HC Deb 02 July 1845 vol 81 cc1414-7
Lord Ashley

moved the bringing up of the Report of the Committee on the Lunacy Salaries and Expenses.

Mr. T. Duncombe

objected strongly, and complained that the whole affair bore the appearance of a job, by which certain Commissioners were to be rewarded with salaries of 1,500l. a year for visiting lunatic asylums, the expense of which was to come out of the Consolidated Fund. The hon. Member for Weymouth (Mr. Bernal) had moved for important Returns upon this subject, not yet laid upon the Table; and the House was otherwise lamentably deficient in the necessary information to enable it to legislate. Neither were the Commissioners such extraordinarily learned and deserving persons as they represented themselves. Mr. Perceval, who had once been a victim to the system of private lunatic asylums, although at present one of the guardians of the poor for the parish of Kensington, and whose petition, on a former day, he had presented, said of them— The Board of the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy is, in practice, contrary (as your petitioner believes) to the intentions of and without the real knowledge of Parliament—a closed and secret court, where persons confined in asylums, without the knowledge of the charges brought against them, and without even any one specific charge amounting to a proof of insanity, have their cases inquired into behind their backs, without notice being given to them of the day on which such inquiry is to take place; without the power of being present by attorney, or of sending a friend to watch the proceedings, without any knowledge of the evidence produced against them; and consequently without power to cross-examine, refute, or answer the same. That the delays necessary to such a course of proceedings are very great, but that they are cruelly aggravated by the long intervals of time that elapse between each inquiry. And Mr. Perceval added— The present Bill tends to continue and to sanction this system, which is foreign to and hateful to the Constitution of these realms, and furthermore tends to erect another Committee with their Commission, still more secret, for the inquiry into the cases of persons confined as of unsound mind in private houses. He wished that no such place as a private asylum existed; for the House would be horrified at some of the barbarities that had been committed under the very noses of those Commissioners who were paid such high salaries to prevent them. He was ready to prove, before a Committee, the gross cruelties and oppression practised upon unhappy persons left to the mercy of the keepers of lunatic asylums; many parties were ready to give evidence, and many others were at this moment groaning under illegal detention. He wished to know why this Bill was pressed forward with such haste, when the existing law would not expire until the end of next Session? It had been introduced as lately as the 13th of June—it was read a second time before it was dry from the press—it went through the Committee pro formâ—and was now reprinted in 117 clauses. The only clause he could approve of was that enabling the Commissioners to visit asylums where there were only one or two inmates. Until it had been shown that the public money had hitherto been properly expended, he would not consent to the Motion of the noble Lord, and would move, therefore, that the Report be taken into consideration on that day six months.

Lord Ashley

did not expect to have been called upon to enter into the subject on moving a dropped order. The whole discussion could be taken on the clauses. The hon. Member for Finsbury had spoken of the measure having been hurried on with indecent haste. He did not see how such a charge could be made, inasmuch as the measure had been introduced on the sixth of the last month, and the subject had been discussed at various times during the last three years. If the hon. Member would allow him to go into Committee, he would undertake to satisfy him of the propriety of the grant being made. The Bills had been submitted to, and had received the sanction of, the Government and the Poor Law Commissioners; and as both the the principle and details of the measure could be discussed fully hereafter, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press his opposition in the present stage, but allow him to go into Committee, when he had no doubt he should be able to dispel all his objections to the measure. He hoped he would consent to such a course out of kindness to the unfortunate individuals for whose accommodation the provisions of the Bill were intended.

Mr. F. T. Baring

hoped his hon. Friend would not press his opposition to a division; but would allow the Report to be brought up. Such a course would not bind the House to any decision on the subject. He hoped his hon. Friend would not stand on a point of form.

Mr. M. Gibson

thought the Bill ought not to be allowed to pass the present stage as a matter of form. It was said they might agree to every stage excepting the last, as they had the power of rejecting the measures then; but he did not think that hon. Gentlemen, who objected to give money to the Commissioners, could agree to the grant of the power to the Commissioners.

Mr. Manners Sutton

said, it was obvious that they could not discuss the merits of the measure in its present stage.

Mr. R. Vernon Smith

thought it would be better to defer all discussion of the principle of the Bill until they were in Committee.

Mr. Darby

said, that there were some clauses of the Bill which must undergo alteration; and unless they were made he should feel it his duty to oppose the measures; but as such alterations must be made in Committee, he did not consider himself justified in preventing a measure of so much importance from going into Committee.

Mr. T. Duncombe

wished the Bill to be postponed until next Session, in order that an inquiry might be made as to the manner in which the Commissioners had discharged their duty. He had a duty to perform to the unfortunate creatures who were the objects of this Bill, and he was determined to persevere in his Motion of postponement. He would divide the House on every stage, if the noble Lord persisted in pressing on the Bill this Session.

The House divided:—Ayes 117; Noes 15: Majority 102.

Report received.

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