The television signal at my home in Oxford is a capricious thing, and so I was delighted the other night to discover that I can now pick up BBC Parliament. (I know it’s available online but sometimes I want to tear myself away from my laptop, and it is easier to watch it on the TV.) Idly flicking through the channels last night, I stumbled across Broxbourne MP Charles Walker making an excellent speech on mental health.
It emerged that he was responsible for the adjournment debate on mental health advocacy. Mental ill health episodes may result in someone being detained, and an advocate’s role is to support that person in their encounters with health professionals and advise them that they can question treatments. Mr Walker compared an advocate to a lawyer going into bat for a person who has been arrested.
The Mental Health Act came into force in November last year, but the portion relating to mental health advocacy goes live in April. Mr Walker expressed concern about the complex nature of the legislation and fears that the tendering process favours large organisations. He also highlighted an ongoing worry that Afro-Caribbean men are twice as likely as white people to be detained when exhibiting the same mental health problems.
My favourite passage in Mr Walker’s speech was a blast against tabloid newspapers:
"I conclude by noting that our tabloid press are having great sport with discriminatory remarks made by a member of the royal family. The reporting of the tabloid press on people with mental illness is atrocious and appalling, and it is discrimination of the worst kind. Many people are fearful of coming forward with mental health problems because they fear that they know how their community will react to them. There is still hostility in our communities to people with mental illness and I firmly believe that a lot of that hostility is whipped up by hysteria in the tabloid press. It is the worst kind of discrimination; it is vile discrimination. I hope that our tabloid press gets their house in order before we have to get it in order for them."
This is outstanding Parliamentary work. The Conservative Party has had a good record on mental health for several years, but it never hurts to keep up the good work. This is the best sort of modernisation – getting hold of an important subject and pleasantly surprising people with your interest in and mastery of it.
Mr Walker has shown himself to be well-briefed, courteous, proportionate and determined. If we are to have a reshuffle, Mr Cameron should take note.