HC Deb 03 June 1889 vol 336 cc1792-7

Order for Second Reading read.


In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not propose to take up more than a few minutes of the time of the House. It is practically the same measure as has been thrice passed through the other House of Parliament. It was introduced by Lord Selborne in 1883, and it was passed on the Motion of Lord Herschell in 1886, and again on the Motion of the present Lord Chancellor in 1887 and 1888. It consists mainly of improvements in the existing law, suggested either by the Select Committee of the House of Commons that investigated the subject, or by the Lunacy Commissioners themselves. It is proposed that those improvements should be included in the Consolidation Bill prepared by the Lord Chancellor. The Government intend that the Bill should be referred to one of the Standing Committees. The main object of the measure is to provide additional securities against the improper confinement and treatment of lunatics. A new feature has been introduced—namely, that there should be an inquiry before a permanent judicial tribunal. In order to obviate the evils of vexatious actions against medical men,and also to provide a security against any possible abuse of the anomalous privilege which medical men have so long enjoyed, it is provided that a judicial inquiry shall be held and a judicial decision obtained before a person can be permanently confined as a lunatic. The Bill also aims at the gradual extinction of private asylums. It so happens that there has been a great fluctuation of opinion on this matter. In the discussions which took place on the subject in 1884 and 1885, the weight of opinion was against the continuance of private asylums; but since then there has been a revulsion of feeling. Of course the keepers of these asylums are necessarily largely interested in their retention, and it is proposed that no new asylum shall be licensed after the passing of the Bill, the largest protection being given to existing rights. There are not fewer than 3,000 patients in private asylums of this sort, and it is quite obvious that it would be impossible to deal with them in any piecemeal manner. I really do not think I need say more. I do not think there are any matters of consequence in this Bill, except those to which I have alluded. There are a great number of minor provisions in the Bill which will be of very great use in dealing with this afflicted class, whose treatment has been so much ameliorated of late years, but with regard to whom some additional measures of precaution and prevention are necessary.

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

* DR. D. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire)

I am really glad that this Bill has passed in another place, because there is need of a Bill of this sort, which I am bound to say contains a great many useful provisions. This Bill was introduced to this House formerly under the charge of Lord Herschell, but there are many points in the present Bill which to my mind do not improve it. The College of Physicians have petitioned against at least four of its main provisions, and representations coming from such a responsible body as that require the earnest consideration of this House. The reasons for the action they have taken are twofold. The Bill protects the doctors, who at the present moment are so much in dread of legal proceedings that they dare hardly venture to certify lunacy at all, and the result of that is that many acute cases, which ought to be brought under immediate treatment, are allowed to drift into hopeless and incurable insanity. And the Bill further puts real responsibility on the Justice or Judge, and protects the medical profession from irritating prosecutions. Another point is the protection of the patients. At present, so much time is occupied in bringing an acute case under medical treatment that very often it reaches the incurable stage or the chronic stage before a chance of proper treatment has been brought about. We have heard a great deal about private lunatic asylums,, and it has been suggested that interest might lead the proprietor of a private asylum to do that which is not right. That is only theoretical. I am bound to say, after very careful consideration of the evidence, and more especially the evidence before the Select Committee which sat some years ago, that however good those arguments may be theoretically, they are entirely overdone. I think a more honourable class of men than those who own private lunatic asylums are not to be found. A great drawback to this Bill is that it introduces a monopoly of private lunatic asylums which probably would become very narrow, and eventually restrictive, and possibly injurious. I think it is far better to allow this branch of the profession to be ventilated by the free air of competition than to subject it to restrictions, however carefully administered. Another point to which the medical profession attach great importance in the treatment of insanity, is that the patients may be treated in small places, where, say, two patients would get far more benefit than in a larger establishment. The Bill places great restrictions upon that sort of treatment, and I think that some alteration might be effected in that direction. The Bill, it is said, practically follows the Scotch procedure. I venture to take entire exception to that. It is a travesty rather than an imitation of the Scotch procedure. One objection is the legal element on the Lunacy Board. I hope when the Bill comes down from Grand Committee I shall have an opportunity of carrying an Amendment, to eliminate as far as possible tile legal element from the inspectorship of lunacy. I must say that I have some distrust of the tribunal—the Standing Committee on Law—to which this Bill is to he referred. The lawyers have already too much to do with this Bill, and it seems to me that the chance of getting any alteration in it when it is before the Grand Committee on Law will be very small indeed. Therefore, I hope that when the Bill comes down from upstairs we shall have an opportunity of discussing its provisions on the Third Reading and on Report. With these criticisms, which at this stage I venture to make, I hail this Bill with satisfaction, and I think on the whole it will be a most useful measure and likely to give satisfaction to the medical profession.


I am sure we wish to respond to the invitation of the First Lord of the Treasury, and I think he will admit that the course of business during the evening is rather better than he expected. I hope we may make better progress to-morrow, and that it will have a practical result. But I rose to appeal to the House to let the Second Reading go at once, and upon this ground. This Bill was prepared by Lord Selborne, with the concurrence of the then Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt. It was afterwards approved by Lord Herschell, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh. It has been subsequently approved by Lord Halsbury and the present Home Secretary. Three Lord Chancellors and three Home Secretaries have approved of the principle of this Bill as a great improvement in the Lunacy Laws.

MR. MOLLOY (Birr, King's County)

As to the general character of the Bill, I am bound to say I am in accord with it. I think that our present method of dealing with lunatics is a very great improvement indeed upon the old system. The one point I do not like is the continuation of private lunatic asylums, to which I have always objected. At all events their number will not be increased, which, so far, is very good.


Nor the number of patients.


You are putting an enormous value upon these private lunatic asylums, and you are giving them a property which they do not possess at the present time. I think if there was some termination to the existence of these private asylums it would be a very great boon indeed. I am bound to say, however, that after a long conversation with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General on this subject my view has been modified with regard to private lunatic asylums; still on the whole I should be glad to see them done away with. When we get into Committee I want to get the system of private lunatic asylums attached to the public system, so as to have each private establishment attached to a public asylum, so that you would have equal care taken of the patients and get rid of the dangers which there are in the system of private lunatic asylums. We shall have ample opportunity to discuss the details in Committee, and I shall say nothing more now, save that I am very glad the Bill has been introduced, and I am only sorry that it has been so long coming to this House.

Question put, and agreed to Bill read a Second Time and referred to the Standing Committee on Law, &c.

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

In relation to this Bill, may I ask if any Member who does not happen to be on the Standing Committee can send up an Amendment to it?


Certainly, Sir.