HC Deb 14 February 1859 vol 152 cc335-40



said, he rose to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is the rule to insert the Government Advertisements in those newspapers which enjoy the most extensive circulation, or, if not, what other rule is adopted? He had another question to put; but he feared that he could only properly do so, accompanying it with the needful explanation, by moving the adjournment of the House until Thursday next. Hon. Members had, no doubt, heard out of doors, and none with greater astonishment than himself, that it was proposed to confer the office of a Master in Lunacy on a gentleman who had no legal experience whatever—and, in fact, that it had been given to a gentleman who had been only nominally called to the bar. He need not take up the time of the House by insisting upon the importance of this appointment, neither need he tell the House that he had no wish to make any attack upon hon. Gentlemen opposite, still less upon the Lord Chancellor, in whose gift this appointment was.


rose to order. The hon. Gentleman ought to make his Motion.


The hon. Gentleman has intimated his intention of concluding his speech with a Motion.


It was not, he was saying, necessary for him to disclaim any desire to give any needless annoyance; but the appointment was one which it was necessary to bring before the House upon the earliest possible opportunity, inasmuch as there might be time to have that appointment cancelled. He could suppose that if the appointment of the Master in Lunacy was actually made, it might be convenient to postpone the discussion of the question; still, as it was possible it might not have actually taken place, he took that opportunity of bringing it before the House, in the hope that the noble and learned Lord would be induced to reconsider it. He begged to remind the House of the great importance of the office of Master in Lunacy. His office was to see that there should be no improper incarceration—no slowness in discharging those who ought to be discharged from confinement—to take care how lunatics were dealt with, not only by those who were not related to them, but by those who were relations, for even those who were their natural protectors were often found to be their most deadly enemies. Upon all these matters he spoke with some experience, having himself acted as a Commissioner in Lunacy, and he could say that the office was one of such infinite delicacy that its administration required considerable legal experience, and no small amount, at least, of tact and acumen. In addition to that, the Legislature had been of late years most guarded and careful upon tile subject. A succession of statutes had been passed, having reference to the treatment of lunatics in asylums, and also for the administration of their property. The first Act upon the subject was 5 & 6 Vict. By that Act it was enacted, that the Commissioners should receive a very considerable salary. Upon them devolved the duty of visiting and of inquiring, and the duty of presiding at an investigation where a jury was required. Upon the introduction of that Act of Parliament Lord Lyndhurst, who was at that time the Lord Chancellor, asked the sanc- tion of the Legislature to it in a speech which gave a solemn assurance as to how lunatics would be dealt with in future. With respect to the Commissioners, who were now Masters in Lunacy, two Commissioners were appointed permanently, who were to investigate and preside in all cases of lunacy in both town and country. Lord Lyndhurst further said—(he held an extract from the speech of the noble and learned Lord in his hand)—that those gentlemen should be men of ability, learning, and distinction, at the bar. With that pledge, and probably a good deal in consequence of it, the Bill was carried, and for a time the gentlemen who were appointed answered the description given of them by the noble and learned Lord. By the 16th and 17th Vict. the Commissioners in Lunacy appeared to be changed to Masters in Lunacy, upon whom devolved all the duties previously discharged by the Commissioners in Lunacy and by Masters in Chancery conjointly. In fact, it was impossible to conceive more onerous duties; for upon these gentlemen depended liberty, property, and almost life itself. The salary was £2,000 a year, and the retiring pension £1,200; and the question was, therefore, what were the qualifications which a man ought to possess properly to discharge all those duties, and which such a salary would command. The duty, if the office consisted only in visiting asylums and hospitals, but in conducting all investigations, very often without the assistance of a jury, or presiding where a jury was empanelled. His duty was to moderate the speeches of counsel, and he might preside when, some of the most eminent men at the bar were upon opposite sides. Sometimes in his character of judge he had to hear evidence for eight or ten days, and to rake up the transactions of a whole life; and when all this was done be was obliged carefully to digest the evidence, and to put it intelligibly before the jury. Upon him frequently depended the liberty, the property, and almost the life, of the alleged lunatic. They were all familiar with those cases, some of which had filled columns of the newspapers. There was the case of Sir Henry Meux and that of Mr. Ruck, and a great many others. There was Mrs. Cumming's case, in which the present Lord Chancellor himself brought all his great talents to bear as counsel for one of the parties. Then, he asked, did not the question very naturally arise, what were the qualifications which a man ought to possess to fulfil all those duties—such duties as such a salary could command? Those qualifications ought, in his opinion, to be of the very highest description. He could, indeed, quote the evidence of gentlemen most competent to speak upon this subject to show the necessity of any one performing the duties of this office satisfactorily passing not only a legal but a medical examination. They lived in an age of examination, Even now, in calling to the bar, a rigid examination was sometimes made; and yet this was the time chosen for the appointment of a gentleman who was only nominally at the bar, but who had never received the education of a barrister, and had never attempted to practise at the bar in his life. They could, indeed, well imagine the difficulty of a Lord Chancellor in making such an appointment, and the difficulty a good and great Judge would find in selecting a person to fill such a post. The first inquiry naturally would be—had the candidate any peculiar knowledge on the subject—whether he had been in the habit of addressing himself to this delicate task—whether his experience had been large in public hospitals and asylums—whether his knowledge of the law of evidence was ample—whether he knew the law well, and whether, in short, he would be competent to conduct the investigation over which he was to preside? All these considerations should pass through the mind of the Lord Chancellor, who would see before him a row of Queen's counsel—for many men of great eminence at the bar would be glad to accept this office—and who would be at a loss to determine which of them to select. What the present Lord Chancellor had done he was almost afraid to say. The office in question had been conferred on a gentleman of whom it must be said that unless he derives inspiration from his proximity to the woolsack, I know not what his qualifications are. He may indeed possess them, but at all events hitherto they have remained undeveloped. Against the gentleman in question he had no feeling whatever but one of respect, and believed that no one was better qualified to discharge fittingly the ordinary duties of life. His acquaintance he had not the honour of, but was told that he was an agreeable person—qualifications as a lawyet he, however, certainly did not possess. The name of the gentleman was Mr. William Francis Higgins, a very near re- lative, he was informed, of the Lord Chancellor. The appointment had undoubtedly given the greatest possible dissatisfaction to the profession generally, and to the public out of doors. There might be yet time to rescind it—if not, he should put it to the House to decide whether this was such an appointment as ought to have been made. He trusted the Lord Chancellor would be able to show that he had made such an appointment as would be satisfactory to the House, and worthy of him who filled in the highest judicial office in the country. Mr. Higgins could not have had any legal education, as he had passed the whole of his life as a junior clerk in the Colonial Office until September last, when he had been appointed a Registrar in the Bankruptcy Court, and thence to the more highly important office of Master in Lunacy. The hon. Gentleman concluded by asking the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether it was true that Mr. William Francis Higgins had been appointed to the post of Master in Lunacy? He would also move the adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."


The hon. Gentleman has put upon the paper a question of which by that means I had notice, and I meant to have asked his permission that the Secretary to the Treasury should give an answer to it I myself know very little about the rules by which the Government advertisements in newspapers are inserted. I have never interfered in the matter, except to express my opinion that a much greater sum of money is expended in that way than I think is advisable. My hon. Friend has promised to answer the question. But the hon. Gentleman has put another question to me, of which he has not given me any notice whatever; and although he may have thought the circumstances were of a somewhat exigent character, there was nothing whatever (if he had not an opportunity of putting his question in the paper) to prevent him from at least giving a private notice to me, or to some friend of the Lord Chancellor, and I should thereby, at least, have had an opportunity of making myself acquainted with the facts to which he refers. It has always been the custom in Parliament to give notice of questions publicly asked; but when a matter of personal feeling is to be introduced, I have thought it was a rule invariably observed by Gentlemen, on whatever side of the House they sit, that they should be peculiarly careful not to introduce such matters without notice. I can only say, in answer to the inquiry of the hon. Gentleman, that the statement which he has made may be accurate, or it may be inaccurate; but really I know nothing about it. I do not know the individual to whom he refers. I know nothing of the appointment or of the office to which he alludes, but if the hon. Gentleman had given me notice I would have taken care to give him that information which he requires. I, therefore, can only say that, having made a statement in a very unusual manner, I have no doubt that that statement will, by some means or other, reach him for whom, I suppose, it was intended, and I have no doubt that some reply will be made to that statement. I trust that the reply will be satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman.


Perhaps the House will allow me to answer the first question put by the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend, and which I wish to answer publicly, as the matter to which it refers entails a great burthen on the department to which I belong. It is a rule at the Treasury to give to newspapers with the largest circulation the Government advertisements. There is an increasing difficulty in the Treasury in this matter in consequence of the increased number of newspapers and the decrease of the number of those which are stamped. Many of them are not stamped, and a still greater number are not remitted through the post. The rule at the Treasury is to revise the number of papers on the Government list for advertisements, and we have selected what we thought the best calculated for the purpose, without reference to their political opinions, and including several portions of what is called the cheap press. This is the rule, and I am anxious to state it publicly.


I beg to give notice that I shall repeat my Question on the subject of the appointment of a Master in Lunacy to-morrow.

Motion for the Adjournment of the House withdrawn.