Thursday, 20 September 2012

John Pugh and Mental Health Discrimination Bill

Last Friday a private members Bill on mental health discrimination made progress at Westminster. Southport MP John Pugh was one of those who spoke in the debate supporting the move. Below are a couple of extracts from the proposers speach and John's contribution. The clip from Parliamentary TV is well worth listening to as it explains the main provision of the Bill

Gavin Barwell,  MP for Croydon Central introduced the second reading of the Mental Health (Discrimination) (No.2) Bill in the House of Commons on 14 September 2012.

My Bill’s purpose is simple: to tackle the last legal form of discrimination in our society. Over the course of my adult life we have made significant progress in tackling racism, sexism and homophobia. Parliament changed the law and sent a clear signal, and, although things are still far from perfect, attitudes have changed. To our shame, however, the law still discriminates against those with a mental health condition. A Member of Parliament or company director can be removed from their job because of mental ill health, even if they go on to make a full recovery, and many people who are perfectly capable of performing jury service are ineligible to do so. As it stands, the law sends out a clear message that if someone has a mental health condition, their contribution to public life is not welcome, and that is an affront to a decent, civilised society.

Gavin Barwell then moved on to a form of discrimination that I have previously challenged in Sefton. The guidance forSchool Governors reads that you cannot be a Governor if  you 'are liable to be detained under the Mental Health Act'. I think that guidance eminated from Central Government when (I think) David Blunkett was Secretary of State. Now it strikes me that a lot of people may 'be liabel' to be detained and I got Sefton to change the advice. I do believe I had the support of the then Cabinet Mmber for Children, Schools and families Cllr P Dowd. This matter is covered by the new Bill as Mr Barwell explained:

The second aim of the was to amend school governance regulations, so that people detained under the Mental Health Acts would no longer be disqualified from holding office as school governors. Clearly, someone who is detained is unable to attend governors’ meetings, but that may be for only a short time, and there is no reason that they should not resume their role once they are able to do so

Those commenting on the debate were impressed by the overall standard of speaches and the fact that nobody voted against the Bill. Jonathan Calder did tweet that John Pugh had done 'Terribly Well' . Here is what John said as reported in Hansard:

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): The issue of mental health has crossed my path many times throughout my life. In fact, I have seen some of the extremes of it. I once worked on all the wards of a very old-fashioned mental hospital, Oakwood hospital in Maidstone. In the north, I taught at Ashworth’s predecessor institution, known as Park Lane. I am probably the only MP who has had the experience of showing somebody into a padded cell and of helping administer electro-convulsive therapy—that is quite a distinction, I guess. I have seen the extremes, therefore, and my conclusion is that mental health covers a very wide spectrum—a whole range of issues.

There are two fallacies to which I strongly object. First, there is the idea that the world is divided into those who have perfect mental health and those who do not—hands-up anybody in the Chamber who has got perfect mental health. It is undoubtedly the case that some people cannot do certain kinds of work because of mental health issues, of course, but it is also the case that many people work despite having mental health issues; they might work through mental health issues with occasional mental health episodes while at work, and some people will be oblivious to the mental health issues they have. It is a fallacy to think there are people

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who are available for work with perfect mental health, and those who are unavailable for work, who lack perfect mental health.

The second fallacy is that having an acute episode of a mental health issue permanently disqualifies someone from work. That must be resisted entirely. The philosopher Nietzsche said that what does not destroy us makes us stronger, and there is plenty of evidence to support that; some people are strengthened by having had a mental health problem. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) has been able to work very satisfactorily for his constituents and in all sorts of jobs, which serves to show that people can work through chronic mental health problems. I worked with colleagues in the teaching profession who had obsessive compulsive disorder. Lots of people manage to cope with, and overcome, chronic mental health issues and go back to work.

Belief in either of those fallacies leads to the unfair discrimination that the Bill seeks to tackle. Discrimination itself is not a bad thing, however. We frequently need to discriminate; we do so all the time. Older Members will remember the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch about the one-legged man applying for a film role as Tarzan, and we can think of circumstances in which having certain mental health issues would disqualify people from following a profession: it is probably not a good idea for those with a phobia of heights to apply for a job in the Shard, and it might well be inadvisable for those with suicidal tendencies to apply for a post involving firearms. The generalised stigma that prevails throughout wider society is wholly inappropriate, however.

I looked up the Mental Health Act 1983. Its provisions apply not to MPs with mental health problems, but to MPs who are subject to compulsory detention under that Act, such as, perhaps, those with suicidal impulses or those with delusions and hallucinations, and where the prognosis is poor. The question then is what to do. We are torn between discrimination, which we reject, and the need to make sure people have proper and adequate representation. That question requires a solution of some subtlety. As has been said, this is not an issue of mental health; it is an issue of the capacity of an MP, and to make it merely an issue about mental health is pure discrimination.

10.56 am

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