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Mental Health and Members of Parliament

Our People - GN
Manhas Aziz
4 April, 2019

In July 1849, Liberal MP John Bell was found to be of unsound mind and unable to care for himself by a Commission of Lunacy. John Bell believed himself to be a bird, and a speedy bird as he kept his shoulders oiled.

There existed no legal mechanism to remove him from his seat as MP of Thirsk on the basis of his mental health and he remained a Member of Parliament until his death in 1851.

The Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 received Royal assent on 10 May 1886 after being introduced by Charles Cameron in January 1886. This Act enabled an MP to be removed from his seat if he remained of unsound mind for longer than 6 months.

This Act was replaced by the Mental Health Act 1959, which was further replaced by the current Mental Health Act 1983. Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 provided the procedure that would need to be followed if a Member of Parliament was detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. 

The process would be the following:

The Speaker of the House (the Speaker) would first be informed that an MP has been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. The Speaker would then authorise two registered and S12 approved medical practitioners to visit and examine the MP. They would then report to the Speaker whether the MP was suffering from a Mental disorder and remains liable to be detained, this report would enable the MP to be detained.

After 6 months from the date of the report the Speaker would request two registered medical practitioners to visit the MP to assess their mental health. If they provide a further report (as above), the Speaker would then furnish the House of Commons with both reports. This would result in the seat becoming vacant.

Section 141 was repealed by the Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013. The key message at the time, that discrimination of people with mental health would not be tolerated.

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