HC Deb 04 March 1870 vol 199 cc1241-8

, in rising to move a Resolution that it is desirable to legislate for the proper reception, detention, and management of Habitual Drunkards, said, that as the present was not a party or political question he trusted it would receive that fair and impartial consideration which was always given to measures not appealing to party feelings. He would not detain the House by anything like a history of intemperance. He would rather appeal to the sad personal experience and knowledge of all who were listening to him to furnish illustrations of the disastrous consequences of habitual drunkenness. Every workhouse, gaol, and lunatic asylum was a standing memorial of this terrible scourge and curse. He had been charged with overrating the power of Parliament to deal with this matter, and with being more intent upon airing a crotchet than remedying a grievance. He maintained, however, that legislation on this subject was within the power of Parliament, and that the Legislature ought to endeavour to mitigate the sum of human misery caused by habitual drunkenness. He was no believer in the efficacy of penal laws to put down drunkenness, which would never cease out of the land until its moral wickedness was generally recognized, nor did he propose to deal with ordinary cases of intemperance. He did not seek to interfere with the convivial proclivities or social enjoyments of anyone. It was with the abuse and not the use of stimulants that he proposed to grapple. There were some things which the law could not do. It could not prevent the production of alcohol, or the thirst of the human stomach for stimulants, or the craving of the human brain for excitement. But he regarded habitual drunkenness as not only a bad habit and a vice, but also a disease, which took hold of the vital powers, got possession of the nervous centres, and was capable of being transferred from the parents to the off spring. There was a passage in Aristotle to this effect—"Drunken women do produce children like unto themselves." Habitual drunkenness was a disease which was curable in as large a proportion as those diseases for which Parliament made provision. Provision was made for the insane, the idiotic, the deaf and dumb, and the blind, but no provision was yet made for the victims of intemperance, who were larger in number than all these classes. It was said that the cure was not complete, and that the relapses were frequent. He could bury the House with statistics to the contrary, but he would only quote one fact—namely, that in one establishment in the city of Boston, where 2,000 cases of habitual drunkenness were treated, no less than half of them had been perfectly cured. In other establishments from 30 to 50 per cent of the patients were permanently and happily restored to their families. His idea was that an establishment or reformatory should be set up, to which individuals might be sent, and whore they night be kept a sufficient time to obtain the requisite control and mastery over themselves. There was no such passion as the craving for drink. Everything sacred and holy was prostituted to the love of drink, until mind, body, and soul were ruined irredeemably by this one absorbing passion. He believed that if the law were to interfere in giving this power which he asked, and which did not exist at present, it would be a step in the right direction. A man or woman who had become mad from excessive drinking might now be placed in an asylum, and could be kept there as long as that insanity continued; but the moment the person became sane, he or she was released. The cause being removed the effect ceased; and just when they had taken the first and most important step the drunkard was set at liberty. He proposed that there should be a reformatory for habitual drunkards whether they were mad or otherwise, and to which persons might go on their own application. Many would do so, for there was nothing more remarkable than the intense longing which the victims of this craving often manifested to be saved from the effects of their own folly. Drinking to excess was no offence in the eye of the law, provided that public decency was not outraged and the public peace preserved. A man night drink at home to the ruin of his own health and of his family and all belonging to him without making himself legally responsible. He (Mr. D. Dalrymple) proposed that it should be in the power of an individual to place himself in the reformatory, or he might be placed there by those nearest and dearest to him, of course under proper regulations and safeguards. Three benefits would be gained by such a law. In the first place, the individual would be stopped from getting worse; in a large proportion of cases the victims of this passion would be thoroughly and effectually cured. In the next place, a man's family would be saved from ruin, disgrace, and public dishonour. Lastly, society would be protected from the evil consequences of drunkenness. Power should also be given under the Act to place the property of the drunkard under trustees appointed by a proper authority. One of the great difficulties in the way of reform was that the drunkard now had the control over his own property, which enabled him, so long as it lasted, to indulge the craving for drink. He had hitherto referred only to the upper stratum and well-to-do portion of society, who would be able to pay for the maintenance of the drunkard in a reformatory without any burden upon the public. It would, however, also be necessary to legislate for that numerous class of drunkards who might be said to reel between the gutter, the gin-shop, and the gaol. From a political as well as a social point of view he maintained that the law had a perfect right to step in and interfere with the freedom of the drunkard, so long as the undue exorcise of that freedom was prejudicial to the interests of society. Mr. Mill had defined this right with great precision—namely— Though ordinary drunkenness was not sufficient reason for legislative interference, yet, when it became an incentive to crime in others, it demanded interference. He (Mr. D. Dalrymple) proposed to give the magistrates power to commit an habitual drunkard to the reformatory ward of the workhouse or to a reformatory to be established expressly for this purpose; and that the period of detention should endure until the person so confined could procure a medical certificate to show that he had obtained control over himself, or until his disease took the form, as it frequently did, of hopeless imbecility. He further proposed that those reformatories should be self-supporting, as they were in the United States. Those who were able should earn their living whilst in confinement, and in the event of a cure being effected the individual on his discharge should receive all he had earned above the bare sum expended for his maintenance, in order that he should have the means of obtaining a new start in life. It might be objected—"What is to become of the drunkard's family during the time he is in the reformatory?" But to this he answered that, if the thing were but half as successful as he hoped and believed it would be, they would have money in their pockets by lessening gaol expenses, which, could be used in supporting his family. There would be so large a saving by emptying the wards of gaols and workhouses that the measure would be an absolute financial gain to the ratepayers. Between pawning for liquor, wife-beating, and crime-inciting, the home of the habitual drunkard was a perfect hell upon earth; and the honest and industrious would be better able to maintain a roof above their heads when the dissipated husband or wife returned from the reformatory in his or her right mind, instead of coming back sour, vicious, and gin-craving from twenty-one days in gaol. The drunkard, except in rare instances, was unable to reform himself, and therefore some interference was necessary. He thought that the subject, however, was too big for a private Member to undertake; and, therefore, he should be glad to hear from his right hon. Friend below him (the Secretary of State for the Home Department) that the Government would take it up at some convenient opportunity. The hon. Member concluded by thanking the House for the attention with which they had listened to him.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is desirable to legislate for the proper reception, detention, mid management of Habitual Drunkards,"—(Mr. Donald Dalrymple,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he was glad that the subject of drunkenness, which was one of the crying evils of the day, had been brought before the House by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. D. Dalrymple). He had presented a petition yesterday, signed by forty-five of the loading physicians of Edinburgh and Leith, praying t hat some legislative steps might be taken to subject persons afflicted with the disease of drunkenness to certain restrictions. The petitioners complained very much that although they often saw the necessity of placing drunkards under restraint, they had no power to do so for a sufficient length of time. As long as drunkards were in a state of perfect mad- ness, they might be confined until they came to their senses again, but that was not enough. They ought to be subjected to restraint until the unnatural craving for drink had left them. He trusted the House would take the question into serious consideration, and that the result would be to provide a remedy for this monstrous evil, which was destroying the drunkards themselves, and was bringing destitution upon their families.


said, that whatever might be the opinion of the House as to the practicability of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. D. Dalrymple), nobody would question that the speech in which he brought them before the House did credit to his intellect and heart. He wished his hon. Friend, instead of submitting this subject to the House by way of general Resolution, had attempted to give effect to his opinions by putting them into the form of a Bill, and then would have been made manifest to himself and the House the enormous difficulty of the subject with which he proposed to deal. It seemed to him (Mr. Bruce) that in the first instance some voluntary effort should have been made for the purpose of providing such a reformatory as that which the hon. Gentleman described. True it was that provision had already been made for lunatics, and for the deaf, the dumb, and the blind; but he must remind the hon. Member that it was only in the case of violent and dangerous lunatics that the State had the power to interfere to cause their compulsory incarceration. He could understand that an institution such as that at Boston, where people voluntarily engaged to submit to a certain discipline for a certain time, might be productive of advantage; but he thought it impossible to call upon Parliament to pass a law by which persons affected with drunkenness should be kept in a sort of gaol till, in the opinion of physicians who had charge of them, they were sufficiently masters of themselves to be liberated. In the case of the lunatic the physician observed the disease, and was able to certify when the patient was cured; but it would not be possible for him to give a certificate that a drunkard who had been kept from stimulants was sufficiently master of himself to be trusted not to get drunk again. This was an entirely new step, and though that was no reason why it should not be considered, he believed it was one of a most dangerous character. He could well understand that with respect, not only to drunkards, but to various other persons it would, in the opinion of the great majority of mankind, be of advantage if we had such institutions as that which formerly existed in France under the name of lettres de cachet. It might be convenient to shut nip many an erring wife and many a young man ruining the fortunes of himself and his family. It might be ft great advantage to society to detain those men who lived upon the follies of youth; and, in fact, there were many other pests of society and of themselves who might, no doubt, advantageously be immured and kept in confinement for ever; but, as yet, Parliament had not thought fit to pass an Act to render such a proceeding legal. With respect to this experiment, it seemed to him that it was one that could hardly be tried till its success was almost hopeless. What was wanted was to stop the young man at the commencement of Ids career of drunkenness; but what his hon. Friend proposed would only apply to the case of confirmed drunkards. It was difficult to define in what class, and under what circumstances, they were to be dealt with, and, once laid hold of, how long they were to be detained. He was afraid he must consider this proposition as rather the dream of a benevolent mind than a practical measure. The cure must be found by other means. The greatest of all, no doubt, was the moral conviction that the habit was disgraceful. That feeling had operated most advantageously among various classes of society; and, notwithstanding what was said to the contrary, he believed it was spreading among all classes. The Government had prepared two measures which would, he trusted, have a marked effect in checking the abuse of intoxicating liquors. By the Spirituous Liquors Licensing Bill, which he would have to introduce, they hoped to place mechanical difficulties in the way of indulgence in intoxicating drinks; but he trusted that far greater effects would result from the Education Bill that had been brought in by the Vice President of the Privy Council, which would spread throughout the country sounder opinions and sounder knowledge, and which was, therefore, directed to the root of the evil. It was not by expedients such as the hon. Gentleman had proposed that this evil, which was almost a national curse, was to be remedied. He had listened with respect and sympathy to all his hon. Friend had said; but, after careful consideration, he failed to discover in the plan proposed anything to which a practical form should be given, even with the greatest desire on the part of the Government to attain the object which the hon. Gentleman had at heart.


said, he had heard with regret the decision of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department said that there was no example for such a measure as that proposed by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. D. Dalrymple); but if he (Mr. Downing) were rightly informed a law of this character had worked beneficially in America and had saved many families from distress. He understood that in America a confirmed drunkard might, with the assent of the next friend, be committed for a certain time to an asylum where all the best influences were brought to bear upon him. In a great many instances these individuals left the asylum after a few months, and never recurred to drunkenness. He should be glad to see this question pressed to a division.


said, that after the intimation of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, he would withdraw his Motion; but he would bring the proposition forward on a future occasion in the form of a Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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