Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

Submission by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (SC-70)

  The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the leading medical authority on mental health in the United Kingdom and is the professional and educational organisation for doctors specialising in psychiatry.

  We are pleased to respond to this consultation. The College's consultation response was approved by: Dr Ian Hall, Chair of the Westminster Parliamentary Liaison Committee, and Dr Tony Zigmond, mental health law reform lead, Royal College of Psychiatrists.


  The Royal College of Psychiatrists believe that Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 is a gross example of discrimination on grounds of mental health and needs to be repealed. In order to remove discrimination there must be parity between physical and mental health.

  Under Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 an MP automatically loses his/her seat in Parliament if detained under the Mental Health Act for a period of six months or more. By contrast there are no provisions to remove an MP if he or she suffers from a physical illness, even if the illness (eg a serious stroke or cancer) is very debilitating and substantially affects the person's ability to perform their parliamentary functions. Furthermore, a person who lacks mental capacity may also be detained under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 but does not thereby automatically lose his or her seat as a result.

  There is no relevant distinction between these two latter situations and that covered by section 141 of a person who has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

  It is for Parliament to determine if an MP should be displaced after absence from the House through sickness and if so, how long an absence is required. However, the type of illness, and whether the MP has been subject to the Mental Health Act should not be the primary concern, but rather it should be the effect the particular health problem has on an individual's ability to perform the functions of an MP.

  As the Secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health (APPGMH), The Royal College of Psychiatrists helped to produce a report on mental health in Parliament in July 2008, which was based on a survey of all MPs, Peers, and their staff.[185]

  This survey showed that MPs had a significant experience of mental distress both personally and among friends and family, but they were worried about disclosing this because of fear of the stigma and discrimination that is associated. Repealing Section 141 of the Mental Health Act would be a symbolic step towards addressing this stigma.

  By removing the seat of an MP who is detained under the Mental Health Act, the law also gives the false impression that an MP cannot recover from a mental disorder. This is a wholly out of date viewpoint and runs counter to the modern approach to recovery in mental health.

  Section 141 has never in fact been used; however it is a totemic piece of law, which ensures that discrimination exists at the heart of our democracy.

The Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation has noted that representatives from the disabled community have expressed concern that Section 141 is one factor which makes them feel unwelcome in Parliament.

  We are particularly concerned about the effect that this might have on people with a history of mental disorder who want to stand as prospective parliamentary candidates, but may be put off if they believe that they will be disadvantaged. As the APPGMH survey showed, even those who do stand, or get elected, feel they have to hide their experience of mental illness.

185   http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/mttp%2010-res%20Press%20Release%20version%2015-07-08.pdf Back

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Prepared 27 May 2009