Page last updated at 14:42 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 15:42 UK

End 'sectioned' MP ban - Campbell

Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell is urging an end to the 'stigma' around mental health

MPs detained under the Mental Health Act should not automatically lose their seats, Alastair Campbell has told MPs.

Such a "simple and symbolic" rule change would be a "powerful" way to lift the taboo around mental health which exists in politics, he added.

The ex-spin doctor, who has suffered from depression in the past, said many MPs including members of Tony Blair's government had had mental problems.

But he said they were afraid to admit it in case it was used against them.

Speaking to MPs at a special Speaker's Conference, which is examining ways of making Parliament more representative, he said MPs' failure to speak out even though about one in five are thought to have suffered mental problems "legitimises the stigma".

He went on: "I do understand why people are not open, I really do.

"I know people, I know politicians from my time when I was working with Tony Blair, I knew they had what you would term as problems and I might have talked to them about it - simply because they were, at the time, more worried about the media management should this get out than they were actually about addressing what the problem actually might be."

He said the legislation banning MPs who have been "sectioned" was "blatantly discriminatory".

"It's a piece of legislation that cements that discriminatory point, and given that nobody has ever been covered by it, it seems to me a pretty easy thing for a government simply to say it doesn't need to be there."

'Important position'

He added: "I completely accept that somebody could become so severely mentally ill for such a sustained period of time that they just could not do an important public position."

But such a case could be dealt with by party leaders and whips in the way other problems were handled, he added.

David Blunkett, who is sitting on the Speaker's conference said more should be done to promote the occupational health services available to MPs suffering from mental health problems.

Mr Campbell also backed the idea of a code of conduct to curb abuse of political rivals based on mental problems, although he stressed "you have got to be able to attack your opponents on a political level".

Under section 141 of the 1983 Mental Health Act, an MP can be removed from their seat if they are detained under the powers of the Act for six months or more.

No MP has ever been excluded from Parliament for this reason - but campaigners say it adds to the stigma for people who have mental problems by putting them in the same category as criminals, who can also be barred from the House.

Campaigners are urging MPs to back an amendment to the Equalities Bill currently passing through Parliament. They also want a ban on company directors who have been sectioned lifted.

Shadow minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, the Conservative MP who is tabling the motion, said: "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."

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