Clause 1 - Members of Parliament etc.

Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 1:30 pm ar 31 Hydref 2012.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Ceidwadwyr, Croydon Central

Thank you, Mr Bone. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I will not detain the Committee long, but I will briefly describe the purpose of the Bill, and the four clauses and the schedule that it comprises.

The overall purpose of the Bill is to tackle the last legal form of discrimination on the statute book. As the law stands in this country in 2012, Members of Parliament or company directors can lose their job because of their mental health, and many people are barred from performing jury service because of a mental health condition, which is bad for the House, for companies and for our court system. Apart from dealing with particular pieces of legislation, the real purpose of the Bill is to send a message to society as a whole that stigmatising people on the basis of their mental health is wrong and wholly anachronistic. The Leader of the Opposition recently gave a good speech on the issue, and I agree with nearly every word.

I hope that the Bill will help to deal with the issue of stigma. We can understand how big the problem is from research by Time to Change, which has shown that two thirds of people with a mental health condition are reluctant to tell their employer about it; a shocking 62% do not tell even close friends and family—they could provide a support network; and, because of the stigma, one third do not have the confidence to approach a medical practitioner. The need to deal with the issue of stigma is therefore extremely pressing.

Clause 1 will repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which states that a Member of Parliament detained under that Act for six months shall automatically lose their job, whether or not there is a good prognosis for recovery. As it stands, the law is openly stigmatising, since there is no equivalent legislation for Members of Parliament who cannot do their job because of a physical illness or condition—indeed, a Member of Parliament  may be sentenced to prison for more than six months and not lose their job—nor is there an equivalent provision for Members of the House of Lords. In fact, you—not you, Mr Bone, but a Member of Parliament—may be detained for up to 12 months under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 without losing their job. Therefore, the law is both an ass and blatantly stigmatising, and a Speaker’s Conference has recommended that the legislation be changed.

Clause 2 will amend the Juries Act 1974 to define much better who should be eligible for jury service. That clause covers only England and Wales. Currently, the law refers to mentally disordered persons and bars from jury service anyone who regularly attends for treatment by a medical practitioner. Someone who takes antidepressants, perhaps to treat post-natal depression, is barred from jury service. Someone who has suffered a bereavement and is regularly seeing a counsellor is also technically barred.

My Bill introduces a much more sensible definition of who should not be able to serve on a jury. The three categories are a person liable to be detained under the 1983 Act, a person resident in a hospital—in other words, voluntarily undergoing treatment—on account of a mental disorder, and a person subject to a community treatment order or placed under guardianship under the 1983 Act or who is lacking in capacity under the 2005 Act. That much more sensible definition involves people’s actual ability to perform the task at hand.

Clause 3 makes changes to the model articles of association for companies concerning the termination of directors’ appointments. All companies are required to have articles of association. The model articles are held to apply if a company has not adopted its own, and most companies use them as a basis when they are drawing up their own. There is already a provision in the articles that someone ceases to be a director if a registered medical practitioner who is treating them gives the company a written opinion that they have become physically or mentally incapable and that they will remain so for more than three months. In other words, that is, again, the correct test of capacity to do the job. There is, however, an additional, wholly unnecessary stigmatising provision that the role is terminated automatically if a director’s rights or powers have been restricted by a court order on mental health grounds. That is wholly unnecessary, because the other element of the articles deals with the issue.

Finally, clause 4 deals with the commencement of the Bill, should it become an Act, and its extent. I hope that members of the Committee will want to see the legislation commenced as soon as possible. The time scale is two months for most provisions, but the provisions under clause 2 will proceed by order to give the Ministry of Justice time to redesign jury summoning forms. The schedule consists of consequent provisions amending other pieces of legislation.

I will not take any more of the Committee’s time at this stage, other than to thank Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, who introduced a similar Bill in the other place in the last Session; he is the person who deserves credit for this Bill. My thanks also go to Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which have provided a great deal of support both to Lord Stevenson and me in bringing the Bill forward.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central for bringing forward the Bill. He eloquently outlined how it changes the outdated legislation on the statute book, but it sends a wider message on the stigma around mental health, which I will discuss in a minute.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Members of Parliament; the remarkable thing about the existing legislation is that it has not changed since 1886. The only thing that has changed is who performs the psychological assessment of the individual. The other issue, which he rightly pointed out, is that there is no right of appeal under the legislation for any individual who is deemed unfit for government. It is one of the few pieces of legislation where there is no appeal system. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is no equivalent physical illness that would debar a Member of Parliament. Someone could be in a long-term coma and still be a Member of Parliament. The most striking thing, as he said, is that a Member of Parliament could be in prison but still able to serve as a Member of Parliament. That is clearly wrong.

Since I spoke in the debate on jury service on 14 June, I have had many e-mails and letters—I know other Members who spoke in that debate have, too—but one of the most remarkable was from a solicitor friend of mine, who I did not realise had been suffering from depression. She still takes antidepressants. She said that as the Juries Act 1974 stands currently, she can go into court every week and argue for clients, but she could not sit on a jury in that court. That demonstrates what is wrong with the current legislation.

The signal the Bill sends out—the hon. Member for Croydon Central mentioned this—is that people with mental illness can and do carry on perfectly normal, active and successful lives and can make a huge contribution to society in whichever field they wish. The practical issues around the Bill are important, but the symbolism it has for the stigma of mental health will help move on the debate about how we look at mental health in this country.

I conclude by again thanking the hon. Gentleman for bringing forward the legislation and, with him, recognising the work of the organisations that support the Bill and are doing so much to lift the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds mental illness.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central most warmly on introducing the Bill. He has done extremely well and it is a pleasure personally for me to speak today as I missed that remarkable debate on mental health some weeks ago because of other commitments. I also missed Second Reading, so I apologise to Committee members who attended those debates. I wish I had been there.

I am particularly glad to be here today as the hon. Gentleman is realising something that has long been the ambition of many hon. Members. I am also glad that the Government are standing behind him in this matter. It is fair to note that as well. Other Members have looked in this direction. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Lord Stevenson. My colleague, Lord Elis-Thomas, who was Presiding Officer of the Assembly in Cardiff until  recently also pressed for these changes some years ago when we were looking at what eventually became the National Health Service Act 2006. I am glad to see the changes realised.

The hon. Gentleman is in good company in introducing the Bill and, hopefully, seeing it turned into an Act. Some years ago, I was part of the Committee that looked at the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and a private Member’s Bill proposed by a good friend of mine from Port Talbot, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis). He got it through with the support of the then Labour Government. There is something of a tradition in this place that pieces of legislation relating to equality tend to be Back-Bench measures but then get through with Government support. The hon. Member for Croydon Central is in very good company.

Lastly, I want to refer to the extent of the Bill. I am glad to see that the membership of the Welsh Assembly and the other assemblies is included. It would have been entirely remiss had the measure referred only to this place. Given my political stripe, I would have been glad if the Assembly had been able to take this decision for itself. Alas that is not the case, so I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his efforts in that direction and I wish him well with the progress of the Bill.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Minister (Public Health)

Once I again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central on bringing forward this important legislation. I was privileged to be on the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation which met in 2010 just before the election. We took extensive evidence and made a recommendation about this piece of legislation; it is worth reminding the Committee of what we said:

“We have seen the evidence that, fearful of stigma, disabled people and those with illnesses sometimes fail to make their impairments public. There is a danger, therefore, that s141 might deter Members from admitting their mental health problems and seeking suitable treatment.”

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

My hon. Friend makes the point I had intended to make. MPs in years gone by—my father was here when there was a majority of three—had enormous pressures on them and masked their mental illness, perhaps by resorting to drink. What the Bill does, and what hon. Members and colleagues did when we debated it previously, in starting to break down some of that stigma, is enormously important.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Minister (Public Health)

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Just to complete the quote from our recommendation:

“So, from a purely medical point of view, the section may not operate in the best interests of MPs. Section 141 is a vivid, continuing and unfair symbol of the particular and potentially harmful stigma that attaches to mental illness…We believe that s141 of the 1983 Mental Health Act is unnecessary and damaging. It embodies attitudes which stigmatise and sap the confidence of people with mental illness. Section 141 should be repealed as soon as practicable.”

I am very glad indeed that we now stand poised to do exactly that.

We have reflected on the fact that MPs with mental health challenges may have been deterred by the legislation from seeking treatment, to the detriment not only of  themselves and their families, but their constituents. It symbolises a wider sense of stigma. When we visit Mind organisations in different parts of London, as I have done in my capacity as shadow Public Health Minister, one of the issues that those who work with Mind raise is the sense of stigma that, rightly or wrongly, inhibits people even when they are being treated and are on the way to recovery. It inhibits them from taking their place in the world and moving forward to employment.

The Bill is long overdue, as the hon. Member for Croydon Central said. Its progenitor is Lord Stevenson of Coddenham. He is passionate about the measure. I had meetings with him about it at least a year ago. However, it took the hon. Gentleman to bring it to the Floor of the House. I have had a long career in politics battling against discrimination in all its forms and, because I have spent a long time doing just that, I know that legislation does not necessarily transform hearts and minds straight away. On its own, it does not necessarily deal with material, policy and even financial barriers.

However, when we look back at the history of fighting discrimination in this country, it is legislative action that has signalled to the wider society that it is time to move forward on a particular issue. That might not have happened immediately, but we have seen that legislative action can have an almost exhilarating effect on society with the realisation that the attitudes that people are clinging to are attitudes of the past. I said in the previous debate on the Bill that it was remarkable that hon. Members have been more willing to make public their sexual preference—something that, in living memory, has been a huge stigma in the House—than to talk about their mental health. That demonstrates that it is the last great stigma and prejudicial issue in our society.

We live in a very difficult and changing world. We live in a world with austerity on each side and where communities, families and individuals are under increasing pressure. We live in a world—perhaps because of our own instability—where communities do not have the resilience they once had. Mental health in its totality, including dementia and older persons, and mental health in particular groups, whether lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual young people or the black and minority ethnic community, is an issue that is slowly moving up the health agenda. Many hon. Members are certainly committed to seeing mental health have parity of esteem with physical health.

Having been a member of the original Speaker’s Conference and also having spoken to many people and organisations about the Bill, I am pleased to be here this afternoon to support what will prove to be symbolic legislation on the long road to freeing people with mental health challenges from a sense of stigma, giving them the support and respect that they deserve from public policy.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee 1:45, 31 Hydref 2012

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and it is a great pleasure to follow on from the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. This is a very good Bill, as are its clauses, which make great sense. The reason why it is a good Bill, as alluded  to by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central, is that it was a long time in gestation. Lord Stevenson of Coddenham spent more than 18 months getting it right. He talked to those whom he needed to talk to in the various Departments to bring it together. The Bill is a model of good private Member’s practice. I hope that it will be used by other hon. Members as an example of how to go about introducing private business in the House, because its genesis was not out there in a lobbyist’s office—we know that there are thousands of them—but in the House of Lords and the House of Commons. That is why it is proving to be so powerful, and why it has got so much support across the House.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Durham— I call him my hon. Friend—who is a fine Member of Parliament and an example of cross-party co-operation. It is for that reason, and that reason only, that he has secured my vote for Labour Front Bencher of the year in The House magazine. I urge colleagues in this place to take that vote seriously, as we should take all votes seriously. Those who have not yet voted for the Member for North Durham should leave this place as soon as possible to cast their votes on their computers. I tried to vote twice but it would not let me have a second bite at the cherry.

Without further ado, I shall bring my brief remarks to an end. I think that they were probably out of order from around the 30th second, but I thank you, Mr Bone, for allowing me the opportunity to impart my very limited wisdom and waffle to the Committee.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I will be brief. I join other Members in welcoming the Bill, in part as an example of cross-party co-operation on a private Member’s Bill. I have sat through many Friday sittings in absolute frustration as the filibustering goes on and worthwhile propositions are talked out, so it is a real relief to be on a Committee where we can see that the Bill will achieve something. As Members of Parliament, it is inevitable that we would talk mostly about the provision that affects MPs. That provision is important in terms of removing some of the stigma around mental health issues and setting down a marker, but I want to make some brief remarks on the amendments to the Juries Act 1974, as that affects far more people in practice.

According to the Law Society, more than 9,000 people were affected in 2008, which was 2% of those called for jury service. The overall figures on the percentage of the population that is receiving mental health treatment at any one time would suggest that a lot of people did not admit that they were receiving treatment. A survey by Rethink found that 12% of people with a mental illness have been disqualified from jury service at some point. Based on that, it estimates that 1 million people have been excluded. Some people who are receiving mental health treatment are not declaring it to a jury, while others who need mental health treatment but are not receiving it—not managing their condition—find themselves eligible for jury service. But those who are managing their condition well are not eligible, which is an anomaly, so I am glad that this stigma is being removed.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in a court scenario, there may be victims with mental health issues as a result of circumstance, and there may also be people in the dock who have mental health issues?  Therefore, it makes sense if some jurors can understand what that means, in practical terms, when making judgments.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Yes. A jury is there not just to make judgment on the facts before them, but to have empathy for the situation also. That is why we have a jury, rather than just qualified legal professionals making those decisions. Given that it is estimated that 70% of people in prison have a mental illness, the chance that the person in the dock is affected by mental illness, as my hon. Friend said, is very high indeed—that is a really important point.

I will close on this point, to which I hope the Minister will respond. As I understand it, currently there are quite clear rules so that people with physical health conditions can turn down a jury summons without fear of penalty. What consideration will be given to people who plead mental health problems? I ask that because although we want to remove the barrier so that those who are receiving treatment can serve on a jury, we do not want to force them to if they feel that their condition is such that they would not be able to without suffering stress as a result, or that they would not be able to follow the proceedings. It would be helpful if either the Minister or the hon. Member for Croydon Central could clarify whether new guidelines will be developed.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Ceidwadwyr, New Forest East

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and also to participate in what has been a thoroughly good-news story for Parliament and for Back Benchers taking forward important legislation. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central and I am grateful to him for the invitation that he extended to me right at the beginning to be a sponsor of his excellent Bill. I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne and the hon. Member for North Durham, who I also regard as a friend—albeit on the other side of politics—for their contributions.

I have a couple of questions relating to specific clauses, to which I am sure there are good answers, but it may assist the public to have further clarification. I was particularly struck, as I am sure we all were, by the comparison made between a Member of Parliament in a long-term coma, who would not be disqualified, and a Member of Parliament who might have a short-term mental illness, who would be disqualified. The Bill’s effect will be to put them both on the same basis, but it may be of interest to the public to know what that basis will be. What would happen if someone is disabled by a stroke and left in a long-term coma with perhaps two or three years to go before a general election? It would be of interest to all of us to understand what the common basis will be in future.

On clause 2, and the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central about jurors, if I understood him correctly, he said that a voluntary in-patient would be disqualified from serving. Clearly, someone who has been detained under the Mental Health Act would also be disqualified from serving, but what would the situation be if a voluntary in-patient decided to discharge themselves perhaps 24 hours before being called for jury service? What would happen if someone was perhaps as ill as a voluntary in-patient, but chose not to become a voluntary in-patient? I suspect  that the answers to my queries lie in the careful use of the words “liable to be detained”, but it would benefit the Committee and the public to have that spelled out.

Subject to those explanations, I warmly congratulate everyone involved and commend the Bill without reservation.

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Ceidwadwyr, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central on securing the Bill and on making so much progress?

I do not propose to say much. Indeed, I had not proposed to speak at all until I suddenly thought to myself that the one issue that is incredibly important to myself and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View is of course the attitude toward our armed forces. I hope that the Bill sends a clear message that those who serve in the armed forces and suffer from mental health issues should have the opportunity to take their concerns to their commanding officers to ensure that they understand the issues without feeling neglected or discriminated against for doing so.

My second point is that allowing such people to serve on juries or enter this place and serve here is incredibly helpful, because they come with the experience of having been through those mental health challenges.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point about the experience that serving personnel bring to civilian life. They may well be suffering from long-term combat stress in some shape or form, which requires ongoing treatment, but to rule them out from serving on juries seems to be a little ridiculous and the Bill is therefore welcome.

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Ceidwadwyr, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point.

My final point is that we should be concerned with not only getting our armed services to play a bigger role, but also ensuring that people who are arrested and taken into custody suites actually have some kind of mental health analysis. I recently visited Charles Cross police station in Plymouth—its custody suite is the busiest in the whole of England and the second busiest in the whole UK. We need to ensure that the police look at this issue, and that we continue to look at it.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Southport 2:00, 31 Hydref 2012

As we are talking about all the clauses in one, I will say what I have to say now. We can run away with the idea that we are simply combating stigma—the idea that it is impossible to be an MP and have a mental illness—but what we are doing, in boring detail, is repealing section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983. That Act appears to be very specific about in what circumstances an MP should cease to serve. Those circumstances, as I understand them—I stand to be corrected by those who have made a greater study of this subject than I have—appear to be when a person has been detained under the Mental Health Act, which is quite a high threshold, visited by practitioners appointed by the House and the Speaker and in collaboration with the Royal College of Psychiatrists and then visited six months later to ensure that the  condition is still is as it was. Therefore, we are not talking about a short-term mental illness; we are talking about something that presumably would have lasted a year or more. We are dealing with a case of a person being debarred where they are clearly not in a good position to represent their constituents—I will put it like that. They would not be disqualified by the 1983 Act unless they were in a situation in which they found it difficult to represent their constituents.

Now, I have no objection to repealing that section, but I think it must be made clear that that is exactly what we are doing. On the other side of the coin, there will be concerns about how, during that time, those constituents would be represented. We are putting no provision in place for them to do that, so the constituents of the MP who would have been disqualified and now is not are not in a wholly desirable position.

As if to underline that point, yesterday a Bill was rushed through this House, in which we have in effect retrospectively endorsed the detention of people who had been detained under the Mental Health Act in circumstances where the procedure was improper. I argued, during the brief passage of that Bill, that if they did not have mental health issues, they would not have been treated in that way. If they were detained by a procedure that was formerly inappropriate, it would not be possible for Parliament to detain them retrospectively through that curious bit of legislation, and it would not aspire to do so. Therefore, they were being discriminated against. The view was being put quite fairly and reasonably by the ministerial team that this was not unfair discrimination; it was for their good. We take the issue of people being detained very seriously, because people are not lightly detained. That was the reason why we had this emergency legislation—why we passed an Act that essentially enables retrospective detention.

Clearly, anybody who would have been disqualified by the 1983 Act is not somebody who simply has a mental illness. It is somebody who meets a higher threshold than that. It follows that such a person would have a difficulty representing their constituents, and their constituents would have difficulty securing representation in this place. I am not saying that we should do otherwise than what we are intending to do, but we need to think internally about what service could be offered to constituents who find themselves with an MP in such an unfortunate situation, as described by the clauses of the 1983 Act.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank you and all Committee members here today for considering my hon. Friend’s Bill. He is to be congratulated on getting it to this stage and building on the work of those who have gone before him, as he articulated. He is also to be congratulated on drawing such support from both sides of the House.

I want to give an answer one of the policy questions raised, and then I shall close to allow my hon. Friend to finish the day’s work. The hon. Member for Bristol East asked whether an allowance might be made for those with mental health problems who, although eligible to serve on a jury, might feel unable to do so and want to turn down a jury summons. Anyone summoned for jury  service can request an excusal or deferral, and a section of the jury summons form covers that. Those applications are considered by officers of the jury central summoning bureau. I can reassure the Committee that each application is considered carefully and, in such cases, sympathetically, with due regard to individual circumstances. Although no one eligible has the right to be excused, it is extremely unlikely that anyone with a genuine mental health problem would be forced to serve. I hope that that is in keeping with the expectations of hon. Members here today.

All told, as hon. Members have articulated today, the Bill will play an important part in going some way to remove the stigma associated with mental health disorders and the discrimination against those who suffer from such disorders who wish to fulfil a role in public life. All three roles that we are discussing—membership of the House, jury service and company directorship—are ones that we ought to be proud of in civic life, and we ought to encourage people to participate in them. The Government are delighted to give the Bill their full backing, and I hope that it makes speedy progress through its remaining stages.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Minister (Public Health)

For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Bone, I want to say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship.

People campaigning on these issues set so much store by the Bill not only because it will remove stigma, but because they believe that it will lead to an acknowledgment that mental illness is part of the warp and weft of public policy. People who have campaigned on this issue would want it mentioned that people with a mental illness are concerned about activities in relation to the Department for Work and Pensions—in particular, the role of Atos. The feeling is that Atos might perform more satisfactorily in its role if more people—both MPs and people engaged in public policy—properly understood mental health issues.

To end on a more positive note, I want to confirm that everyone in the Opposition parties supports the Bill and congratulates the hon. Member for Croydon Central on introducing it.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Ceidwadwyr, Wellingborough

Before I call Mr Barwell to sum up, I should like to congratulate the Committee on today’s proceedings. Eleven Members have spoken in this short debate.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Ceidwadwyr, Croydon Central

I, too, would like to thank all members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate. The example given by the hon. Member for North Durham of a solicitor who was taking part in our court system every day but who would not be allowed to serve as a juror clearly illustrates the nonsense of the current law.

The hon. Member for Arfon made the important point, which I had neglected to mention, that clause 1 also relates to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne paid me a kind tribute when he said that he thought that this was how private Members’ business should be used. It is worth putting on record that we had to struggle quite hard to get to this point, and I pay tribute to both my hon. Friend the Minister and her predecessor, the Minister  for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), because they have been hugely supportive. We have had to struggle a little to get to this stage, and it is right to draw attention to that.

The hon. Member for Bristol East made a very good point about the Juries Act and the fact that, because the definition at the moment is so wide, it is not effective: lots of people who should rule themselves out do not, so having a more precise definition should make the system work better. The Minister has dealt with the hon. Lady’s question.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East raised two questions, one of which was reinforced in some detail by the hon. Member for Southport. The first question was that, although the Bill rights a wrong—the imbalance between the position of someone with a mental health condition and that of someone with a physical health condition—it does not address the wider issue of what recourse constituents have if their Member of Parliament is incapacitated or unable to perform their duties.

From my point of view, there are two answers to that question. First, if one is talking about a very short period, the political parties are good at putting arrangements in place. My predecessor as MP for Croydon Central was absent for a period, and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) covered his constituency. He made sure that constituents with problems had some recourse to Parliament, and the House gave him permission to run his neighbour’s constituency office. Secondly, however, a longer-term solution is needed. The hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington will correct me if I am wrong, but I think I am right in saying that the Speaker’s Conference recommended that a Select Committee should consider the issue and suggest the right course of action to take when a Member is incapacitated for a long period, to ensure that their constituents do not lose out.

The second question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East was about whether a potential juror who voluntarily discharges themselves from hospital would still be caught by the Bill. He hinted at the answer, which relates to the use of the word “liable” in clause 2. In addition, if a judge deems that for any reason a potential juror is not suitable to perform the duty, they have the power to prevent that juror from serving, which is a back-stop provision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport made a point about the armed forces. I have close friends who have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and I have seen how they often have mental health issues when their return from duty. The armed forces have come a long way in recent years in trying to deal with such problems, but I am sure that he is right that they could go still further. It is important that we do not lose committed servicemen who have given good service and that we have arrangements in place to ensure that they can access proper treatment.

I thank all members of the Committee who have given up their time to be here. Obviously, we are here to represent our constituents and to do what we think is right for the country as a whole. However, it is also worth putting on the record that several Committee members have personal experience of, or have loved ones who have suffered from, a mental health condition, and they asked to serve on the Committee because they attach real importance to our work today.

Finally, I want to reinforce a point made by the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. During my adult lifetime, I have seen our society make real progress in tackling racism, sexism and homophobia. Such things do not happen quickly or overnight. As a Conservative, I very much agree with her that we cannot simply pass a law and change people’s behaviour at the stroke of a pen. It is true, however, that when Parliament sends out a clear signal, that has an effect on people’s behaviour over time and, as she said, can be an important catalyst for changing attitudes. In my adult lifetime, important legislation has been passed by Governments of both parties to address discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and disability. I hope that the Bill—I am very glad that it has received cross-party support—will be a further step in ensuring that we learn to treat people in our society as individuals and not to judge them as a group.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.