HC Deb 07 February 1859 vol 152 cc163-8

LORD NAAS moved for leave to bring in a Bill to consolidate and amend the law relating to lunatic poor in Ireland. In 1856 a Commission was issued to inquire into the state of lunatic asylums, both public and private, in that country. The Commissioners visited all the institutions in Ireland for the relief or reception of lunatics, and, having examined all the official persons connected with those asylums, as well as private individuals who had taken an interest in the treatment of the insane, and several keepers of private lunatic asylums, they produced an elaborate and lengthy Report, which is accompanied by the evidence they had taken. The Commissioners made several very important recommendations. He feared that it would hardly be possible in the compass of one Bill to carry out all that the Commissioners recommended, but he had incorporated in this measure most of the important suggestions made in the Report. He did not propose to deal with any other description of lunatics than the poor, for that class was quite large enough, and the considerations involved were of a character sufficiently important to be made the subject of a special Bill. Nor did he propose to deal with criminal lunatics; these are provided for in a Government asylum at Dundrum, under a special act of Parliament. The main feature of the Bill was the substitution, to a great extent, of local authority with regard to these asylums for that central and governmental authority which had hitherto existed in Ireland. The result of such substitution, he believed, would be greater economy and efficiency. Under the present system plans for the erection of costly buildings for the reception of lunatics were submitted to the Lord Lieutenant, they were erected by Board of Works, and the expense thereof thrown upon the ratepayers without their having had a voice in the matter. He therefore proposed that henceforth the direct interference of the Executive Government in the building and management of these asylums should altogether cease. He proposed that in every county visitors should be appointed by the grand jury, with authority to enlarge the old and build new asylums where necessary, and also to exercise all the powers now vested in the boards of governors nominated by the Lord Lieutenant. Where the district asylum belonged only to one county the grand jury of that county would choose all the visitors, the number to be regulated according to population by the Lord Lieutenant. Where the asylum belonged to more than one county, then each grand jury would appoint a certain proportion of the visitors; the several bodies of visitors thus appointed to become one visiting Committee for the management of the district asylum. One of the recommendations of the Commissioners, which he regretted to say he could not adopt, was that a central board should be established in Dublin, to whom the control of these institutions should be intrusted. The creation of such central boards was always to be viewed with suspicion, and in this case it was very doubtful whether a body of that kind was either desirable or necessary. The Bill would define as accurately as possible the duties of all persons connected with the conduct of these asylums; it would provide an active, constant, and rigid system of inspection, and yearly reports from the inspectors would be laid before Parliament, The power of the central authority over these institutions would he wielded principally by the Lord Lieutenant, whose authority would never be exercised except to compel persons intrusted with the management of these asylums to conform to the regulations and to obey the law. The Inspectors would be left very much as they now were. Great pains is taken to avoid the exercise of anything like arbitrary power; and wherever the action of the central authority was likely to be objected to, the parties interested will, before the final order is made by the Lord Lieutenant in Council, have an opportunity of having their representations fully considered. The local authorities would have the power of appointing all officers, such as medical superintendents, visiting physicians, matrons, chaplains, and clerks, subject to the approval of the Lord Lieutenant, and they would also fix the amount of their salaries under the like condition. At present the mode of admitting patients to these asylums was very unsatisfactory. Sometimes they were admitted by the resident physician, at other times by the board; and complaints were often made that equal justice was not done to patients having the same claim to be received within their walls. A power was now vested in magistrates to commit to the county gaol dangerous lunatics, who were thus frequently left in prison for a considerable period, without proper care, and were not removed until the authorities of the asylums certified that they had accommodation for them. He proposed altogether to do away with that system, which he regarded as barbarous and wholly unsuited to the present age, and to provide that on receiving information that a poor person had become insane, the relieving officer of the district, or any member of a dispensary committee, should be required to bring the lunatic into the presence of a justice, who should call in the assistance of the medical officer of the dispensary district, and on finding the person to be insane should make an order for his admission, whereupon the relieving officer should convey him immediately to the asylum. The Bill would give the Lord Lieutenant power to remove all lunatics found in gaols, and likewise power—when sufficient asylum accommodation is provided—to remove all lunatics found in workhouses. Gaols and workhouses were most unfit places for the custody of such persons. A proper person is seldom at hand to take care of them; in the one case the poor madman was often given into the care of a tried prisoner—in the other, into that of an aged pauper. No curative treatment could be availably pursued, and consequently the least chance of their recovery was at an end. He therefore proposed, if possible, to remove all pauper lunatics from workhouses and gaols—a course which would necessitate a considerable increase in the accommodation at present afforded by these asylums, as would be seen by a consideration of the statistics furnished by the Commissioners. According to their report it appeared that there were in the district asylums 3824; in the workhouses, 1700; in the gaols, 156; and it was supposed that in the various private asylums there were about 3030 more. Of course, as the Commissioners said, it would not be necessary to provide anything like the amount of accommodation that would be required for such numbers, but it was quite clear that a very large addition ought to be made. The Bill empowered the visitors under certain restrictions to admit patients whose friends were capable of contributing towards their maintenance. The absence of anything like decent private asylums, where poor persons able to pay a small sum towards their own support could be received, was now much to be deplored. The Bill also authorized the visitors, in cases where any inmate of an asylum or his relatives were possessed of sufficient property, to proceed against them for the recovery of such sums in aid of the maintenance of the patient as the justices might think fit to make them contribute. The measure repealed all former statutes referring to public lunatic asylums in Ireland, and it furnished in the compass of one Bill a complete code in which every person, from the Inspector downwards, could see at a glance what were his duties in connection with these institutions. The analogy of the English Act, which had generally worked well, had been adhered to in framing the present measure, as far as was consistent with the state of things prevalent in Ireland, and he sincerely hoped that with the assistance of the House this Bill, which was imperatively called for on behalf of that unfortunate class whom it had pleased Providence to visit with the most dreadful calamity which could befall the human race, and who ought, therefore, to be the first objects of their care and benevolence, would be speedily passed into a law. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to introduce the Bill.


said, he hoped his Lordship would introduce some provisions relating to the criminal lunatics instead of ignoring them altogether, as he had said the Bill would do. The gaols of Ireland were already sufficiently occupied, and any relief that could be given with respect to them would be a seasonable improvement. He regretted to hear that the appointment of all the committees requisite to carry out the provisions of the Bill was to be vested in the grand jury, for they were formed generally of just the kind of people who were most energetic in raking up that party spirit which it was the desire of all right-minded persons to extinguish in Ireland, and this was certain to break out in the choice of the medical and other officers attached to these asylums. Beyond these matters, he quite concurred in the necessity for such a Bill as that proposed by his Lordship.


wished to know if it were intended to adopt the literal recommendation of the Commissioners that a portion of the board of visitors should be nominated by the grand juries?


replied in the negative. He must be allowed to express his surprise at the objection which had been raised by the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. Bagwell). If there was one thing more desirable than another, it was that the control of institutions supported by local rates should be vested in the representatives of those who had to pay for them; and he must say he was greatly astonished to hear any gentleman declare in this House a preference for appointments such as these being made by the Executive Government rather than by local bodies. The experience of Ireland showed that wherever local authority was extended and put in action the system had worked well; and his own opinion was that it should be the object of all true Irishmen to get rid of that centralized system of Government, where the circumstances of the case permitted it to be done with safety to the public interests.


did not regard grand juries in the light of representatives of the cesspayers. They were nominated by the high sheriffs; and it was a fundamental principle of the Irish grand jury law, that no money should be voted by the grand jury until it had first been assented to at a meeting of the magistrates and associated cesspayers. He trusted when the House was called upon to consider the details of the Bill the noble Lord would consent to an alteration of this portion of his scheme.

Bill to consolidate and amend the Law relating to the Lunatic Poor in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Lord NAAS and Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL for Ireland.

Bill presented, and read 1o.

House adjourned at Eight o'clock.