A Parliamentary committee has recommended quashing rules that mean MPs suffering from mental ill health for more than six months are forced to give up their seats.
With the case of Northern Ireland politician Iris Robinson bringing the mental health of politicians, and the pressures they work under, into the spotlight, the Speaker’s Conference Committee – a committee chaired by the Speaker – has recommended section 141 of the 1983 Mental Health Act be repealed.
Under this current rule, an MP automatically loses their seat in Parliament if they are detained under the Act for a period of six months or more. By contrast, there are no similar provisions to remove MPs suffering from physical illnesses for the same length of time.
At the same time Mark Harper, shadow minister for disabled people, has put forward an amendment to the government’s Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill that would have the same result.
A report in 2008 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health, supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other mental health organisations, showed that one in five MPs had some personal experience of a mental health problem. But one in three said work-based stigma and the expectation of a hostile reaction from the media and public prevented them from being open about mental health issues.
The report, entitled Mental Health in Parliament, called for the removal of Section 141 – a change which was backed by the majority of MPs surveyed.