Lack of knowledge about mental health laws does not stop MPs claiming a 'specific interest' in mental health, according to a survey by mental health charity MACA.

Four in 10 MPs surveyed admitted they were not familiar with the current legislation - even though six in 10 said they had a 'specific interest' in mental health issues.

Charities urged MPs to develop 'at least a working knowledge' of legislation which affects many of their constituents, 'particularly in the light of the fact that the government has just begun its review of the Mental Health Ac t' .

Of the 102 MPs who responded to the survey, 85 per cent said constituents raised mental health issues 'often' or 'occasionally'.

Cliff Prior, chief executive of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, said: 'There has never been a more important time to know about this legislation - it means we have quite a job on our hands.'

But he said it was understandable 'given the length of political lives' that MPs were not aware of the bulk of legislation passed in 1983.

And he questioned other findings in the survey. Just 4 per cent of MPs said they had 'experienced a diagnosed mental health problem'. Figures for the general public suggest about 14 per cent of people experience such a problem.

Mr Prior suggested the 'stigma which still surrounds mental health' might be responsible for underreporting among MPs.

Members of Parliament and Mental Health Issues . MACA, 0171-436 6194. Free.