HC Deb 30 July 1889 vol 338 cc1739-54

Order for Consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now considered."

MR. MACINNES (Northumberland, Hexham)

I desire to move that the Bill be re-committed in respect of a new Clause as to the removal of pauper lunatics to their places of settlement. This Bill was referred to a Grand Committee, but did not occupy three full days discussion therein. When the Committee sat the time devoted to the consideration of the measure was short, there being no interest taken in the matter. It was, in fact, with difficulty that a quorum could be made. It will be seen that, since we had it from the First Lord of the Treasury that the Bill had been carefully considered, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary himself has put down various Amendments which, though they will not occupy a long time in discussing, show that there is need for further consideration. The point I desire to bring before the House refers to the anomalies in the present law as to the removal of pauper lunatics to their place of settlement, which only affects certain parts of the country, and is little felt in the inland counties. It affects especially English counties on the Scotch Border, and on the seaboard facing the Irish coasts. These counties have in their asylums many pauper lunatics from Scotland and Ireland, which they maintain at the expense of the English ratepayers. They cannot by law send them, back to their place of settlement; but in the case of English pauper lunatics, in either Scotland or Ireland, the law allows them to be sent from Scotch and Irish asylums to England, where they become chargeable to the English ratepayers. It is a sad fact that many of these pauper lunatics are comparatively young. Statistics and one's own experience in visiting the asylums show this to be the case, consequently the burden to the English ratepayer is a heavy one. All we ask for is that in this matter there should be reciprocity as to the law of removal, and that Parliament should no longer allow a heavy and anomalous burden to rest on certain English counties solely on account of their geographical position. It may be said that this is not the time to bring the question forward. Well, I do not bring it forward as a personal question, but on behalf of many Public Bodies, who have considered the matter, such as Magistrates in Quarter Sessions, and Boards of Guardians. It has long been felt a serious grievance, and I sincerely hope that the Government will deal with the matter, and will indicate whether, in their opinion, it is, or is not, reasonable that the present state of' things should exist—that Irish and Scotch asylums should be able to send back English lunatics, whilst English asylums are obliged to retain Irish and Scotch lunatics. It will be a matter of disappointment if this Bill does nothing to remedy the grievance.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "now considered," and adds the words— Recommitted in respect of a new Clause (Removal of Pauper Lunatics to a place of settlement)."— (Mr. Maclnnes.)

Question proposed, "That the words now considered 'stand part of the Question."


I quite understand the motive with which the hon. Member brings this Motion forward. The hon. Gentleman brought this subject before the Standing Committee, and the Chairman ruled that it was out of order, on the ground that it was wholly foreign to the subject-matter of the Bill. I also would urge on the hon. Member that he is asking for an inquiry which would be totally foreign to the Bill. We are not dealing with the Law of Settlement, or anything which would tend to remove any inequality which may exist in connection with the Law of Settlement. The question raised by the hon. Gentleman is by no means clear; it is a thorny one, and one of great perplexity and considerable difficulty; it would excite hostility in various parts of the House, especially from the Irish Members; and if we attempted to deal with it it would impede the progress of the Bill, if it did not prove fatal to the measure. At present there are about 1,600 Irish pauper lunatics in English asylums, and supposing that only 1,200 were removed, the grant in aid payable by the Treasury would have to be increased by no less than £12,000 a year, in addition to which there would be a large extra burden thrown on the ratepayers in Ireland. And the change proposed, if adopted, would necessitate a variety of subsidiary enactments, in order to meet the burden and deal with the new state of things. I will not give an opinion on the law of removal of pauper lunatics, but in the interests of the passing of the Bill, I would ask the hon. Member not to press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered.

A Clause (County Court judge and magistrate,)—(Mr. Secretary Matthews,) —brought up, and read the first and second time, and added.

Another Clause (Notices as to letters and interviews,)—(Mr. John Ellis,)— brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."

* MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

I should hesitate to move such a clause as this were it not that the clause was originally contained in the Bill, and was struck out in the Grand Committee, of which I was a member. The clause was first proposed by the hon. Member for Swansea in the Select Committee to inquire into the Lunacy Laws in 1878. The proposal at that time was carried unanimously, and since then the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and the present Government, in every Bill they have introduced on this question, have adopted the clause. The weight of authority, therefore, is overwhelming in its favour. However, in the Grand Committee this Session it was struck out by 15 votes to 9. As I understand, that my proposal will meet with, the support of the Government, I will not trouble the House with any further remarks.

* DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeen, W.)

I would point out that the Grand Committee on Law struck out this clause after full discussion. I oppose the clause because I think that the best medical testimony is unanimous that the fact of hanging these notices all over lunatic asylums will tend very greatly to retard the recovery of the patients by unsettling their minds and leading them to brood over fancied grievances. We should regard insanity as much a disease as that of any other organ of the body, and we should remove the patient from all influences likely to prevent recovery.

MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

I do not think the hon. Member who moves this clause realises fully the probable effect of his proposal. If his acquaintance with the inside of lunatic asylums were very large, he would know that many patients spend most of their time in writing letters to the Lord Chancellor and other persons. I know of a case in which two sisters spent every day, from morning to night, in writing letters to the Lord Chancellor, and another in which a person was continually writing to Satan. The hon. Member seriously proposes that all the multitudinous letters thus written should be delivered to the Commissioner or visitor, if not forwarded to their address. The idea is ludicrous in the extreme if you have in mind the nature of the correspondence of many hundreds of these inmates. But there is another objection I have to make to the clause, and that is the invidious distinction drawn between private patients who happen to have friends of a certain status in life and their more unfortunate pauper brethren. I would ask the hon. Member whether he has consulted any Lunacy Commissioner or Master in Lunacy as to the desirability of his proposal? I do not think he can have done: so, or he would have been told that the almost infallible result of his clause would be to disturb the minds of the patients, to enormously increase the work of the Commissioners, and give a large amount of unnecessary trouble to the staff of the asylums. Moreover, instead of having a calming and beneficial effect on the minds of the inmates, it would have a precisely opposite effect. The provocative effect of such notices as those proposed could not be exaggerated. No doubt it would be a good thing if instruction as to the forwarding of letters were given by the Commissioners in cases in which patients would not be unduly encouraged to abuse their privilege. That would be a sensible regulation to which no objection could be taken, and I would, therefore, suggest that the words "whenever the Commissioners shall direct" should be inserted in the clause. No doubt the hon. Member (Mr. J. E. Ellis) considers that there is danger of sane people being confined in lunatic asylums. I used to think so, too, at one time; but I have now, after 10 years' experience in connection with lunatic asylums, come to the conclusion that the danger is not such as to warrant the serious step proposed by the hon. Member. Besides, the Committee upstairs thrashed the matter out, and by a decisive majority threw out the clause, and I think it is a strong step to take to come down here after the Committee has so decided, and move the re-introduction of the clause. No doubt if it were a great matter of principle, the hon. Member would be justified in the course he is taking; but I do not think that, on a matter of internal economy and admistration of lunatic asylums, the hon. Member is justified in renewing the fight that we had upstairs.

SIR J.DORINGTON (Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury)

I was fortunate enough when I moved the rejection of this clause in the Committee to be able to convince hon. Members of the desirability of striking it out, the arguments advanced by myself and the hon. Member for Aberdeen being sufficient to convince our Colleagues. I am convinced that if the authors of this clause had taken the evidence of any expert gentleman on the question of lunacy, they would have been informed that the introduction of this proposal would be a most mischievous thing so far as our lunatic asylums are concerned. It is certain that Medical Authorities are agreed on the matter, and that the Lunacy Commissioners themselves concur with us in condemning the clause. The clause would keep the unfortunate patients in our asylums in a perpetual state of fret—which is, ordinarily, one of the commonest symptoms of their malady. You want, as far as possible, to remove from them all irritating influences, and to allow their minds to be at rest, and I submit that to put up the notices contemplated by this clause would have an exactly opposite effect. If there was any foundation for the idea that these people are suffering from some wrong, it would be right to have such notices put up; but the Commissioners, in their Report, declare that all the suggestions as to the wrongs of lunatics turn out to be baseless, and that the abuses which existed in our lunacy system some years ago have been altogether eradicated. We ought not to try experiments on these unfortunate people, for this is an experiment, and it is not justified by any sound opinion.


It seems to be forgotten that the object of this Bill is to provide additional safeguards against the improper confinement of persons in asylums; and the Committee upstairs has passed a clause giving every alleged lunatic the power to write to certain official persons, and to have letters forwarded at once unopened.


I do not object to the inmates writing letters, but to their minds being constantly irritated by the publication of those notices.


I would point out that the clause was inserted by the Lord Chancellor to carry out the deliberate recommendation of the Committee of 1878, that printed notices should be affixed to the walls of all lunatic asylums setting forth the right on the part of the inmates to appeal by letter to the Commissioners. They desired to provide protection against abuse in those institutions; and they must run the risk of many unfounded complaints being made in order that an occasional case of real grievance might be brought to light and redressed. I shall, therefore, support the clause if it is pressed to a Division.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I think it necessary to state, as a Member of the Committee, that I and some six or seven other Members of the Committee were not present at the Division on the clause, having to attend to other business of the House. But on my return I was astounded to find that the clause, of which I was in favour, had been struck out.

MR. H. DAVENPORT (Staffordshire)

I hope the clause will not be now inserted, as it is against all authority. Every proper opportunity is now afforded to patients to make their complaints, and the effect of carrying out this clause will be prejudicial to their recovery.

* SIR W. FOSTER (Ilkeston, Derbyshire)

I object to this clause mainly on medical grounds, because I think its effect would be to produce on the minds of the patients a continual irritation leading to repeated outbursts of excitement, which would hinder their cure. The clause originated at a time when there was a "scare" in the public mind, it being supposed that persons were wrongfully shut up in these asylums. That scare has been shown to be groundless, and it no longer exists.

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

I hope the Government will re-consider this matter. As far as I am concerned, I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Donegal.

MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

If the object of this Bill were simply to provide for the better treatment of lunatics, the opinions of the hon. Members for Derbyshire and Aberdeenshire would have overpowering weight. But the object of the Bill is to protect people who are, but who ought not to be, in lunatic asylums. The Division in the Grand Committee, when only 24 out of 80 Members were present, and when the majority was only 15 to 9, could not be regarded as conclusive. It is said that all the authorities on the question are on one side, but it is late in the day to learn this fact. The Bill has been brought before Parliament several times. It has gone through the House of Lords year after year under the conduct of such Lord Chancellors as Lords Selborne, Herschell, and Halsbury, and no such objection has ever been before urged. If, therefore, an enormous weight of authority is against the clause, that authority has been an unusually long time in finding expression. If public asylums alone were in question, the objections of hon. Members to the clause would have great force, for the county asylums are, perhaps, the best managed institutions in the world. For my own part, I should wish that all private lunatic asylums were abolished, and I find fault with the Bill because it permits the continuance of private asylums for a much longer period than, is desirable. But the Bill deals with private asylums, kept by private persons, under no public control or supervision whatever. The history of litigation shows that people are wrongfully placed in private lunatic asylums, and that there are temptations for their detention in such places. The crucial difference between the public and private institutions is, that while in the case of the former there is no temptation to detain, persons a moment longer than is proper, in the ease of the latter such temptation might exist. Another clause of the Bill, which no one challenges, provides that the superintendent of every asylum should forward, unopened, all letters written by patients and addressed to Lunacy Authorities; and yet, if anything is likely to irritate a patient's mind, it would more likely be the writing of the letter than merely seeing the notice. I am willing, however, to accept an Amendment which would give the Commissioners more latitude in fixing the method by which patients should be informed of their right of addressing authorities.

MR. MOLLOY (King's County, Birr)

In reference to the statement that the Lunacy Commissioners, who are the highest authority on this matter, are opposed to the clause, I must remind the House that the Lunacy Commissioners opposed the Bill in toto, as they opposed every previous Bill of a similar nature. The control of private asylums by the Commissioners is in reality an absolute absurdity, and if private asylums are left uncontrolled another public scare will be the consequence.

DR. McDONALD (Ross and Cromarty)

I think, Sir, that the great Mot in this Bill is that it does not bring private asylums under public control. I believe that all objections to the clause would be removed if an Amendment were carried providing that the notice to patients should be private instead of public.

The House divided:—Ayes 180; Noes 46.—(Div. List, No. 264.)


I desire to move an Amendment to the clause, to introduce at the commencement of the clause, the words, "whenever the Commissioners shall so direct." I believe those words will probably meet the points raised in the previous discussion. For instance, we may be well satisfied that in all private asylums the Commissioners will direct that such notice as is referred to shall be given; but that in other institutions where the holding out of a perpetual incentive to public notice would work mischief, they will not consider it desirable that the notice should be placarded.


I do not object to the Amendment. I assume that the hon. Member means the Commissioners of Lunacy. I think "of Lunacy" had better be inserted.


I accept the suggestion.

Amendment proposed, at the commencement of the Clause, to insert the words, "Wherever the Commissioners of Lunacy so direct."

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.


I think that Sub-section (a) of the clause must be amended, because it states a right which no longer exists in the Bill. I move to leave out all the words after the word "forwarded," and to insert the words, "In pursuance of the last preceding section."

Amendment proposed, in Sub-section (a) of the proposed new clause, line 3, to leave out all the words after the word "forwarded," in order to insert the words "in pursuance of the last preceding Section."—(Mr. Secretary Matthews.)

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

Question, "That the words 'in pursuance of the last preceding Section' be there added," put, and agreed to.

Question, "That the clause, as amended, be added to the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Amendment proposed, in Clause 1, page 1, line 9, to leave out the word "January," and insert the word "May."—(Mr. Secretary Matthews.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'January' stand part of the Clause."


The Report of the Commissioners is always a long time in arrear, and I wish to know whether this Amendment would cause any further delay?


The Report is ready for this year, and this Amendment merely postpones the operation of the Act.

Question put, and negatived.

Question, "That the word 'May' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.


In the absence of the hon. Member (Mr. Corbett), I should like to move one of his Amendments, to leave out Sub-section 4 of Clause 55. My objection is that the clause seems to leave the way open to an increase of the number of private asylums in this country. I wish to limit the number, and should be glad to see them all done away with.

Amendment proposed, in page 32, line 11, to leave out Sub-section (4) of Clause 55.—(Mr. Molloy).

Question proposed, "That Sub-section (4) stand part of the Bill."


I think the domestic treatment of insanity will be more successful in the future than to aggregate the patients in large herds. It will be better to segregate them in small numbers in domestic houses, where they will have occasional asso- ciation with the sane and not always be in contact with the insane in overcrowded institutions. I think the clause should be adhered to.


I would also point out to the hon. Member that to limit the number of places would take from patients a benefit which they desire.

Question put, and agreed to.


This Amendment to leave out Sub-section 6 of Clause 55 raises a question to which I have given careful attention. I have conferred with a large number of persons well qualified to inform me, and the conclusion I have come to is that it must be prejudicial to the advantageous treatment of the insane that there should be a monopoly of private asylums in few hands. When the matter was debated elsewhere, there was a very prevalent opinion in this country that it was expedient, as far as possible, to abolish private asylums altogether, and that it would be a most desirable thing if the treatment of the insane could be exclusively confined to public institutions. I think there is a very general concurrence of opinion in the country upon that point, but elsewhere it was considered that there were immense practical difficulties in the way. I think I am not exaggerating when I say there are between 3,000 and 4,000 private asylums in the country. Had the proposal been adopted in its original form, we should have—by the stroke of a pen—abolished all private asylums. As a compromise this clause was inserted, and I think I shall have the sympathy of hon. Members when I refer to that compromise as a most unfortunate one. It certainly enables public authorities to provide accommodation in public lunatic asylums for private paying patients, but it is not compulsory so far as the County Authorities are concerned. No doubt the object of this clause is to gradually extinguish private lunatic asylums; henceforth, no new licenses are to be issued, and existing licenses are only to be continued at the discretion of the Commissioners. This must give rise to manifold evils. Hon. Members, if they refer to the section, will see it gives power to the Commissioners to authorise the proprietor of any private lunatic asylum to enlarge his residence for the reception of patients, or to provide a new building in place of the old one. By this clause you increase the value of private asylums to an appalling extent. I have consulted several gentlemen connected with private asylums, and they tell me that already the value of these institutions has gone up 100 per cent, thanks to the monopoly which this clause will create. Monopolies are bad things; but having created one in this case, the question arises whether under it you will get more effective management of these institutions. If you get that, then I quite admit that the force of the objections which I am urging will be very much diminished. But on this point I am again assured by those who are competent to speak that you will not get improved management. Remember that the proprietor of a private lunatic asylum need not be a specially qualified man, he need not be a medical practitioner; a layman, and even a woman, may own such an institution. This clause will tend to increase speculation in these undertakings, and I know of a case in which, in view of the passing of this clause, a very considerable sum has been offered for one of these institutions. Then, again, this clause will inflict grievous harm upon a competent class of men, men who have served in public institutions, and who are desirous of themselves starting private lunatic asylums. I have in my mind's eye at the present moment a gentleman who has recently severed his connection with one of the largest asylums in the kingdom, after a period of service there in which he did himself the greatest credit. He wrote a short time ago to the Lunacy Commissioners requesting them to grant him a license; but he was told that in view of the passing of this Bill, no new licenses would be granted. The result is, that this man who has saved his money, and is in every way a desirable person to have charge of a private lunatic asylum, will be debarred from carrying on a professional duty of a most difficult character. It is a remarkable thing that when this Bill was first introduced the proprietors of private lunatic asylums took great umbrage at it, and their opposition to it might almost be described as malevolent and vindictive. But as soon as they discovered that a monopoly was to be created in their favour, the opposition collapsed. I might urge a great many more reasons against the creation of this monopoly; but as I think the right hon. Gentleman will realise the undesirability of its creation, I will not further trespass on the time of the House. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment proposed, in page 32, line 30, to leave out Sub-section (6) of Clause 55.—(Mr. Atherley-Jones.)

Question proposed, "That Sub-section (6) stand part of the Bill."


I must point out that the omission of this sub-section would practically necessitate the omission of the whole clause. Hon. Members will see that the first five sub-sections of the clause are simply and solely introduced on account of the prohibition against granting new licenses. When the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords, the clause consisted of the subsection alone; and it was the intention of the framers of the Bill to put an end to the private house system altogether. The sub-section meant that all private asylums come to an end after 12 months from the passing of the Act. It was felt that men who have invested capital in these private asylums and who have devoted their lives to the profession, if it can be called a profession, would suffer great hardship under the section, and the earlier sub-sections were therefore introduced to modify the harshness of the prohibition in Sub-section 6. No doubt the clause is open to the objection that it does, to some extent, create a monopoly; but people who invest money in these private asylums must understand that the licenses have to be renewed every 12 months, and that the slightest mismanagement will expose a private asylum to the non-renewal of the license. In fact, the owners of these institutions are in no better position than the holder of licenses under the Licensing Act. I should very much like to see the clause abandoned, which it certainly must be if this sub-section is struck out.


We occupied so short a time in the discussion of this Bill on the Second Beading stage that I do not think any excuse is required for taking this opportunity of discussing the point raised by the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that this clause embodies one of the most essential points in the Bill. Of course, it partakes-of the nature of a compromise. Some people thought that private lunatic asylums should be swept away altogether without compensation, but public opinion has not yet reached that point. We know that an enormous amount of capital has been invested in these institutions, and I am inclined to think that no case has been made out for interfering with their status quo. It has been pointed out that the monopoly created by this Bill will eventually give rise to very great evils. For instance, it may happen that in years to come there will only be one private lunatic asylum in the whole country. It does not follow that the asylums which will survive will be the fittest, while the clause will do away with a large number of small houses all over the country, in each of which two or three of these unfortunate people are treated. I do not think the general public will ever be content to give up private lunatic asylums. Some of these institutions are conducted with a liberality of expenditure and have a splendour of internal decoration and comfort which offer greater attractions to those who can afford to pay than are possessed by the annexe of a large public asylum. People in a position to pay have a natural horror of sending their friends to an institution which is partly maintained at the public expense. Private asylums will always be a necessity of our civilisation, and if they were abolished it would be impossible to get the same beneficial results in a private portion of a public institution. I will just say, in conclusion, that after giving a great deal of attention to this subject, I am not at all satisfied that a case has been made out against private asylums. There has been a great deal of vague talk and of melodramatic and hysterical writing outside this House which has created somewhat of a scare, but I do not think that anything has been proved which renders it necessary to interfere with the present condition of things. I do not think, also, there is any prospect of securing a more effective supervision by this Bill. It is absurd and preposterous to think that a small number of Commissioners can satis- factorily superintend the enormous number of lunatics placed under their charge. In Scotland, however, an excellent system prevails. There there is a larger number of Commissioners and a marked absence of the legal element, and the division of the district is so well managed that each Commissioner knows every patient under his charge. I fear, however, I should be out of order in discussing this matter. I repeat I do not think any case has been made out against private lunatic asylums, and I do not think it is in the interest of the general public that they should be interfered with.


I hope my hon. Friend will be satisfied with the discussion which has taken place. I have taken part in this movement, and the reasons which have been cited by the Home Secretary led me to the conclusion that it would be impossible to do away with private lunatic asylums altogether. My hon. Friend who last spoke fears the clause will put an end to the system of distributing lunatics in small numbers in domestic circles; but if I read rightly Section 4 of this Clause, I believe that will not be the result, because the joint licensee may separate their interests, take in new partners, and separate their interests until each one has only two or three lunatics in his charge. There will be no difficulty in doing this, so long as the total number of lunatics for which the license is issued is not exceeded. I think this matter has been sufficiently discussed, and I can only say that if this clause is struck out, we shall have to do our utmost to prevent the Bill passing into law.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, in page 39, line 7, after the word "lunatic," to insert the words, "either to the asylum of the county in which the workhouse is or." —(Mr. Molloy.)

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


I think these words unnecessary. I take it that the object of this clause is, in the case of affiliating unions, to allow the Justices to decide whether or not they shall send a lunatic to an asylum in the county in which the workhouse is situated, or to the asylum of the county for which the Justices act. Therefore, these words are unnecessary.


I have not quite followed the argument of the hon. Baronet, but I may point out that the object of the insertion of these words is to enable the Justices to send a lunatic to the asylum of the county to which he belongs, or to the asylum of the county in which the workhouse in which he is confined is situated.


This is purely a legal question. The question we have to consider is the lunatic who is sent to the workhouse from, another county than that to which the workhouse belongs. Another Amendment of the Home Secretary gives permission to send the patient to the wrong asylum. I wish that he should be sent to the proper asylum, and it is on that ground I oppose the insertion of these words.

Question put, and agreed to.

Other Amendments made.

Bill read the third time, and passed.