HC Deb 21 February 1859 vol 152 cc666-72

Bill read 2o, and committed.

Motion made and Question proposed,—

"That this House will, upon this day fortnight, resolve itself into the said Committee."


said, he should recommend that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, where the subject could be better considered than in that House. The Bill did not appear to be founded upon any evidence, for it was quite opposed to the recommendations of the Royal Commission which had inquired into the subject. The Commissioners proposed that there should be a Central Board sitting in Dublin, whereas the Bill lodged the control virtually in the hands of the grand juries, who were to appoint visitors, of whom one-half would consist of grand jurors or magistrates. By this arrangement the representative element would be completely set aside; for the sheriff was appointed by the Crown, the grand juries by the sheriff, and the proposed committees would be chosen by the grand jurors. In his opinion it was scarcely possible for anything more unpopular, and justly unpopular, to be devised. The Bill also failed to provide the necessary accommodation for the lunatic poor in Ireland. At present the asylums in Ireland were mostly tenanted by incurables, and the consequence was that there were a vast number of lunatics who were curable, but could not be received on account of want of accommodation. In the workhouses there were no less than 1,707 poor lunatics. Every one was of opinion that these places were quite unsuitable to such persons. The gaol was no better. Then there were in addition 3,352 poor lunatics living at large among the people. To provide for all these would require a serious outlay. There were now, happily, a number of poor-houses vacant in the country, and what he would recommend was that some of them should be adapted for the purposes of lunatic asylums. There this unfortunate class of the community would be well taken care of, and at comparatively small cost to the public. By such an arrangement humanity would be satisfied and the interests of the taxpayers consulted. The plan had been partly recommended by a Commission, and therefore he ventured to propose that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be committed to a Select Committee" instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he hoped the noble Lord would not accede to the request of the hon. Gentleman. He did not believe the Report of a Select Committee in a matter like this would give satisfaction to the people of Ireland. At present the governors of asylums were appointed entirely by the Lord Lieutenant, and the grand juries had no control over their expenditure. Both these evils would be remedied by the present Bill, by which it was sought to establish a board of visitors for the discharge of duties, those duties in respect to lunatic asylums which had been so usefully and satisfactorily performed by boards of superintendents in the management of gaols. Again, there was at present scarcely any asylum for the admission of lunatics who were in a position by themselves or their friends to pay in whole or in part for their own maintenance; and the Bill would be useful in that respect, since it contained a provision to meet cases of that kind. It would also provide for the safe custody and proper treatment of wandering lunatics, of whom there were many in the country, and with respect to whom, though they were not absolutely insane, the public required protection. On those grounds he hoped the noble Lord would persevere in his Motion for a second reading of the Bill in preference to consenting to its being referred to a Select Committee, which would lead to delay, unaccompanied by the attainment of any good object.


observed, that he should not oppose the second reading of the Bill which contained much that was valuable. At the same time he thought the ratepayers were not sufficiently represented, and he hoped the noble Lord would not, whilst the ratepayers were duly represented by the grand jurors, neglect the rights of lunatics and of the public at large. He thought ecconomy might be pushed too far, if the regulations were left alone to the representatives of the ratepayers, and therefore he would suggest that the recommendation of a Commission that inquired into this subject should be adopted, namely, that the Government should have power to add to the members of the board certain persons besides those chosen by the ratepayers.


said he agreed with his learned Friend in thinking that the care and well-being of lunatics in asylums ought to some extent to be placed under the superintendence of the Lord Lieutenant.


said, he wished to draw attention to a circumstance in connection with the Report presented on this subject last Session. That Report had scarcely been printed, or at all events circulated, before a letter was published by Dr. Nugent, and apparently under the sanction of the Government. The subject of that letter was to attack the Report of the Commission which, it was alleged, had attacked Dr. Nugent; and he (Mr. H. Herbert) must certainly complain of its tone and temper, and particularly of a passage containing these words:— And to show that in the Commissioners' Report a fair equipose has not been regarded, or at all events that it has the appearance of being onesided. This was a curious statement for a person in the position of Dr. Nugent to make.


said, he had a very slight acquaintance with Dr. Nugent, but it was due to him to state, that he (Mr. Miller) believed that every observation in his letter was perfectly justified by the facts of the case.


said, he was acquainted with the facts, and knew that every word Dr. Nugent had said was true, with regard to the case of an asylum at Armagh, which was admirably conducted, but against which there was a prejudice because the conductor was not a medical man.


said, he wished to express a hope that the Bill would be allowed to go to a Select Committee, as he was of opinion that a very good measure might be made out of it.


said, he wished to ask why should not the boards of guardians have some voice in the selection of visitors? He would suggest that the selection of those persons should not be left entirely to the grand juries, but that the boards of guar- dians, who had the care of the poor under other circumstances, should have a voice in the selection of the visiting committee.


said, he would support the second reading of the Bill, because the subject was one on which he thought there should be legislation. He could not, however, conceive that there was any danger to the Bill in sending it to a Select Committee, and he hoped the House would adopt that course, especially as the Bill differed materially from the recommendations of the Commissioners. But whilst supporting the second reading of the measure, he must say that he thought there was one objection of considerable weight to it—that objections was, that while the expense of carrying out the system advocated by the noble Lord would be very considerable, no power had been given to the occupiers of land to control those expenses. The whole control had been vested in the visiting committee, who were to be appointed by the grand jury, so that the occupiers would not be represented at all. If they were to have a satisfactory measure, those who paid the rates must be fairly represented. The pauper lunatics under the present system were confined in the workhouses, and by this Bill it was proposed to transfer them to the asylums. Now under the present plan, one half of the expense fell on the landlord, and the other half on the occupier; but by the new system all the expense would be thrown on the occupier, and at the same time no power of controlling those expenses would be given to him. He directed the attention of the noble Lord to these objections, in order that he might see whether they could not be removed. All he wanted was to make the Bill as good a one as possible. With regard to Dr. Nugent's case, he made an appeal on behalf of the five Commissioners, gentlemen who bad performed a most disagreeable, laborious, and unpaid duty, in a most able and impartial manner; and he hoped to hear an approval of their conduct front the Government, and that the letter that had been written by Dr. Nugent bad not been published with their approval.


explained, that shortly after the Report of the Commissioners was published, Dr. Nugent represented that he thought the general management of the asylums was very much impugned, and stated that he had prepared a letter for publication on the subject. He (Lord Naas) told him that he was at liberty to publish it, on his own responsibility, and that, as the subject was coming before the House and the country, for the purposes of legislation, the more it wat discussed the better. He was glad to find that the principle of this Bill had met with such general support, as it was the earnest desire of the Government to provide what was very much wanted in Ireland—namely, increased accommodation for the lunatic poor. The principle of the Bill was clear and definite, it proposed to substitute a local for a governmental or central management and control. The system which had hitherto been pursued was not a good one; the Lord Lieutenant ordered a building to be erected in some distant part of the country, the plans were prepared and put in execution at the instance of the Board of Works, and in many cases the first intimation that the ratepayers of the localities had of these asylums having been built was a demand for payment in the shape of an imperative presentment. The same might be said of their management. Hitherto the Lord Lieutenant had appointed the governors and officers of the asylum. An opportunity now arose for carrying out the great principle that had prevailed for many years—that of putting into local hands the management of institutions supported out of local rates. All legislation for the last twenty years had tended in that way, as witness the Municipal Corporation and Poor Law Acts, the Acts for the improvement of fisheries, for vesting works of navigation and drainage in the hands of trustees. The practical working of these different measures had been attended with success, and he could not see wiry the lunatic asylums of Ireland should be an exemption from so wise a rule. The right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down appeared to deny that the grand juries represented the ratepayers. That was a matter of opinion; but at any rate, the grand juries were the only fiscal boards in Ireland known to the law; they were entrusted with the levy and disposition of the county funds, and although it might be thought a reform in the constitution of the grand juries was desirable, that was no reason, so long as they existed, for not entrusting to them this duty, which was analogous to the other duties they had to perform. The right hon. and learned Member also charged him with having departed from the recommendations of the Commissioners, but with the exception of the appointment of visitors, and with regard to the Central Board, he (the noble Lord) had adhered to all the most important recommendations of the Commission. The Central Board was nothing more than the present inspectors under another name. What he proposed to do was to define the duties of every person connected with these asylums, from the highest to the lowest; and in order to enforce the punctual performance of those duties, that there should be a constant system of inspection carried on under the supervision of Government. The Lord Lieutenant and the Government would be responsible for the proper inspection of these institutions, and the inspectors would report to Parliament. Under the new system he believed that not only would the management of the asylums be satisfactory, but that the attendance of the governors would be regular. This had been far from the case heretofore, seeing that, by the returns of 1856, out of 530 governors of lunatic asylums in Ireland, 276 never attended at all, the attendance of the remainder appears to be very irregular. The boards meet generally once a month, or twelve meetings in the year; and he found that out of 530 governors only eighteen attended twelve times in the year, and six of these gentlemen belonged to the Dublin asylum. Amongst other recommendations of the Commissioners, he had adopted the compulsory appointment of chaplains, the admission of paying-patients, and other matters, so that, with the exception of the two he had mentioned, he had carried out most of the recommendations of the Commissioners. With regard to the want of accommodation, he was perfectly aware that to carry this Bill into operation would occasion a considerable outlay of public money; but the powers which he took to provide increased accommodation actually existed at present, and for the future the works would be carried on under the direction of the local authorities. At the same time, he did not agree with the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. Bagwell), that it would be desirable to create separate establishments for what were called incurable lunatics. Many medical men were of opinion that there were few cases of mania which should be pronounced absolutely incurable, and that there were none in which the symptoms might not be mitigated. To place these unhappy persons in an asylum of incurables would, he feared, lead to cruelty and mal-treatment, and would place them in an institution from which hope was altogether banished. Of course it was scarcely possible to introduce any measure into Parliament which might not be susceptible of improvement; and he should be happy, in the progress of this Bill, to attend to any suggestions that might be made, but he believed that it would be difficult to attain the objects which they all had in view, if the main principles of the Bill which he had proposed were not steadily kept in view.


said, he believed that the Bill would inflict a great injustice upon the occupiers of land in Ireland if the expense were to fall on them alone. He also objected to placing the proposed power in the hands of the grand jury, believing that it would tend to bring them into collision with the people at large. They were, he admitted, generally speaking men of high character, but in many instances they had exhibited a very arbitrary disposition in the appointments they had made.


remarked that the only question of difference was, what should be the body who should nominate the governors of these asylums. He did not see, however, that that was a question which could be better discussed in a Committee upstairs than in the whole House, and he would suggest that a day should be set apart for the discussion after the assizes. He did think that those who contributed the funds should be represented in these boards.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn:—Bill committed for Monday, 7th March.