Mental health discrimination in Parliament ‘untenable’ says Government
Posted Friday 29 January 2010
Outdated legislation that requires MPs who have been detained under the Mental Health Act to stand down has been branded ‘untenable’ by the Government, representing the strongest move yet towards outlawing mental health discrimination in Parliament. Section 141 of the Mental Health Act means that MPs have to resign if they are sectioned for more than six months, and the Government has come under considerable pressure this month to repeal the law 'as soon as practicable’ (1).
There is widespread agreement amongst mental health organisations and parliamentarians alike that requiring an MP to resign after a period in mental health hospital care is unfair and unfit for modern times, with a survey of MPs showing that over two-thirds believed that Section 141 was ‘wrong’. However, this latest move would see a review of the law go to a select committee for consideration, rather than being repealed in a current bill (2), adding delays to the process meaning the law may not change ahead of the General Election.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, said:
The current law is outdated and unfair and it adds to discriminatory attitudes towards mental health. This significant step sends out the message that people with experience of mental distress are fit to work in positions of responsibility.
Mind and other mental health organisations have long been campaigning for this law to be repealed and there is widespread agreement among mental health groups and MPs alike that this law has no place in a modern and fair society.
The Government has said that the law needs to change, but if the situation goes to a committee for consideration first, it is unlikely that Section 141 will be repealed before the election. Rather than introduce more delays, we would encourage the Government to seize this chance and take a significant step towards ending mental health discrimination.
Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, said:
Time to Change welcomes the new commitment from Government to address the discriminatory provisions in existing legislation. We are pleased to see that the government is playing its part in tackling stigma and discrimination, particularity in this instance relating to the Mental Health Act.
Further more this sends a clear message to other employers that we need to address mental health problems in the workplace and to put an end to the discriminatory attitudes that prevent capable people from working.
However, it is vital that we build upon this decision with firm commitment to a timeline, ensuring that this decision is part of the positive indicators that show the time is right for long overdue change.
(1) The Speaker’s Conference, which published its final report on parliamentary representation on 11th January 2010 called for Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to be ‘repealed as soon as practicable’
(2) Shadow Minister for Disabled People Mark Harper has tabled an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which would provide an opportunity for Section 141 to be repealed.