It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate, and I pay tribute to Dame Anne Begg, and to the Speaker’s Panel as a whole, for putting the report together. I also note, as have others, that we have had a general election since it was published, and that that has given rise to a more diverse Parliament.
I have listened carefully to the concerns about what might happen in 2015, but I have to say that I do not share them. I have tremendous respect for the Labour
party as an institution, but I have never attended a Labour party meeting. I pray to God that I never will! Culturally, Labour has a very different attitude to the Conservative party, and I think it is fair to say that what works for Labour would probably not work for us. I love the Conservative party dearly, but I sometimes think that, in regard to candidate selection, there is a bit of push-me, pull-you involved. The more people try to tell us what to do, the more we rebel against them. My hon. Friend Adam Afriyie made it clear that there was a sea change on this side of the House at the 2010 election, and I do not think that we will go backwards from that point. We are an evolutionary party. Changes occur gradually and then suddenly, whoosh, they start to occur very rapidly. I therefore have much more confidence than some hon. Members.
I am reluctant to serve up cold maiden speeches from two years ago, so I will not do so, but I made the point that, although I did not want to dwell on my physical disability, my cerebral palsy or my epilepsy, I was likely to end up as a role model, whether I liked it or not. That has certainly been the case.
Many people come to me saying that they want to get more involved in public life generally. I think this is a fundamental issue that has been missed in the debate so far, as it is not just about getting more diverse Members of this House. I was at a RADAR—Royal Association for Disability Rights—reception at Downing street, and I pay tribute to the work it does in this field. It told me that it wanted more leaders in public life as a whole, not just in this Chamber. It is vital that more diverse people act as counsellors, as these are the people who will be acting on selection panels to select our successors and our candidates. By broadening the political base, we are contributing to broadening the membership here.
I echo what Jo Swinson said about section 141 of the Mental Health Act. People might think that it is a rather abstruse measure or small print in legislation that needs to be tidied up at some point. However, I think it is fundamental, and the longer I think about it, the more strongly I become convinced of that viewpoint.
I am one of two MPs who have announced in the Chamber that they have epilepsy. This is the first Parliament to include MPs who have been open about that. In the past, for reasons I have never quite understood, people were concerned not to talk about it. Because my hon. Friend Laura Sandys and I have been able to talk about it, we have seen a more rapid change in Government attitudes towards epilepsy. When I spoke about my own personal experiences in a Westminster Hall debate—not just about my epilepsy, but about speech therapy, cerebral palsy and all sorts of other issues on which my life gives me a unique perspective—I was surprised when other Members came up to me afterwards to say, “That’s a really useful contribution you made.” It struck me that what I said was utterly unexceptional and that I was just filling time in the parliamentary schedule, as it were, yet others were saying, “That was fantastic; that was wonderful.” It really makes a difference. If more people are able to talk about their experiences, it will improve policy. I think that echoes a point made by Hazel Blears.