A request to remove a discriminatory provision which means that an MP automatically loses his or her seat if detained under the Mental Health Act was made in Parliament this week.
During Prime Minister’s Questions Mark Harper, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, asked Gordon Brown if he would back a campaign to lift the ban which is viewed as discriminatory because there is no equivalent provision for MPs handicapped by a physical condition. In response the Prime Minister said he would look into the issue and added that “it has to be treated carefully”.
Speaking outside the chamber following Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Harper told the politics.co.uk website: “Mental ill-health is still very much a taboo subject in Parliament as well as the work place and this must change. Mental ill-health affects as many as one in four of the working age population and it is crucial that Parliament leads the way in promoting a better understanding of mental health.
“Changing this aspect of the law will be a small but symbolic step in tackling the stigma that people with mental health problems face in the workplace and make Parliament a much more welcoming place for those with a mental health problem.”
Currently, under Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, an MP automatically loses his or her seat in Parliament if detained under the Act for a period of six months or more.
No MP has ever been excluded from Parliament for this reason but campaigners say it adds to the stigma for people who have mental health problems by putting them in the same category as criminals, who can also be barred from the House.
Last year a study of MPs, “Mental Health in Parliament”, found that almost a third struggle with mental health problems but the fear of stigma and a hostile media reaction is keeping them silent. One of the leading recommendations in this publication included the call for the repeal of laws that prevent people with experience of mental health problems from standing for Parliament.
Alun Thomas, Deputy Chief Executive of the Welsh mental health charity Hafal said: “People with a mental health problem should not be barred from standing for Parliament or lose their seat if sectioned during their time as an MP. Hafal would like to see equality of rights and treatment for all people with a health problem whether it is mental or physical.”
To read the “Mental Health in Parliament” report please visit: http://www.mind.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/85684C08-42A7-415A-A477-84F46794961E/6566/MentalHealthinParliament.pdf
For more information on Hafal: www.hafal.org