Submission by the Royal College of Psychiatrists
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
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
SECTION 141 OF
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to be repealed.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
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