Mental health: Committee says ban on sectioned MPs must end

Members of Parliament should not lose their seat if they are sectioned for six months, a committee of MPs said today.

A report by the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation, which was set up to examine how Parliament can become more diverse, said legislation underpinning the ban should be repealed “as soon as practicable”.

Under section 141 of the Mental Health Act, MPs automatically lose their seats if they are sectioned for six months.

The committee said no such disqualification was applied to those with severe physical conditions and this was inconsistent.

The report said: “Section 141 wrongly implies that mental illness is in some way fundamentally different in its effects from physical illness. Yet the House, through its medical services, can provide care and assistance for those with mental illness, just as it can for those with physical illness.”

Break down stigma

The committee said such a repeal would send a clear message to society and break down the stigma of mental illness.

It recommended that a select committee be tasked with devising how best to repeal the law.

In formulating its recommendations, the Speaker’s Conference heard evidence from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, mental health charities, MPs and members of staff.

In evidence to the committee, Tony Blair’s former director of communications, Alastair Campbell, called for greater openness among MPs. He said: “If there were a few parliamentarians around the place who popped up at conferences, and so forth, and were able to give really open support to the work that the mental health charities are doing, that would help, and I think also it would help change the mood within this place.”

The committee’s report comes just a day after mental health charity Rethink called for a lifting of the ban on jurors who suffer from mental illness.

Under the 1974 Juries Act those receiving treatment cannot sit on a jury. The government plans to review this situation this year.

Rethink has suggested a system under which people are excluded from jury service only on the basis that they lack mental capacity.                        

The charity will be counting the number of people bared from jury service on its website from midnight. The number is set to increase by one per hour.

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