society.

The previous speaker, the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), is absolutely right: there is no binary divide in our society between those who have mental health and those who do not—just as, in fact, there is no binary divide in terms of disability either. It is all a question of degree, and it is important that we, as legislators, send that message out from this place loud and clear both to society in general and in order to express our support for all the organisations in this field. Many of us work with organisations such as Mind, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the many disability organisations that battle every day to get that message across. There is no such thing as normal. We are all unique; we all bring our own qualities to this place, and to whatever walk of life we have chosen. Those qualities, however idiosyncratic they may be, should be celebrated, not hidden.

That is why I am delighted to be here to support this Bill introduced by my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell). I have known him for many years; he is a man of great integrity. I know that he introduces this Bill because he, like all of us here, genuinely believes that now is the time to make progress on these issues.

If someone breaks a leg, they get hospital treatment and support not only from the medical services, but from family and friends—there will be a lot of “get well” cards and sympathy and encouragement. When a mental health episode occurs, however, things are far too often rather different. Other people—including friends, sometimes—often have difficulty dealing with it. That is due to centuries of stigma about mental health conditions.

It is not so long ago that people who had poor eyesight were seen as lesser creatures with a disability. I see that a lot of us today are wearing glasses; that is entirely part of the human condition—it is part of who we are. A simple but important analogy can be drawn between that and the situation with regard to mental health.

My hon. Friend must not allow the wearing of glasses to be the only evidence that someone is very short-sighted. I can assure all Members of the House that, were it not for contact lenses, I would be completely unable to find my way to the Chamber.

I must confess that I am one of a large number of people who are rather squeamish about the concept of contact lenses, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making a good point about invisible conditions, which is another important analogy. We need to understand and have a greater awareness of invisible disabilities such as autism, and you will know of my great interest in that subject, Mr Deputy Speaker.

A significant proportion of all our constituents will have at some time suffered from and reported a mental health condition. In Swindon, the proportion of the GP-registered population with mental health needs in 2010-11 was just over 13%. Some 0.7% of the population were described as having a mental health problem, and 12.4% were suffering from depression. More than one in eight registered patients in the borough of Swindon, which has a population of over 200,000 people, have advised their doctor about a mental health condition. That is not something we can put in a box in a corner and forget about; it is something all around us, visible or invisible, that we need to accept, embrace and understand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central rightly pointed out that one significant anomaly in the law—the position with regard to school governors—has already been amended this year, and I am delighted that the Government were able to bring that discrimination to an end. That brings into ever more stark relief the outdated and archaic nature of the provisions that the Bill seeks to repeal.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, so long as we discriminate against MPs, jurors or company directors, it is much easier for employers to discriminate against someone with a history of mental illness, which flies in the face of the Government’s avowed intention of getting people who are presently being declared fit for work into work when actually the biggest barrier is not their history of mental illness, but the attitude of the employer who refuses to employ them?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that important point. She is entirely right. It is a question not just of removing legislative barriers, but of encouraging a change in culture. Owing to a lack of understanding, frankly, far too many businesses and organisations still display that outdated and unfortunate response to those with mental health conditions.

Good practice needs to be recognised, and I am pleased to report that next week Legal and General is hosting a major conference in the City about mental health and tackling stigma. I believe that the company should be congratulated for doing that, particularly in the City, where there is a sort of macho culture in which people deny any weakness in case their colleagues think the worse of them.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The equation of mental health problems with weakness is something we must destroy utterly. We all know about that culture in the City, and it exists elsewhere. Organisations such as Legal and General and Swindon’s Mindful Employer network, an excellent organisation that brings together companies large and small in my constituency to encourage and share best practice with regard to employees with stress or mental health and other related conditions, can demonstrate the way to go when it comes to dealing with these conditions.

I am greatly enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech. His point about the idea of mental illness being equated with weakness brings to mind a famous radio lecture given by Viscount Slim of Burma, who pointed out that even the most courageous warriors will eventually break down if they are not rested and supported by their commanding officers and, indeed, that courage is a little like a bank account: one can be overdrawn for a certain amount of time, but not indefinitely. Some of the bravest and most courageous people are just as liable to mental breakdown if they are not properly understood and supported as somebody who would never for a moment go into those hazardous situations.

My hon. Friend brings a great hero of mine to our attention: Field Marshal the Viscount Slim, leader of the forgotten army, a man who led an outstandingly courageous operation in the far east. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to bring that huge experience to bear in this debate, which allows me to make an important point. We must be very careful when we use words such as “vulnerable”, because many people I know who have mental health conditions—I am sure other Members of the House know such people—would not like to be described as vulnerable. Often they are very tough people indeed who have gone through the toughest of circumstances.

I make that point because a good-natured and well-intentioned approach that describes people with mental health conditions as vulnerable brings with it a danger that the vulnerability becomes the basis by which, rather than encouraging and enabling such people to engage fully in society and public life, we assume that they need to be looked after in a different way and separated from mainstream society. Such a view is only a short step away from the old thinking about institutionalisation—the thinking of previous generations, which did so much harm and damage to people with mental health conditions. Although it is undeniable that people with disabilities or mental health conditions can find themselves in vulnerable situations, that is very different from making glib assumptions about their vulnerability.

The Bill would be a straightforward and simple piece of legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) said, it would also reduce and repeal legislation—something that I, as a Conservative, am always happy to support. In three particular respects it deals with provisions that are not only discriminatory, but wholly superfluous. The provision relating to Members of Parliament, as has already been noted, is not only dangerous, with the additional vice of potentially driving hon. Members to deny mental health problems, but in the light of the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which allows for a person lacking capacity to be detained without losing their seat, section 141 is utterly redundant. On the principle that redundant legislation is bad law, we as legislators should act swiftly to remove such a provision.

It has been reported today that people with stressful jobs in which the ability to control events is limited—I most definitely include being a Member of Parliament in that category—are at a 23% greater risk of having a heart attack. We really would be idiots in this place if we denied the possibility that the mental health of hon. Members is not invulnerable. In my opinion the 2005 Act caters well for cases in which, sadly, detention for mental health reasons is the only alternative available but, importantly, it does not allow the automatic vacation of a seat because of the fact of a mental health condition. That is the important distinction that we must draw between the mere fact of a condition and the question of capacity. The two things are very different.

As you probably know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have had more than my fair share of experience of dealing with the great British jury, to quote the words of W. S. Gilbert, whether I have been sitting as a Crown court recorder or appearing as counsel in criminal cases. I say with all the experience that I can muster that the court system is perfectly capable of catering for and dealing with people with conditions—sometimes lifelong ones—that can be managed by the administration of medication.

When somebody with diabetes, or another type of physical condition managed by regular medication, comes to the court, the well adopted practice is for sittings and administrative arrangements to be adjusted so that the person’s needs can be accommodated, they can take their medication and can serve as a juror. In other words, no assumption is made that, just because a potential juror has a physical condition or disability, they cannot serve as a juror.

The assumption in the Juries Act 1974 about mental health is wholly wrong. The blanket ban serves not only to reinforce stigma, but devalues the contribution that people with mental health conditions make to society and can make as jurors. In my humble opinion, there is no more important public service for an individual than to serve on a jury in judgment over their fellow citizen. To drive underground necessary disclosure of some mental health conditions that could affect the capacity to serve is, in my view, what is happening now—inevitably, as result of the outdated provisions in the 1974 Act. That is why those provisions must go and why I particularly welcome the Bill.

May I take my hon. Friend back to his earlier comment that on occasions he felt a victim of events in this place? Today, with this excellent speech, as on so many other days, he is driving events and is to congratulated for it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a friend indeed.

I turn to the final provision, which relates to company directors. The proposed removal of the provisions in the schedules to the Companies (Model Articles) Regulations 2008 has the function of removing not only discriminatory provisions but unnecessary ones. Why is that? It is because the model articles themselves already contain provision for the termination of a director’s appointment if a registered GP is of the opinion that that person has become physically or mentally incapable as a director and may be so for more than three months.

The provisions are a complete waste of time. They need to be removed for the sake of simplicity. Frankly, this is another example of removing unnecessary red tape and burdens when it comes to the setting up and creation of a business. From a practical point of view, the removal is effective and necessary. Let me also deal briefly with the existing provisions on orders made by the Court of Protection. Those orders are based on a lack of mental capacity, not the mere fact of a mental health condition.

I have mentioned that difference before, and I will say it again—I will keep saying it until everybody understands. Having a mental health condition does not mean that someone cannot play their full part in our society. That is why I warmly welcome the Bill as a real step forward, on a day of honour for the House.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), whom I have known for nearly 20 years, for securing the Second Reading of the Bill, which I am here to support because it is a useful and well made opportunity to address mental health conditions and try to reduce their stigma.

Mental health has risen up the political and national agenda in the past two or three years. I have taken a keen interest in the issue, especially as far as our armed forces are concerned. My constituency of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is the home of 3 Commando Brigade, which comprises the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and 29 Commando.

The decision to enact the armed forces covenant showed Parliament’s clear view that mental health is incredibly important for our armed forces. As a country, we have moved on significantly from the time of the first world war, when 306 soldiers were executed for desertion as they were considered to be cowards. They were shot for having mental health problems, and I find that unacceptable. Following the Shot at Dawn campaign, which claimed that soldiers were blameless because severe psychological trauma rendered them physically unable to cope with the shocking scenes they had witnessed, the previous Labour Government pardoned all those 306 soldiers in 2006. I thank them for that.

Today, we recognise that our soldiers’ mental health has often been damaged by their combat experiences in defending our country. I am told by the excellent charity Combat Stress that a condition can take up to 15 years to become apparent. On occasion, a condition can arise at the very end, when people have finished their physical working careers; dealing with that in one’s later years must be very traumatic.

Last year I received a moving letter from a young officer constituent of mine who was serving in Helmand province. He stated that his predominant concern was the provision of mental health support to troops who had finished their service. He stressed how important such support was and said they should not be discriminated against if problems emerged in later life.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I should add that serving in the armed forces can be just one of several careers. A condition may still be lying underneath the surface as someone moves from the armed services into another job, and that could have a severe impact on their subsequent career. We need to make sure that the stigma is taken away.

June’s mental health debate attracted a large amount of national media and press attention, especially due to the brave remarks and admissions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). I thank them for doing so. It was a first—the first time that any Members had made such comments.

The Bill repeals section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, a copy of which I have here with me; I have had a flick through it in the past few days. The section deals with the disqualification for mental health reasons of MPs from Parliament and devolved bodies and of people from serving on juries. Hopefully, that will be another step in helping to remove the stigma of people suffering from mental health problems, will create a less judgmental society and will stop mental health discrimination.

Mental health sickness, like most physical ailments, is relative. I shall let Members in on a secret—people can come out of it. It is not a life sentence; it is a veil, a wall and a pain barrier that needs to be worked through, obviously with a lot of help. I hope that by repealing the section, we can help remove the discrimination and make sure that people who have mental health challenges feel they can contribute to both society and decisions.

Since my election I have participated in a number of incredibly well-informed debates on the mental health of our veterans. Many of our gallant colleagues have served in our armed forces and witnessed some very harrowing sights. While I have little idea of the experiences that have affected their personal mental health, I know that their practical knowledge has benefited the way in which Parliament has made decisions and the debates we have had. To write off that knowledge would make us less informed and the poorer in our decision-making process.

This private Member’s Bill should not be the end of our having a better understanding of mental health and how we can deal with patients challenged by these problems. It should be another step in eradicating the stigma and should help us to deliver better mental health care. We need to make sure that all those who are responsible for delivering our public services—such as our policemen and women, accident and emergency nurses, firemen and GPs—are better trained. There must be better co-ordination between all these services on the ground. We need to make sure that mental health funding is not just an add-on, as it can be on occasion.

This summer, in my role as a vice-chairman of the all-party armed forces group, I was asked to help a young man who had seen action in Afghanistan, was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, and was to be forced to remain in barracks until the last day of his service despite a worsening in his mental health condition. I was asked to contact the Ministry of Defence as it appeared that the family was having real difficulty in explaining the young lad’s problem to the ill-informed military chain of command. I was able to do that, and I am delighted and grateful that the MOD reacted accordingly. We need to make sure that when we make decisions and pass legislation, people on the ground are aware of what they should be doing.

Two weeks ago, I visited my local Charles Cross police station, which in 2006 was named as almost the busiest in the United Kingdom, second only to Glasgow. I was told that people with mental health problems regularly have to be put into the cells when they should be referred to Derriford hospital’s Glenborne unit in line with section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. It appears that unfortunately Plymouth does not have the necessary facilities. My local police feel that this is an inappropriate way to deal with these people, that in some cases they make these people’s lives worse rather than better, and that custody officers should be receiving a higher level of training than is currently available. They would very much welcome a qualified mental health nurse being regularly attached to their unit so that correct assessments can be made.

I support the Bill because I want this to be the first step. I want more training for our front-line service providers and a more joined-up approach. It is not rocket science; it is mental health.

I am pleased to support this very important Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) and Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, who have been part of the process that has brought the Bill to the Floor of the House. I want to speak about stigma; about the policy challenges posed by mental health; and about why this Bill is important, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) said.

Mental health is probably the last remaining great area of stigma in public life. It is striking that there were Members of Parliament willing to come out about their sexuality before Members of Parliament were willing to come out about their mental health challenges. That speaks to the level of stigma around mental health. The reasons for that stigma are worth touching on. First, it is partly about the very British notion that one has to keep calm and carry on, keep a stiff upper lip, have a cup of tea and get on with it. There is a sense that someone who has a mental health challenge has somehow failed personally. The stigma is also about sheer ignorance. I remember an appalling front page—I am sorry to mention this paper for the second time this week—that The Sun ran about Frank Bruno when he had his mental health problems: “Bonkers Bruno”. The Sun was shocked that thousands of people responded to that, which was an example of the public being ahead of their media. Of course, there is also fear involved. People are never so ignorant or so cruel as when they are frightened. Those things have fed the sense of stigma about mental health.

It is also important to talk about the policy challenges posed by mental health. For too long, mental health has been the orphan child of the health service. Many Members will know that their local mental health institutions and hospitals are often on the outskirts of their communities and cities, and that reflects how mental health has been seen. It is very important in the 21st century, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) feels passionately, that we offer a new deal on mental health—we welcome the Government’s mental health strategy—and that mental health and physical health are put on the same footing and get the same attention and proportionate funding.

Of course, mental health is about more than legislation. It is about resources, availability and the specific mental health needs of particular groups. We have heard about the mental health needs of the armed services. Yesterday I was at a health summit for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, where I heard about the unmet mental health needs in that community. We are seeing across the country rising levels of self-harm among our young people. The disproportionate numbers of black and minority ethnic people in our mental health hospitals and in our health system has long been a cause for concern.

Let me pause here and say to the House that last night my constituency party secretary, Greta Karpin, died. She was a brilliant and remarkable woman. We all have Greta Karpins in our local parties. Had she been born at another time and in another place, she would no doubt have been an MP or a Cabinet Minister. Greta was fortunate to die with all her faculties completely intact. In fact, she died on her way back from an executive party meeting, plotting about something or other, which I think is probably the way she would have wanted to go. Greta was in her late 70s and died with all her faculties intact, but that will not be true of all of us, or of all our friends and family. How we manage dementia and give help and support to the elderly who suffer from it is a huge policy challenge facing all of us.

We will debate big mental health policy issues in the House in the months and years to come, and I hope that we can find some measure of common ground on both sides of the Chamber. For example, for all the things I found problematic about the Health and Social Care Bill, moving responsibility for public health to local authorities offers the potential of making advances in mental health and tailoring provision to the particular needs of a particular community and groups within it.

Finally, I want to talk about why this Bill is important. As other Members have said—we have heard some excellent speeches from Members on both sides of the House—it is important because of the symbolism of what it says about public attitudes towards mental health. In having this debate, we signify that attitudes have changed, but we are also helping to move those attitudes on. I have spent a lifetime fighting discrimination in all its forms, and I know that despite all the things people say about MPs, Parliament and so on, what happens in this House is often pivotal and a signifier of a decisive change in the public mood.

This is an important Bill and I am glad to support it on behalf of my party and our entire health team. Many people outside the House will be watching this debate and feeling relieved and that things may be changing for them. Mental health is one of the huge policy challenges of the 21st century. We as a House need to do many practical things with regard to policy and organisational issues, but in lifting the veil of stigma, of signalling that public attitudes must change and of turning the corner on attitudes to public health, there will be no more important moments in this House than this Bill being agreed today.

This has been a thought-provoking debate and it is a genuine pleasure to respond to it. Like all other hon. Members who have spoken, I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on his success in the ballot and on then introducing this Bill on a subject that is much deserving of the support that it continues to enjoy in this House. I assure the House, as I think it already knows, that this Bill has the full backing of the Government. I appreciate the words spoken by the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. She was passionate and right to talk about the effect of ignorance, cruelty and fear, and I look forward, as, I think, do all hon. Members, to much common endeavour to overcome those concerns.

I am sure that the entire House will join me in paying tribute to Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, whose Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill in the other place provided the genesis for the Bill under discussion. Without his efforts, we might not be debating this important issue today. Although it is regrettable that the previous parliamentary Session did not allow enough time for Lord Stevenson’s Bill to progress, we are grateful to him and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central for their continued pursuit of the opportunity for legislative change on mental health. I know that, when this Bill reaches the other place, Lord Stevenson will treat it with the same gusto with which he treated his own Bill. I assure all hon. Members present that that work will have the Government’s continued support.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken today with refreshing openness, as was the case in June, about the impact that mental health issues have had on their lives and on those of our constituents. It is right that we have taken this opportunity to debate those important issues further. This morning’s debate continues the tradition of bravery and sympathy that was established in this House on 14 June. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who is now doing excellent work on the Front Bench and who played a role in initiating that debate. It has been humbling to see politics set aside—in June and today—and hon. Members from both sides speaking in support of the measures.

I will take a moment to recap on some of the excellent contributions that have been made. We heard first of all from the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who referred to her own recent experience of being absent from the House. We welcome her back with gusto. She is absolutely right that the tribulation that can result from any health problem contributes better to our ability to endeavour to represent constituents who may experience the same thing. However, she taught us much more—as she often does—with her experience of working in this place and of seeking election with her own disability. She reminds us all of the trust and belief that we solicit from people when we stand for Parliament, and she certainly teaches us about the fire and the feistiness with which we need to do that and canvass and persuade. She teaches us that, in many ways, the battle is still to come, despite the very good step that we are taking this morning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who have been well feted today, spoke admirably again. My hon. Friend spoke of the sea change in attitudes since the June debate and gave a great insight into what can happen in a media studio once the lid has been taken off these difficult issues. He is right to say that our hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central has achieved something big today, for which we all congratulate him and wish him well.

The hon. Member for North Durham repeated the challenging question asked by one of his constituents, who said, “Why should this matter? Why should we talk about this today?” A cynic might ask whether this is just another exception for MPs, but the hon. Gentleman responded admirably to such views. He gave, with dry humour, an historical overview and said, with passion, that we should talk about it today and elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) acknowledged work that the Government are doing and was right to highlight this week’s important announcement on suicide prevention. As always, we welcome her professional expertise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) is, of course, in his place on a Friday. I do not think we will ever experience a Friday without his presence or his panache and tenacity in pursuing not only the state of the public purse, but the appropriateness of any private Member’s Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friends in the Whips Office have noted, as I have, that he has volunteered to sit on the Bill Committee. I do not imagine that that will be agreed to, but, on a serious note, I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to the work. Even if he was only just able to find his way to the Chamber, we welcome his contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (John Pugh), who is very learned, made an erudite, thoughtful and challenging contribution. He posed questions, as I have often heard him do, that should make us all continue to consider what we do in this place and why. He drew on a deep experience of his own in a former professional capacity.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) drew out, with tenacity and drive, some of the distinctions that we make in our everyday lives if we do not consider things carefully. He mentioned physical ill health, which I have experienced, having broken a bone, and rightly said—this has been said many times today—that it is possible to recover from episodes of both physical and mental illness.

We should pay tribute to my hon. Friend for having soldiered on when she sustained that physical injury. By getting on with her job, she made the point that, although she had a reduced capacity, she was able to do it. That is the point. The mere fact that she was injured did not mean that she could not do it. She made the point about capacity by her own example.

My hon. Friend is too kind, but he makes the point well, on behalf of others who have had to deal with far greater difficulties than a mere broken metatarsal, that it is possible to recover and make a vital contribution to civil society as represented by the three strands addressed by the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) mentioned an important historical example given by Viscount Slim. He spoke of courage, weakness and vulnerability and what it means to endeavour to sustain those important qualities. My hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) and for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) followed that line and spoke on behalf of their many constituents who have been part of the armed forces. I reiterate their comments that the Government are absolutely committed to their armed forces covenant and to helping get the right support where it is needed for those members of society.

Will my hon. Friend also pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who produced the initial report on mental health, “Fighting Fit”? That useful piece of work was carried out at the very beginning.

I certainly join my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) in that endeavour. As today is a Friday, many hon. Members will be in their constituencies doing the range of work that comprises the job of a Member of Parliament. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South began by describing that work. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is right that we all contribute, in our very different ways, to the central endeavour of representing people well and looking into the problems that we are asked to represent them on, whether it be here on a Friday away from our constituencies or through such reports and detailed research.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her position. I, too, welcome the report by the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). Will the hon. Lady also recognise the work that I and my predecessors as Minister for veterans did in the last Labour Government to advance the cause of veterans’ mental health?

The hon. Gentleman is correct and I certainly recognise that work. Today is a day for recognising the work of successive Governments in many spheres of policy and human sympathy.

Turning back to today’s debate, tackling stigma and discrimination is at the heart of the Government’s mental health strategy. I join all Members here today, who have said many times that it cannot be right in the 21st century for somebody to be automatically expelled from this place because they have had a mental health illness. That sends out entirely the wrong message: that if one has mental health problems, one’s contribution is not welcome in public life. That has applied not only to the House of Commons, but to juries and directorships. In February last year, the Government announced that section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 would be repealed when a suitable legislative vehicle became available. This Bill is that vehicle, and we are glad to see that issue linked to similar amendments on company directors and jurors.

This issue goes well beyond the business of government and opposition. Shifting public attitudes and behaviour requires a major and substantial social movement. The Government are doing their bit within that. February last year saw the publication of the Government’s strategy on mental health entitled, “No health without mental health”. The strategy recognised that mental health is central to our quality of life and to our economic success, individually and collectively. It is interdependent with the success that any Government might hope for in improving training, education and employment, and in tackling the persistent problems that scar our society, from homelessness through to violence, substance abuse and other forms of crime.

The title of the strategy, “No health without mental health”, captures our ambition to mainstream mental health in this country. That concept has been referred to many times today. The Government expect parity of esteem between physical and mental health services. I know, from the comments of the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, that the Opposition also want that.

I mentioned a few moments ago that Legal and General is doing good work to address stigma. No doubt, as a former Treasury Minister, my hon. Friend will welcome that. Will she ensure that her colleagues in government work with employers to promote the agenda of “No health without mental health” and to celebrate those who take a lead?

My hon. Friend is, once more, absolutely correct. In this arena, as in so many others, it is vital for the Government to work with the private sector, the voluntary sector and anybody in any capacity to achieve our aims. We are talking about broad-scale cultural change. We need the private sector, whether in a macho or non-macho environment, to stand up and say that it cares about mental health and wants people to be well supported. I want that to happen in all walks of life.

I note what the Minister says about mental health being at the heart of Government policy. I know that she is new in her post, but I ask her to have urgent discussions with her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about the tests by Atos that many of our constituents are facing. People who are affected by mental health issues, in particular, are having a very difficult time and there are some grave injustices that need to be put right.

I recognise the subject that the hon. Gentleman raises, which he also mentioned earlier. I do not think that today is the right time for me to go into that matter in detail; the cross-party consensus might be affected if I did. We do need to get that process right, as we need to get right many processes of administration and welfare, in its broadest sense, across government. I am sure that my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health will have heard his plea. As a member of the Government, I certainly want us to get that process right, and I will work with colleagues to achieve that.

To build on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne, we need to work with partners on the mental health strategy. It is not possible for the Government to say, “It shall be so.” We need to ensure that the right outcomes are delivered locally and are driven by good evidence. We must cast the net wide to do that. The challenges are enormous and extremely difficult. That can be seen, on an individual level, when we have conversations on this matter in our constituency surgeries. However, the rewards of getting this right are vast. That is part of the point of today’s debate.

It is often quoted that at least one in four of us will experience mental health problems at some point in our life. What is less often quoted is that about half of people with a lifetime mental health problem experience their first symptoms by the age of 14. That is a startling statistic among the sea of statistics in this debate. By promoting good mental health across society and by intervening early, particularly in the crucial childhood and teenage years, we can help to prevent mental illness from developing and mitigate its effects when it does. Only a sustained approach across the course of life will equip us to meet the enormous social, economic and environmental challenges, and to deliver the benefits to the people who need them, which is why we are here today.

When mental health services work well, they work well with the public sector, the private sector and the voluntary sector, and they help people to overcome disadvantage and to fulfil their potential. Any action on mental health, from a Government or otherwise, is not only a mental health strategy but a social justice strategy. I know that that is what all of us here today stand for.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this matter is the responsibility not just of Government, but of non-governmental organisations? Only this week, the Health Committee saw the disappointing example of how the chair of the Care Quality Commission and that organisation sought to stigmatise a member of their own board with regard to what they alleged to be a past episode of mental illness.

My hon. Friend is right that we need to encourage cultural change across a number of organisations. I hope she will forgive me for not responding to that example, because I was not there to see it, but we need to ensure that such stigmatisation is not possible, is not the done thing and is frowned on whenever it is seen or experienced. We need to stand up and speak up for that view, and whenever we can we need to frown on that stigma from a front row seat. One of the six objectives in the mental health strategy was exactly that—that fewer people will experience stigma and discrimination. As the House will know, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central set out, the strategy has the full backing and endorsement of the whole Government. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has a long record of calling for the reform of mental health policy.

For negative attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health issues to decrease, we need to improve public understanding of those issues and gain more sympathetic treatment of them in our mainstream media. Again, I refer to the excellent work that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne did in June, has done since and will do in future.

I also pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), for the work that he has done. He has spoken passionately and often on these proposals, and he said in an interview with in June 2009:

“Mental ill-health is still very much a taboo subject in Parliament as well as the work place and this must change. Mental ill-health affects as many as one in four of the working age population and it is crucial that Parliament leads the way in promoting a better understanding of mental health.”

That is still pertinent today, notwithstanding the steps that we are taking to ensure that the mental health taboo is well and truly broken. Momentum has been building behind the measures in the Bill for some time, as many hon. Members have shown in their comments today and their actions over time both inside and outside the House.

It is not for me to interfere in matters for the Government and Public Bill Committees, but may I make a plea that when the Bill goes into Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) is the Whip in charge? She has been a stalwart of the all-party mental health group, and we are sad to lose her to the Whips Office. I know that she will go on to do great things there and elsewhere, but we would like to see her again on occasion.

My hon. Friend’s attitude to the Whips Office is well documented and understood in the House. I pay tribute to him for his independence of spirit and his tenacity in pursuing not only mental health issues but a range of others, and for turning his face against the establishment whenever possible. If I may be so cheeky, I endorse his request for that particular member of the Whips Office to be on the Committee. It may be well without my powers to do so—I am sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, or powers greater than any of us, will advise me about that shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) has campaigned tirelessly on the matter and deserves recognition for doing so.

May I also request that when the Bill goes into Committee, we have a Health Minister dealing with it?

I am sad if I have not been able to convince the hon. Gentleman of my passion for the Bill. I can assure him that I am standing here today because this matter cuts across government. For his reassurance, I offer him the full support of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who is responsible for constitutional affairs, my support as the political and constitutional reform Minister and the support of the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health. I hope he is reassured that the Bill will be well supported by the Government in Committee.

To move back to the substance of the Bill, before those interventions my hon. Friend was discussing how it would help to break down the taboos that have traditionally surrounded mental health. Will she take this opportunity to pay tribute to popular television programmes such as “EastEnders” and “Coronation Street” for how they have portrayed mental health issues and brought them to a much wider audience? That has been a starting point for people to be able to discuss them.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and once again, that brings us to the point that to achieve a cultural change, we need to use all the channels available to us to get the message out—I am not just referring to television channels, although he is absolutely right to mention popular shows that have been able to get the message to a much wider audience.

I return to the tireless work that hon. Members throughout the House have done, which has supported organisations representing the interests of people with mental health conditions to end mental health discrimination. As we have discussed at great length, there are Members who have themselves suffered from mental health conditions, and as the hon. Member for Aberdeen South said, they are all the better for it, as representative MPs.

As constituency MPs, the least we can do is to offer to work with mental health organisations, and with constituents, friends or family members who suffer from mental health conditions. We will all, individually and collectively, do that. I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to the work of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and the anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change. I congratulate both those groups, which work out of my constituency of Norwich North. As a constituency MP, I have had the privilege of joining them in the work and activities that they carry out. As a result of today’s debate, I hope that we will all do better in the work that we endeavour humbly to do with organisations and those experiencing difficulty. While doing our bit to support efforts to raise awareness of mental health conditions, it is important to acknowledge and recognise the many times the issue been raised in many places, far and wide, outside this Chamber, long before this Government took office.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central set out in some detail—I do not need to repeat his points—the Bill aims to repeal various pieces of legislation that discriminate against the participation of those with mental health conditions in public life. It goes some way towards removing the stigma associated with mental health conditions, whether that is to say it is okay for someone who has experienced mental health difficulties to be a Member of Parliament, to play a role in civic life by sitting on a jury or to be the director of a company. I am pleased with what has been said about school governors, and I endorse hon. Members’ comments on recent legislation on that issue.

Today’s work is important for all hon. Members here today, the constituents we represent, and all campaigners who have spoken about the issue of mental health with passion, integrity and an often harrowing depth of experience. The House can contribute its bit in various ways, as we have done today. I hope that the Bill will continue to enjoy the cross-party support to which it has become accustomed, and that Members in this House and the other place will provide it with the smooth parliamentary path that it deserves. Let us back the Bill—I believe we are trying to get that trending on Twitter. Let us talk about it, congratulate those who brought it before the House, and do our bit to end stigma and discrimination.

I would like to say a few words to sum up the debate. First, I welcome to the Chamber my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is a good friend. When he arrived, he told me that he had been following proceedings closely, and I asked whether he had also been following them with approval. As he correctly pointed out, if it had been with disapproval, he would have been here talking for two and a half hours.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken, including the hon. Members for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) and for North Durham (Mr Jones), and my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) made an encouragingly brief speech, at least from my point of view. If my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has been following proceedings—I am sure the duty Whip will have noted this—he will be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North cannot find his way into the Chamber without his contact lenses. I thank the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) and my hon. Friends the Members for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) for their contributions. All the speeches were excellent, and I believe that today’s debate has shown the House at its best.

Due to the changes in the rules and proceedings of the House, not only have I listened to the speeches, but I have followed the reaction to our debate on social media. What has happened in the Chamber means a lot to a great many people and I may well get in touch with hon. Members who have spoken to ask whether they would like to serve on the Committee.

I thank the two Front-Bench speakers, and in particular I echo the point raised by the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about dementia. I lost my father to Alzheimer’s disease, and although Governments of both colours have made real strides in recent years, we still need to do a lot more to tackle that issue. My hon. Friend the Minister is new to her brief, but she showed a good grasp of all the issues the debate covers. To reassure the hon. Member for North Durham, it was good to see a Health Minister and a Justice Minister on the Front Bench earlier in the debate.

My only concern is that the Cabinet Office Minister said that the Bill has the full support of the Deputy Prime Minister, and his recent track record of getting legislation through is not very good.

The hon. Gentleman tempts me into the debate on House of Lords reform, on which not necessarily all my colleagues agree with my views, but I will not return to it.

I should like to emphasise a few points from the debate. First, there is a consensus in the House that changing the law in and of itself does not change society overnight, but it does send a clear signal. Such changes have happened in my adult lifetime. When I was a child, an Asian family tried to buy a house in our road—they would have been the first Asian family to do so. Disgustingly, some of the people on our road tried to persuade the family who were considering selling the house not to sell to an Asian family. When that barrier was broken and that first Asian family moved into the road, people found that they were normal, decent people, and the problem went away overnight. Attitudes on race have changed a great deal, although not enough.

I also recall with great shame my teenage attitudes on sexuality—attitudes of which I am not proud. Attitudes in society to sexuality have also changed a great deal, and we need to change attitudes to mental health. When I was growing up, my perception was that mental health problems affected very few people. As I said, two of my close personal friends over the past 20 years have been affected by mental health conditions. I now see how many people are affected by it, because that includes their friends and family. It is not a case of people either having a mental condition or being perfectly healthy; there is a continuum.

Secondly, the hon. Member for North Durham paid tribute to a number of public figures who have been open about their conditions. He mentioned Alastair Campbell, the former Prime Minister’s press secretary, who has spoken out repeatedly—he is very brave to have done so given the high profile role he had. I should like to mention a sporting figure, Marcus Trescothick, who has shown incredible courage. I have read his autobiography, which is an extremely moving account of his experiences. We have debates on mental health in the House, but it also means a great deal when those who have a high profile in other spheres of public life take the decision to talk openly and honestly about their experiences.

Thirdly, as the hon. Gentleman said, people need to tell those close to them about their condition, but the reaction they get might not be what they expect. I have been on a variety of TV and radio shows to talk about and promote the Bill. I will never forget a phone-in on Iain Dale’s show on London’s Biggest Conversation. A number of calls we took were from people suffering from profound depression and other mental health conditions. One caller could not believe that any of the people in his life would want anything more to do with him if he explained to them how he was feeling. My message, as the friend of two people who have mental health conditions, was that friends will want to know and to provide care and support. If they do not want to do so, they are not proper friends. I therefore conclude, as the hon. Gentleman did, by saying that people who are suffering should know that those who care enough will want to know and to provide help and support.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate and those who have listened to our proceedings. I very much hope the House gives the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Prisons (Property) Bill

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am humbled to follow the debate on the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell). It was fantastic to listen to such a great debate. Politics is always at its best when people talk about things that are often difficult and personal. For far too long, mental health has been stigmatised in this country. One of the most terrifying yet exhilarating experiences of my life was coming out to my parents as a gay man. That was quite difficult. That debate was had in politics long ago, and now we are just beginning to get to grips with the issue of mental health. That shows how difficult it is for so many people in the country. I commend all who spoke today so honestly. It was an honour to have been here in the Chamber.

Over the two and a half years since my election, I have had a raft of new experiences in this place. Getting to know and understand how Parliament works presents Members with many challenges. There are so many nuances—for instance, the processes of law making, the Committee structures and procedures, and even the very language we have to use in Parliament. And today is part of another process that I am trying to understand.

Perhaps naively, I never quite realised what I was letting myself in for when I entered my name in the book in the No Lobby for the ballot. I realise, however, that it is a great privilege to have found my name in the top 20, because it has given me the opportunity to present this Bill. I realise, of course, that this is only the second step in a rather long process, and I know that I will have many more things to master along the way. I hope that I will do so without letting the House down. I am grateful for the opportunity. I also wish to put on the record my thanks for the tremendous help and advice I have received from the Clerks of the House and all the civil servants who have given me as much information as I have asked for, whenever I have needed it.

If supported, the Bill would create a new power for prison governors and directors to destroy or otherwise dispose of any unauthorised property found within a prison or escort vehicle. That could include items that it is generally unlawful to possess, such as controlled drugs or an offensive weapon, or items that are illegal to have in prison, such as mobile phones and sound-recording devices. They could also be items that could threaten prison security and safety, such as property altered to conceal drugs for smuggling. Finally, they could be items that are inappropriate for prisoners to have in their possession, such as items smuggled in or coerced from another prisoner.

I want to talk about why the Bill is needed and what the problem is. It will probably stagger the House to discover that there is a need for such a Bill. I am afraid to say that there is. Currently, there is nothing in law giving any power to governors to destroy property that prisoners should not have. As a result, astonishingly, any item seized has to be stored by governors and kept in safe keeping for the duration of the prisoner’s term.

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so early on. How will the Bill work in relation to illegal items, which it would be unlawful for an ordinary member of the public to own? We are not saying, are we, that we give guns back to prisoners at the end of their sentences and then arrest them for possessing a gun? Perhaps my hon. Friend could explain.

No, my hon. Friend is quite right. We would not be giving guns back; they would, of course, be given to the police to deal with. However, there will be anomalies along the way, and I am sure that many hon. Members will help me to ensure that the Bill is as tight as possible on such issues.

As my hon. Friend has made such a generous offer, let me congratulate him on introducing the Bill and ask whether during its progress, perhaps in Committee, he might consider the question of illegal drugs. The last time I looked, which was some time back, prisoners were being found with illegal drugs more than 20,000 times a year. Are those recorded as crimes, or does it depend on whether the drugs are discovered by the Prison Service or the police? What happens afterwards? Presumably drugs will not be given back if they have not been consumed already.

This debate is already demonstrating that there will be a lot to talk about in Committee. Indeed, I hope that my hon. Friend will consider joining me on that Committee. He is absolutely right: items that are illegal would never be returned. They would be sent to the police to deal with.

To return to the point I was making, it is frankly astonishing that items seized by the governor are held in safe keeping simply to enable prisoners to claim them back on their release. That is not only a perverse part of the law; it is frankly wrong. It is also astonishing to discover that the system is having a huge impact on the public purse in what are very difficult times.

The possession of unlawful articles such as drugs and firearms are separate criminal offences that are capable of prosecution. There are provisions in the relevant pieces of legislation—for example, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Firearms Act 1968—that would allow for the forfeiture and destruction of those items. My hon. Friend is rightly seeking to deal with an anomaly. Items such as mobile telephones need to be confiscated because they are becoming a menace.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His background in law and his experience are showing far more than mine, as I have not been in the law. He is right. Indeed, I am sure the House would be amazed to learn that the real problem is mobile phones. Some 41,000 mobile phones alone are currently being held in storage by the Prison Service. They are all waiting to be claimed by people who frankly should not have had them in the first place. All those mobile phones are being stored and administered by staff who are already busy in their day-to-day jobs. Furthermore, there is a genuine concern that the legal position might not enable prisons to deal with unauthorised property, such as that which has been adapted for unauthorised use—for example, radios with the mechanics removed to enable drugs to be smuggled into the prison.

As I said earlier, the current position is considered perverse. It is remarkable that although a prisoner can be prosecuted for smuggling a mobile phone into prison, under the Offender Management Act 2007, or for possessing a mobile phone in prison, under the Crime and Security Act 2010, that item is retained at the taxpayer’s expense and then returned to the prisoner when they leave. What sort of message does that send out, particularly to the victims of crime? That is why there is a genuine need for this Bill.

My hon. Friend’s Bill says that such property can be either destroyed or otherwise disposed of. I just wonder what he has in mind by “otherwise disposed of”. Does he envisage prisons setting up a sideline selling things on eBay, for example?

No, I am most certainly not suggesting that. However, I hope that the Bill will finally allow prison governors to sell such property, and then donate the money to charities such as Victim Support, perhaps. In that way, the proceeds of those criminal activities could go back to the victims who have suffered at the hands of those prisoners.

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on securing this slot. Further to the proposals to sell those items and give the proceeds to charity, he might like to know that certain charities can use old mobile phone handsets, in this country and in developing countries. Might that be an appropriate way of disposing of them?

My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a wise contribution. That suggestion is also of great merit. It would be good that those items could be used in that way, and we will certainly consider his suggestion as the Bill continues through the House.

The situation is not only ludicrous from a legal point of view; it sends out entirely the wrong message. Unauthorised items can prejudice safety and security in prisons, and there have been instances of their being linked to serious crimes. Mobile phones, for example, have been used to organise crimes including murder, drug dealing and witness intimidation, and to access social networking sites.

When I was researching these matters, I was astonished to see the amount of mobile phone communication that had taken place from prisons. I have some examples here. Murders have been carried out from prison. In April 2006, Andrew Wanogho was shot dead in a London street in the early hours. The culprit had a cast-iron alibi; he was in jail at the time. The fact that he was on remand in Belmarsh prison had not prevented him from co-ordinating the murder using a smuggled mobile phone, however. Even more shocking is the fact that he rang the victim’s mobile phone after the shooting to check that his rival was dead. It is astonishing that such activities are going on in our prison system. In September 2007, Ryan Lloyd was jailed for life for the murder of Liam Smith, who was shot dead outside a prison in Liverpool in 2006. Lloyd had used a contraband mobile to call an accomplice. In 2009, another gang leader was jailed for organising the murder of a 17-year-old man from his cell in a prison in Humberside.

Drugs have been sold from prison. One drug dealer was behind bars in a prison in Lewes when he realised that he had a captive market, using the fact that there are drug addicts in the prison system. Before his imprisonment, he had been part of a small heroin and cocaine distribution ring based around Worthing. Once inside, he not only continued to run the business, issuing instructions to his team by mobile phone, but expanded his operation to include the prison itself. Packages of drugs were hidden in socks and thrown over the prison walls, to be collected by inmates at pre-arranged times. That was all made possible by the fact that he had access to a mobile phone.

We then come to intimidation from prison. I have a constituent whose 16-year-old son was murdered by a gang of 30 youths. Four of them were prosecuted, but one escaped to Pakistan. He has taunted my constituent from there on Facebook, telling her how much he was enjoying his freedom. That has been terribly difficult for her, because it means that she can never really let go of that horrible day. Let us imagine, therefore, what it must be like to get that kind of intimidation from someone in prison. I think that it would add insult to injury. That happened two years ago, when it emerged that one of Britain’s most dangerous gangsters was using Facebook to threaten his enemies from his high-security prison. The gang boss, who had been locked up for 35 years, was able to correspond with up to 565 “friends” on Facebook for more than two months, until the page was shut down. Some of the things he wrote were, frankly, astonishing. He wrote:

“I will be home one day and can’t wait to look into certain people’s eyes and see the fear of me being there. It’s good to have an outlet to let you know how I am, some of you will be in for a good slagging and some have let me down badly and will be named and shamed”.

The fact that this has come from within the person’s cell is horrendous.

The taunting of victims’ families from prisons is another problem. One of the killers of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella used his Facebook page to taunt his victims’ families from behind bars. He boasted that he was “down but not out”, and for his profile picture he mocked up a T-shirt emblazoned with his face and the slogan “Free Jade Braithwaite”. From his cell, he wrote how he wanted “remote control” so that he could

“mute or delete people when I need to”.

Ben’s sister Brooke, who is 28, said at the time:

“My family and I are appalled that Jade Braithwaite is able to operate a Facebook page from inside prison—and to use the site to protest his innocence is really upsetting. We are disgusted by the comments on the site and feel it is a real insult to Ben’s memory.”

We are letting down these families if we do not deal with this problem. I have more quotes, which I may come back to later, but that gives a flavour of the real problem and its effect on the families of victims and on the victims themselves.

Phones today are not just instruments of communication; they often have cameras and recording devices. Pictures can be taken from inside prison and communicated outside, which could facilitate the opportunity to escape or help with smuggling drugs and other contraband into prison. What message does that send to victims, particularly when we have to store these items if they are found?

There is a real effect on prison discipline. Some items of property may not be illicit in themselves but have not been authorised for possession by a prisoner, including items that might have been smuggled in by visitors or obtained from another prisoner. Currently, too many prisoners use the lack of legislation to their own advantage. Prison officers discover items, but prisoners know that no legislation is in place to allow their destruction and demand that the items are put in storage. That is bad not only for good order, but for the morale of staff who work in the prison.

Glyn Travis of the Prison Officers Association states:

“The POA welcome this Bill and believe it is long overdue. Staff do get frustrated when they work hard to confiscate contraband and are then taunted by prisoners who use the loophole and force staff to store the property for them when they are released. This has a knock on effect and cost to the tax payer as property has to be transferred if the offender is. If property is classed as illegal/contraband, it should be destroyed and not stored. If the loophole is not closed compensation claims may arise if property is lost.”

If we do not pass the Bill today, we will let down the people who work so hard for us in those prisons.

The impact on resources within the prison system is another issue. When I was doing research for this Bill, I visited HMP Leeds—I hope it will prove to be the only time I go there—which is an extremely large and imposing Victorian building in which space is at a premium. I am extremely grateful to all the prison staff who gave up a considerable amount of their time to talk me through the process of prisoners entering the prison and to explain the many issues they face daily. They also told me what the problems were in the prison system.

As many Members will know, when prisoners arrive from court they must declare the items they have on them, and those that are permitted in the prison are listed on a card for the records. Prisoners are allowed to keep some of the items on them, and some will be stored. That is legitimate, and the Bill does not deal with those items. Others, such as mobile phones, are not allowed, but as long as prisoners have declared them in the court, they will be listed on a second card and stored until the prisoners are released. Storing the legitimate items is demanding enough given the number of people who are involved in the prison system, but the pressure is increased by the fact that prison staff are forced to store all the unauthorised items as well. It is estimated that storing the tens of thousands of mobile phones alone costs about £20,000 a year.

Are steps taken, or sanctions imposed, when people are found smuggling items into prison, and do prisoners who are found to have been receiving items inappropriately lose any privileges?

In some cases restrictions are imposed, but one wonders how many people are smuggling things into prisons and hiding them without being detected. Why would they fear being caught if they know that the items that they have smuggled in may be stored? We want to send the clear message that it is not even worth trying, and I hope that that is what the Bill will do.

What is the current practice when items are not claimed on prisoners’ release? If they have forgotten about their mobile telephones when they leave, can the items be destroyed at that point, or must they kept ad infinitum regardless?

I understand that many thousands of items are currently being held in storage that have not been claimed. I do not know whether there is a time limit—perhaps I ought to find out and write to my hon. Friend with some clarification—but I gather that at least six months’ worth of items are in the prison system.

When I visited the prison in Leeds, I saw that every bit of space was being used. The prison gates have towers a bit like those at Windsor castle but, of course, nowhere near as glamorous, and even the turrets are being used for storage. The staff are having to find every corner that they can, which is frustrating for them, and, as I said earlier, it is having a knock-on effect on morale.

That raises an interesting point. Given that all these things are being stored in any space that can be found, and given that they are being stored in prisons, what happens if they are stolen? That must be quite a risk with all those criminals about. Are the Government liable for the replacement of stolen items, and does the cost fall on the Government?

I believe that the items are destroyed after 12 months. As for their being stolen, my hon. Friend tests my knowledge. I did not ask prison officers that question, but perhaps I will go back to Leeds prison and ask for an answer. Again, I shall be happy to give my hon. Friend some clarification.

I hope all this demonstrates that although the Bill is not particularly extensive it is long overdue. It is intended to reverse an outrageous and perverse position by creating a statutory power for governors to destroy or dispose of unauthorised property. It is also retrospective in nature in that it enables the destruction, or other disposal, of certain items of property that were seized prior to the commencement of its powers and which remain unclaimed six months after commencement. This measure applies to cameras, sound-recording devices and electronic communication devices, including mobile phones, and their component parts. It is illegal to take all those items into prison, and they are items that cause particular concerns with prison security.

It is considered that this retrospective application is fair and in the public interest. It is a limited power, and will finally enable the Prison Service to deal with the 41,000 mobile phones that are currently held in storage. During the six-month period I have just mentioned, prisoners will be able to make representations against an item’s destruction. All such representations will be considered, but it is right that the power is given so we can deal with this problem.

Under clause 1, the governor or director of a prison may dispose of property where the ownership “cannot be ascertained.” Is there a defined process and time limit for that? I ask that because I am concerned that my hon. Friend’s otherwise excellent Bill may be undermined by there being a loophole that prisoners could exploit. He may not have the answer to my question at his fingertips now, but I ask him to reflect on this point as the Bill progresses.

We intend to consult as widely as possible on what that time period should be. It is up to the person who wishes to claim an unattributable piece of property to prove that it belongs to them. If they cannot do so, the governor will be allowed to destroy it.

I support my hon. Friend’s Bill, and I raise the following point only to ensure we have a rigorous debate. While I accept that the state has the right to confiscate and destroy articles that are in themselves illegal, such as drugs, we should be wary of giving powers to the state to confiscate and destroy, for its own purposes and profit, goods that are not illegal, such as mobile phones. I raise this point so my hon. Friend can give a satisfactory answer, and assure us that prisoners are a particular category in this respect, and that this is in no way the thin end of the wedge in conferring on the state powers that we would not normally want it to be given.

My hon. Friend is right: we need to ensure that this Bill does not give powers that can be taken too far. That is why prisoners will have an opportunity to claim property and appeal for it not to be destroyed. We want to consult on this issue, in order to address the concerns my hon. Friend raises and to make sure we get the Bill absolutely right.

I hope I have succeeded in convincing colleagues of the need for this Bill.

There are two penal establishments in my constituency; one of them is an open prison, and the other is for young offenders. People who have been barred from attending matches at the local football club have to go to the open prison when games are being played, and they take their mobile phones with them and put them in a locker. Can my hon. Friend assure me that this measure will have no unintended consequences, so that, although mobile phones may be deemed unauthorised items, people will still be able to take them when they leave?

No, there should be no unintended consequences, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the point and will ensure that we double check all the points that have been raised on Second Reading.

I wish to conclude by quoting Jean Taylor, the founder and chair of Families Fighting for Justice. She wrote to me, stating:

“My opinion regarding the matter of a prisoner being given back any illegal item on release from prison is that it is absurd. We may as well give a criminal any items he steals from a property once he has served his time… If something is smuggled into prison, it is therefore illegal, but it also can be used to further taunt a victim’s family, who are already suffering, by means of phone calling them, if it is a phone, or leaving instructions to one of their friends on the outside to fix a job for them.”

I believe that the Bill is long overdue. We should deal with this once and for all. We owe it to people in the Prison Service, to the governors, who frankly should have overall jurisdiction within the prisons, and, more importantly, to the victims of crimes. I commend the Bill to the House.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for bringing forward the Bill. He is my parliamentary neighbour and does a fantastic job in his constituency, as I know all too well. That has been emphasised today not only by the quality of his speech, but by his introducing such an important measure, which many of my constituents will consider long overdue, as will many of his. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of my constituents probably think that the measure is already in place and would not imagine that there is still a need to legislate for something that most people think common sense dictates should happen anyway. It is therefore my great pleasure to support my hon. Friend today. You, Mr Deputy Speaker, as a renowned parliamentarian, will know that for that reason I do not intend to speak for too long in supporting the Bill.

I do not want to cover the ground my hon. Friend has already covered, because I think he set out perfectly clearly not only the problem and its impact on victims of crime, but how wrong it is that people can be given property that they should not have had in the first place. I will move on to some of the other points that I am not entirely sure he has considered in the Bill, but which might be considered in Committee. I want to raise some of these issues because, before we talk about destroying property that gets into prison in a way that it should not, we really need to look at how it gets into prisons in the first place. If we want to tackle the problem of people having mobile phones, drugs, weapons—whatever it may be— in prison, it is important that, rather than focusing on what we do when they are caught with them, we look at what we might do to stop them having them in the first place. Surely that would be better all round.

Obviously, as I am sure we are all aware, there are a number of ways that contraband stuff can end up in the hands of a prisoner. It can often be brought in by people visiting the prisoners. It is sometimes secreted in deliveries sent to prisoners, for example in books and other kinds of merchandise. Unfortunately, it is sometimes brought in through the collusion of prison officers themselves, something we always need to be mindful of.

My hon. Friend says it can come inside books. The search procedures must be seriously lacking if that can happen.

My hon. Friend might well be right. That is the point I want to get to, because although I absolutely support what the Bill would do, I contend— I hope that the Minister will pay some attention to this—that we absolutely need to do more to stop such material getting into prisons in the first place, and perhaps the Bill can be amended in Committee to reflect that. Some of the checks are not what they should be. For example, there are what are known as BOSS chairs in prisons—body orifice scanners—that are used to try to stop prisoners bringing stuff into prison with them at the time they are sentenced by secreting it in ever more ingenious and, it seems to me, painful ways. The prisons have these body orifice scanners to try and detect that, but occasionally they will not be working properly or have not been working for a few months and no one has bothered to have them repaired. Alternatively, the prison officers may not have confidence that the scanners can pick up everything that they should. We should do much more to stop the stuff getting through in the first place.

Things also get into prison by being thrown over the wall for prisoners to collect on exercise. Lots of prisons have nets to stop that happening, but the nets should be more extensive.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Would he extend his comments to drugs, which are a serious issue in prisons? If someone who is not on drugs becomes a prisoner, they have a good chance of getting on them while they are in prison. We have to tackle that.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey made clear, drugs getting into prison is a massive issue. They damage the people there, and the fact that so many people take drugs for the first time while they are in prison should appal us. There is also the intimidation among prisoners as they trade this contraband stuff.

I made a point about nets, which should perhaps be mandatory around prisons to make sure that things cannot be thrown over walls. All that is quite easy.

We know that prison staff are sometimes responsible for stuff getting into prisons. That happens for a number of reasons. There is the normal reason of financial corruption: some prison officers are tempted by the money they can make from allowing things into prison, which is always very sad. Lots of prisoners, particularly long-term ones, can be very manipulative and find ever more ingenious ways of manipulating prison officers into doing things and ensnaring them into traps. If a prison officer goes out of their way to do a prisoner a favour, which may seem small and innocuous in the scheme of things, they have broken with procedure. The prisoner then feels that the officer is trapped and asks them to do ever more unacceptable things knowing that if the officer says anything they will be reported to the authorities and may lose their job. Manipulative prisoners sometimes lead prison officers astray in that way.

The Minister will know that, in an untypically timely manner, I have already been bombarding him with parliamentary questions. On one of his first days, I bombarded him with one that asked how many mobile phones and drugs were seized from prisoners in every prison in each of the past two years. I have the list here. Although the Ministry of Justice and I have gone our separate ways on many issues in the past two years, it is without doubt one of the most helpful Departments in giving proper answers to questions; I say that in all seriousness.

Typically, the Ministry gave a very full and thorough answer to my question. I can bore everybody rigid anyway without any props, but I shall resist the temptation to bore the Chamber by reading through how many things are confiscated from each prison. However, if anybody has a particular question about their local prison, I shall be able to help them.

A more lengthy intervention would have helped, so that I could get to the right page. My hon. Friend is imagining that I am far more proficient in these matters. Having now killed a bit of time, I have managed to find that at Hollesley Bay the figure for mobile phones was 40. She might want to make a longer intervention so that I can try to ascertain the figure for drugs.

I commend my hon. Friend on the important and assiduous work that he has done on prisons. I know that he has visited many to observe the differing situations. It might also be useful to know the total figure for mobile phones in proportion to the prison population and the percentage of prisons affected. I am not suggesting that he provides that information now, but the Minister may wish to comment. It is shocking how many of these effects are getting into prisons in the first place.

If my hon. Friend is going to be so kind in all her interventions, I will encourage her to make even lengthier ones in future. It seems from the figures—I am only glancing at them—that at Hollesley Bay just one seizure of drugs was made.

We need to bear in mind two separate things. In the case of prisons with very high levels of seizure, one might argue that it is because they have a bigger problem than other prisons, but it is possibly because the authorities are much better at finding these things and more assiduous in dealing with the problem. The fact that my hon. Friend’s prison had only one seizure may indicate that they have got a grip of the problem there and it is not as big as elsewhere; equally, it could be because they are not as assiduous in finding these things. From my experience, which she was kind enough to mention, I would be surprised if that prison had only one example of drugs being in somebody’s cell that should not be there, but that is just a hunch and I am probably completely wrong.

Might my hon. Friend, without reading out the whole list, give us some of the highlights? Does he have any idea of which prisons have a particularly bad problem, with the very highest number of seizures, or which ones have figures that are suspiciously low because they are known to be high-security prisons with particularly difficult prisoners inside them? Are there any lessons that we can draw from across the prison estate as a whole?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Thankfully, he made a long enough intervention for me to quickly brush through the figures to see whether I could find any particular highlights or lowlights. The figures that instantly spring to mind as regards mobile phone seizures are 265 at Altcourse prison, which I cannot say I am familiar with, and 231 at Pentonville, which I am much more familiar with. Those seem to be the two highest figures. Altcourse also had a rather high number of drugs seizures. Several prisons have single figures for mobile phones. The lowest that I can see is Blantyre House, which has just one, as do Low Newton, Morton Hall and Send, while some have two. There is a big discrepancy between 230-odd and just one or two. I can only reiterate that it is difficult to tell which prisons we should be commending and which we should not.

Prisons have always been like this. I know that my hon. Friend is a deeply humane man who does not want to return to the era of prisons in the 1930s, when prisoners were prevented from meeting people except from behind a glass screen, or the 19th century, when prisoners were kept in solitary confinement. So what are we going to do? He is right to draw the House’s attention to this. Can we hold the Under-Secretary to account? Our prisons are awash with drugs; surely he should be responsible for ensuring, in a humane and a fair way, that there are proper searches so that we can try to make some progress, which palpably, at the moment, we are not.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That is the point I am trying to make. There is a lot more that the prison authorities can do to stop these items getting into prison in the first place. There should be much wider coverage of nets to stop things being thrown over the wall. There should be better, more frequent and more rigorous searches of prison officers when they get into work.

If we know that prison officers are often responsible for bringing this material into work, better checks of prison officers would seem to be an obvious step to take. I am sure that the vast majority of prison officers who carry out their job without ever indulging in such activity would welcome the prospect of any bad apples in their profession being rooted out.

Given that so many contraband items come in as a result of visitations, why do we not have better and more frequent use of closed visits, as is the case in other countries, particularly the United States of America? The only way to stop visitors bringing things into prison is by having closed visits whereby the visit takes place through a glass screen. I am well aware that, occasionally, such things are what is known in the jargon as risk-assessed, so that those prisoners who are deemed a higher risk than others will be put on the closed visit regime.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) has made clear, whatever we are doing at the moment is not working. All of this stuff is still in prisons. It is far in excess of what should be tolerated, and we need to be much more robust in dealing with the problem. We talk about human rights, the rights of prisoners and all those kinds of things, but I am not entirely sure that my hon. Friend was right when he said that I would not want us to go back to a 19th-century prison regime, because I suspect that I probably would, particularly if it was much more robust than the one we have today. We talk about people’s human rights but, given that so many prisoners are on drugs while they are in prison and that so many of them take drugs for the first time while they are there, surely we should be looking after their best interests by doing much more to stop these things getting into prison in the first place. It cannot be beyond the will or the wit of the Government or the prison authorities to stop this taking place. That deals with how these things get into prison in the first place and I hope that the Government will take note.

The number of prosecutions of staff for conveying prohibited items into prison is, depressingly, very low. In the previous Parliament, David Howarth, the former Member for Cambridge, asked the Secretary of State for Justice

“how many prison staff were charged with disciplinary or criminal offences involving (a) importation of drugs, (b) importation of mobile telephones and (c) importation of other contraband to a prison in the most recent year for which figures are available.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2010; Vol. 503, c. 797W.]

The answer given was that two members of prison staff were disciplined for conveying drugs into prison, three for conveying mobile phones and five for other contraband, which is a total of 10. I am sure that nobody present believes that the number of materials that come in through that route is as low as that. We need to do much better.

The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked a similar question in March this year. He asked the Secretary of State for Justice

“how many prison officers were (a) accused of, (b) charged with, (c) prosecuted for and (d) convicted of smuggling drugs or other contraband into prisons in the most recent period for which figures are available.”—[Official Report, 19 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 533W.]

In 2008, there were six convictions for drugs and none for any other form of contraband, but in many respects that was the high water mark for this particular issue. The figures given for this year to date—admittedly, the question was asked in March, so perhaps we should not be too unkind—show that only one prison officer has been convicted for smuggling drugs and only one for smuggling other contraband. We need to do much better than that.

On how widespread the problem is, I have given a flavour of the number of seizures that have been made. The director general of the Prison Service gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in 2000 in the aftermath of a large search at Blantyre House prison. He said that staff and other prisoners had helped with the search, and that he was very concerned about the

“frightening amount of contraband material we found”.

You might have spotted, Mr Deputy Speaker, that that is one of the prisons that has the lowest number of seizures at the moment. Either there has been a revolution in that prison and none of these things take place any more because of what happened back then, or the system of identifying and confiscating such things has again become too slack.

According to a newspaper report in April this year,

“a series of lightening raids on Britain’s toughest prisons”

in the north-west of England led to search squads seizing

“140 weapons, 1,760 pints of booze, 2,746 grams of cannabis, 113 grams of heroin and 41 grams of cocaine in a year-long crackdown which also uncovered 322 mobile phones, 201 SIM cards and 308 chargers.”

If those are the figures for raids in one part of the country, the figures for the whole country must be astonishing. According to the report,

“A total of 32 people were arrested over the finds which also included 503 seizures of steroids and 173 more of equipment used to make or take drugs.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey made a good point about the storage of these things. Let me reiterate that 322 mobile phones, 201 SIM cards and 308 chargers were seized. Do we really expect the prison authorities to set up a locker room somewhere, with each item neatly identified with the person who had it, so that we can hand it back on their release from prison? In effect, that is to say, “It’s absolutely fine that you had this thing. I’m sorry you got caught, old chap. Here, have it back. We have labelled it all properly.”

Perhaps the Prison Service could also offer an answering service, so that when the mobiles ring, messages can be taken and passed on to the inmates.

That may already be happening. Something that I have learned in my short time in Parliament is that all the things that one thinks could not possibly be happening are almost certainly happening somewhere. It would not be the greatest of surprises if that were happening. Even if it is not, perhaps on the back of my hon. Friend’s suggestion, it will start happening across the country. Any prison that refuses to take such messages will probably be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

The search teams targeted 14 prisons across the north-west of England, so only 14 prisons generated that amount of contraband, including Liverpool, Preston, Garth, Kirkham, Risley, Haverigg and Styal women’s prison. The article goes on to say:

“The haul of hooch, made from fruit, bread, sugar and water, included 371 pints found before Christmas.”

Given that we know that there is a problem of that scale, we ought be doing more to tackle it. The Bill would be a useful tool because it would ensure that people know that if something is confiscated, it will not be returned to them.

I would like to emphasise what these things are used for. People usually use mobile phones to carry on criminal activity while they are in prison. The trade in drugs and other illegal activities continue in prison. We are, in effect, saying to people, “It is absolutely fine for you to carry on your illegal, criminal activity in prison. If we find your phone, don’t worry too much, because we will hand it back to you in the end with all the phone numbers still stored on it. You can have back the details of all your contacts and all the clients that you have been supplying to over recent years. We will give all that back to you, saved on the SIM card. That’s no problem.” How on earth are we to tackle drug crime if we are handing back to drug dealers their full contact lists on their mobile phones as soon as they leave prison? It honestly could not be made up, but that is what is happening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey did not touch a great deal on how contraband is found, whether prisons need to get better at searching cells or whether the current system works well. My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) kindly said that I visit a lot of prisons, and indeed I have visited prisons not just in the UK, although I have visited plenty of those, but abroad. To be fair, the problem of contraband exists in prisons around the world. It is not just a UK problem. It exists even in some of the most rigorous prison regimes in the world. I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister a visit to the Florida state prison to see what a prison system is really like, but even Florida, with its much more robust approach—and much cheaper, but I will not get sidetracked down that line—has the same problem.

I do not know whether this is useful, but I visited a prison in Denmark, a notoriously liberal regime that hands condoms out to people who visit prisoners, locks them in a room for an hour and lets them do what they want. I do not commend that approach to the Minister. Visitors do not go through any search mechanism at all, but the prisoner is strip-searched both before and after they meet a visitor to ensure that no material is passed from one to another. That may be a suggestion for him to explore, as Denmark thinks it helps to prevent contraband material from getting into prisons in the first place.

I absolutely support my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey in his Bill, which makes sense to me and, I believe, to most people. It cannot be right that prisoners’ ill-gotten gains are returned to them when they should not have had them in the first place. We have had far too much focus in this country on the interests and rights of prisoners, and the Bill is just one way, albeit a small way, of redressing the balance. It will probably affect a small number of people, the vast majority of whom have committed crimes so serious that they have been sent to prison. That is no mean feat in itself in this country, because it takes a pretty good effort for someone to get themselves into prison these days. They have to be either an incredibly serious offender or a very persistent one. On top of that, the people in question will be those found to be in possession of illegal items while in prison, so they are the worst of the worst in the criminal fraternity. If their spoils can be sold for the greater good to raise money for good causes or victims of crime, as my hon. Friend suggested, or can be destroyed in the interests of safety and security, I am all for it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if those things were sold, the best cause would be to cut taxes for the hard-pressed British people?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government certainly should be cutting taxes, but I fear that if we were to get into a ramble about the rate of taxation in this country you might rule me out of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As you know, I certainly do not want to stray from the narrow subject of the Bill.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey for introducing the Bill, which is important and long overdue. Most of my constituents would think that these measures were already in place. I hope that it makes swift progress through this House and the other place, and I am delighted to support it.

It is a pleasure to have the chance to speak about the Bill. Good private Members’ Bills are a bit like buses—we do not see one for ages, then we see two in a row. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), who achieved a Second Reading of an excellent Bill on mental health, an issue that touches many of us personally or through our families, friends or constituents.

I pay tribute also to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). I must give him a warning, though. He said in his short speech that he had been to a prison on one occasion, to HMP Leeds, and hoped that it was the only time that he would visit a prison. He is doing such a good job with the Bill that he may well be promoted to being a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, which would mean his visiting many prisons. However, I wish the Bill a safe passage. As you will gather, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Opposition support Second Reading of the Bill.

One can always tell when a non-lawyer has drafted legislation because it is simple and concise, and this Bill has only one clause. Perhaps a precedent has been set and future Bills will be drafted by non-lawyers for the purposes of simplicity. I suspect that many people—governors, officers, parliamentarians and others—will welcome the Bill because of the clarity it provides about the powers held by a governor or director. The aim of the legislation is clear and realistic. It will allow a governor of a prison, young offenders institution or secure training centre to

“destroy or otherwise dispose of”—

including by way of sale, which I will come on to—any unauthorised property found in prisons. Unauthorised property includes items that are unlawful to possess—hon. Members have already discussed controlled drugs and offensive weapons—as well as things such as mobile phones that, although not unlawful, could be used to threaten prison safety or security.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) was right. Many of us, even those who claim to be experts, were probably not aware that the powers in the Prison Act 1952 allow the confiscation of unauthorised property, but not its destruction. The thrust of the Bill is to rectify that situation. It has been argued that items can be stored in a prison for a certain period and returned to the prisoner on release, but the cost of that storage falls on the National Offender Management Service. That does not make sense, especially in the current environment.

Mobile phones are some of the items most commonly found in prisons. In his excellent speech the hon. Member for Pudsey provided examples of how mobile phones, which are obviously lawful outside prison, were used in prison for illicit purposes, and damaged the quality of life for those outside, including victims of crime. The hon. Gentleman also touched on the fact that, for obvious reasons, many mobile phones are not attributable to a particular person—a prisoner would not admit that a phone belonged to him or her, as that could lead to disciplinary action. It is therefore often not possible to return the phone to its “rightful” owner, and the Bill clarifies what should happen in such situations.

I want to address a couple of points raised by hon. Members during the debate, but I will keep my comments brief so that we can get the Bill through Second Reading. As is often the case, much to my embarrassment I agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Shipley. He mentioned the need to redouble efforts to stop unauthorised items getting into prisons, and although he was right to make reference to that, such things also happened under the watch of the previous Government. Unlawful items getting into prison is not a new phenomenon. However, if we want to have closed visits or full body detectors, to carry out more searches—including intimate searches—of visitors, staff and prisoners, and give prisons the technology to stop mobile phones being used, which is expensive although not particularly difficult, we need investment and to spend resources on those things. If the hon. Gentleman argues for proper investment in order to use technology and other means to prevent illicit items from entering prison, the Opposition will support him.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) was Chair of the Public Affairs Committee, of which I was also a member, and I have huge respect for him. He made a couple of interesting interventions, one of which was a word of caution about seeking to extend the power of the state and deprive prisoners of more of their rights. Instructions from the Ministry of Justice, however, are clear: prisoners are allowed to possess sufficient property to allow them

“to lead as normal and individual an existence as possible within the constraints of the prison environment.”

Therefore, the hon. Member for Pudsey was speaking about unauthorised property, rather than property that would normally be allowed as conducive to a prisoner having a life inside prison.

I have a couple of short questions. I do not need the answers today, but it might be worth the hon. Gentleman and the Minister considering them in Committee. The first question comes from the instructions given to prison governors—I have been sent a copy—which are quite clear that

“the Governor is authorised to permanently confiscate the item and to subsequently arrange for its safe and proper destruction. In these instances where appropriate the relevant property card needs to be updated accordingly.”

It seems that instructions exist. In Committee, will the hon. Gentleman and the Minister say whether the Bill intends to clarify the position to avoid, for example, civil action or compensation claims made by prisoners?

The second question worth discussing—if not today, then in Committee—is whether the Bill will close concerns expressed in relation to the case of Coleman. The Minister might have had a chance consider that this week, but if he has not, he could save it for the Committee. My understanding is that a couple of changes have impacted on the way in which governors handle prisoners’ property in the light of the High Court ruling in the case of Coleman in 2009. Governors have been told that they do not have a general power to confiscate permanently or destroy a prisoner’s property. I appreciate the Minister will not be able to answer now, but will the Bill address that concern, which has been expressed by governors, prison officers and lawful citizens outside prison?

Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber raised the important question of what happens to unauthorised property when it is sold. Will we encourage governors to give the proceeds to Victim Support or to the families of victims, as the hon. Member for Pudsey suggests? It might be worth considering in Committee whether there is an appetite for ring-fencing the proceeds of sales when disposing of unauthorised property.

I do not want to detain the House any longer than I need to, because I am keen to get the Bill through. I conclude by saying two things. First, I again welcome the Minister to his position. I doubt whether he will take another Bill through the House that will involve such a consensual approach from the Opposition. I ask him please not to expect that in relation to other Bills he leads on—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Shipley supports the Government on this Bill, which is also infrequent.

My second comment is that it is rare that a Member comes towards the top of the private Member’s Bill ballot and introduces a Bill that has cross-party support and common sense. I congratulate the hon. Member for Pudsey on choosing the Bill and on the importance he attaches to the victims of crime, including his constituents.

I shall be brief, because the Bill is short and because the context has been well set out by hon. Members.

On the scourge of mobile telephones, these phones are very often used as a communal resource by prisoners. They will obtain SIM cards, which, as hon. Members know, are very small and are sadly brought into prison very easily. The SIM cards are then inserted into a communal phone secreted in a cell, which will be accessible to prisoners during free association time, which is during the day. Of course, I am talking about category A to C prisons rather than open prisons. During the evenings, when there is a lockdown, if the phone is wanted, it can be swung on a piece of cloth out of the cell window to an adjoining cell or to a lower floor. That is what is happening in our prisons currently.

We know about wing phones, but the communal wing mobile phone has been with us for far too long. Although the Bill cannot deal with the problem of getting phones and items into prison—nobody is pretending it can—I believe it gives another resource to the prison authorities to deal effectively with contraband items when they are found.

I should like to raise two points on the Bill, the first of which is on the definition of “prisoner”. I see no definitional clause on whether the definition covers remand prisoners. There are two types of prisoner: convicted prisoners who are serving a sentence, or who have been convicted after a trial or pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentence, and remand prisoners who have not yet been dealt with by the court or convicted of anything. So some clarification of the term “prisoner” would be helpful, although it might well be that the Interpretation Act 1978 covers the definition and that the extra clause is not needed. I would be grateful, however, if my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and my hon. Friend the Minister could deal with that question.

Secondly—this might not be a matter for prison legislation or rules—there is another category of custodial area: the cell area of a court building, where a prisoner will be detained either while awaiting their court hearing or during the day in court. I understand that the prison legislation and rules probably would not apply to a court building, but I seek some clarification and reassurance from my hon. Friends on the arrangements for dealing with unauthorised articles found in the possession of prisoners in the retaining or custody area of a court building.

I see that the prison escort vehicle is covered. That, of course, is within the jurisdiction of the governor and the prison rules.

Does my hon. Friend think that there is a difference between somebody who is being held in custody but who has not yet been convicted of a crime, and somebody visiting court for an offence perhaps committed while in prison?

My hon. Friend is right to raise a potential issue about the distinction between remand prisoners and those who have been dealt with and convicted. It is important that we uphold the rights of remand prisoners. They have not been convicted of an offence, but are awaiting the resolution of the allegation against them, so their rights have to be respected. Nevertheless, withholding the right to bail has its consequences. When people are held on remand in custody, they must surrender their personal effects. The authorities will collect those items in the custody area of the court, bag them up, and record and retain them in the normal way.

The Bill deals with the position of unauthorised articles where there is no reasonable explanation or excuse for them to be held.

I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying about remand prisoners. Would he be concerned if the law allowed for the destruction of something found in the possession of a remand prisoner that was legal but unauthorised, in the event that he was then found not guilty?

That is the point, and a very important one too, and yes it would concern me. Therefore, the question of the destruction of an item properly taken from a remand prisoner should not be resolved until the status of that remand prisoner has been dealt with by the court.

I am slightly concerned by the direction that my hon. Friend is going in. If a remand prisoner is not allowed a mobile phone in prison, but we do not threaten the same destruction, it might encourage other prisoners to target remand prisoners to help them with their criminal activity. If somebody is not allowed a phone in prison, it should not matter whether they are a remand prisoner or not. The solution is in their own hands: do not have a phone in prison.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I am referring to the specific power to destroy the phone, rather than to confiscate it. I entirely support moves to confiscate contraband from prisoners, whether they be on remand or convicted. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) made concerned the question of destruction, and I think he was right to make it. If we are to respect the rights of people not convicted of any criminal offence, issues of destruction should await the resolution of the case.

I want to press my hon. Friend on this point. Many people on remand are on remand for very short periods. The loss of their mobile phone for a day or so will not be much of a punishment at all, but they might be deterred from engaging in any other criminal activity within the prison, if they know that their phone will be destroyed.

I hear what my hon. Friend says; I do not agree with him. I think the mischief is cured by the confiscation of the telephone. At the same time, we can balance that with respect for the rights of people who are acquitted of the offence they are facing.

I do not want to detain the House unduly. I hope that I have illustrated two legitimate questions that should be answered during the passage of the Bill, which I fully support, and I am grateful for the House’s indulgence.

(Milton Keynes South) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), who is clearly very knowledgeable about such matters. Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing his place in the private Members’ ballot and on introducing this Bill.

I have a particular interest in this subject because HMP Woodhill—one of the eight national high-security prisons holding category A prisoners—is in my constituency. Next door to the prison is Oakhill secure training centre, which I understand would also be covered by the Bill. I had the privilege of visiting both establishments—like other hon. Members, I was let out at the end of my visit—and I was impressed by the commitment of both to prisoner rehabilitation. It is also appropriate to put on record my appreciation of everything that the staff in such establishments do, in what can be very challenging circumstances. It is incumbent on us as legislators to ensure that they have the full range of powers at their disposal, so that they can perform their roles with minimal interference.

Although rehabilitation must be one goal of the criminal justice system, its primary role is to protect the public from people who pose a threat to the safety and security of others. I was quite frankly appalled by some of the examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey read out of prisoners being able to organise crimes and intimidate victims and their families while inside. That is clearly ridiculous, so I certainly support the Bill, which will remove the loophole that allows prisoners to retain or claim back mobile phones or other equipment that enabled them to continue committing such crimes.

In preparing for this debate I contacted the Prison Officers Association to get its perspective. The POA certainly supports the Bill, as my hon. Friend said, but if the House will indulge me I would like to read a short statement by the POA that highlights the need for the Bill:

“The loophole does create operational difficulties for staff. It also has the potential to lead to compensation claims from offenders and has hidden costs as staff have to record, store and preserve contraband, for years in some cases. We would also point out the frustration this can cause to staff who work hard trying to prevent contraband entering our prisons and when they do find it and confiscate it offenders take great pleasure forcing them to store it in their private property.”

That is a succinct reason the Bill is so essential, and I wish it speedy passage through the House.

In preparing for the debate I also contacted the governor and deputy governor of HMP Woodhill to try to ascertain the scale of the problem there. Although the number of confiscated phones at Woodhill is comparatively low—my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) did not refer to it, but I think we are at the single-digit end of his table—that has a lot to do with Woodhill’s success at seizing mobile phones and the like in advance of prisoners going in. Therefore, the number of phones confiscated while prisoners are there is comparatively small. However, I appreciate that the picture is mixed, and I was quite concerned to hear that the figure runs into the hundreds at Pentonville and other prisons.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and, typically, he is on the ball when it comes to what is going on in his constituency. According to the table that I have here, there were 11 seizures of mobile phones in Woodhill. More troublingly, however, the table also shows that there were no seizures of any drugs whatever between September last year and August this year. Perhaps my hon. Friend could use his next visit to gain a better understanding from the prison governor of why that was the case? Is it perhaps being claimed that the prison is totally drug free?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. He gives me a good reason to revisit Woodhill. I was impressed by the facility; it is a modern prison with advanced security procedures, and I am hoping that that is the reason for the low number of seizures. Perhaps the design of a prison is a factor in this regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey has visited Leeds, which is a Victorian establishment. It is possible that the geography of the prison estate has some bearing on this. The key point is that there is a mixed picture, and it has been acknowledged that a credible problem exists. It is essential that we remove the loophole.

I also want to make a few points on matters that have been raised in the debate today. In an earlier intervention on my hon. Friend, I asked about the definition that would be used when ascertaining the ownership of property. I reiterate that the Bill needs to be absolutely clear, so that we do not inadvertently create another loophole. This is a matter that can be dealt with in Committee. It would be perverse if we were to create a loophole in a Bill that has been designed to close one.

In that regard, it might be instructive to look at the situation north of the border. Quite rightly, the territorial extent of the Bill covers only England and Wales, as Scotland has a separate criminal justice system. New guidelines were published in a statutory instrument last year—the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011. They contain an extensive description of what happens to prisoners’ property in these circumstances. Not all aspects of devolution are beneficial, but one positive one is that, when there are different models operating, we can look at the experiences of other parts of the United Kingdom and learn lessons from them.

Other hon. Members have talked about what should be done with confiscated property and how it should be disposed of. The general view was that it should be sold on, but it will be interesting to debate whether the proceeds should be used to reduce the general burden of taxation, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) suggested, or to provide monetary reparation to victims and their families. That debate should be held at a later stage, however.

I reiterate the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey that many charities here and in developing countries can put mobile phones to constructive use. I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) to have a think about how we could effectively use property that is to be disposed of under the provisions.

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has just said. There will be some very good prison governors who will dispose of those items in the way he suggests, but there will be others who might be too busy or who perhaps do not realise that the option exists. Those governors could continue to leave confiscated property sitting in their storerooms, or simply destroy it, without ever taking advantage of some of the innovative ideas that are being put forward. If the hon. Gentleman is lucky enough to be chosen to serve on the Committee, will he suggest to the Minister some ways of encouraging the less good governors to do these things?

I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for that suggestion. I think that I have just been volunteered to serve on the Committee. He makes a good point.

The last thing I would want is to add to the administrative burden of governors, who are incredibly busy people working in a very challenging environment, but this is perhaps a discussion we could have with the relevant charities to see how it might operate in practice. It is certainly an idea worthy of further consideration.

Despite those few questions and concerns about the Bill, I very much hope it gets its Second Reading today. It is an important measure. It is simple, but the very straightforward Bills are often the most effective. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey again on his good fortune in securing this debate, and I wish his Bill Godspeed in its later stages.

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on doing so well in the lottery to get a private Member’s Bill so high up the list; perhaps he should participate in other lotteries and then have millions to spend on good causes.

I also want to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), on his promotion. It is a pleasure to speak in a debate to which I know he will reply. I am grateful to him for asking me to speak on Disraeli earlier this year. It was a great pleasure, but I shall not talk about the late Earl of Beaconsfield today.

With this Bill, I want to go back to first principles. As a House, we should always be careful when we do anything that undermines the rights of property. The foundation of our state is the right of property—the right of people to enjoy the property they legitimately own. We can go back to the Magna Carta of 1215 when it comes to the right of people not to have their property taken away without proper process.

It is very easy, in looking at prisoners, to say that they have given up all their rights, so they do not have this right either. It is a very tempting argument and in some respects it is true. It is justly part of the punishment that some of prisoners’ rights are taken away. In my view, it is right for them to lose the ability to vote in general elections. It is a right that they have lost, by the will of Parliament, and it should remain lost to them. It gets more complicated, however, when it comes to things that they are sometimes allowed to have and sometimes not allowed to have. What we do not want is a prison regime that is fundamentally arbitrary, in which a prison governor can decide that he will allow a prisoner to have a mobile telephone at one moment, but then change his mind the next moment because the right circumstances have not been met. It is, I believe, the case that many people in prison are not as educationally advanced as many people in the House of Commons, so they might not fully understand the regulations that apply to them or be able to cope with the differentiations that might apply.

As a starting-point—here I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh)—I believe that we should always be enormously careful about extending the powers of the state to do something, and we should be particularly careful where there is cross-party support. In that case, there is often a popular view that it is right to do something and people find it very hard to object to it, but that is because they have forgotten the first principle that they should have borne in mind at the beginning of the process. My starting point, then, is general suspicion of extending the powers of the state and general suspicion of undermining the rights of property.

There is, of course, an exception. Going right back to the Magna Carta again, people’s property can be taken away if a proper process is involved, if the system allows it to be taken away and if the approach is fundamentally just and proportionate. To quote the Magna Carta, it says that “no free man” shall have certain penalties applied—and, of course, by their very definition, prisoners are not free men; that is the whole point of them being in prison. The definition of a free man in the Magna Carta is, of course, completely separate from our modern understanding, but I think a brief foray into the feudal system would be unhelpful on this occasion. Here, it is perhaps more interesting to look at the language literally rather than to apply a mediaeval interpretation of “a free man”. The limitation on the protection of property is that it is the protection of the property of a free man, and for many centuries the state has taken upon itself the right—to some extent, the obligation—to take away property from people as a form of penalty for their misbehaviour.

We then come to the question of whether the penalty is appropriate and suitable or unduly harsh in relation to what the prisoner has done. There are some categories where it will be incredibly easy to determine that. As we have already established, something that is a criminal item of itself can be taken by the police—although that is a different procedure—and destroyed by them. Fortunately, it will not be the case that a prisoner who is found with a stash of heroin on him will get it back at the end of his sentence, only to be arrested by the police and have it taken off him again. That would create a bureaucratic muddle. Of course, it would not necessarily be heroin—it could be any number of other illegal substances—but because some Members probably know more about illegal substances than I do, I shall stick to heroin for the time being.

Then there is the question of armaments. Some of us remember the break-out from Brixton prison when Lord Baker, I believe, was Home Secretary. Some IRA prisoners smuggled in a gun in the false bottom of a shoe. Had it been found, as it should have been, it would have been confiscated and undoubtedly not returned. However, there are grey areas. What if a prisoner has a replica gun? Replicas may be legal in the outside world, but they are obviously not encouraged in prison because they cause a certain amount of confusion, especially if they are good replicas. Prison officers would fear that a good replica might be a real gun. You would have to be a brave soul—and I know that you are a brave soul, Mr Deputy Speaker—to be certain that a replica gun was genuinely a replica, and would not actually fire. Although replica guns can currently be confiscated, it seems to me quite sensible to destroy them as well.

I am not sure that it is right for them to be destroyed. There are many reasons for which guns can be legally held in this country. Surely if a gun were capable of being used, it could be sold and the money sent to the victims of crime.

I thought that a replica gun might not be of enormous value, and that it might therefore be easier to destroy it. Let us, however, take the example of a set of 18th-century duelling pistols. I do not know whether those crop up frequently in prisons, but they might. They are not very effective, the gunpowder that is required for them has got a bit damp and the flint does not work perfectly, so they are not necessarily enormously dangerous items, and they are legal to hold in the outside world. My hon. Friend is right, however: if these were found—

I was just thinking about where the proceeds of the sale could go. Currently, when prisoners’ property is sold after 12 months, the money goes to Nacro. It may not be going to victims, but at least it helps to ensure that people try not to reoffend.

When it comes to issues of this kind, I am the ultimate Treasury stooge. I am very much against hypothecation of any kind, ever. It is a fundamentally bad principle for a Government to have. All spending should come out of the Consolidated Fund, and all money should go into the Consolidated Fund. That is why it is consolidated, after all. If things are put into specific pots, people sometimes find that they have more money in a pot than is actually necessary. If items are confiscated and then sold, the money should go to the Treasury.

There is another reason, which is always important. You may be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, that some local authorities have been accused of ramping up parking fines just so that they have more money to spend on other things. A process that falls hard on the subject is used to raise revenue in a way that was never intended. If the money went to the prison, or to certain areas within the prison, or to a cause that the governor particularly liked, it might give governors a false incentive to be particularly harsh in deciding what to confiscate. Such an incentive would be removed altogether if it were ensured that the money went into the Consolidated Fund. As I have said, in this respect I am very much the Treasury stooge.

Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that it may be difficult to identify what is contraband in a prison cell and what is not? For example, a member of the public may well go into a prison cell, observe the prisoner enjoying Sky TV and assume that it must be contraband—that the prisoner must have smuggled Sky TV in—only to find that the prison authorities have actually allowed 4,070 prisoners to have Sky TV in their cells.

As always, my hon. Friend comes up with a shocking statistic, but the situation he described was, perhaps, even more worrying: members of the public being able to wander into prisons and look into prisoners’ cells. If prisons are really like that, we face a more fundamental problem. Prisons should be good at keeping people in, but they also ought to keep some people out, and I would have thought that members of the general public should not be waltzing in and out of prisons. Having said that, I agree with my hon. Friend’s general point.

The nub of my concern, however, is that there needs to be clarity, because we do not want to have circumstances in which, for instance, a new governor is appointed and he decides to have a new rule on what is, and what is not, allowed. That would lead to prisoners being uncertain about the rules. The new governor may think Sky TV ought to be banned. He may be left-wing and not like Mr Murdoch and therefore think anything to do with him should be banned, so he may decide to remove Sky TV and only allow people to watch the BBC. If that were the case, that would be a very fair uncertainty for the prisoner, however.

My hon. Friend and I hold many similar views, but although I, too, believe prison ought to be a reasonably robust experience, I do not go all the way with him and say prisoners should be denied all rights. They ought to have a basic understanding of the general rule of law that allows them to live by a code that is set and certain, so they know from day to day what the situation will be and what they will be allowed to do.

I am keen to follow on from a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland). I should say first, however, that North East Somerset is looking forward to hearing from him this evening, and I hope he will speak for a little longer in North East Somerset because people have paid for their supper and they shall want a good after-dinner speech—and I am sure they will get one. He talked about remand, and the remand issue is fundamental to my understanding of how our criminal justice system works. People are innocent until proved guilty. The state has decided to remand them because it is nervous that they may escape or it deems them to be dangerous. The state is often wrong about their guilt, however, and people on remand frequently turn out to be innocent of any offence, and are sometimes able to leave court without a stain on their character. It is important to remember that, and to treat people on remand differently. I am not sure that the Bill does that at present. I hope it will be amended in Committee to ensure that there is no injustice to those on remand.

It is a fundamental principle of our justice system that people are innocent until proven guilty. That is often forgotten in respect of people on remand. Because they are in prison, the establishment deems they must have done something wrong. That is deeply unsatisfactory. They are as innocent as any other citizen in the land until the court has ruled and found them guilty. Therefore, to deny them things, or to destroy things that they could legitimately hold if they had not been remanded, is unreasonable. If they are not guilty—and many of them will not be guilty—they should not in normal circumstances be denied the right to use, or to have, a mobile telephone. Just because they have had the misfortune to be charged with an offence does not mean they should be punished for breaching a regulation that in ordinary life would never fall upon them.

I have great confidence in the police, but we know from events earlier this week that the police are not invariably impartial in the way they charge people or in the information they put forward. We cannot put so much trust in the state that we allow unreasonable punishments to fall on those on remand beyond that which they have already suffered—their loss of liberty. They are innocent until they have been through a proper court process.

I want to associate myself with some comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). He discussed at modest length—indeed, extreme brevity by his standards—the question of how things get into prison in the first place. He kept on talking about nets being put up. I thought the prisoners might be practising cricket, but it turns out that is not the case; the nets are there to catch contraband being thrown over. We must surely have a Prison Service that is more effective in stopping items getting into prison in the first place, whether they are mobile phones, drugs or other items that are not allowed.

How would that be done? I listened carefully to the shadow Secretary of State, who said quite rightly that some of the items might cost money. However—this is an argument one must treat with care—this might be one of those occasions when we could spend to save, because stopping such items getting in could reduce the drug problem in prisons and the ability to run a criminal enterprise, which one hears about. There is the image from “The Italian Job” in which a Mr Big character, played rather resplendently by Noël Coward, is still running his criminal enterprise from prison, and standing regularly for the national anthem, as all true-born UK subjects ought always to do. The idea that a criminal gang can still be run from prison by a Mr Big is one that I thought had passed out, but we find it is happening because illicit mobile phones have been smuggled in. Therefore, if we spent some money trying to stop these items getting into prisons in the first place, we might reduce the overall level of crime and so bring savings to the whole country. We would be cutting off some of the top people organising it.

I cannot finish my brief comments without talking about some of the items that might be taken into prison and can now sensibly be confiscated, rather than stored. One always expects that the first thing smuggled into prison is a cake, because a file can always be hidden in it so that the prisoner can eat the cake and use the file to saw through the bars. It would be a great relief to the cake makers of Britain that their efforts will no longer go to waste, because the prison officers who confiscate a cake because it has a file in it will now be able to eat it, rather than having to store it until the end of the sentence, by which time one has a nasty feeling the cake may have become rather stale, and therefore there would have been no point in preserving it and the file would not have been put to use to aid escape.

There is a serious point in that. Innocent items can be used for illicit activities. Things could be smuggled into prison that look completely innocuous by themselves but could be used as drugs paraphernalia or for the production of alcohol. We do not want to have a system in which those things are returned so that they can be used again, either inside or outside prison. We want to ensure that items that can be used illicitly, even if they look innocent, can be taken away and destroyed by the prison authorities.

When we look at the proposals overall, I think that we can be comfortable that there is the reasonable balance between the rights of property and the punishment of the individuals. I think that it is reasonable to say that the individuals have sacrificed sufficient of their liberty that goods that they should not possess can be taken away and destroyed. We have to be confident that this will be a fair, rational and non-arbitrary process. I note that the Bill provides for the Ministry to give guidance that prison governors would have to follow, which is very important, because this is not an area for localism. It would be very unfair on prisoners who might move prison or have a change of governor to find that the regime had suddenly ended and become more arbitrary.

The Bill does not tackle the concern about things getting into prison in the first place and, in that context, this House and the Ministry should not think that, by passing an Act of Parliament, we have solved the problem, because the truth will be something like the reverse. This is merely an indication of a deeper, underlying malaise that is being tackled; it does not deal with the fundamental problem that a little netting will not solve. I will not talk about body searches. I can think only that people might take in little pieces of gold in their false teeth to be used as currency, but other things can be done, and one does not wish to dwell on them in this House, or indeed anywhere else for that matter.

It is important for us to recognise that the Bill is a palliative rather than a cure; it tries to deal with a problem that needs a separate answer. However, on balance it is a decent, sensible and prudent piece of legislation, which will go well with the legislation that we will be considering to enable the blocking of mobile telephone signals in prisons.

That combination of legislation may enable us to sleep a little more securely in our beds, knowing that malefactors are safely locked up, incarcerated and put away and that they cannot come out easily, or get their minions to threaten us, because they do not have the necessary communications. We will know that the drugs problem will be reduced because not only the drugs themselves but the associated paraphernalia will be taken away. Furthermore, prisoners will not have their cakes, either.

As always, it is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who gave this matter some historical context while putting forward cogent arguments against the hypothecation of taxes, which I am sure will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. He also highlighted the one area where there is a difficulty with the central thrust of the Bill: the impact on prisoners held on remand. There is a debate to be had on how we deal with that category of prisoner.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for bringing the Bill before us and I congratulate him on his success in the private Members’ Bills ballot. He was not, in fact, all that near the top of the ballot; some outside the House may think that he came just after my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), who presented the previous private Member’s Bill, but I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey was 11th out of the hat. It is a great testament to him that he has persevered and not given up.

The situation is somewhat unusual in that we are in the happy position—I hope—of being able to shepherd not one but two private Members’ Bills through the House in a single Friday sitting. That may be approaching a record, even if it does not actually break one. I do not want to take up all the time available because I want to hear from the Minister, who I am sure will give the Bill the Government’s blessing.

Many of my constituents will be surprised that the loophole that the Bill addresses exists at all. They will be amazed that contraband seized from prisoners has to be given back at the end of their sentences, but such is the state of the law at the moment. The Bill proposes to change the law so that smuggled items, whether mobile phones or other things, that are confiscated do not have to be returned to inmates on release.

The items come in different categories. In its “Conveyance and Possession of Prohibited Items and Other Related Offences” document, the National Offender Management Service helpfully categorises items according to seriousness of offence. List A items are drugs, explosives, firearms or ammunition, or any other offensive weapon. I think we can all be satisfied that those are rightly put into the most serious category. List B items are things such as alcohol, mobile telephones, cameras and sound recording devices, or the constituent parts of those items, such as SIM cards, mobile phone chargers and so on, as well as other computer-related equipment such as discs, data sticks and memory cards. List C consists of things such as tobacco, money, clothing, food and drink, letters, papers, books, and tools.

These items are not always smuggled in in the ways that we have heard about so far—brought in by visitors, by the prisoners themselves, or sometimes, sadly, through the corruption of prison officers. Back in 2006, the director general of the Prison Service, Mr Phil Wheatley, gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, in the course of which he explained that in spite of all the security that prison authorities put in at the entry to prisons, there is sometimes little they can do to prevent items from getting into the prison. He gave an example:

“one of the things we found recently was a dead pigeon”.

One might think, “A dead pigeon—there’s nothing unusual about that, it’s just fallen out of the sky,” but in fact it was, he said, “stuffed full of contraband.” That demonstrates the resourcefulness and ingenuity that is sometimes used in getting contraband into our prisons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, the way to deal with the problem of things being thrown over the walls may be to extend coverings over open areas and put in netting. The first thing to do is to make it more difficult for these illegal items to get into prisons in the first place. As he observed, it is a problem not only in this country but throughout the world.

Once these items find their way into our penal establishments, the problem then arises of what to do with them when they are confiscated. I am concerned about the cost of this to the public purse. My hon. Friend commented on reports in the newspapers earlier this year about the lightning raids that were made on some of Britain’s prisons in the north-west of England, when hundreds of items were seized, including 322 mobile phones, 201 SIM cards and 308 chargers, leaving aside the 371 pints of hooch. I hope that the illicit alcohol was thrown away, but all those mobile phones, chargers and SIM cards would have needed to be stored somewhere. At a time when, as we all accept, public resources are extremely scarce, it cannot be right that NOMS is put to the trouble of having to retain these items indefinitely.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) enlightened us on one of the problems—I had not come across it before—namely communal wing mobile phones. The difficulty with such phones is that no one owns up to their ownership, so it is impossible to find out to whom that item should be returned.

Notwithstanding the views of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset on the hypothecation of taxes, I think the public would appreciate the justice of the situation if the proceeds from the sale of confiscated items, perhaps as a result of an auction, went towards the victims of crime and a charity that looks after them. I appreciate his point that we might reach the happy state of affairs whereby there is so much money in the fund that we will not know what to do with it, but I hope that our efforts to cut down on the amount of contraband will mean that there is less of it about and less of it to sell, so perhaps the fund will not have a surfeit of money after all.

I hope that one of the Bill’s consequences will be fewer mobile phones entering prisons. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey mentioned the fact that nowadays mobile phones are much more than a means of communication. In fact, I would go as far as saying that they are, in all manner and means, mini-computers. They do much more than simply transmit messages. As he said, they often have recording devices and can record videos and take photographs. They are of great value, and if they were confiscated they could raise a considerable amount of money for the public purse, regardless of what we decide to do with it.

Another way that I would like us to clamp down on contraband—this is my own pet scheme—is by increasing the sentence. If a prisoner is found to have arranged for contraband to be brought in, increasing their sentence would, I think, be met with widespread public approval.

I want to deal with a specific point and hope that the Minister will touch on it. Clause 2(2) provides that the operative clause, clause 1, should not come into force until such day as the Secretary of State may order it by statutory instrument. Since my arrival in this place, I have discovered that, sadly, dozens of Acts of Parliament and sections of Acts of Parliaments, having passed through all the procedures of this House and the other place, sit on the statute book without ever being brought into force. When I read clause 2(2), it set alarm bells ringing. I sincerely hope that the Bill does not become one of those pieces of legislation. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House, notwithstanding clause 2(2), that an appropriate statutory instrument will be brought forward at the earliest opportunity, so that this valuable Bill can be brought into force as soon as possible.

In conclusion, I support the Bill entirely. I think that it will make sense to most people outside the House. It cannot be right that prisoners’ ill-gotten gains are returned to them, because they should never have had them in the first place. Many people, both inside and outside this House, feel that far too much time and attention is paid to the interests of prisoners. The Bill will go a small way towards redressing the balance. It will affect only a small number of people, because the vast majority of people in this country will never be in prison. However, it sends out the message that we are on the side of the victim of crime, not on the side of those who choose, of their own free will, to break the law. If the spoils of prisoners’ activities can be sold for the greater good, so much the better. I am delighted to support the Bill, I wish it well in Committee and I hope that it receives a Second Reading. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to welcome the mood of general consensus, which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan). I accept his advice not to get used to it, certainly as far as those on the Opposition Front Bench are concerned, but I will enjoy it while it lasts.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on the Bill that he has brought forward and on his success in the ballot for private Members’ Bills. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) have made it clear that when one is successful in that ballot, one is never short of suggestions as to what one should do. I am sure the House will agree that both my hon. Friends have chosen well. In presenting the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey has provided the opportunity for a wide-ranging debate around its content. I will refer to some of the contributions that have been made by hon. Members in the course of that debate.

I will begin with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who can never resist the temptation to speak in a debate with “prisons” in the title, and did not today. I am pleased to hear that he is happy with the comprehensive nature of the replies that he gets from the Ministry of Justice, even if, as I suspect, he is not quite so happy with the content.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said that we should do all that we can to prevent the arrival of illicit items in prisons in the first place. I agree with him entirely about that. He referred to several of the causes, one of which, regrettably, is that members of prison staff assist in the bringing in of illicit items. He will accept that it is only a very small minority of prison staff who do that. I think it is right for me to say, as this is my first opportunity to do so as Minister with responsibility for prisons, that those who work in our prisons, whatever they do, have a difficult and challenging job, and almost all of them do it extraordinarily well. We all have good reason to be grateful to them. The Bill will help them to do their job. For that reason, the Government are in favour of it and hope that it succeeds.

The right hon. Member for Tooting rightly referred to the Coleman case, and I can reassure him that the Bill addresses the problems that it raised. Of course, from some time ago until 2009, when that case was decided, prison governors routinely destroyed property as we hope they will now be able to do again.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) raised a number of matters, and I am sure that some of them will be discussed at greater length in Committee. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) were concerned about the interests of remand prisoners. Of course, the items of property that the Bill will cover are not the ones that prisoners, remand or otherwise, properly disclose to the prison when they arrive. Those items are held for them and returned to them when they leave prison, whether following a not guilty verdict after a period of remand or following a sentence served. The items of property covered by the Bill are those that are not properly declared but are held illicitly while someone is in prison. In those circumstances, it seems to me entirely appropriate that the Bill should apply to remand prisoners just as it will to sentenced prisoners.

My hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) both made perfectly sensible points about the details and definitions in the Bill, what we can learn from the experience of Scottish prisons, which is a valid point, and what we might do with items that have been confiscated. That will be for individual prison governors to determine, but I am sure we will want them to consider all the excellent options that have been spoken about in the debate.

I turn to the precise contents of the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey explained, it would enable prison governors and directors to confiscate and then destroy, dispose of or sell property that prisoners have in their possession that they should not have. We have talked about what those items might include, such as illicit drugs; items that can threaten prison security and good order, such as mobile phones, which are unlawful to possess in prison; unauthorised items that have been adapted to conceal illicit items; and items that have been smuggled into the prison by various means.

Of course, it is right that all prisoners’ property needs to be managed efficiently, effectively and with care, and that maintaining a prison’s security and good order is paramount. Prisoners have access to certain property legitimately, and as I have said, some items of property will continue to be held for them by the prison if they are checked in appropriately when a prisoner arrives.

My hon. Friend mentioned his visit to Leeds prison. I am glad that he enjoyed it and even more glad that they let him out at the end. What he said about that prison was important. As I understand it, the arrangement is that on arrival, prisoners are provided with detailed information about which items of property they can retain in their possession. That information is displayed across the prison, including in the residential units and the library. Prisoners in that prison, and I hope across the estate, should therefore be in no doubt at all about what they are and are not allowed to possess.

I do not have time to go into the position of stored property now, but I am sure we can discuss it further in Committee if we need to. Of course, the Bill covers items of property that a prisoner should not have, which are either illicit by their nature or not recorded on a prisoner’s property card. We have talked a great deal about mobile phones, and there are obvious reasons why they should not be allowed in prison. It is a criminal offence to have a mobile phone while in prison, because they can be used for a variety of illegal purposes, such as those about which Members have spoken.

The current arrangement for dealing with unauthorised property is that when it is discovered, it is confiscated unless it noxious, in which case it is destroyed, or something such as an offensive weapon or controlled drug, which is passed to the police. As we have discussed, other items may be confiscated only temporarily. The consequence of that limitation is that property has to be stored either locally or at the Prison Service’s central facility until the prisoner is released from custody. If the prisoner asks for an item to be returned, the prison must return it, and as hon. Members have said, that cannot be right. The Government hope that the legislation will improve the situation relating to the 2009 case to which I referred.

Hon. Members have referred to the variety of uses that prisoners make of illicit mobile phones, and discussed what can be done about Facebook and the intimidation of witnesses by those using mobile phones and other similar devices. Such devices can, of course, be used to store images and recordings of the prison, which can undermine security by facilitating escapes or the smuggling of additional unauthorised items.

Reference has been made to the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), and it is important to look at that in the context of other measures that we can take to restrict the flow of illegal items into prison, and to confiscate items and destroy or dispose of them. Where we can do neither of those things—this relates to my hon. Friend’s Bill—we should at least try to restrict and hopefully prevent the use of mobile phones in prison.

Let us look again at the problems that prisons face when storing confiscated items. The confiscated mobile phones must, of course, be kept somewhere, and hon. Members have spoken a little about where such items could be stored. Currently, those phones are in a central storage facility, and they will remain there unless and until the prisoner reclaims them on release, which in reality, very few do. In 2011, only 112 mobile phones were reclaimed from a total 41,000 currently being stored. Only 49% of those phones are attributable to specific prisoners, and the rest cannot be returned to a released prisoner. The cost of storing those phones is in the region of £20,000 a year, and around 800 are seized every month.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North made a point about the public purse and he is right to be concerned. Whatever happens to those phones after they have been confiscated, the state will save considerable money in storage costs if we proceed along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey. The Government therefore welcome the creation of a statutory power that will enable the governor or director of a prison to

“destroy or otherwise dispose of”

unauthorised property found in the possession of a prisoner. As such items can be obtained while the prisoner is in transit between prisons, or between prisons and courts, we also welcome the application of the power to prisoner escort vehicles as well as for property confiscated within a prison. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon raised a point about custody areas in courts, and I am sure we can return to that matter in Committee.

All hon. Members who have spoken will agree that the current situation is unacceptable, and the Bill is a good way of supplementing the Offender Management Act 2007 and the Crime and Security Act 2010, which introduced measures to reduce the smuggling of mobile phones into prisons, and made it a criminal offence to possess a phone in prison. There will be safeguards, and I am conscious of the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset about the right of property and how that should not be infringed without good reason and due process. We will consider that issue, and put measures in place to ensure that prisoners have the right to make representations about their property, and to appeal decisions.

As hon. Members have said, we are discussing property that should not be in prison in the first place and that is used for a variety of nefarious purposes. We should do anything we can to prevent that and the Bill makes a significant contribution to that task. I commend the Bill to the House and wish it a safe passage through this House and the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

General Anti Tax-Avoidance Principle Bill

Second Reading

After extensive debate on two consensual Bills, I have 11 minutes left in which to introduce this Bill, so I will make the case as briefly as I can. In a sense, I suppose this is round two after yesterday’s debate on tax avoidance, which was tabled by the Backbench Business Committee.

Yesterday’s debate centred essentially on the divide between the Government’s proposal for the general anti-abuse rule and my alternative proposal for the General Anti Tax-Avoidance Principle Bill. It might seem that there is not a significant difference between the two, but there is. Several hon. Members made it clear yesterday that the GAAR is unacceptably narrow and over-restrictive in range, and therefore very unlikely to cover any more than the most egregious and extreme cases of tax abuse. Indeed, that is indirectly confirmed by the Government’s economic impact assessment in their consultation document, which states—extraordinarily —that the GAAR will have almost no measurable impact.

By contrast, the Bill will have an impact, which might explain why I have only 11 minutes to move it. It will tackle the problem of tax avoidance, which might be costing the UK—the figure is much-disputed—up to £25 billion a year.

No, I am not giving way because there is no time.

This is the first time that the GAntiP principle has been set out systematically in a Bill. As I said yesterday, it was drafted by Richard Murphy, a founder of the Tax Justice Network, and a well respected tax accountant—he is one of our foremost tax accountants. The first point of difference between the Government’s proposal and my Bill is that the latter includes national insurance, VAT and other mainstream taxes within the scope of tax avoidance. Inexplicably, the Government have seen fit to leave VAT and national insurance, which are a substantial part of the tax system, out of their proposal, leaving them open to continuing abuse.

Secondly, my Bill explicitly addresses the complex nature of tax avoidance. The Government’s proposal appears to relate only to abuse within a particular tax. Under my Bill, however, shifting a source of income, profit or gain from one category of tax to another is included in the definition of tax avoidance. That would allow Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to challenge a transaction in which income is reported as capital, which is a frequent form of seeking a tax advantage. Under my Bill, transactions that should be liable to income tax that are declared as subject to corporation tax, income from employment declared as income from an investment source, or income due for declaration in the UK declared elsewhere, could be considered as being within the range of tax avoidance and so be subject to challenge by HMRC.

That goal is achieved by putting an economic test at the core of the Bill. It is principles-based, and asserts that the GAntiP principle can be invoked, if it appears, having taken into account all the relevant circumstances relating to the economic substance of a transaction, that tax is not being paid by the right person, or in the right amount, or at the right place or time, or that it is not being paid at all. The Bill would, therefore, for the first time in UK parliamentary history, overthrow the rule in the so-called Duke of Westminster case. In that famous 1936 ruling, Lord Tomlin said:

“Every man is entitled, if he can, to order his affairs so that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be”.

My Bill would change that principle, which has underpinned the tax avoidance activities of the accounting, legal and banking professions for three quarters of a century, and the pre-war culture of abuse that has been swept away in so many other areas of society would finally disappear from tax.

That said, there is no disadvantage in the Bill for the vast majority of UK taxpayers. The great majority of taxpayers do not avoid tax. For others who use certain tax arrangements, the Bill encourages HMRC to publish guidelines for how such arrangements will be interpreted. As a result, the Bill would immediately increase tax certainty—an important principle mentioned yesterday by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker).

For those over whom doubt remains, the Bill would provide for a clearance mechanism whereby HMRC could be asked to provide prior indication of whether an arrangement would fall within the scope of tax avoidance. That process is intended to be helpful, quick and binding. Not unreasonably, in exchange the taxpayer would be expected to make a modest payment for the important provision of tax certainty, with a maximum charge of £1,000 plus VAT, or 5% of the potential tax involved in the arrangement. The fee would likely be much lower than that for any accountant’s or lawyer’s advice, yet would deliver a certain outcome for the taxpayer, who would then be willing to live within the ruling. In addition, HMRC would also be encouraged under the Bill to publish anonymised rulings, so knowledge of what might be considered tax avoidance would rapidly become known.

What would be the benefits of the Bill? First, it would outlaw tax avoidance, which is currently being exploited on an industrial scale and which is now widely perceived as a mounting public scandal. This GAntiP Bill would address that situation; the Government’s severely limited GAAR will certainly not. Secondly, because tax avoidance would be cut back significantly, considerably more tax revenue would be collected, meaning that many services now under threat from Government cuts could be saved. Alternatively, without any increase in public borrowing—always a concern of the Chancellor—extra funding would be made available to give a significant boost to job creation, economic recovery and a turnaround towards economic growth, which is the Government’s central objective.

Thirdly, as I have already noted, the UK tax system would be considerably more certain. Fourthly, the pressure on accountants, lawyers and bankers to sell tax avoidance would be curtailed, because they and their clients would know that most of these schemes would fail. That would release significant resources for more productive use in the economy. Fifthly, my Bill would change the rules of engagement for British companies away from competing over who can get the best advantage from the abuse of tax law, and towards competing over who can provide the best price and quality of goods and services for their customers. That could only provide a valuable boost to Britain’s economic effort.

Sixthly, and perhaps most importantly, the Bill would drastically change the culture in British society for the better. Instead of one tiny section of society—the 1% at the top, the big corporations and banks—being widely seen as continually ripping off the honest remainder of the population, a new benchmark would be set declaring that cheating on taxes is unacceptable and wrong, and that honesty and fair play are the basis of a strong modern economy fit for the 21st century. The significance of that in restoring faith in a Britain that we can all be proud of should not be underestimated. For all those reasons, I commend my Bill to the House.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) on his success in the private Members’ ballot, in which I believe he came 18th.

Excellent; the right hon. Gentleman has done well. Indeed, he has been particularly fortuitous in another way, in that, as I think he mentioned yesterday, speaking opportunities in the Chamber are rather like the No. 77 bus. We do not get many for a very long time and then all of a sudden two or three come along at once. The right hon. Gentleman—

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 19 October.

Business without Debate

Bank of England (Appointment of Governor) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (6 July), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

NHS Cancer Services

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Greg Hands.)

May I start this important debate by congratulating the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), on her appointment to what many of us consider to be an important position in Government? May I also pay a warm tribute to her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who did an excellent job in understanding the issues and pushing the case for cancer care? We wish him well for the future. The all-party group on cancer, of which I am chair, looks forward to enjoying the same constructive relationship with this Minister. However, I secured today’s debate because we believe that after making excellent progress on cancer care the Government now risk making a gross error, which could be very costly indeed, when it comes to cancer treatment.

As the Minister is new in her post, I will, if I may, briefly provide some background information. Cancer survival rates have steadily improved over the past 40 years, but they still lag considerably behind those in Europe and in other countries. Comparisons are never easy, but although we compare with, say, France when it comes to the four or five cancer centres of excellence, it is generally accepted that we lag behind the rest of Europe. The Government have recognised and accepted that point. In January last year, they set themselves the target of saving an additional 5,000 lives by 2014-15, but that would bring us up only to the European average, not even the best.

Why do we in this country trail behind the rest of Europe when it comes to cancer survival rates? In 2009, the all-party group undertook a major inquiry into cancer inequalities that looked at that very issue. What we found was most revealing. We discovered that patients in this country who make it to the one-year survival point stand as much chance as anybody on the continent of making it to five years. Where we fall down badly is in getting patients to the one-year survival point. That led to the conclusion, which is backed up by lots of evidence from those working in the NHS, that the NHS is as good as any other health care system at treating cancer once it is detected, but very poor at detecting it in the first place. It is a national disgrace that nearly one quarter of all cancers in this country are detected only at A and E. That is far too late and it obviously affects survival rates.

The Minister will be fully aware that very rarely in life is there a golden key—an Act or policy through which one can find unbounded riches. However, when it comes to cancer, I would suggest to her that there is a golden key—earlier diagnosis. The earlier a cancer is detected, the greater the chance of survival and the better the survival rate.

Our key recommendation from the 2009 report was the introduction of a one-year survival outcome measure, in order to get the local NHS to raise its game. There is no point in the Department of Health trying to micro-manage primary care trusts; it is better to put up in lights the one-year and five-year outcome measures and to get the local NHS to introduce the various measures and initiatives needed to encourage earlier diagnosis. Those measures could involve greater awareness, earlier or better screening, better use of diagnostics or a combination of those. We should leave it to the local PCTs, while encouraging them to put up in lights the one-year and five-year outcome measures. Such initiatives at ground level would encourage earlier diagnosis, which would result in better one-year and five-year survival rates.

The all-party group campaigned hard on this issue. We raised it in Parliament and at our annual Britain Against Cancer conference—which is the largest of its kind and which is often addressed by Secretaries of State—and elsewhere. We had some success. We were pleased to see the inclusion of one-year and five-year cancer survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancer as indicators in the national outcomes framework, which, as the Minister knows, holds the NHS Commissioning Board to account.

Of the two big ideas in the Government’s NHS reforms—the focus on outcomes and the restructuring of the commissioning arrangements—we always thought that the focus on outcomes was by far the most important. We believed that the heat, rather than light, generated by the debate on commissioning structures was unfortunate, to say the least.

In many respects, the national picture has been taken care of. We have the one-year and five-year figures in the NHS outcomes framework, which holds the NHS Commissioning Board to account. Locally, however, it is the clinical commissioning groups—the CCGs—that will play a key role in delivering better cancer care. They are held to account by a different outcomes framework: the commissioning outcomes framework, known as the COF.

The COF will do much to set cancer priorities locally, and it is therefore vital that we get this right. Up until last month, we were led to believe that the five-year survival indicator was to be included in the COF, and the all-party group was lobbying hard to get the one-year indicator included as well. After all, both derive from the same data set. We fully participated in the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence consultation in February this year. We learned last month, however, that the NICE COF advisory committee had decided not to recommend the inclusion of either the one-year or the five-year survival rates in the first iteration of the COF. Instead, only the under-75 mortality rates were recommended for inclusion.

I suggest to the Minister that that is a major error. Given all the evidence on how the measure of the one-year and five-year survival rates encourages earlier diagnosis, the Government should not allow this major step backwards in cancer care. The NHS Commissioning Board is, at this very moment, deciding on the make-up of the COF, and the all-party group is calling on it and the Government to include the one-year and five-year cancer measures in this important outcomes framework.

NICE offered two reasons for the exclusion, but they simply do not stack up. First, it said that survival rates were dependent on the socio-economic status of an area. However, the all-party group has heard from a broad range of experts working in the NHS that the most effective way to incentivise early diagnosis is to measure the NHS against cancer survival rates, specifically at one year. The inclusion of cancer survival indicators in the COF is the best way of guaranteeing that CCGs prioritise early diagnosis.

NICE’s second objection related to the application of survival data at local level. However, my understanding, from conversations with the National Cancer Intelligence Network and others, is that cancer survival figures for CCGs can be produced—sliced up, if you like—once the boundaries are known. At the very least, CCGs could then be measured against one-year and five-year survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancer, and so be included in the 2013-14 COF, thereby bringing it in line with the NHS outcomes framework.

In our opinion, it is vital that survival indicators are included in the COF, but the all-party-group has also called for proxy measures such as staging and cancer-diagnosed A and E admissions to be included in the COF to complement the one and five-year figures. We have been calling for this because of the smaller population sizes of CCGs compared to what they are replacing—the PCTs. Proxy measures would help to provide a more complete picture of what is happening on the ground, and would help commissioners to identify the bottlenecks to early diagnosis. Will the Minister update us on the progress made on these proxy measures?

Before I conclude and while I have the Minister’s ear, let me quickly raise two further points. Although perhaps a little less urgently than in respect of our main concerns about the COF, the all-party group would like to see both the outcomes framework and the COF to include all cancers. In our view, if all cancer patients are to benefit from the Government’s correct focus on outcomes, it is vital that the rarer cancers be included, thereby narrowing the unacceptable survival gap between the rarer and more common cancers. After all, breast, lung and colorectal cancers account for only 40% of all new cancers. I add that we are somewhat concerned about Government talk about a composite cancer benchmark or indicator because we fear that such a composite would hide failings perhaps in respect of rarer cancers by focusing on improvements made in the more common cancers. We need to narrow that unacceptable survival gap between rarer and the more common cancers.

I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) to her new role.

One way of treating more difficult cancers can be the use of very specialist radiotherapy techniques. I have spoken before about stereotactic body radiation therapy and other treatments, which have the potential to improve outcomes, but because they are novel treatments they are advised for use only in clinical trials. Many health trusts are afraid to refer patients because there is no clinical evidence that they are successful for particular cancers. There is a vicious circle here, which needs to be broken so that rarer and harder-to-treat cancers can be treated, at least at that test phase.

The hon. Lady raises a very good point. I believe that cancer networks have a particularly important role when it comes to treatments that span CCGs such as radiotherapy. I know that local cancer networks would help to look into those treatments in order to address the concerns the hon. Lady has rightly raised.

Let me touch briefly on the second point, which is the importance of improving the patient experience. The all-party group recommends that the national cancer patient experience survey should be conducted annually and should be included as an indicator in domain 4 of both the NHS outcomes framework and the COF, as we believe that that would be a solid way of getting the NHS to focus on the importance of improving cancer patients’ experience at all levels.

In conclusion, important though those last two points are, let me return to the central concern of the all-party group and the point of this debate. We think it a very bad decision to exclude the one-year and five-year survival indicators from the COF, and we ask the Government to think again. It sends out the wrong message, defies all the evidence and risks different parts of the NHS focusing on different messages—the outcomes framework on the one hand and the COF on the other. If one thinks about it, there is no reason why the one and five-year measures cannot appear in the COF if they are in the outcomes framework; the numbers can be sliced once the boundaries are known.

Our message is clear: we risk a major traffic accident here, which really could set back cancer care and treatment in this country. We raised this issue with Ministers outside this place prior to the reshuffle, and we raise it again with the Minister in this Chamber now. We urge the Government to think again. A lot of cancer patients are watching this space very closely.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing the debate. I am aware of the excellent work that he has done with the all-party parliamentary group and with cancer charities to promote the inclusion of relevant cancer indicators in the NHS, public health and commissioning outcomes frameworks.

As you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, there is a lot of terminology in the Department of Health—to which I am very pleased to have been appointed—and I apologise at the outset for any jargon that is used. One thing is certain: my hon. Friend will be more than familiar with it. However, I hope to explain the position in as much plain language as possible.

I am fully aware of the frustration felt by my hon. Friend, his all-party group and the cancer charities over the recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence about the indicators for the commissioning outcomes framework and the difficulties that are likely to occur in 2013-14, but I can assure him that a methodology for possible one-year and five-year survival rate indicators for potential inclusion in COF is under way. I hope he will accept that that is good news, as is the fact that work is also under way to investigate composite cancer survival indicators at both national and clinical commissioning group level. I will say more about that, but I wanted to begin by reassuring my hon. Friend that we had taken his previous points fully on board.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government published “Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer” in 2011. It set out our ambition to halve the gap between England’s survival rates and those of the best in Europe. My hon. Friend spoke of the disappointment that many people feel about our survival rates, and said that everyone wanted them to improve. It is estimated that halving that gap would save 5,000 more lives every year by 2014-15. The strategy is intended to reflect the importance of improving outcomes through the five domains—or areas, as I would call them—of the NHS outcomes framework: preventing people from dying prematurely, improving the quality of life for people with long-term conditions, helping people to recover from illness or injury, ensuring that people have a positive experience of care, and treating and caring for people in a safe environment and protecting them from avoidable harm.

In recognition of the fact that cancer is a big killer—more than 130,000 people die of the disease each year—we have included seven cancer indicators in domain 1 of the NHS outcomes framework. They cover the under-75 mortality rate from cancer and one and five-year survival rates for three major cancer killers, namely colorectal, breast and lung cancer. In addition, two overarching indicators will include cancer data: potential years of life lost from causes considered amenable to health care, and life expectancy at 75.

My hon. Friend has urged us previously to consider other indicators that would reflect improvements in survival rates for rarer cancers, and he mentioned them again today. I can confirm that we have asked the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to develop composite indicators that might allow improvements in survival rates across all cancers to be assessed. We hope to be able to make a decision in time for the NHS outcomes framework for 2013-14, which is due to be published later in the autumn.

I am heartened by what the Minister is saying, but does she appreciate our view that a composite index should complement the one and five-year survival indicators rather than replace them? We fear that a composite index will mask bad news on rarer cancers with improvements on the more common cancers, which would have greater force in the index because they are more numerous.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and I certainly take it on board. If there is anything that I am not able to cover in the short time that is available to me today, we will write to him; and, as he knows, my door is always open so that we can continue the debate. It is important, and it is especially important that we do things right.

The NHS Commissioning Board will translate the national outcomes goals for the NHS into measures that are meaningful at a local level in the commissioning outcomes framework. The board authority is now working with clinical commissioning groups and other stakeholder organisations to discuss the shape of the commissioning outcomes framework for 2013-14 and beyond. COF will play an important role in driving up quality in the new system. Covering £60 billion in services commissioned by CCGs across the NHS, it will translate the NHS outcomes framework into clear, comparative data on the quality of services that CCGs commission for their local populations and the outcomes achieved for patients.

Concerns have been expressed that the NICE COF advisory group recommended only one indicator for inclusion in COF and, in particular, that the group recommended no survival rate indicators. NICE’s advisory group is independent of both the Department and the NHS Commissioning Board. NICE was asked to give advice on potential measures to include in the framework, based on the best available evidence. It is now for the NHS Commissioning Board to decide on its final shape for 2013-14.

The NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre has been asked to work with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Office for National Statistics to develop a methodology for one-year and five-year survival rate indicators for potential inclusion in COF. These will be composite indicators, because of the difficulties associated with getting statistically valid indicators for individual cancers at CCG level.

The national one-year and five-year figures for the three main cancers have been calculated. They must have been drawn from local figures. Experts in this area tell me that once the boundaries are known, it should be possible to slice those figures to show the one-year and five-year picture at a local level.

The difficulty is that the numbers in each CCG might be very small indeed, and therefore the statistical benefit will be limited. It may well be possible to look at the situation in respect of the health and well-being boards, however; we might be able to look at this at a local authority level.

The Minister is being very generous in giving way, and one of the purposes of Adjournment debates is to enable us to have a bit of a discussion. I take on board her point, but the CCGs are larger than was originally estimated. I would also say that we have suggested the use of proxy measures such as staging and accident and emergency admissions figures to complement, but not replace, the one-year and five-year figures, because they would give a more complete picture at the local level.

We will certainly examine the points my hon. Friend raises. A letter or meeting between us may be the best way to resolve things.

Further work is required, and work is being undertaken to look at the feasibility of developing other measures, such as patient experience of cancer services, for possible inclusion in COF for 2014-15. We would expect the board to work with NICE and other stakeholders to establish priorities for development for the 2014-15 COF and beyond.

We recognise that the challenge of cancer is huge. Over 250,000 people in England are diagnosed with cancer every year, and currently about 1.8 million people are living with, and beyond, a cancer diagnosis. It is fair to say that cancer touches all our lives; if not our own individual life, then that of someone we know in our family, our circle of friends or the people we work with. Like many hon. Members, no doubt, I lost a member of my family: my father died of cancer many years ago. It is a pernicious disease, but great strides are being made all the time. However, despite improvements in the quality of cancer services, more can and should be done to improve outcomes for those afflicted by it. Regardless of the shape of the NHS and the commissioning outcomes frameworks in 2013-14, we are committed to delivering improvements in cancer survival rates, as set out in our strategy.

Finally, I again pay tribute to my hon. Friend, his all-party group on cancer and the various charities for all their work and their great contribution to the debate, including this debate. I look forward to continuing that debate and speaking with him so that I can answer all his questions and discuss all his ideas in full.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.