Rosa Prince, Telegraph (London), September 14, 2012
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, were among those who gave their backing to the Bill, which was introduced to the Commons by the Conservative backbencher Gavin Barwell.
It repeals the practice of barring those who have suffered from severe mental health issues from serving on juries or as company directors. MPs who have been institutionalised for psychiatric reasons for more than six months will no longer be forced to stand down from Parliament.
In a rare show of unity in the House of Commons, the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill was passed without a vote. Private Members Bills such as Mr Barwell’s usually fail to win support, and are talked out of time when they reach the Commons.
But after the Government and Opposition sung behind the new law, the bill was passed with politicians on all sides of the health praising the reform.
Mr Clegg said: “It’s ludicrous in this day and age that a person can’t contribute to public life if they’ve had issues with their mental health.
“Discrimination like this has no place in modern society and it is right that these rules are repealed. These long overdue reforms will send out a positive message that the stigmatisation of people who have mental health problems should not be tolerated.”
Mr Miliband added: “These changes will help bring public understanding and attitudes towards mental health into the 21st Century.
“They will send a message that discrimination against people with mental ill health has no place in modern Britain.
“If people with experience of mental ill health play a full part in public life, our country will be a better place for it.”
Charles Walker, a Conservative MP who has previously spoken movingly about his battle with mental illness, was among those who supported the new law. “I am delighted to say that I have been a practising fruitcake for 31 years,” he told MPs.
“What we’re seeing is an absolute sea-change in the reporting of mental health problems. There’s still some distance to go but things are improving and they are improving quickly.”
The legislation repeals part of the 1983 Mental Health Act which forces MPs and members of the devolved assemblies to stand down if they have been sectioned for more than six moths.
It also relaxes the rules on jury selection and company directorships as they apply to mental illness.
Mr Barwell said: “It is high time we dragged the law of the land into the 21st century. My Bill’s purpose is very simple: to tackle the last legal form of discrimination in our society.
“To our shame the law of the land still discriminates against those with a mental health condition.
“An MP or a company director can be removed from their job because of mental ill health even if they go on to make a full recovery. Many people who are fully capable of performing jury service are ineligible to do so.
“The law as it stands sends out a clear message that if someone has a mental health condition, their contribution to public life is not welcome. That is an affront to a decent civilised society.”
Chloe Smith, a Cabinet Office minister, confirmed that the Government was giving its “full backing” to the Bill.
“It cannot be right that in the 21st century it is possible for somebody to be automatically expelled from this place, from the House of Commons, because they have had a mental illness,” she said.
“It sends out entirely the wrong message that if you have mental health problems, your contribution is not welcome in public life, not only for the House of Commons but of course also on a jury and in a directorship.”
The Bill, which will now go on to the next stage of the Parliamentary process, has the support of mental health charities and the Royal College of Phychiatrists.