Harper calls for PM to scrap MP mental health discrimination


Out-dated laws, which mean that MPs automatically lose their seats if they are detained under the Mental Health Act for at least six months, should be scrapped, the prime minister has been told.
Mark Harper, the shadow minister for disabled people, asked Gordon Brown during prime minister’s questions to “take steps on that measure and end stigma against people with mental health problems”.
The prime minister replied that mental health was a “serious problem” and needed to be looked at “with great care”, but promised to examine the issue.
Harper also put down an amendment to the equality bill, telling the committee of MPs examining the bill that the current law was “discriminatory”, as MPs who have long periods of time off due to physical health conditions do not automatically lose their seats.
Harper told the committee that a survey of MPs, peers and parliamentary staff last year found that one in five of the 94 MPs who responded had personal experience of mental health problems.
Two-thirds of the 94 thought it was wrong that MPs should automatically lose their seats if sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
After Vera Baird, the solicitor general, assured him that the government was “thinking about a way forward” on the issue, Harper withdrew his amendment.
The disability network RADAR welcomed the question and amendment, which it said were “both very welcome and long overdue”, as the legislation “belongs to the Dark Ages and not the 21st century”.
The charity said the “unacceptable discrimination” placed people with mental health conditions “in the same category as criminals”, who also lose their seat in the Commons, as opposed to people off sick for more than six months with physical health conditions, who do not.
Although the law has never been used, “the very existence of this measure helps to create a climate of stigma and fear for people with mental health conditions”, RADAR added.


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