Election law snippets

MPs who suffer mental health problems will benefit from the government’s decision to back a Bill going through Parliament:

The Deputy Prime Minister announced that the Government is backing the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill brought forward by Gavin Barwell MP, which receives Second Reading in the House of Commons today.

The Bill repeals section 141 of the Mental Health Act, which sets out that an MP automatically loses their seat if detained under the Act for more than six months. It also amends similar discriminatory provisions in legislation concerning jurors and company directors.

Meanwhile, another Police and Crime Commissioner candidate has had to stand down because of a past offence:

Labour’s candidate in Lincolnshire Phil Dilks has been forced to step down over an “offence” from 44 years ago. Here’s how Phil describes it:

“Some 44 years ago, I was one of a group of lads on scooters visiting a mate in hospital. I believe it was in the school summer holidays in 1968 when I was 16. As we left the car park to go home, one of the lads stupidly picked up an old crash helmet that wasn’t his. We all went back to my family home to mess about as teenagers do. Unknown to me, the helmet was left in our garage. The police never found out who took it, but because it was found in our garage, I was charged with handling stolen goods.”

At the time Phil was a sunday school teacher. He was backed up by the local vicar. Phil has probably not thought about the events of 1968 for quite some time. Since then he has been a TA soldier for almost 20 years, an elected councillor for 17 years and member of Lincolnshire Police Authority for almost eight years.

The extremely tight rules which are causing these problems are not a mistake or a decision that got little attention. In fact, they were the result of deliberate steps to introduce far tougher qualification rules than normal – steps called for by the police, boasted about by Conservatives and fully supported by Labour.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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10 Comments

  • Richard Dean 15th Sep '12 - 5:01pm

    Is this really wise? There are many different types of mental health issue. With some, like severe depression, a person can nevertheless continue to function as a rational and responsible human being. But some issues impair a person’s ability to make rational judgments, or impair the ability to assimilate new information.

    If a person’s problem is sufficiently serious as to require detention under the Act, it seems to me that that person might be rather unlikely to be capable of discharging their responsibilities towards their constituents. Of course the constituents have an opportunity to change things at the next election, but why should they be forced to wait?

    Removing a person from office removes the stress that office causes to that person. So the old law might actually benefit everyone. So why is it being repealed?

  • Richard – if an MP has a serious illness and has to spend a very long period in hospital should they be removed as an MP? No of course not. Why shouldn’t someone who has a illness of the mind not be treated the same as a illness of the body?

  • I think the key point is that there may be a case for removing an MP if they lack capacity and are unlikely to re-cover it, but that is not an automatic consequence of being “sectioned” and can as easily be a result of physical illness- for example if one were in a coma or persistent vegetative state – to single out a mental health condition that does not necessarily imply permanent or semi-permanent capacity is unfairly discriminatory

  • for “capacity” in last line read “incapacity”.

  • Everyone should have representation. If an MP is not able to represent constituents there should be a byelection.

  • What happened to David Boothroyd’s comment?

  • Richard Dean 16th Sep '12 - 6:22pm

    Lloyd, because the mind is the tool used by the MP, not the body, and the tool makes decisions that have effects on many many other people. To be sectioned you must be very very ill. Constituents have rights too, and in my view they prevail. Once the mind is repaired, the MP can always seek re-election.

  • OK – take your word but can’t say I noticed. Was wanting the check the link he posted to see if it backed up his point.

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