‘This isn’t staged, I promise,’ Gavin Barwell joked as an MP bounded up to our table in the Portcullis House atrium to demand why the Croydon Central MP hadn’t been given a job in the reshuffle. Had he turned something down, his colleague asked, throwing his hands up in the air in despair. Rather like Robert Halfon, though, it’s not a bad thing Barwell remains on the backbenches as at least his campaigning zeal is undented by the appearance of red boxes on his desk.
Instead, the Tory MP’s desk has a private members’ bill sitting on it which has its second reading next Friday. It’s the Mental Health (Discrimination) (No.2) Bill, which calls for three changes to the law around what people suffering from a whole range of mental health issues can and can’t do. Barwell spoke about the proposals in the moving debate before the summer recess in which a number of his colleagues in the Commons revealed their own struggles with mental illness. Coffee House can now reveal that the government will support the measures in the Bill, and Labour has indicated similar support, which means it is highly likely to proceed to committee stage.
When you read the changes proposed by Barwell’s Bill, it’s amazing they’re even necessary today: they allow anyone voluntarily receiving regular treatment for a mental health disorder who are not in a hospital to sit on a jury (currently someone seeing their doctor regularly for anti-depressant treatment, or receiving counselling for a problem like anxiety attacks is barred); they repeal the section of the Mental Health Act 1983 which automatically removes an MP from their seat if they have been sectioned under the act for more than six months; and they remove a provision in the standard articles that many companies adopt which allow a company director to be removed if they have a mental health problem.
These might seem small changes, but their overall aim is to tackle discrimination against those suffering from mental illness. This legislation is another example of the enormous influence that an MP can wield to change life for the better without carrying any red boxes around at all.