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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?

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): 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.

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Mr Jones: 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 write 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 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

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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 forwards.

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 would receive from a lot of people.

10.40 am

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Today’s debate sends a very powerful message, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on

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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.”

10.41 am

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): 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

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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”.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): 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.

Mr Nuttall: 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.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): 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.

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

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Nuttall: I will, but then I must make progress.

Naomi Long: 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.

Mr Nuttall: 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

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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.

10.51 am

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): 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.