On Friday morning, my Private Members Bill to tackle discrimination against those with mental health conditions completed its Report stage and was given Third Reading, which means it has now been approved by the House of Commons and is headed for the House of Lords and the capable hands of Lord Stevenson of Coddenham.
It seems like only yesterday that I decided to tackle this issue, announcing my intention in the now famous mental health debate on 14th June this year when Charles Walker, Kevan Jones and Sarah Wollaston bravely talked about their own mental health conditions and started a desperately needed national debate.
The purpose of my Bill is simple: to tackle the last significant form of legalised discrimination. It would delete three archaic pieces of legislation that stigmatise those who suffer from mental ill-health and serve no public benefit:
• Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, under which an MP automatically loses their seat if they are sectioned under the Act for more than six months – despite the fact that there is no equivalent provision for those who cannot perform their duties because of a physical illness.
• Provisions in the Juries Act 1974 which prevent anyone who is seeing a medical practitioner for a mental health condition (eg someone receiving a repeat prescription for anti-depressants or receiving counselling) from serving on a jury.
• The Companies (Model Articles) Regulations 2008 which contain a provision saying that someone can’t continue as a director if a medical practitioner says they are incapable of fulfilling their duties but also contain a further unnecessary and stigmatising provision relating to mental health.
But beyond these three specific changes, the Bill sends a wider and long overdue message that stigmatising people with mental health conditions is wrong. It won’t stop such behaviour overnight and other problems like ATOS assessments remain but I hope it will make a difference. The Conservative Party hasn’t in the past been as quick as it should have been to legislate to tackle the discrimination that so many people in our society experience whether on the basis of their gender, their race, their sexuality, their faith or their disability. I am proud that this piece of legislation has passed through the Commons under a Conservative-led Government, but I am also grateful for the support of the Labour Party and indeed of all parties in the House.
As I said in my Third Reading speech, I am hugely grateful to MIND, Rethink Mental Illness, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and officials in the Cabinet for their support and in particular to Mario Creatura in my office and to Charles Walker, whose passion for this issue was a key factor in persuading me to choose mental health as the subject of my Bill. It is he, not I, who deserves most of the credit for what we have achieved.