I bid you goodnight on a happy note for a change.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, were among those who gave their backing to a Bill introduced to the Commons by the Conservative backbencher Gavin Barwell. It repeals the practice of barring those who have suffered from severe mental health issues from serving on juries or as company directors. MPs who have been institutionalised for psychiatric reasons for more than six months will no longer be forced to stand down from Parliament.
This is a victory against Newscorp barbarians who will no doubt run banner headlines about ‘The Nutters’ Charter’. The reality is that one in eight of us will have some form of mental breakdown during our lives. After I had one in 1990, I found that – when I applied to the DVLA for a driving licence renewal – I had been put on the Provisional Licence list. This meant that, each and every year, I had to prove I was no longer mad.
Had I suffered a multiple shatter-fracture of both legs as a result of careering down a piste following over-indulgence in Gluwein, the application would’ve sailed through without touching the sides. But the unelected gargoyle bigots of the DVLA decreed that, having been mentally ill – eye of fish and lip of toad – I was the personification of Death on our Roads.
It took a six-month marathon campaign via my MP and the Ombudsman (whatever happened to him?) to get me reinstated as not entirely Motor-psycho Nightmare Man.
Fear of the meantally ill is a Stone Age pack reaction drive by genetic wiring that wished to expel those who might cause anarchy. But that was 45,000 years ago, and whether we have evolved or not, we must surely be able to rise above that particular bit of irrelevant self-protection.
So I am pleased to report that, in a rare show of unity in the House of Commons, the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill was passed without a vote. Private Members Bills such as Mr Barwell’s usually fail to win support, and are talked out of time when they reach the Commons. But after the Government and Opposition swung behind the new law, the bill was passed with politicians on all sides of the House praising the reform.
There is hope for us yet.