POLITICS
03/06/2015 14:02 BST | Updated 03/06/2015 14:59 BST

Army Officer Turned MP Wins Plaudits For Speech On Mental Health

MPs will tomorrow find out which of their number will be given a prime opportunity to champion a law of their choice.

A ballot at 9am will reveal which backbenchers get the chance to introduce their Private Members’ Bill.

Some 20 MPs from hundreds attempting to secure debating time will be drawn from a hat, and themes can range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

One MP, however, is clear. Johnny Mercer, the newly-elected Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View, has made championing mental health issues one of his defining "missions" of the Parliament, and has a keen interest in supporting military veterans.

The former Army officer, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, this week won plaudits in Westminster for his maiden address that tackled the lack of care for soldiers as they returned to civvy street. He described the inattention as a "great stain on this nation".

"In 2012, we reached a very unwelcome threshold when, tragically, more soldiers and veterans killed themselves than were killed on operational service in defence of the realm," he said.

johnny mercer

MP Johnny Mercer in Westminster with wife Felicity ahead of his maiden speech

He argued the Government has to do more to help those struggling to come to terms with life away from the battlefield, suggesting the state is relying too heavily on charities such as Help for Heroes to carry the burden.

Mr Mercer, a married father of two daughters, spoke of how one of his men died in his arms while on dawn patrol in Afghanistan in 2010.

He also told colleagues how Lance Sergeant Dan Collins, a member of the Welsh Guards, committed suicide on New Year’s Eve in 2011 after losing the battle with his “demons”.

"Our nation failed one of her bravest sons once more, as yet another victim of the Afghanistan war lost his life, not bleeding out in some dusty foreign field in the intense pressures of combat but in his homeland, which he had fought so hard to defend," he said.

Mr Mercer says he has been "astonished" by the positive response to his speech, and says he expects to champion the cause if fortunate enough to secure the chance to take a Private Members' Bill forward.

The impassioned speech is well worth watching and reading.

What chance a Private Members' Bill?

While standing little hope of becoming law without Government support, Private Members' Bills had an appreciably higher profile than normal in the last Parliament.

The Conservatives failed twice to get their EU referendum using the device.

Andrew George, a former Liberal Democrat MP, came top of the ballot in the last parliamentary session, and his Bill to axe the “bedroom tax” looked set for an unlikely triumph after a Lib-Lab alliance helped steer the legislation through its second reading.

But the former Cornwall MP was left railing against a “flagrant abuse of power” after the Affordable Housing Bill fell victim to a coalition row over the in-out EU vote.

Some "PMBs" have scored notably successes.

The Act that enshrines in law a commitment to spend 0.7% of Britain's national income on foreign aid began life as Private Members' Bill introduced by Michael Moore, another former Lib Dem MP.

While it was clear from the outset the first Conservative drawn out in 2013 would be encouraged to champion an EU referendum, the mood music is less clear now.

In any case, MPs in the top 20 will have a few weeks to decide, and the first of 13 debating sessions allocated does not begin until June 24.