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.
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.
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.
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 politics.co.uk 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.
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.
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).