Page last updated at 14:45 GMT, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Sacking mentally ill MPs 'wrong'

Iris Robinson
Iris Robinson's resignation letters are "being processed" her party confirmed

The scandal surrounding the NI MP Iris Robinson has led to a call in the House of Commons for a change in the law over the rights of mentally ill MPs.

Mrs Robinson, the MP for Strangford, is receiving "acute psychiatric treatment" after revelations about her financial dealings with her teenage lover.

The 61-year-old is set to step down from all her elected positions.

But on Wednesday, a Labour MP said it was wrong that MPs with mental health problems could be automatically sacked.

Mental Health Act

The matter was raised during Prime Minister's Questions by the MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, Lynne Jones.

"I make no comment about individual cases but as the law stands, any member of this house who suffers a bout of serious mental illness can be automatically disqualified from office no matter what the prospects of recovery," she said.

Section 141 of the 1983 Mental Health Act states that any MP who is detained under the act for a period of more than six months loses their seat in parliament.

Iris and Peter Robinson
Mrs Robinson is married to the First Minister of Northern Ireland

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Ms Jones had "raised a very important issue" and said that both the Justice Secretary Jack Straw and the Health Secretary Andy Burnham were "giving carefully consideration as to the appropriate way forward".

Mr Brown said he understood a recommendation to repeal the rule had been included in report which was published on Monday by a House of Commons committee.

The committee is chaired by the speaker of the Commons and is known as the "speaker's conference".

The prime minister said he would respond to the recommendation "in due course".

Resignation letters

Iris Robinson, who is also the wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister, was elected to three political positions as an MP, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLA) and as a councillor in Castlereagh Borough Council.

She has been sacked as a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, which her husband also leads.

However, a spokesman for the speaker of the Stormont Assembly confirmed on Wednesday that no letter of resignation from Mrs Robinson had been received by his office as yet.

In response to a query from the BBC, a DUP party spokesman said Mrs Robinson's resignation letters were "being processed".

"Our priority has been the health of Mrs Robinson. Other individuals should take this into consideration.

"As the resignations will take effect from the date on the letter, the day they are formally submitted should not be of concern," he said.

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