Out early-ish today to do breakfast telly (sandwiched between discussions on Kate Middleton’s breasts and Cheryl Cole’s hair) on the Mental Health Discrimination Bill which is getting its second reading in the Commons right now.
One or two people even more Labour tribal than I am got a bit antsy at my expressing support and thanks to a couple of Tories, Gavin Barwell, who introduced this as a private member’s bill, and Sarah Wollaston, who spoke of her own struggles with depression when the Bill was first introduced a few weeks ago.
I would never vote for either of them, and regarding Mr Barwell, he recently became parliamentary aide to Michael Gove, so the good he is doing today is unlikely to be matched by any assistance he gives to an Education Secretary whose slogan for schools seems to be ‘back not forward’.
But fair play to him … He could have picked any number of issues when he came high in the MPs’ ballot, and he went for something I and others involved in the mental health charities have been calling for, so he deserves thanks and support and I am happy to give both.
In some ways, this move is symbolic, but sometimes change comes through symbolic change. No MP has ever been deselected because of having been detained under the Mental Health Act, but the fact that they can be – when no such provision exists for incapacity through physical illness – is a piece of discrimination pure and simple. Likewise if you visit the Mind and Rethink Mental Illness websites you will meet people who have been barred from jury service because they were open about being on medication for a mental health condition. Can you imagine the outcry if a juror was banned because, having volunteered for service, the court decided their bald head indicated they were suffering from cancer?
This Bill will end those two acts of discrimination, and a third concerning company directors. About time too. The signs are it may actually reach the Statute Book, as the government are supporting it. Dennis Stevenson, businessman and peer, and a fellow depressive, can take a lot of the credit for the Parliamentary groundwork, but Mr Barwell must take even more for making this happen.
We have to get to a place where there is parity of understanding and commitment to good treatment for both physical and mental health. We are a long way from that, but this Bill if passed will represent a big step in the right direction which is why Mind, Rethink, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Time to Change for which I am an ambassador, are giving it unequivocal support.
… I promise I am not going soft, but whilst I am in ‘not all Tories eat babies all the time’ mode, a word abut sacked energy minister Charles Hendry, and the incoming health team headed by Jeremy Hunt. I spoke at the Energy Event in Birmingham earlier this week and was genuinely taken aback by how much anger there was at Mr Hendry’s departure. He seemed to have achieved the impossible uniting the nuclear lobby, fossil fuels lobby and renewables lobby in saying he understood the brief, listened, and really thought through policy.
Reshuffles are always difficult, but I made the point that David Cameron might have been less tempted to move him, or sack him, had he known in advance that the minister was so highly thought of. I asked for a show of hands on who had heard of his successor, John Hayes. In two sessions attended by several hundred people, five hands went up and I am pretty sure some of them thought I meant the Irish prop forward.
As for Mr Hunt, who let us not forget wanted to remove the NHS section from Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony at the Olympics, there was genuine puzzlement among NHS chief execs I met yesterday. Also I hadn’t realised that apart from the minister in the Lords, Lord Howe, every other health minister was new. It does suggest Mr Cameron is not very good at jigsaws, but excellent at making it up as he goes along.