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Thanks to Mr Harper on mental health, rebuttal of Mr Hague on Iraq

Posted on 24 June 2009 | 11:06pm

Given I left Downing Street in 2003, it’s rare these
days I get mentioned in Parliament.

Then … it’s like waiting for a bus. Two mentions one
after the other, first in Prime Minister’s Questions, then in the main debate
of the day.

First mention came from a Tory MP, Mark Harper, and
was surprising both in tone and content.

He said I used to provide a good service in giving
advice to TB, and he urged GB to take my advice in relation to repealing
Section 141 of the Mental Health Act.

He referred to the evidence I gave recently to the
Speaker’s Conference on diversity, about which I blogged here last week, and
the discriminatory nature of legislation which bars MPs from Parliament if they
are sectioned for more than six months, when no such measure exists for
physical incapacitation.

There was a time when the mere mention of my name
would bring forth jeers and howls of outrage from Tory MPs, but instead Mr
Harper was heard in silence and sat down to a few ‘hear hears’ around him. 

GB was pretty non committal in reply but I hope he
will now go away and look at it, and pledge to remove this law. It has never
ever been applied in practice but it would be a hugely significant symbolic

I am grateful to Mr Harper for raising it. For all the
disdain for MPs post-expenses, the truth is an MP standing up and making a call
like that can really make a difference. I know from the rash of texts which
alerted me to what he had said that it gave a real boost to mental health

The second mention came from William Hague in the
debate on the Iraq inquiry and here I have to take issue with what the Shadow
Foreign Secretary said.

I know it is part of his job to make life difficult
for the government, but he is a clever enough man, and a good enough speaker,
to do it without misrepresenting people.

He claimed that I had been consulted about the nature
of the inquiry, seeking to draw a contrast with others who had not been. He
also sought to give the impression I pressed the government to go for a private

As I explained here a few days ago, that is not so. I
made the point that it was possible to make a case both ways, and rehearsed
some of the arguments on both sides, public or private. I also said I had
observed to the Downing Street advisor who told me there was a debate going on
about whether some of the inquiry should be public and some private, that I
thought it was important to have a clear position, otherwise they could end up
with the worst of all worlds.

I have given evidence to a number of inquiries before
and if asked would obviously give evidence to this one. But for the record, I
was not consulted until after the Prime Minister had decided what sort of
inquiry the government wanted, and I am not complaining about that. Any more
than I am complaining about the changes announced since.

I remain of the view that many critics of the war have
closed minds and will refuse to accept anything other than grave condemnation
of the government, just as they have condemned previous public inquiries as
whitewashes because they did not say what they wanted them to. There is an awful
lot of politics and politicking wrapping itself round the inquiry already. It
is nonetheless clearly right there should be one.

  • Katharine T.

    You mentioned sir, that Mr. Brown was non-committal in reply. I don’t know enough about the face of politics vs what is done behind the doors to know what to make of that comment. Was it that Mr. Brown did not want to seem to support an adversary’s (you and Mr. Harper) plea in front of his peers? Why is it such a crime to admit that the “other guy” has good ideas too and utilize it to the best advantage of the party?

    I don’t admit to be any sort of intelligent person when it comes to politics, but, I hope that Mr. Brown was only non-committal to save face in Commons.(?)

    I apologize if I sound stupid, I was just hoping to understand better.

  • Humpty_Dumpty

    Alastair, I’m pleased that Mark Harper raised the Mental Health issue – it’s not before time that Mental Health issues were treated as a disease rather than a shameful thing to be hidden away. The MP angle would give this some light.

    As for the Iraq war – I am a critic of the war (but not, obviously, the servicemen in Iraq). What is not in dispute is that the WMD statement presented by TB was untrue. Period.

  • Rethink supporter

    I watched PMQs yesterday and like you was pleased by Mark Harper’s question. I was also disappointed by the answer. The best that can be said is that he did not know about the issue, and the hope therefore is that he will now go and look at it. As you say, because it has never been applied, and never is likely to be, it is an easy way of signalling change in attitudes at a time that is needed.

  • Harold Parr

    I thought the main event at Prime Ministers Questions — the argument on budgets and cuts — was all a bit alice in wonderland on both sides. On newsnight last night they said it was one of those arguments where both sides thought they could win the argument. Maybe it is one of those where both sides could lose

  • Jane A

    Iraq is such a polarising topic that the entrenched views of people on either side of the debate are unlikely to be changed now by its findings. I think a mix of public/private will simply look like a compromise which suits no one.

    On brighter matters, brilliant about PMQs, and I hope this is a subject on which politicians of all shapes and flavours will unite. GB would win the heartfelt support of many were he to back the repeal.

  • Cat C

    A confidential questionnaire was carried out last year. All MPs Lords and their staff were surveyed. Of those that responded 1 in 5 said they had direct experience of mental illness, and even more were affected via a friend or relative. But not a single one said that they would be willing to go public or admit it openly – the most common reason cited for keeping quiet was that this would be used against them. Stigma, pure and simple.

  • Harriet K

    For some time now, Rethink has been campaigning to get rid of s 141 of the mental health act, which says that an MP who has been sectioned, should lose their seat. There is no equivalent for an MP with a physical illness – this is symbolic of the special stigma attached to mental illnesses. Recently our friend and supporter Alastair Campbell gave evidence to the Speakers Conference on making parliament more representative, and said this section should be removed. Unfortunately Gordon Brown’s response was extremely non-committal, but he did at least say he’d look at it. Perhaps some letters to Number 10 are in order?

  • Wyrdtimes

    “It is nonetheless clearly right there should be one.”

    And shouldn’t it all be a completely public inquiry? And shouldn’t people be under oath?

    Don’t the families of those who have died, or those returning mutilated, or those returning mentally damaged deserve that?

    Doesn’t the taxpayer who funded it all deserve that too?

  • Ian Eastwood

    Seems to be unless people get the answers they whan’t to hear from most PEs, there are claims of some sort of cover up.

  • CPW

    Nobody with an ounce of decency in this country gives two shits what you think or feel on any subject, this enquiry included.

    That you have any say in the how the public life of this country is conducted is to its shame.

  • alex

    ‘I remain of the view that many critics of the war have closed minds and will refuse to accept anything other than grave condemnation of the government’.
    And I, like 99.9% of ordinary citizens in this country, remain of the view that your mind is closed to the numerous facts (presented to you well before the invasion) which counter your suggestion that you honestly believed the Iraqi’s had WMDs capable of being deployed against the west within 45 minutes, which was the central justification for going to war in the first place. Michael Howard (another person I dislike) summed you up accuratley enought a few years ago on Newsnight. The words sociopath, egomaniac (its laughable that you thought yourself fit to give the British Lions a team talk) and dishonest do not do you justice. ps most of the British Lions players from the 2005 tour that I met thought you were a total bell end.

  • Thomas Rossetti

    “I also said I had observed to the Downing Street advisor who told me…”

    You cannot “observe to” anyone. You can “observe [things]” and you can “make observations to [someone]” but you cannot “observe to [someone]”.

    I expected more from a professional “communicator” and Cambridge graduate.