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Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill

Volume 554: debated on Friday 30 November 2012

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee

Clause 2


I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 9, leave out from beginning to ‘, for’ in line 10 and insert—

‘(1) In section 1 of the Juries Act 1974 (qualification for jury service)—

(a) in subsection (1), omit paragraph (c) (but not the “and” after it),

(b) omit subsection (2), and

(c) in subsection (3), for “Part 2 of the Schedule” substitute “Schedule 1”.

(2) In Schedule 1 to that Act (the title to which becomes “Persons Disqualified for Jury Service”, with the title to Part 1 becoming “Persons subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 or Mental Capacity Act 2005” and the title to Part 2 becoming “Other Persons Disqualified for Jury Service”)’.

My amendment would make a minor technical change to the amendments the Bill makes to the Juries Act 1974. It would remove the term “mentally disordered persons” from section 1 of the Act and tidy up the cross-referencing between section 1 and the list of those disqualified for jury service in schedule 1. The amendment is supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell).

Specifically, the references to “Mentally disordered persons” in section 1 of the 1974 Act will be removed and further provisions made in section 1 consequential to that. That will leave the section so worded as to provide that those persons listed in schedule 1 to the 1974 Act will be disqualified from jury service. The title of schedule 1 to that Act will be amended to read “Persons Disqualified for Jury Service”. The headings to parts I and II of schedule 1 are amended accordingly, from “Mentally disordered persons” to “Persons subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 or Mental Capacity Act 2005” and from “Persons disqualified” to “Other persons disqualified for jury service” respectively. The substantive change that the Bill makes to the 1974 Act, which is to remove the disqualification on service as a juror from those who voluntarily receive treatment in the community for a mental health disorder, remains the same.

I support the amendment. It will not change the Bill’s original wording to a great extent, but the language implications are very important. We must ensure that we deal with people who suffer from mental illness without the stigma of titles, so this small amendment is important. Clause 2 is also very important. Since we started discussing the Bill, I have received numerous e-mails and correspondence about it. A solicitor wrote to me to say that although she practises in court every day, she cannot be a juror because she is currently undergoing treatment for a mental health condition. The amendment would make a small change to the language, but I think it is important for the wider debate and for the wider implications of the Bill to ensure that we end discrimination against people who suffer from mental illness.

I support the amendment and welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). I want to raise a point that I do not think is covered by the Bill but which is associated with the thought: whether someone who has or has had a mental health condition and who feels that they would not be capable of serving as a juror at a particular time can say so and whether that would be accepted by the court. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) might not be able to answer straight away, but I would be grateful if the Minister could let me know later, perhaps in writing.

I support amendment 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). It is of a minor and technical nature and it builds on the amendments to the Juries Act 1974 under clause 2 of the Bill. The Government are happy to accept the amendment, which, although it is technical and does not affect the substance of the Bill, is very important in terms of presentation because through its inclusion the Bill will more fully reflect the intention that we all share in this House of removing legislative provisions that prevent people from participating fully in society merely because they have a mental health condition.

I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) that there are indeed measures that would still allow a person called for jury service to indicate that they felt unable to carry it out. I shall be happy to provide any further information that he requires on that.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said, I am happy to support his amendment. I hope that he will not be embarrassed but I congratulate him on the expert way in which he described the technical effects of the amendment so clearly. Given his ability to do so, I think it is only a matter of time before he is summoned to the Front Bench. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) clearly explained his rationale for supporting the amendment.

As I said on Second Reading, the Bill has two purposes. In certain clearly defined areas, it seeks to remove legislative provisions that prevent people from contributing to various aspects of our public life, but its wider aim is to challenge the stigma that people with mental health conditions experience in our society and to send a wider message beyond this House to society as whole. It is therefore absolutely essential to get the language right. That is why I support the amendment.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), the provision that he has in mind does exist. Anyone summoned for jury service is entitled to request an excusal or deferral by completing the relevant section of the summons form. Such applications are then considered by officers of the Jury Central Summoning Bureau.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Third Reading

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

I will speak only briefly because we had a very full debate on the Bill on Second Reading and a good debate in Committee.

I want to underline the importance of this Bill and what it is seeking to achieve. Over the period of my adult lifetime, this House has passed important legislation to deal with other areas of discrimination such as race relations, gender and sexual orientation, but on mental health there remain on the statute book several provisions that are openly stigmatising and serve no good purpose in terms of public policy. The Bill tries to bring the law of this country into the 21st century by removing those provisions so that people with mental health conditions can serve on juries and contribute to our criminal justice system. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) referred to the nonsensical situation of people who are able to practise as solicitors in our courts of law but unable to serve on a jury.

The Bill also makes changes in relation to company directors. A provision in the model rules says that if somebody lacks capacity, as judged by their GP, they can lose their position as a company director. That is another provision relating solely to mental health that is wholly unnecessary and stigmatising.

Finally, and just as important, the Bill amends the provisions relating to a Member of Parliament who is detained under the mental health legislation for a period of six months or more. No equivalent provision exists in relation to preventing those with physical conditions from serving. Indeed, Members can be sentenced to prison for longer than six months and not lose their position in this House. The Bill deals with those issues, but I hope that it also sends a much wider message to society about the need for a change in attitudes to those with mental health conditions.

I conclude by expressing my thanks to a few people for their support on the Bill. First, I thank Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, who in the previous Session introduced a very similar Bill in the other place that sadly was unable to complete its passage owing to a lack of parliamentary time. I thank Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists for their support and the background work that they have done on the Bill and the wider campaign that they have been running, Time to Change, which is trying to change attitudes towards those who experience mental illness.

Finally, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the officials in the Cabinet Office who have provided very welcome help and support, and those in my own office. Members on both sides of the House will know of the huge contribution that our staff make in supporting the work that we do as Members of this House. I am hugely grateful for all that help. I hope that today the House will see the completion of the passage of this Bill, which will be a welcome landmark statement that attitudes towards those with mental health conditions are changing. I also hope that it will have speedy passage through the other place.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) not only on selecting this subject for his private Member’s Bill but on eloquently arguing its case throughout its parliamentary stages. He can rightly congratulate himself—of course, he will feel in need of some congratulations in Croydon after yesterday’s by-election result—on arguing so strongly for it. As a member of the small club of individuals who have got a private Member’s Bill passed by the House—I hope to welcome him to it—I know about the hard work that has to go into steering a Bill through this House. He was right to thank the staff, who I think will not be encouraging him to put in for the ballot in future given the amount of work that they have done.

The Bill should be supported because it gets rid of anachronistic legislative provisions. The provision on the disqualification of Members of Parliament has changed very little since 1886. The only thing that has changed is the description of who has to draw up the report for you, Mr Speaker. Possibly some of the language has been modified over the years, but in effect the same provision still applies.

Another issue is jury service. The existing provisions stigmatise those who are receiving treatment for mental illness by saying that they can practise as a solicitor or a barrister but cannot serve on a jury. That makes no sense at all. The important provision about company directorships has not received a great deal of coverage during the passage of the Bill, but it will make a difference to company directors who suffer from mental illness.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill is important not only for those provisions but for the broader message that it sends out about the view of this House and of society about mental illness. I, too, pay tribute to the organisations that he mentioned, which have campaigned and worked very hard not only on making sure that there is support for the Bill but on helping to ensure that the stigma around mental health is eradicated. Will the Bill in itself do that? No, it will not—I do not think that for one minute—but I hope that it will show, as the hon. Gentleman said, that this House is determined to ensure that mental health stigma becomes a thing of the past.

It will take time to change people’s attitudes, but the debate in this House on 14 June and the passage of the Bill show that mental illness is on the political radar and will not go away. I encourage the House to continue the debate because our recent debates show that this is an issue that we should talk about. Mental illness is often not prioritised in terms of resources or in the workplace because it is not talked about. Let us hope that we will continue to talk openly about mental illness, not as something that is an impediment to people making a full contribution to public life or to their own personal life and development, but as something that, with effective treatment and support, allows individuals to make a proper and rightful contribution to society.

I thank the hon. Member for Croydon Central again for bringing the Bill forward and congratulate him on the way in which he has done so.

I just want to express a few thanks. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for piloting the Bill so expertly through Parliament. What a fantastic job he has done! I thank Rowena Daw of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who has been a fantastic supporter of the Bill. I thank the officials. I suspect that there has been a true Horatio among them who has worked very hard to bring the Bill to fruition. I thank the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for his sterling support from the Opposition Benches. He, too, has been a true hero.

This is great occasion for Parliament and I am glad to have had a small walk-on part in it.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on introducing the Bill. It would be fair to say that we do not agree on everything, but I think we agree on more than he realises. We certainly agree about the Bill. He works tirelessly not only on behalf of his constituents but on behalf of the important causes to which the Bill relates.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on their work in this field. They have shown great courage in speaking out on these matters when other people may not have done so. We should all be grateful for what they do. They were both worthy recipients of awards at Dods’ The House magazine awards this week. I cannot think of two more deserving winners. This has been a red-letter week for them.

I want to tease out some points about the Bill’s three main clauses, which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central could perhaps clarify. Even though I support the Bill, it is important to clarify on the record any points that may arise.

Clause 1 relates to the mental health of MPs. It abolishes section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, and also relates to the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. The Cabinet Office website states, so it must be true:

“The provisions in Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 replaced provisions in the Mental Health Act 1959 which itself replaced provisions in the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886.”

As far as I am aware, section 141 of the 1983 Act has never been used. Perhaps it is good to get rid of legislation that is anachronistic and has never been used, but we could ask whether there is any point in doing so. As I understand it, the only time that any of this legislation has been used was in 1916, when Dr Charles Leach was removed from his seat after a protracted illness. I think it is worth getting rid of this section, but I note that it has never actually been used.

I want to flag up a potential anomaly. I assure the House that, as usual on such occasions, I do not intend to speak for long. I say that for the avoidance of doubt, because I do not want anybody to be concerned. I merely wish to rattle through a few points. Under the Bill, there would be no bar on somebody standing for Parliament with a mental health condition of any kind and there would be no procedure to remove somebody who developed a condition while they were in Parliament. Does that mean that the Bill could create a situation in which the constituents of an MP end up with effectively no representation for an entire term of office because a condition is found to exist very late in an election campaign or early on in a Parliament?

I agree with that point, but there is no difference between that example and a Member who has a stroke and goes into a long-term vegetative state. There is no provision to remove such a Member. The Bill is just saying that mental illness should be on a par with other medical conditions.

I agree with that point. I am merely using this opportunity to ensure that people know exactly what the Bill would do and to check whether there are potential anomalies. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that the same situation applies to people with other conditions and that there should perhaps be no difference between them.

Another anomaly that may arise is that somebody could stand for Parliament and continue as a Member of Parliament who may not be eligible to vote because of the existing regulations on voting. As this is a Third Reading debate, I must talk only about what is in the Bill, rather than what should be in the Bill, but I hope that you will allow me to say in passing, Mr Speaker, that perhaps the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central in this field is not yet done. Although I support the Bill, it might create anomalies that we have to come back to on another occasion. I therefore hope that this is a work in progress.

I am not sure whether the provisions on juries deal with somebody who has just been released from being sectioned or who ought to have been sectioned but has not been because nobody knows about their condition. Perhaps the Bill might have been better if it had included an additional time period for such people. I am not sure whether the lack of such a period will cause a problem. The point has been well made throughout the debate that mental illness is not necessarily permanent or constant, but safeguards need to be in place to limit the exposure of those with recent conditions and those who have perhaps not been identified.

The proposals on company directors cover the model articles of association for normal companies and right-to-manage companies. Unless I have missed something, which is not impossible, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a company from using the old provisions in its articles of association if it chooses to deviate from the model articles of association. Will companies that are already in existence be affected by the Bill? If so, and if it has an immediate effect, what will happen if a company has already invoked this particular part of their articles of association from the model version and is in the middle of proceedings? If the Bill affects only new companies, does that mean that the 2.5 million companies that are already registered with Companies House will not be covered? It is important that we deal with the model articles of association because they are the default position, but have we missed something with regard to individual articles of association? What happens if a company has only one director and they have the most serious long-term mental health condition?

I support my hon. Friend—the whole House should support and congratulate him—but there are anomalies in the Bill, and the Bill might create even more. I hope the House can tackle those in future to ensure that we do what my hon. Friend and other hon. Members intend, which is to give the best possible opportunities to people with mental health problems, who for far too long have been unfairly discriminated against under the law.

I add my thanks to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for his work in piloting the Bill so skilfully. As a Member who has been involved in such matters, I know how much work goes on behind the scenes to achieve what he has achieved. He deserves massive thanks from everybody. I thank him not only on my own behalf but on behalf of all the organisations and groups in my constituency, which are extremely grateful to him for his work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), with the support of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones).

The Bill is important because it specifically removes discrimination on grounds of mental health, but its greater importance is in the wider message it sends to society about how we should see those who, sadly, suffer from mental health problems. If the Bill goes some small way towards removing the taboo of mental health, it will have played a very important role. It will help to remove the prejudice and misunderstandings surrounding mental health, and put mental health on the same footing as other disabilities and illnesses.

I do not propose to detain the House for long. I simply wanted to put on record, as I did on Second Reading, my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central for his work. I wish the Bill well in the other place and a speedy passage on to the statute book.

May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on introducing the Bill? Plenty has been said in congratulating him, but it is an important Bill. I am slightly jealous that he has got his private Member’s Bill this far and been so successful. I cannot think of a better issue to debate in the House.

I also add my congratulations, thanks and support to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on everything they have done on the Bill. It is important that we change attitudes and perceptions of mental health. It would sometimes be nice to get attitudes into the 20th century, never mind the 21st century, but it is crucial that Parliament leads the way and shows that mental health must be addressed. The changes to archaic and discriminatory laws will, I hope, send an important message to wider society that unfair discrimination has no place in modern Britain. People who suffer mental ill health have a wealth of knowledge and experience and can now play their part in public life in a number of ways. It is crucial that we do not lose knowledge and experience that can benefit and improve society.

I do not wish to detain the House. I reiterate my congratulations. I hope the Bill is the start of ensuring that 21st-century Britain is as accepting of people with mental ill health as it is of people who have sprained an ankle or broken an arm, or who have another day-to-day ailment. The number of people with mental ill health in the UK means that it is a day-to-day problem. I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Croydon Central.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) is happy for me to attempt to answer a few of the points on the detail, which were raised mainly by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), I shall do so, and further indicate the Government’s support for the Bill.

On clause 1, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley queried whether the House should seek to amend measures that have never been used when we could simply let them wither on the vine. It is my firm view and that of other hon. Members that we ought to tackle discriminatory and stigmatic anachronisms when we come across them. We are proud that the Bill does that.

My hon. Friend asked how constituents can be represented by an MP who comes under the provisions of the Bill. When Members suffer from a physical health problem, informal arrangements are made and support is given to them by the House and their party. The Government believe that similar arrangements should apply in cases of mental illness. He asked about eligibility to vote, and I will be happy to come back to him on that another time.

My hon. Friend asked whether there should be a post-detention time limit with regard to jury service. I can confirm that when somebody is no longer detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, they should no longer be subject to constraints. After all, they will have been assessed and deemed not to be suffering to an extent that prevents them from leading a normal life. It is possible to see the Bill in that light.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked about the provision on directorships. I can confirm that the provision applies only to companies—whether existing or new—that use model articles.

I hope that that covers my hon. Friend’s questions. It falls to me to add once again the Government’s support for the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central on promoting the Bill to this conclusion. He has done an excellent job in gaining such overwhelming support for it. I, too, am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in debates on the Bill, and to two hon. Members at least for their humbling openness.

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for playing his part in making the amendment today. I can confirm that the reforms in the Bill are, in totality, an essential part of the Government’s drive to tackle the stigma and discrimination still associated with mental health. It is my hope that the work hon. Members have done on the Bill today and in other debates will encourage more sympathetic treatment, not only in law, but in the mainstream media and other places. The Bill represents a simple but fundamental change in removing discrimination against those who suffer from mental health disorders so that they can participate in public life in a number of key ways, and I commend it to the House.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her support for the Bill. I was honoured to be asked to be a sponsor of the Bill. It would be wrong if Third Reading was completed without hon. Members recognising that some of the changes come from the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation. One of the roles of the holder of your office, Mr Speaker, is to allow issues to be considered and proposals to be put that benefit the House. We should thank you and your colleagues for that.

Taking medication for being over-happy or unhappy, or in some other way affected, should be as interesting or as uninteresting as consuming pills to deal with the pain in my heel or taking statins to deal with cholesterol. Instead of some people having their behaviour or misbehaviour described in the media, and then writing articles 20 years later saying that they used to be on drugs—illegal street substances—people should be able to be open now about the fact that they are unhappy or manic, or that they have a phobia or an obsession. I am not saying that everyone should lay out all their conditions, but it should be as easy as saying, “I see you have a broken leg or carcinoma.”

I pay tribute to my hon. Friends on both sides of the House. It would be useful to have a major debate every two years on progress in mental health and mental illness. Hospital closures and accident and emergency wards matter, but each of us in our constituencies has people who are affected by unhappiness, mental health or mental illness. I pay tribute to the many people who are involved professionally and voluntarily in helping and serving them.

Perhaps I can conclude with a minor reflection on a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) about the people he referred to as the “Horatios”—I think Horatia would look rather better, unless the Department has sent front people out who look rather different.

With the leave of the House, I would like to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and to make one final point. I have a very high regard for my hon. Friend. As he said, we do not agree on every issue, but he is an excellent Member of this House. He made two points and I thought it was worth making one further point in response. He asked about the value of repealing legislation if it has never been used. There is a danger with the law as it currently stands of an hon. Member with a health condition being reluctant to seek medical treatment because of the consequences—the risk of losing their job.

The Speaker’s Conference recommended that a Select Committee might look at how the wider issue of the lack of constituents’ representation if their MP has a serious mental or physical health condition is addressed beyond the informal arrangements to which the Minister referred.

That is a problem because, as the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) said, I think most parties will put informal arrangements in place, as they do for MPs who suffer from long-term physical conditions, or those who take holidays on reality TV shows in Australia.

The hon. Gentleman seeks to draw me somewhere I do not wish to go—neither intellectually nor physically, I should say, in case any of my constituents are watching. I have direct experience of the point that he and the Minister made about informal arrangements. My predecessor as the hon. Member for Croydon Central suffered some difficulties with his mental health and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) covered both his office here in this House and his surgery and other duties during that period. Those arrangements can certainly work, but from the point at which I introduced the Bill people have contacted me and made the point that the hon. Member for Shipley makes. It is well worth a Select Committee looking at those issues and deciding whether the informal arrangements are sufficient, or whether there should be other rules.

The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) teased me mildly in his remarks about the results of the Croydon North by-election. The by-election has a relevance to this issue. It was a good result for Labour and I look forward to Steve Reed taking his seat, but the swing was significantly less than in the other by-elections we have had recently and in the national opinion polls. The reason for that was the Conservative party candidate. In his gracious concession speech, Andy Stranack made the point that, as someone who suffers from cerebral palsy, he hoped that one of the lessons of his campaign was that he had not in any way not been able to run a robust, energetic, effective campaign and do the job expected of a parliamentary candidate.

That is relevant to the debate, because I want to end by saying a word or two about the hon. Member for North Durham and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). Their courage, in the debate we had earlier this year on mental health, in talking about their own experiences, and in their participation in this House on this business and on other issues, demonstrates visibly that those who experience mental health difficulties are just as able as anybody else to fulfil the duties of being a Member of this House. That sends an important message and point to the country as a whole as we try to change attitudes and perceptions.

I do not want to detain the House any further, but I want to end, if the hon. Member for North Durham will forgive me, by saying something about my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne in particular. When my name came high up in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, I was inundated by e-mails and phone calls suggesting issues that I might like to take up. Some might have found favour with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, and others might have been less well regarded. A key reason for choosing this issue was my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. He came to my office and explained to me for about half an hour why he regarded it as being of such importance. In the two and a half years I have been in the House, I never heard anyone speak with such passion about the subject and about the effect that legislation can have. My name is on the Bill and I hope it will go on to become an Act, but one of the people who deserves enormous credit for reaching this point is my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne and his passion for this issue. I think that that is a fitting point on which to end my remarks.

Bill read the Third time and passed.