HC Deb 16 March 1859 vol 153 cc209-18

Order for Committee read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, that this measure departed in three essential particulars from the recommendations of the Commissioners who investigated its subject. The Commissioners had suggested, first, the establishment of a central board, to which should be intrusted the supervision and management of county lunatic asylums; secondly, that a change should be made in the constitution of the local governors; and thirdly, that an auditor should be appointed to examine the accounts. This Bill, on the other hand, proposed that the committee of visitors should be their own auditors; it also proposed that the General Board for the control of these institutions should be abolished, the only authority substituted being that of the Lord-Lieutenant in Council. The Commissioners had recommended that two-thirds of the local governors should be chosen by the grand juries, and the remainder by the Lord-Lieutenant in Council, whereas this measure vested the appointment of the whole number in the grand juries. The Bill would also transfer all poor lunatics now in workhouses, nearly 2,000 in number, to the county asylums, thereby throwing a charge, which was now divided between landlords and occupiers, entirely upon the latter. No doubt such a change would be beneficial to the lunatics themselves; but the landlords paid half the poor rate, whereas the occupier paid the whole of the county cess out of which the asylums were supported; and the occupiers had no voice in the management of the cess. If the Government would accede to the proposal of the right hon. Member for Ennis for referring this subject to a Select Committee he would be happy to withdraw the Motion of which he had himself given notice; but, as he had no such assurance, and as the measure violated the principle that representation should accompany taxation, he must now move that the House resolve itself into Committee on that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.

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


said, this question had been fully discussed on the second reading, which was carried almost unanimously; and the present Motion was, therefore, an unusual attempt to defeat the measure. The principal objection taken by the hon. and gallant Mover of the Amendment was that the Bill did not carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners; but the hon. and gallant Gentleman could scarcely have read the Bill, or he would have seen that those recommendations had been entirely carried out in spirit, and also in almost all important particulars to the very letter. The composition of the Commission, over which Sir Thomas Redington, a consistent Liberal, had presided, was a complete guarantee that the Report had been drawn up without any bias towards the views of the party now in power. The first recommendation of the Commissioners was, that the management of lunatic asylums in Ireland should be transferred from the Executive in Dublin, to local bodies. This suggestion was strictly followed in the Bill. As the law now stood, these institutions were wholly under the control of the Executive Government, the ratepayers having no power of interfering until after the money had been expended. That was an insupportable state of things, and the Commissioners recommended that it should be at once done away with, and that the erection and management of county lunatic asylums should be intrusted to a body, two thirds of which should be appointed by the grand jury, and the other third by the Lord-Lieutenant. Whether this suggestion should be literally adopted, or whether it would be better that the whole number of visitors should be chosen by the grand jury, was surely a point that could fairly be determined when the measure was in Committee. With regard to the appointment of an auditor — another matter purely of detail—he had not thought such a provision necessary, inasmuch as the present system of checking the accounts was thoroughly efficient, and he had been anxious not to create any new offices. This latter consideration had no doubt deprived the Bill of the support of those who looked for new- patronage, and therefore it had nothing to recommend it but its own intrinsic merits. The Commissioners reported in favour of removing all lunatics from gaols and workhouses, a step which would be effected as speedily as possible under this measure. These asylums had been sustained from the county rates since their first establishment, and the Commissioners had not felt themselves justified in advising that the lunatic poor should be supported from the poor rates. Such a proposal would not only destroy this Bill, but would necessitate a reconstruction of the Poor Law system in Ireland. He regretted to say that very limited accommodation indeed was provided in Ireland for lunatics belonging to the class of farmers and shopkeepers. This Bill provided that on the payment of a certain sum of money accommodation should be given to that class of lunatics in the asylums to be established by it. The Commissioners recommended that the law should be consolidated, and that had been done. The Bill repealed all former Acts relating to lunatic asylums in Ireland, and was a code which would be found sufficient for every purpose connected with these institutions. There was only one recommendation of the Commissioners which the Government had not adopted — namely, that as to the creation of a Central Board, The Government believed that the inspection of these asylums could be very efficiently discharged by the ordinary inspectors, and that nothing but harm would result from a constant interference by a Central Board with the management of these institutions. If, however, it should be found (but, from the care taken in their appointment, he did not think it would) that these inspectors did not properly discharge their duties, the Lord Lieutenant would have power under the Bill to send a lawyer or a doctor (whichever might be deemed the more suitable for the purpose) to any lunatic asylum as to the management of which complaints might reach the Lord-Lieutenant. A great deal had been stated in the public papers in opposition to the Bill, but the opponents of it had said very little about the state of the lunatic poor in Ireland. This Bill would provide for the increased accommodation of the lunatic poor. A great deal had also been publicly stated as to the excellent condition and management of the existing lunatic asylums; but the report of the Commissioners showed that in most of those asylums the accounts were most irregularly kept, that written regulations were set aside by verbal instructions, that the records of the condition of the unfortunate inmates were most irregularly kept, that many minute regulations for the management of the asylums were not attended to, that the ventilation was imperfect, that sufficient accommodation was not provided for the sick, that although many of the inmates were capable of receiving instruction it was not given to them, that the infirmaries were occupied as residences by the officials, or devoted to other purpose, and that some of the unfortunate lunatics were put under restraint in a manner totally at variance with the entire spirit in which lunatic asy- lums were managed in modern limes. His Bill provided a remedy for that state of things. In the first place, it provided that the governor of an asylum should visit every part of it at least once a month, or oftener if possible. Then there was another provision which he thought would prove to be most efficacious. He proposed that the visitor of an asylum should make a yearly or half-yearly report of its condition to the grand jury of the district in which it was situate, and that that report should he printed and published, so that every one of the rate payers should be enabled to ascertain exactly what was the state of the asylum and of its inmates. On moving the second reading of this Bill he stated that the attendance of the governors of lunatic asylums in Ireland was very bad, and he would now repeat that of the 530 of these governors in the year 1856 only 276 attended the asylums at all. More than one half of the governors never set a foot in the asylums which were intrusted to their care. The meetings were usually held once a month. Exclusive of the governors of the asylum in Dublin, only twelve of the entire body of governors throughout Ireland regularly attended the meetings, only fifty-eight had attended the meetings once, about thirty had attended twice, and twenty-two had attended three times. Practically speaking, these institutions were managed by one or two gentlemen who lived on the spot. It was rarely that more than three governors interested themselves in the management of lunatic asylum. He hoped, therefore, that he had convinced the House that they ought, at all events, to proceed with the consideration of the Bill. Its principle was good, and it would set up a machinery by which these institutions would be efficiently and economically controlled. Where there were objections to any of the details, he should be ready to listen to suggestions of amendment in the Committee, and he therefore, hoped the House would go into Committee at once.


said, the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Longford, if successful, would have the effect of defeating the Bill altogether. He thought it was the opinion of those on his (Mr. J. D. FitzGerald's) side of the House that such a result would be undesirable. He by no means approved of the scheme of the noble Lord; but he knew that the present state of the law was bad, and, therefore, he thought that they should proceed to legislate upon this subject and in no party or political spirit. He appealed then, to his hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw his Motion; and with that understanding he invited the House to concur in the Motion that stood in his name—that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. The alterations which he considered necessary were large, and affected the whole scheme of the Bill, and he therefore thought that they would be better considered by a Select Committee than by a Committee of the whole House. The Commission that had inquired into this subject was issued when his right hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) was Secretary for Ireland. No doubt the Bill would carry out to some extent the recommendations of the Commissioners; but to many of their recommendations he had great objections. The law had hitherto been in a most anomalous state, the Act of Geo. IV. vesting the whole power in the executive; but the House would be astonished when he told them that the present Bill, the object of which was stated to be the transfer of the control to local bodies, actually left them no discretion whatever in the erection of asylums. In clause 9 of this Bill the Lord Lieutenant in Council might from time to time order any number of asylums for lunatics to be built and established. The grand jury would have no control, but would be absolutely bound to carry such order out. Now, he entirely objected to this provision, which he thought highly unsatisfactory and wholly inconsistent with the principles generally recognized in this country. He also strongly objected to the alteration proposed by the Bill of the existing law, as regarded the persons upon whom the expense of maintaining pauper lunatics should fall. Very few of the lunatic poor asylums were erected prior to 1838. The report showed that in Ireland the lunatic poor amounted in number to 9286, and all the accommodation afforded in the district asylums was only for 3824. It further appeared that there were 1707 in the ordinary workhouses. There were 3352 pauper lunatics, as contra-distinguished from the general lunatics, for whom provision was made. All the expenses attending the care of the existing lunatics, 3352, were paid by the county rate. There were then 1707 pauper lunatics at present maintained in the workhouses out of the poor rates. Half of the expense was borne by the occupier, and the other half by the landlord. There were still 3352 to be provided for. Now the noble Lord by his scheme proposed to throw the whole burden of their expense upon the shoulders of the occupier. The noble Lord proposed that the cost of providing asylums for 3352, as well as the 1770 in the ordinary workhouses, should be taken from the poor rates, and be paid by the occupier. The effect off this proposition would be to take from off the shoulders of the landlord a heavy charge, and to place the whole of it on those of the occupier. Now he (Mr. FitzGerald) could never assent to any such principle, which he considered to be most unjust. He should move that the Bill be not only referred to a Select Committee, but that it be an instruction to the Committee to consider this question in particular. The governing body, it appeared, were to be appointed by the grand juries of counties on the supposition that the latter represented the ratepayers. Now, the fact was well known that the grand juries of counties did not represent the ratepayers; they were nominated by the Sheriff for the year, and the ratepayers had no control whatever over them. The manner in which the nominees of the grand jury had performed their duty in other matters was anything but a reason in favour of continuing the present system. He proposed that it should be considered in Committee how the governing body could be best selected, both in reference to the giving due control to the ratepayers, and to the securing of the efficiency of the establishments. Another provision they ought to regard with extreme jealousy, that of placing persons who were represented to be lunatics in lunatic asylums. There ought to be the greatest care in surrounding such a provision with proper safeguards. It would be impossible to consider those minute alterations, and therefore he proposed to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. If a Select Committee were assented to, he should be willing to leave the selection in the hands of the noble Lord, who was already in possession of all the facts with which the Committee would have to deal.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


then moved, 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.


trusted that the noble Lord would accede to the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Ennis. A great necessity, no doubt, existed for an alteration in the law, but the present Bill was not framed in a manner to meet the reasonable requirements of the ratepayers. He thought it would be a great cruelty if the expense of 4,000 or 5,000 lunatics should be thrown upon the ratepayers wholly, whereas now they bad only to pay half. This Bill would impose a new rate to be levied on the occupiers of land in Ireland. The Bill ought to be sent to a Select Committee, and he hoped the Government would see the necessity of that step.


said, the Bill affected the most helpless class in Ireland, and the change which it proposed in the existing law was one of considerable doubt. Hitherto the Lord Lieutenant had been responsible for a duty which the Bill sought to transfer to the grand juries, who were irresponsible bodies, and who did not represent the ratepayers generally. He hoped the Amendment would be agreed to.


also pressed the noble Lord to yield to the suggestion for referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The question was one of great importance, and he hoped the House would not be put to the trouble of dividing.


complimented the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland upon his exertions to amend the law since he became Secretary for Ireland; but as it seemed to be the wish of the Irish Members to appoint a Select Committee, he thought the Government ought to yield. He objected entirely to the authority proposed to be vested in a grand jury, one of the worst bodies that such a power could be exercised by—a fugitive body packed by a fugitive person, that splendid annual the sheriff of the county. It was wondered how the Irish people could suffer such a system; but "sufferance was the badge of all their tribe." He was entirely opposed to governors of asylums being appointed by grand juries. There were two Motions on the paper for altogether altering or abolishing Irish grand juries, which there would be some good hope of accomplishing if the Irish Members could be for once unanimous —a contingency, indeed, which seemed to be extremely problematical: — and then what would become of the Bill. Why could not the Poor Law authorities be loft to deal with lunatics? The tax for lunatics was a new tax. The provision made for Irish lunatics in 1817 was for less than 200, and now there were 11,542 Irish lunatics to be provided for. This Bill would be generally unacceptable in its present shape, and cause agitation and discontent.


said, if the hon. Gentleman had any hope that there would be an unanimity of opinion amongst Irish Members on the subject of grand juries or any other subject, he might be fitly classed amongst that unhappy portion of the community for whom this Bill proposed to legislate. But was the present most discreditable state of things to be allowed to continue until the Irish Members came to a unanimous opinion on the subject of grand juries? The question was a wide one, and he was disposed to go with his right hon. and learned Friend, and send the Bill to a Committee up stairs. There were questions connected with religion which could be properly considered in Committee, and which, if discussed in that House, might perhaps excite the opposition of some Gentlemen whoso zeal outran their discretion. He, however, could not agree with the him. Member (Mr. B. Osborne) as to his remarks on grand juries.


rose to reply to some of the objections that had been urged against the measure. It was said that he was giving a new power, but he only continued the existing law which empowered the Lord-Lieutenant to order the building of a lunatic asylum wherever he might think it desirable; but at the same time he gave power to the grand jury, as representing the rate payers, to appear before the Lord-Lieutenant in Council, and make any objection they might think proper. He would not go into a defence of the excellencies of the grand jury system, but he must say his experience was very different from the description that had been given of it by the hon. Member for Dovor, and at the last assizes, at which he was present, when he acted as foreman, there were ten Roman Catholics on the grand jury. The small proportion of Roman Catholics on some grand juries might be accounted for by the smallness of the number of Roman Catholic proprietors in those districts, so that it could not be charged as a fault of the system. Even if grand juries were to be abolished there was nothing to prevent the power proposed to be vested in them being placed elsewhere. He doubted whether the good results prophesied would accrue from sending the Bill before a Select Committee; but as that seemed to be the general wish of hon. Members representing Irish constituencies, he should not interpose any objection. He must, however, protest against the Bill being shelved by this process.


said, that it was not his intention to move the instruction to the Committee of which he had given notice, not because he had changed his view on the subject, but because he found that it was unnecessary, and that it would be competent for him to press the view he took on the Committee if he happened to be a Member.


thought the conduct of the noble Lord (Lord Naas) with respect to the pains he had taken in bringing in this Bill deserving of all praise. He, however, thought the noble Lord right in giving way to the reference to a Select Committee. He defended the composition and conduct of grand juries throughout Ireland generally, so far as his knowledge extended.


hoped the Committee would commence their proceedings immediately.


said, that in Meath, in which he resided, there were many Roman Catholics on the grand juries; yet they had little or no influence. It was the Protestant Members who had for the most part the nomination of the appointments, He did not think grand juries were the impartial bodies they were represented, and was rather disposed to coincide with his hon. Friend the Member for Dovor (Mr. Orborne).

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

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Select Committee.