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Barwell wins bill battle against mental health discrimination

11 February 2013

4:11 PM

11 February 2013

4:11 PM

Gavin Barwell’s bill to end discrimination against those suffering from mental illnesses received its third reading in the House of Lords this afternoon, which means it is just a small hop, skip and jump from becoming an Act of Parliament. The legislation will end automatic blocks on those receiving regular treatment for any mental health disorder from sitting on a jury and from continuing to work as a company director, as well as repealing the section of the Mental Health Act 1983 which automatically removes an MP from their seat if they have been sectioned for more than six months.

That Barwell managed to gain the support of not just the government but some of his backbench colleagues who tend to spend their Fridays wrecking private members’ bills is an achievement in itself, and that this Bill comes from a Tory MP shows that compassionate Conservatism continues to thrive on the party’s green benches.


But Barwell doesn’t see this as the end of the fight against discrimination on the grounds of mental illness. He says:

‘I’m very proud that my Bill will soon become law, but in truth this is only the beginning. As a society we still have a long way to go to tackle the forms of discrimination and the inequalities that people with mental illness face. The Bill will soon drag the law of this land into the 21st century, ending the last form of legalised discrimination. Now is the time for us all to realise that having a mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of or to keep a secret and that mental health should be treated on a par with physical health. Only when that happens will the discrimination truly be over.’

When I asked him what this means for his own work in the Commons, he points to the government’s Work Capability Assessment, explaining that he’s worried about how well-tailored it is for those suffering from mental illnesses:

‘I think the principle is right, but I’m not sure the process is working as well as it could.’

He’s not alone: last week the Public Accounts Committee found flaws in the assessments, and his Conservative colleague Robert Halfon co-sponsored a Commons debate on Atos, which holds the contract, in January. As this assessment was introduced by the Labour government, Tory MPs may well find it easier to criticise it than if it were purely a Coalition policy.

Barwell is clearly an MP who is going to go far: his speech in the Commons during last week’s gay marriage debate was one of the most considered and passionate. But he is one of those campaigning MPs whose eventual promotion beyond PPS will be a loss to the backbenches as he is using his time there at present to effect important changes.

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Show comments
  • raymond francis jones

    Did you not know that mental patients , are used in secret work, by social services.Did you not know they need special people they can lie to easier.Sound of mind people in politics need someone to blame and do what they would not do.Tories with mercy eh you must be joking.

    • fantasy_island

      Are you from Lancashire?

  • ACN

    I just hope this doesn’t mean what I think it does!

  • foxoles

    He thinks it’s a good thing, ‘the right principle’, that MPs, jurors and company directors should be mentally ill? A Prime Minister who has been sectioned for more than six months – such a person would be an asset, would they?

    Is there any possibility of any of you bien-pensants thinking, for even one second, about the problems you are creating for the majority of this country, rather than your continual fixation on genuflecting in front of tiny minorities?

    • Jupiter

      They obviously ignored the law when Broon was PM.

    • rollahardsix

      People with mental illness a tiny minority???

      1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health
      problem in any one year, and 1 in 6 experiences this at any given time.
      (The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001)

      You seem to assume that ‘mentally ill’ is the same as having a nervous breakdown and unable to do anything due to being totally incapable. This is exactly the kind of narrow minded, backward thinking claptrap this bill may help to combat.

      • fantasy_island

        The article clearly states “blocks on those receiving regular treatment for any mental health disorder”

        What proportion of the population could be described in this way?

        • rollahardsix

          The point surely is that as ANYONE who suffers from mental illness COULD be receiving regular treatment – indeed it could be argued this would be desirable – then the blocks described could in theory apply to any such person. The assumption inherent in the blocks is that someone being treated for mental illness is not suited or fitted to the tasks specified, by virtue of them seeking treatment. There is no blanket ban on people who have mental illness, but there is for those seeking treatment. The asumption remains that proven mental illness only equates to being ‘bonkers’ or a ‘looney’, fails to discern between grades or types, or recognises people with mental illness who keep it hidden but who are, say, serving on a jury quite successfully.

          • fantasy_island


            As it stands this only applies to an individual who does in fact receive regular treatment, doesn’t matter what you think could happen, or may happen, this is a fact.

            All things aren’t equal, was ever thus.

    • Daniel Maris

      PM with bipolar? Great. That would be reassuring given he has the power to launch nuclear missiles. And before someone references Churchill, he was never sectioned.

  • Chris lancashire

    Great picture of our hardworking MPs conducting a vibrant debate on the issue of the day.

    • telemachus

      ifagouti you heard that debate these were brave souls

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