Second attempt to outlaw discrimination against ‘sectioned’ MPs


A shadow minister is making a second attempt to change a law that discriminates against MPs with mental health conditions.

The Mental Health Act states that MPs who are sectioned under the act for at least six months must lose their seats.

Although the provision has never been used, campaigners have said that it adds to the stigma experienced by people with mental health conditions.

The former Downing Street communications director, Alastair Campbell, who has spoken openly about his own mental health experiences, has described the measure as “blatantly discriminatory” and has called for it to be scrapped.

And a report by the parliamentary group on mental health last year revealed that more than two-thirds of the 94 MPs who responded to a survey believed that MPs should not automatically lose their seat if sectioned.

In May, Mark Harper, the Conservative shadow minister for disabled people, attempted to add an amendment to the equality bill that would have outlawed the provision, but it was ruled to be outside the scope of the bill.

Now Harper has tabled an amendment to the constitutional reform and governance bill, which has reached the committee stage in the Commons. The amendment has been supported by Labour MP Lynne Jones.

Discussion of the bill will resume in the next session of Parliament, which begins on 18 November.

Harper said: “Mental ill-health is still a taboo subject in Parliament as well as the workplace and this must change.

“Changing this aspect of the law will be a small but symbolic step in redressing the stigma that people with mental health problems face in the workplace.

“It will also make Parliament a more welcoming place for those with a mental health problem.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “The government is considering the matter very carefully.

“A number of bills presently before Parliament might provide opportunity for further debate on this issue – we will set out how we intend to proceed as part of those debates.”

11 November 2009