Historic breakthrough for mental health sufferers

A Conservative MP's bid to end "the last legal form of discrimination" by reforming Britain's mental health laws has won the backing of the Commons – and the government.

Gavin Barwell's mental health discrimination bill was waved through parliament's lower House without a vote this morning, after ministers, the opposition and even those who usually filibuster private member's bills gave it their blessing.

Today was always going to be the biggest test of support for Barwell's bill, which seeks to end the practice of forcing an MP's resignation if they are sectioned under mental health laws for more than six months.

Similar discriminatory provisions barring those who have experienced mental health difficulties from serving in juries or as company directors are also to be repealed.

Usually backbench MPs seeking to get a law through parliament in their name need to persuade 100 colleagues to vote for it. But even that was not necessary this morning as politicians on all sides of the Commons poured praise on the reforms.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: "It's ludicrous in this day and age that a person can't contribute to public life if they’ve had issues with their mental health. 

"Discrimination like this has no place in modern society and it is right that these rules are repealed. These long overdue reforms will send out a positive message that the stigmatisation of people who have mental health problems should not be tolerated."

Labour leader Ed Miliband warned that Britain has "further to go to reduce the taboo that surrounds mental health", but said Barwell's bill was a positive step forward.

"If people with experience of mental ill health play a full part in public life, our country will be a better place for it," he commented.

Shadow health minister Diane Abbott told MPs that such is the strength of the taboo that parliamentarians had revealed their homosexuality long before they felt safe enough to talk about their mental health difficulties.

Charles Walker, a Conservative MP, was one of those who admitted he has mental health issues in an emotionally charged debate earlier this year.

"I am delighted to say that I have been a practising fruitcake for 31 years," he told MPs.

Speaking afterwards to politics.co.uk, he added: "We've got to be much more welcoming and relaxed, because if you're unwell it's so much easier to get better if you're not frightened and worrying about things. We need to create a stable, warm, loving environment for people with mental health problems so they can focus on themselves, and not worry about what we all think."

Barwell put the finishing touches to his campaign with a comment piece for politics.co.uk earlier this week.

"To our shame, the law still discriminates against those with a mental health condition," he wrote.

"An MP or a company director can be removed from their job as a result of a mental health condition even if they go on to make a full recovery. Many people who are perfectly capable of performing jury service are disbarred from doing so. If my private member's bill is approved by the House of Commons, we will look back in a few years' time and be amazed that this archaic nonsense was on the statute book in 2012."