PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on mental health

by Stephen Tall on February 27, 2008

Unsurprisingly, today’s PMQs couldn’t quite match up to the excitement of yesterday’s Parliamentary proceedings – or indeed the rooftop excitements. Davd Cameron suffered from poor briefing in his questions on Parliamentary proceedings, and was left deflated by an on-form Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg put in one of his strongest PMQs performances to date, shrugging off the expected barracking of Labour and Tory MPs following yesterday’s Euro referendum walk-out, and focusing on a crucial but under-reported issue: mental health.

Here’s the Hansard version so you can judge for yourselves:


Mr. Clegg:
The NHS spends more than £300 million a year on anti-depressant drugs, which we learned yesterday probably do not help many of the people taking them. Is it not time the Prime Minister developed a mental health strategy that helps patients rather than pouring millions of pounds into the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry for drugs that do not even work?

The Prime Minister:
First of all, I say to the right hon. Gentleman: welcome back. I hope that this time he can stay long enough to hear the answers. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should do more so that people are not dependent on the drugs that he is talking about. That is precisely why the Secretary of State for Health is investing in providing more therapists to help people. We have made a decision to employ 3,600 more, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support that.

Mr. Clegg: It is good to be here. It is a shame that the Prime Minister seeks to defend clapped-out 19th century procedures in this House, which are preventing the British people from—[HON. MEMBERS: “Oh!”]

Mr. Speaker: Order. [HON. MEMBERS: “More!”] Order. I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that he should be careful where he goes with this. [Interruption.] Order. Now, let the right hon. Gentleman speak. The Speaker has given him some advice; I give hon. Members advice all day. It is all right.

Mr. Clegg: Of course I will be careful, Mr. Speaker. I was talking about procedures, not people—procedures that prevent the British people from having a say in this Chamber, which is what they want.

On the issue of mental health, has the Prime Minister forgotten what his own expert, Lord Layard said? He said that we need an additional 10,000 therapists, not the 3,000 that the Prime Minister is talking about. Why is he taking half measures when we have the scandal of some patients waiting up to three and a half years just to see a therapist?

The Prime Minister:
Lord Layard has said that he supports the policy we are putting forward. That policy will receive the support of £173 million, to invest in the psychological help that people can give. We are looking at piloting some of Lord Layard’s proposals on how we can help people get into work, so we are doing exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to do.

As for the matter of the European vote, which the right hon. Gentleman also raised, I just remind him that his party put that issue to a vote only a few weeks ago, on 14 November 2007, when it said that

the Gracious Speech fails to announce proposals for a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union.”—[Official Report, 14 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 781.]

When they put their proposal to the vote, 464 voted against them, and only 68 for them. That is the level of support for their proposal.