HC Deb 21 March 1884 vol 286 cc453-4

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, If his attention has been called to the case of "Weldon v. Winslow," as reported in The Times of the 19th instant, as follows:— Mr. Baron Huddleston in giving judgment after commenting upon what he said was the astonishing fact that with an order and a statement signed by paupers, and two certificates signed by men whoso only qualification need be the possession of diplomas and the fact that they were not related to the keeper of an asylum to which a patient was to be sent, anybody might be shut up in a private asylum.… He regretted to think that the Plaintiff could have, no redress for the serious inconveniences to which she had bean put, but being dearly of opinion that such was the case he must hold that she must be non-suited; whether he is aware that it transpired at the trial that a sum of £550 a-year was to be paid to the proprietor as long as the patient remained in the asylum; and, whether, since numerous cases of a similar and even worse kind have from time to time been reported, he proposes to make any change in the Law under which asylums are kept for private gain?


Sir, it is a question of great interest and importance. I see that the hon. Member, at the end of his Question, seems to suggest that there have been numerous cases of a similar, and even worse, kind from time to time. I do not believe that this is the case. The matter was very carefully investigated by a Select Committee in 1878, and it was established beyond doubt or possibility. The inquiry was especially made as to the point whether there was any possibility existing by which a person could be unduly deprived of his liberty by means of false allegations of lunacy; and the Committee reported that, although the present system was not free from risks which might, perhaps, be lessened by amendments of the existing law, yet the cases which had been brought before them of alleged mala fides or serious abuses had not been substantiated. That was true of these asylums then, and it has been true of them since, so far as I know. But I am not prepared to say that the present system does not require amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) has had a Bill before the House for this purpose; and that Bill contained a provision—which, although not very strongly supported, has always recommended itself to my mind—that there should be the authority of a magistrate before a committal is made to a private lunatic asylum, and that it should not depend solely or merely on certificates. The hon. Member (Mr. W. J. Corbet) concludes his Question by asking whether the Government propose to make any change in the law on the subject? All I can say is, I should be very glad to make a change on this and many other subjects; but I am sorry to say, and the House knows it as well as I do, that it is absolutely impossible for the Government—or, so far as I can see, for anybody else—to pass any Bill on any subject.


Will the Government put aside some of their controversial measures in order to bring in a Bill dealing with this subject?


I have not yet been able to discover what is the subject which is not controversial.