HC Deb 05 August 1882 vol 273 cc920-6

Order for Committee read.

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


complained that the measure was designed to enable the official Visitors of lunatic asylums to shirk their duty by reducing their visits from four to two each year, or to save the Exchequer the expense of appointing more Visitors. No more inhuman Bill was ever brought before the House.


said, the Lord Chancellor at present had 1,200 lunatics under his charge. Of that number, 800 were in lunatic asylums or licensed houses, and the remaining 400 were in private houses, mostly with friends. It was with respect to the latter that the Bill proposed to make a change. At present, they required to be visited four times a-year, and the present Lord Chancellor and the two previous Lord Chancellors had been desirous of increasing the number of visits to the lunatics confined in asylums. As regarded the others, the Bill proposed to enable the Visitors to visit all the lunatics under the charge of the Lord Chancellor at least twice a-year, and it would not prevent more visits being made in case of necessity. In order, however, to meet the objection entertained by some hon. Members to reducing the visits to lunatics in private houses, he was prepared to concede that there should be at least three visits a-year, or one in every five months.


said, he did not rise to oppose the Bill, though he should certainly have done so but for the concession just made by the hon. Member (Mr. Hibbert). That concession he would, for one, accept; but he could not help expressing his strong opinion that this reduction of visits was a step in the wrong direction. He could not admit that four visits were too many, nor, indeed, did he understand that that was insisted upon; but it was argued that if these visits were continued, the other patients outside the private houses could not be properly inspected. Well, that only showed that the number of Inspectors should be increased, not that the visits should be lessened. It was admitted that the Commissioners did not shirk their work; it was not contended that the visits were too many and unnecessary; it followed, then, that, though the increase of expense might be regretted, the number of the official staff should be increased rather than that these unfortunate lunatics should not be fully looked after. He was aware that the Lord Chancellor and ex-Lord Chancellor had agreed to the reduction of visits; but they naturally looked to the Office, and they found that the officials were overworked, and they, therefore, cut down the work without, perhaps, sufficiently considering whether the case did not call for an increase of the Office. The hon. Member (Mr. Hibbert) had also referred to the Report of a Committee; but he observed that a great Chancery authority—the Master of the Rolls—presided over that Committee. He confessed he could not but regret the decision arrived at, even after the concession just made by the Government.


supported the Bill, on the ground that the patients in private houses were, as a rule, well-to-do patients, harmless imbeciles, who were well cared for. It was in public asylums where cases of neglect or ill-treatment were more likely to be found, and it was to these institutions, therefore, that most visits ought to be paid. He repudiated the idea that this proposal was made because the Medical Inspectors wished to shirk their work.


entertained a considerable objection to a reduction in the number of visits. He believed, on the contrary, that in many cases the number should be increased.


strongly condemned the Bill as lessening the protection at present extended to alleged lunatics. They ought to be visited more frequently. Instead of that, the number of visits was to be reduced one-half.


agreed with the hon. Gentleman who spoke last. He considered the number of Visitors ought to be doubled. That would raise the charge to£4,500 per annum; but then it should be remembered that the lunacy fees amounted to £6,000 per annum, so that the State would still have a profit of£1,500 per annum. Government ought to be ashamed to make money out of lunatics, taking a revenue from insanity.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 53; Noes 3: Majority 50.—(Div. List, No. 316.)

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 (All Chancery lunatics to be visited twice a year).


proposed to omit the words— And it is expedient that such visits should, when the Lord Chancellor shall so direct, be permitted to he made at longer intervals than are required by the said enactment. His reasons for proposing this Amendment were two. In the first place, he did not think it was necessary to use the word "expedient," for in the Preamble it was set forth—"Whereas it is expedient to amend the Lunacy Regulation Acts." His second reason, and his more important one, was, that they had been told over and over again by the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill (Mr. Hibbert) that the Bill provided that those who received one visit were now to receive two; yet, as he (Mr. Warton) read the clause, he found no provision whatever for the second visit in the case of those visited once. It might be the intention of the Bill, but it was certainly not clearly stated; in fact, the words of the clause were very misleading.

Amendment proposed, To leave out the words—"And it is expedient that such visits should, when the Lord Chan- cellor shall so direct, be permitted to be made at longer intervals than are required by the said enactment."—(Mr. Warton.)

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


said, he agreed to the omission.

Question put, and negatived.


proposed to leave out the word "twice," in line 4, page 2, in order to insert the word "thrice." He agreed with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Warton) that the clause was very peculiarly drawn. It was very difficult to interpret the clause, and he very distinctly recollected that his hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert), when he introduced the Bill, said that the object of this clause was that the Chancery patients should be visited thrice a-year. His hon. Friend just now, in answer to his (Mr. Whitley's) observations, said he did not intend to convey that they should all be visited three times; but if his hon. Friend would agree to the introduction of the word "thrice," instead of "twice," the clause must apply to all classes of Chancery patients. He should be very glad that Chancery patients should be visited oftener, and he considered what was proposed was a great improvement on the present system. He also understood his hon. Friend to say that, instead of eight months, he would substitute five months, and if that were so it would be a great improvement.


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hibbert) had now begun to see that the clause did not bear out what he himself had stated.


said, the Bill did not propose to limit the number of visits necessary to licensed houses or asylums; that was a matter of regulation under the authority of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor proposed to make these visits twice a-year necessary, instead of once, and it was quite necessary to provide for it in the Bill.


pointed out there were a certain number of persons who were under no protection whatever. These persons were in private houses, and it often happened that they were left absolutely without any medical attendance whatever. This Bill and this section proposed to take away a portion of even the small inspection that was now given to them by reducing it by one-third.

Amendment agreed to.


proposed, in line 5, page 2, to leave out the words "eight months," and insert "five months."

Amendment agreed to.


said, he now proposed to move an addendum to the clause. While those visited once were to be visited twice, no one would imagine such a provision was in the Bill. He proposed to add the words— And the said section shall be construed as if the word 'twice' had been inserted therein instead of the word 'once.' If they put in the word "twice," they would carry out the bargain arrived at. In the interests of humanity he should divide upon the Amendment, whether he had three supporters or 30.

Amendment proposed, To add, at the end of the Clause—"And the said section shall be construed as if the word 'twice' had been inserted therein instead of the word 'once.' "—(Mr. Warton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he should certainly not yield to the hon. and learned Member as regarded any ideas of humanity. He was a Member of the Committee on which the hon. and learned Member served, and he paid a great deal of attention to the subject. He would point out to the hon. and learned Member that the words he proposed to add would not carry out the object he had in view. This Bill had been introduced by the Lord Chancellor, with the very object of securing the means of increasing the number of visits to those persons who were now only visited once a-year. There was no other purpose to be served by the Bill; but, at the same time, he did not know there would be any particular objection to inserting in the Bill a provision requiring that that should be carried out. He would undertake, before Report, that it should be considered whether the words could be introduced here, and whether it should be made obligatory to visit the persons in licensed houses twice in a year instead of once.


said, he did not see why the words should not be inserted now, because on Report they could be altered.


said, he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would not press his Amendment on the present occasion. The Government would see by Report how far they could meet the hon. and learned Gentleman's views.


said, he was satisfied with the assurance of the Solicitor General that words would be put in making it obligatory that the visits should be twice instead of once.


said, he did not promise that such words should be put in, but that the matter should be considered by Report. He was not in a position to pledge the Government. All he promised was, that the matter should be considered with the view of meeting the object of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he thought by that course something more effectual would be gained than by pressing it now.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Preamble read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Preamble of the Bill."


said, that, before the Chairman put the Preamble, he would like to make a few observations. The Solicitor General had said that it was intended to increase the number of visits. The greatest improvement in the Lunacy Laws would be the increase of the number of Commissioners. He begged to impress that, not only upon his hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert), but upon the Committee generally. He hoped it would go forth to the country that this was a matter of economy—that the reason why more Commissioners were not appointed was that certain persons would not part with the £6,000a-year which was obtained from the Chancery patients. Pew in the House and in the country knew that the Chancery lunatics did not cost the country one halfpenny, but that they actually contributed by their insanity to the revenues of the country. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh at that; but he did not think it was a laughing matter. There were some sources of revenue which a country ought to blush at, and this was one of them. This Bill would not have been asked for if the £6,000a-year received from the Chancery lunatics were laid out to the benefit of those who paid it. He hoped the country would perfectly understand that there were only three Commissioners to inspect the Chancery lunatics. There were 62,000 lunatics throughout the country, independent of the Chancery lunatics, and there were only six Visitors for this large number. He asked the Committee if it was not a physical impossibility for six men to visit 62,000 persons every year?


said, if this Bill was a piece of economy, it was about the only piece of economy exercised by Her Majesty's Government during the present Session. He considered that the evidence before them showed that the number of gentlemen engaged as Commissioners was sufficient for the purpose.


said, the present discussion would be a very proper one upon the second reading of the Bill; but it was hardly in Order upon the Preamble of this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Tuesday next.