HC Deb 20 April 1842 vol 62 cc886-90

On the first clause;

Mr. Wakley

rose for the purpose of moving his amendment. The hon. Member stated, that if he should succeed in inducing the House to adopt his amendment, it was not his intention to offer any further opposition to the progress of the bill. He objected to the clause appointing barristers to the office of commissioners of lunatic asylums. What could be more absurd than to select members of the legal profession to sit in judgment on cases of mental derangement? Was not insanity invariably associated with bodily disease? The investigation in which the commissioners would be involved would be purely of a medical character, and therefore the barristers, if they were appointed, would be incompetent to perform the duties which would devolve upon them. Supposing barristers were appointed, what would they have to do? Their principal duty would be to ascertain whether the lunatics were subjected to proper medical treatment. That was the main object which the commissioners ought to keep in view. Was not the noble Lord aware that the selec- tion of a competent medical man to fill such an office as that of commissioner would have a most beneficial effect on the conduct of those physicians and surgeons officially connected with establishments set apart for the reception and treatment of the insane? If medical men were appointed, important tabular statements would be drawn up relating to this class of affections, and much valuable light would be thrown on the nature and treatment of insanity. He complained of the disposition which existed in that House to fill up every appointment to which emolument was attached by a barrister, Whether it was to be attributed to the fact of all bills being drawn up by barristers or not he did not know, but the disposition was evident. That they were unfit was shown by the total failure of the Metropolitan Commission, in which they predominated; he would therefore move that the words "Barrister Commissioners" be omitted, and the words "Medical Commissioners" be inserted. He had intended to move for the appointment of only one medical commissioner, but as the noble Lord proposed that the commissioners should act separately, he felt it his duty to propose that both should belong to the medical profession.

Lord G. Somerset

could assure the hon. Member that nothing was further from his intention than to cast any slur upon the medical profession. All that he wanted was, that the provisions of the law should be carried out, and that he thought would be better done by gentlemen of the profession of the law than by medical men. The inquiry to be made by the commissioners was not as to the medical treatment of the patient, but whether he was treated properly and with kindness; and with respect to such inquiries a barrister could make as sufficient an investigation as any medical man. Besides, he thought that the appointment of legal gentlemen would be more acceptable to the gentlemen who were attending asylums; they would not like to be interfered with by gentlemen belonging to their own profession. He proposed that the legal commissioner should have the assistance of medical men when he considered it necessary to obtain their advice. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wakley) had suggested that a medical commissioner should be associated with a legal commissioner; but he thought it would be difficult to obtain the services of competent medical men to act as commissioners, for they could not offer sufficient remuneration to a medical gentleman in full practice to induce him to spend half his time in the country in visiting asylums. He had brought in this bill in consequence of communications with the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and he believed, if it was adopted, it would afford means of obtaining a mass of information which might lead to the establishment of a better mode of supervision than now existed.

Mr. Pakington

thought it advisable that the commissioners should be members of the medical rather than of the legal profession. Strong representations had been made to him by a medical gentleman who was the proprietor of a lunatic asylum in the borough which he represented, complaining of the inquisitorial system which would be established by this bill, and objecting to the appointment of barristers as commissioners. He hoped that his noble Friend (Lord G. Somerset) would reconsider some of the more stringent provisions of the measure. He was glad that the noble Lord proposed to give the legal commissioner the power, when he deemed such a course necessary, of obtaining the assistance of the physicians appointed by courts of quarter sessions as inspectors of lunatic asylums.

Mr. W. Miles

thought, that the duty of inspecting lunatic asylums, which was far from an agreeable task, should be taken out of the hands of magistrates, and committed to two commissioners — the one a barrister, and the other a medical man.

Lord G. Somerset

proposed to strike out the clause, preventing barristers from calling in the aid of medical men, in order that in particular cases they might avail themselves of the advice of the medical visitors appointed by the quarter sessions.

Mr. Wakley

said, he had had a practical demonstration of the truth of phrenology. He knew before he had commenced his observations, that he should not convince the noble Lord. The noble Lord had opposed his propositions with the most persevering pertinacity. He would now suggest, that the profession of the commissioners should not be stated in the bill, but that the responsibility of the appointment of a medical man or a barrister should rest with the Lord Chancellor, There would be no difficulty in getting competent medical men for this investigation any more than there would be in getting competent men of the legal profession. The hon. Member concluded by moving an amendment, to the effect that two of the commissioners to be appointed should not have their profession stated, but that their appointment should be left to the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. H. P. Howard

thought, medical men educated as to the diseases of the human mind more fit for such an appointment than men educated in mere legal technicalities. He should oppose the proposition that it be left to the Lord Chancellor to choose whom he might appoint, as his predilections would most likely be in favour of his own profession.

Mr. Henley

was opposed to the appointment of exclusively legal gentlemen.

Lord G. Somerset

said, whatever might be the opinions of the hon. Member opposite as to his phrenological conformation, he should oppose the proposition to leave the responsibility of the choice of the professions of the commissioners to the Lord Chancellor. He had no objection to take the proposition of the hon. Member into consideration, but he would rather the House would at once decide the question than throw this responsibility on the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Wakley

meant to persist in his amendment.

Mr. Hardy

said, he should distrust the fitness of a legal commission. He would much rather see one legal and one medical commissioner. On a visit to the Wakefield Lunatic Asylum, he had felt convinced of the sanity of a lunatic on conversation with him, who, it afterwards turned out, was the most violent of the patients.

Mr. R. Yorke

was of opinion, that Members of the legal profession were the least qualified persons to be on the commission.

Mr. Godson

thought, that medical men were not so fit from their prejudices. He had heard a doctor swear, that all mankind were mad. They wanted the experience and knowledge of the other profession to investigate the truth of the facts under which a lunatic was confined. He wished to see the two professions combined, in order to arrive at a just result in such an inquiry.

The Committee divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the question:—Ayes 19; Noes 22;— Majority 3.

List of the AYES.
Adderley, C. B. Jackson, J. D.
Aglionby, H. A. Johnson, W. G.
Baskerville, T. B. M. Mackenzie, T.
Broadley, H. Mahon, Visct.
Clerk, Sir G. Martin, C. W.
Cripps, W. Mitchell, T. A.
Denison, E. B. Round, C. G.
Forbes, W. Rous, hon. Capt.
Gladstone, rt hn. W. E. TELLERS.
Grimsditch, T. Godson, R.
Hornby, J. Somerset, Lord G.
List of the NOES.
Arkwright, G. Hardy, J.
Blake, Sir V. Howard, P. H.
Bodkin, W H. McGeachy, F. A.
Bowring, Dr. Miles, W.
Brotherton, J. Pakington, J. S.
Campbell, A. Plumridge, Capt.
Christie, W. D. Turner, E.
Colville, C. R. Williams, W.
Dickinson, F. H. Yorke, H. R.
Evans, W.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. TELLERS.
Halford, H. Henley, H.
Harcourt, G. G. Wakley, T.
Lord G. Somerset

hereupon said, he hardly knew what course to adopt now, as he knew not whether the intention of the House was to favour the medical or the legal authority.

Mr. Wakley

said, he had no doubt whatever as to the perfect practicability of carrying out beneficially the principle which the House, he was glad to say, had affirmed. Perhaps it would be well, for the present, to postpone the further consideration of the measure.

House resumed — further proceeding postponed for a fortnight.

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