HC Deb 10 June 1912 vol 39 cc627-47

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The Bill is of much wider scope than the measure which the House has just been discussing. I cannot hope to get the Second Reading with such unanimity as I was fortunate enough to obtain in connection with the last Bill. On this subject the flag of individual liberty has been unfurled, and I recognise that in recommending the Bill to the House I shall have a certain amount of difficulty in persuading some hon. Members opposite, and particularly some of my hon. Friends behind me, that the Bill in itself does not in the least assail any principle of individual liberty, which is so dear to them. In the main, this Bill deals with a class of person who is already the subject of treatment under various branches of the public administration. If it is feared that we shall interfere with the individual liberty of the subject in the case of the feeble-minded, we are already interfering with that liberty now. We clap feeble-minded persons into prisons, we detain them in the workhouses, we teach the children in special schools, and in each case we are interfering with the individual liberty of the feeble-minded person. The unfortunate thing is, that we interfere with his liberty in the wrong way. The feeble-minded subject ought not to be dealt with in prison for an offence which is no more than the offence of being feeble-minded. He ought not to be treated in the workhouse, because his case is one which workhouse treatment is of no value to him, whereas treatment, not in the workhouse, but in a. suitable home would, if not cure him, at any rate give him a prospect of leading a. fairly tolerable life.

This subject became so troublesome and so burdensome to the Prison Authorities and to the administrators of the Local Government Board that in 1904 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the whole subject. That Commission sat for four years and collected most valuable evidence. The Commission included experts in medicine and law, persons versed in local government and education, in administration and in philanthropic enterprise, and they carried out a most patient and searching investigation. They examined 250 witnesses, competent to lay before them the state of affairs now existing; they informed themselves, by personal visits and otherwise, of the difficulties which had arisen and the remedies which had been applied in America and Continental countries; and with the aid of expert medical investigators they carried out, in sixteen varied and typical districts of the United Kingdom, a novel and most authoritative research as to the numbers and conditions of the feebleminded. I recite these particulars to the House to remind hon. Members of the scope and extent of the inquiry, which lasted for four years, and which was certainly as complete an inquiry upon this subject as could possibly be made. As I have said, the Commission was appointed in order to lay down lines upon which in future we could deal with the feebleminded instead of having to deal with them through the prison authorities and the workhouse authorities. The findings of the Commission must be quoted in their own words. This is what the Commissioners say:— There are numbers of mentally defective persons whose training is neglected, over whom no sufficient control is exercised, and whose wayward and irresponsible lives are productive of crime and misery, of much injury and mischief to themselves and to others, and of much continuous expenditure wasteful to the community and to individual families. We find a local and 'permissive' system of public education which is available, here and there, for a limited section of mentally defective children, and which, even if it be useful during the years of training, is supplemented by no subsequent supervision and control, and is in consequence often misdirected and unserviceable. We find large numbers of persons who are committed to prisons for repeated offences, which, being the manifestations of a permanent defect of mind, there is no hope of repressing, much less of stopping, by short punitive sentences. We find lunatic asylums crowded with patients who do not require the careful hospital treatment that well-equipped asylums now afford, and who might be treated in many other ways more economically and as efficiently. We find, also, at large in the population many mentally defective persons, adults, young persons and children, who are, some in one way, some in another, incapable of self-control, and who are therefore exposed to constant moral danger themselves and become the source of lasting injury to the community. There we have the case summarised by the Commissioners that the treatment of the feeble-minded in prison is wasteful and wrong; that the treatment of the feeble-minded in lunatic asylums is not the right method of dealing with them, and that workhouse treatment offers the feeble-minded no prospect either of cure or of such conditions of life as in a humane society we should be anxious to give them. In substance the recommendation of the Commissioners amounts to this, that the feeble-minded persons should be specially treated and kept under guardianship or under control for varying lengths of time in homes built and adapted to the peculiar conditions of the feeble-minded person. It is a remarkable fact, recognised by everyone who has inquired into the subject, that in the majority of cases, if the weight of responsibility is removed from the feebleminded person, he leads a fairly happy life. It is the trouble of having to look after himself which is intolerable to him. He knows himself to be incompetent in the ordinary competition of life. Place him in a home, where he will be looked after, directed, and, to a certain limited extent, controlled, and you will find him capable of working, almost of maintaining himself, and certainly of living a fairly happy life. He does not want to go outside. Throw the doors open to him and he would not go.


Then why close them?


We do not close them. He can only be sent to a home on the order of a magistrate who finds that he is incapable of taking care of himself. He is not committed to these homes in perpetuity.




If my hon. Friend thinks he is, I shall be happy to meet him, when we come to discuss the Bill in detail. He can only be committed to a home for a limited period of time.


Will it be convenient for the right hon. Gentleman to explain the judicial procedure by which the order of detention will be made? Before what Court, and what procedure?


The feeble-minded person who is to be sent to a home must be brought before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction and be committed by the Court to a home, and a medical certificate must be obtained, but if an appeal is desired against the judgment of the Court it can be taken. If on any point of this kind there is criticism of the Bill, we shall be most willing to consider it at the proper stage. We are only dealing now with the principle of the measure, which is that where an order is made, upon evidence, before a properly constituted Court, and a medical certificate has been obtained, a person may be then sent to a feeble-minded home as a feeble-minded person. At present in a great many cases such a person is sent to a lunatic asylum because there is no other place to which he can be sent. He ought not to be sent to a lunatic asylum. He is not a fit subject for a lunatic asylum. Sent to a feeble-minded home, where he can be put to work appropriate to his peculiar and particular mental development, he is able to work. We have seen from the experience of a considerable number of homes throughout the country that they have worked well. There have been no such difficulties in their case as my hon. Friend speaks of—no difficulties of persons being detained in these homes against their will. They are not compulsorily detained, I agree, but they have in fact been inmates of these homes in many cases for a large number of years. But the great majority of the cases which will be dealt with under this Bill are cases which are now dealt with by compulsory orders. Persons who are sent to a lunatic asylum and to prison, and who have been without any means of subsistence do in fact live in workhouses. We are therefore really only providing an appropriate method of dealing with persons who are now dealt with most inappropriately. There has been considerable criticism of the Bill on account of the definition which it includes of defective persons. Those who have criticised the Bill on that ground, in the majority of cases at any rate—there are some exceptions—have not read the whole of the definition. Clause 17, which deals with persons who are subject to be dealt with says:— The following persons, and no others, shall be subject to be dealt with under this Act, that is to say, per sons who are defectives and who are found wandering about, neglected, or cruelly treated, who are charged with the commission of any offence, or are undergoing imprisonment or penal servitude or detention in a place of detention or a reformatory…. who are habitual drunkards …. in whose case, being children discharged on attaining the age of sixteen from a special school established under the Defective and Epileptic Children Act (and who therefore have already been proved to be defective persons), in whose case it is desirable in the interests of the community that they should be deprived of the opportunity of procreating children. That, I admit, is a much more debateable point, and it will be very properly a point to be closely examined in Committee. Finally, in whose case such other circumstances exist as may be specified in any order made by the Secretary of State as being circumstances which make it desirable that they should be subject to be dealt with under this Act. That also is a case which Parliament would naturally wish to examine very closely in Committee and to have an assurance from the Secretary of State as to what are the circumstances which, in his opinion, would justify him in making an order for detention. It must be observed that the person has not only to be defective, but also to conform to one or other of the conditions I have read out, and therefore all the arguments which are directed to show what a gross violation of individual liberty this is, because a person may be locked up in a home merely for being defective, omit to take into account the other provisions of the Bill. This Clause in the main deals with persons who are found wandering about, who are cruelly treated, or who are included among persons in lunatic asylums, prisons, or work-houses. In the main those are the persons we seek to deal with under this Bill, and it is a criticism which goes considerably beyond the proposals of the Bill which alleges in broad terms that we are unjustifiably interfering with the liberty of the subject.

10.0 P.M.

In this Bill there is the element of compulsion. The first compulsion is upon the local authority to inquire and investigate as to feeble-minded persons within its area, and to provide for them. There is a limitation, however, to the duty which is imposed upon the local authority. There is no compulsion on the local authority to provide and maintain homes for feebleminded persons beyond such a number as the State contributes for. It was felt that with so many charges upon local authorities at the present time, it would be too burdensome to impose upon them a new duty with a large heavy charge, unless at the same time the State contributed towards the cost. There is therefore this limitation of the duty of a local authority. They need not provide for and maintain the feeble-minded persons in their area beyond the number to which the State contributes. There is power given to them to provide for all the feeble-minded in their area, but there is no compulsion to exercise the power if their means do not admit of it. In order to start the local authorities in this work, it is proposed that there shall be a payment by the Exchequer of £150,000 a year. That will greatly assist the local authorities in dealing with those feeble-minded persons. There will no doubt be economies in respect of those who will be taken out of workhouses, and further economies in respect of those taken out of lunatic asylums and prisons. We must also remember that to a considerable extent the feeble-minded homes will be self-supporting, and, therefore, I am not without hope that, while this Grant of £150,000 will not and cannot cover the whole ground, it will be a sufficient sum to enable local authorities to make a real substantial start in the work that lies before them, and to meet to a certain extent the cost in the first years of the Act. The local authority are to act through a committee. This committee, if the county council or the county borough council desire, may be the visiting committee or the asylums committee under the Lunacy Act. It is thought better to leave discretion on this matter to the local authorities. The local authorities are bound to appoint medical and other officers to assist them in carrying out the Act. They have the functions of keeping a register of defectives within their district, of dealing with cases under their control, and of providing accommodation for those who require custody. Then power is given to the Secretary of State to establish and maintain institutions for defectives with criminal, dangerous, or violent propensities.

It is made criminal to undertake for reward the care and control of any person who is a defective without giving notice forty-eight hours after the reception of such person to the local authority. Provision is made for penalties where the manager of any institution for defectives, or the owner of a certified house, or the guardian of a defective, detains a patient or exercises any of the powers conferred upon him after he has knowledge that the Order has expired. Intermarriage with persons known to be defective is made a misdemeanour. I do not think that anybody who has studied workhouse statistics will be able to raise a valid argument against these provisions. It is an unfortunate fact that the feeble-minded appear to be far more prolific than ordinary citizens. I believe there is no member of a board of guardians in the country who would not be able to give this House detailed accounts not of one or two, but of considerable numbers of feeble-minded mothers who go into the workhouses regularly for a year or two, leaving their children behind them, and then go out again into the world. Of these children two-thirds grow up to be either lunatics or feeble-minded, and from the day of their birth to the day of their death they remain either a charge upon or a danger to the State. Although I know this is a subject which deserves the closest examination by the House when we come to deal with points of detail, these circumstances do not touch the real principle of the Bill. I still hope that the House will be prepared to give its assent to the principle.


Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the chief differences between the Bill which he is now introducing and the private Member's Bill, the Second Reading of which was passed a few days ago?


I am just coming to that. Earlier in the Session another Bill received a Second Reading, and therefore on the present occasion I have not gone into the general argument in favour of dealing with the feeble-minded by law. That was settled on the Second Reading of the last Bill, which was carried without a Division; and in view of the fact that I hope to get my Second Reading this evening, I do not wish to take much time dealing with the general subject. The proposals of this Bill differ from the other Bill in this respect, that they throw compulsion on the local authority to inquire into the feeble-minded within its area, keep a register of them, and provide for and maintain them. The only limitation on this duty is the limitation of the amount of money which is provided by the State. All these points find no place in the Bill introduced earlier in the Session. Under this Bill it is proposed to find £150,000 out of the Exchequer. Add to that the burden which will be thrown on the local authority and you have a sum which will provide a considerable number of homes which will and must deal with the feeble-minded. In the Bill introduced earlier in the Session there were no compulsory powers and no means of meeting the cost, as a private Member's Bill could not throw any charge on the Exchequer. We provide both compulsory powers and the means of discharging them?


Who are the authorities?


We propose to set up a body of Commissioners who will be Commissioners for the feeble-minded, very much on the same lines as the Prison Commissioners deal with all questions of prisons and prison treatment. It may be argued that inasmuch as we have already a body of Lunacy Commissioners it is undesirable to create a new body. There is, however, a serious difficulty. The Lunacy Commissioners exercise their powers under the authority of the Lord Chancellor. Personally I feel I have got quite enough to do, and I am not anxious in the least to extend the scope of my authority; but, although that is my personal view, I have got to take cognisance of the fact that there is a very large Department of the State called the Home Office which is fully competent to deal with all these matters, and has got all the means of administration, while the Lord Chancellor and the Lunacy Commissioners, than whom as individuals no persons could be more competent, have not, unfortunately, or perhaps for themselves fortunately, under their authority a large department, capable of carrying on the necessary work. The Royal Commission was confronted with this difficulty, and I believe in one of their conclusions pointed to the desirability of the Lunacy Commissioners and the Commissioners under legislation for feeble-minded being united in one body ultimately to come under the authority of the Home Office. There can be no doubt that the Lunacy Commission is very well administered now under the authority of the Lord Chancellor, and it would be invidious for the Home Secretary to introduce a Bill taking away from the Lord Chancellor work which is now so admirably done. What we do therefore is we set up this Commission to deal with the feeble-minded a small body and not more than would be required in any case in the way of addition to the Lunacy Commissioners if this work were placed on them, and we prepare the way for the ultimate union of the two bodies, whether under the Lord Chancellor or the Home Secretary ultimately must be determined. But at present there can be no question, and the Commission found the fact to be so, that the Home Office is the office specially constituted to deal with the work of this kind. That is the simple reason why we now set up a small Commission for dealing with the feeble-minded in the early days of the work, although hereafter the Bill contemplates the possibility of the future amalgamation of the Lunacy Commissioners and the Commissioners for the feeble-minded.


Why is the staff of the Home Office peculiarly qualified to deal with this question?


We have a large staff at the Home Office.


What particular experience of dealing with this work have they got?


I regret to say that we have got a large prison experience on this subject. There is no Department that has experience of dealing with this subject exactly, because the subject is new; but the Home Office, as an administrative Department, have the experience of dealing with the local authorities, a work with which we are thoroughly familiar. Here we are simply proceeding on the same lines on which we have proceeded in the past with admirable success. This Bill has been limited to the actual needs of the case, and I think will be found to provide all necessary securities against justifiable interference with individual liberty, and against any measures which would shock or go far in advance of instructed public opinion. Any proposal in this measure which can be shown to shock public opinion deserves, and will receive, the fullest consideration in the Committee stage. I hope that those who are anxious about the individual liberty of the subject will be satisfied with that assurance. Detention in institutions which is authorised in the Bill for cases needing such a degree of control will include detention for short or protracted periods as may be necessary, or even, in some cases, permanently, but only in such cases where an order has been made by a duly constituted Court. It is certain, and it is a fact which strikes all visitors to institutions for feebleminded people, that the defective, who when at large are unhappy, or the cause of unhappiness to others, are, when in a well-managed colony or training home happy and more contented with their lot. I think that the subject is one that we must all approach with the greatest consideration, care and anxiety. I feel confident, when all the evidence is brought before the Committee and is understood, that the same effect will be produced upon the minds of other hon. Members as has been produced upon mine, and that even in the only contentious part of the Bill I shall obtain the assent of the House to the very limited extent to which the Bill goes in that particular. I commend the Bill, as a whole, to the House, which has already given a Second Reading to another Bill for the same purpose. I commend it to the House in the confident assurance that if it is passed into law we shall be taking a great step towards removing one of the worst evils in our time.


The whole House, from the attitude it has taken on the Bill before it, feels that the matter in question is one of great importance to the body politic. The Royal Commission gave to the public some figures which show that the number of mentally defective persons in this country is alarming in its size and likely to increase still further. So far as modern science can tell, mental defect of this kind is strictly hereditary, and, further, as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary explained, it is a quality to be found in those who are more fertile than the normal members of the community. Whilst we recognise the need therefore, of dealing with this evil, I think we all at the same time must feel that peculiar care is necessary in the measures that we take. Under the Lunacy Acts which have been administered for some time precautions are taken which have now been proved efficacious by the experience of a considerable number of years. The number of mistakes that are made in the administration of the Lunacy Acts I trust we all believe are very small. But we are in this matter dealing with a subject that is not a subject of experience to the same extent as lunacy is; therefore I suggest to the House we must be peculiarly careful in all respects. We must in the Bill define with extreme care the nature of the mental defect which is to subject the person to the medical control intended by the Bill; and, in the second place, we must see that the administration of the Act, including that phrase "judicial administration," is such that initial mistakes may be remedied at the earliest possible opportunity. Those, I believe, are the two main precautions that have to be taken. With a view to dealing with those two main precautions.

I ask the House to approach first of all this question of the central body which is to administer the Act. The broad fact is that the matter in question is more or less new, but, on the other hand, feeble-mindedness, mental defect of that character, is germane in character to lunacy. It is more akin to ordinary unsoundness of mind than to any thing else. We have in existence at the present time the body which has been administering the Lunacy Acts for a large number of years, and I therefore say to the Home Secretary why, when we have a body with that experience on a subject germane to the subject of this Bill, reject all the accumulated experience of years, which the people of this country has been led to believe by practice is a safe guide in the administration of lunacy?

The opposition to this Bill is largely based upon fear that the detention provisions will be applied in cases in which they ought not to be applied. The definition of the Bill is quoted, and it says that a, feeble-minded person is one who, from mental defect arising from birth or from early age, is unable to compete on equal terms with normal persons. Those of us who are modest perhaps sometimes feel that we might come within the definition. I observe a responding smile from the other side of the House. That very danger shows the extreme importance of utilising all the existing administrative experience and method of certifying that the country has at present in dealing with this new category of defective persons. The whole community must recognise, if they read with care the Report of the Royal Commission and the considerable volume of litera- ture which has been published on the subject, that, outside persons of unsound mind, lunatics, there is a very large body of persons of defective mind who cannot be dealt with under the existing law as it stands. That must be realised as it is beyond controversy, and that being so I do urge on the right hon. Gentleman and on the Government the extreme importance of calling to our aid that body which has experience in dealing with persons of a similar or germane character to those with whom this Bill proposes to deal. In that way we shall meet to a large extent the dangers which the opponents of the Bill have pointed out, and we shall be in the advantageous position further of preventing the very large expenditure which the Bill proposes to make on an entirely new administrative body.

The Bill proposes to create a new Commission with very considerable new expenditure. I suggest that it is essentially a case in which the existing body should be asked to deal with what is a new subject, it may be on a tentative basis. The subject being new, not only do we want to utilise the existing experience on the subject nearest to it, but we need to go slowly, in order that we may judge by the experience of the early years of the administration of the Act how many of the defective-minded persons there are, and under what categories they fall, so that we may utilise the experience of the Commissioners to ascertain the nature of the provisions that ought to be made, and also to prevent the certification of persons whom it is not really intended should be dealt with under the Act.

Another objection to the proposal of the Government in regard to the central authority administering the Act is that it necessarily introduces a dual control which must lead to friction in administration. Under the Definition Clause, both idiots and imbeciles are included as defective persons within the meaning of the Act. Both these categories of persons are now dealt with by the Lunacy Commissioners under the Idiots and Imbeciles Act. Under these circumstances, the question whether idiots and imbeciles should be dealt with as persons of unsound mind or as defective-minded persons—that is to say, under the Lunacy Act or under the Mentally Deficient Act—will depnd upon the financial temptations offered to the authorities who have to deal with them. Under the Lunacy Acts no new private homes may be licensed for lunacy purposes; under this Bill it is proposed that new homes may be licensed. The temptation will be very great to send to these new homes, not merely idiots or imbeciles, but persons of unsound mind. Therefore you risk transgressing the provisions of the Lunacy Acts and of introducing friction between the Defective-Minded Commissioners and the Lunacy Commissioners. Take, again, the education authority. It is proposed in the Bill that the new authority should have no power to control defective-minded children under sixteen years of age who are in elementary special schools. But no provision is made for children under that age who are not in special schools, nor, as far as I can see, for children over sixteen. Take, further, the Poor Law authorities. Under the present arrangement many feebleminded paupers are sent by the guardians to lunatic asylums, where they occupy beds in expensive institutions, when they might be treated in other institutions at a very much cheaper rate.

Under the present law the Poor Law guardians get 4s. per head under the Lunacy Acts for every person sent to an asylum. When this Bill is passed it will be a question whether it will pay the Poor Law authorities better to send these people to lunatic asylums and get the 4s. or to request the local authorities to deal with them. The Bill is not at all clear, and I do not know whether it allows the local authorities that option. When asked the other day in this House for a Return of mentally affected persons who were paupers the President of the Local Government Board replied that there had been no Return since 1906, and he did not think any good purpose would be served by granting it. This, I submit, was an odd commentary on the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, who has introduced the Bill. The Home Secretary says that the Home Office is the proper authority and office for dealing with the subject, because it has a large administrative staff. We are all prepared to concede that the Home Office staff is a most efficient one, but their experience is not that of persons suffering mentally. The Lunacy Commissioners are.


The administration of the Act is undertaken not by the Home Office, and not through any Government Department, but by the local authorities: the Home Office staff, accustomed to this class of work, are in communication with the local authorities.


I am grateful for that interruption, but surely that raises a point of the greatest importance? If the administration is to be left to the local authorities I say the Bill is wrong. Administration by the local authorities from one point of view is right and necessary; but the safety of the individual who is brought within the purview of the provisions of this Bill depends upon the administration by the central controlling and supervising authority. What is the real safeguard against abuse under the Lunacy Acts? It is that the Lunacy Commissioners inspect and personally see every lunatic every year. They have reports sent to them. They visit every asylum and they see for themselves that no abuse of the Acts are committed. It is from that point of view that the central authority under the Bill is so important. The right hon. Gentleman has inserted provisions in his own Bill for visits of this kind by a central authority. That is the true and the right safeguard, and I say that the Lunacy Commissioners are the people to administer visitation of the sort effectively and not the Home Office. That being so, I submit that it is an overwhelming reason for leaving the central administration in the hands of that body which has administered the kindred subjects so exceedingly well for so many years, and you have here an additional reason that you should not introduce a totally new system involving dual control.

Personally I shall be very glad to see the Bill read a second time to-night, because the principle is one of such very great importance, and so much of the criticism is a matter for Committee. But there is the finance of the Bill. Under the Bill it is proposed that the Government should give altogether £150,000 a year. Let me suggest that £30,000 or £40,000 will be involved in administration expenses. I observe a smile on the face of the right hon. Gentleman, but I would remind him that this Government has expended a good deal on new officials of one sort or another, and I think he will find it very difficult—I have worked it out—to administer the Act under about £32,000. That leaves £l20,000. Under the Bill no local authority is obliged to find provision for mentally deficient persons unless that local authority receives 7s. per week for that person. Seven shillings a week from the Government for each person will provide for a total of 6,000 persons and no more. The Royal Commission reported that there are at least 60,000 persons who ought to be dealt with. I observe the Government provision only allows for one-tenth of those persons to be dealt with who the Royal Commission said at least ought to be dealt with. Taking the figures of the Royal Commission it appears the total number that ought to be dealt with was 150,000, but I admit that a large number of these were criminals or paupers or children in the elementary special schools, and therefore no doubt the total figure is very much smaller, but that leaves none the less a very large number to be provided for, and, taking the charge of 7s. per week per head, it would give a total of expenditure upon all paupers and criminals and children, as well as others, of something like £2,500,000. That is a mere question of arithmetic.

The question of mental deficiency is essentially a national question and not a local question. It is to the interest of the nation as a whole that the race should be maintained, and not become degenerate. It is a burden which is to be discharged locally, but I submit it is a burden which ought not to be put by the Government direct on to the local authorities, particularly when the local bodies had not been consulted. This burden, which may amount to a couple of millions with an infinitesimal contribution from the Government, is imposed upon the county councils, and so far as I know the Government have not consulted the county councils and the country with regard to the Bill. I submit the question of finance requires most careful consideration. Why is this beneficent Bill not extended to Ireland? The doctors of Ireland and the asylums' officers of Ireland are, I believe, unanimous in their protest against the exclusion of that unfortunate country from the provisions of this Bill. I hope the Government may see its way to refer this Bill, with the Bill read a second time a week ago and the other Bill which has been introduced into this House upon a similar subject, to the same Committee in order that all three may be dealt with together, so that in Committee we may cautiously and with due care and consideration thresh out a scheme which will benefit the race and at the same time protect the individual.


I wish, in the first place, to thank the Home Secretary for approaching this matter from a very different point of view to what he did when the previous Bill was before the House. I cannot help thinking that if this Bill had been printed a little later it would have been printed with a good many modifications and a good many further safeguards. As the Bill stands at the present time, I am bound to admit it is a Bill of very serious risks and dangers to the people of this country. It seems to have been drafted with one object in view, namely, the putting an end to the free circulation of the feeble-minded, which is a very admirable object, but not the only object to be considered when a Bill is being drafted and framed. It was necessary that the Home Office, when drafting this Bill, should have considered also safeguards for the interests of the feeble-minded as well as the interests of the community as a whole. Anyone who reads this Bill will see that the Clause directed towards strengthening the machinery whereby the feeble-minded persons would be segregated from the rest of society will search in vain for any Clauses safeguarding their interest while looking after the justice side of the case. I am afraid the Home Secretary was not in his place when I spoke on this subject when a private Member's Bill dealing with this question was before the House.


Yes, I was.


At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman has not made any reply to the objection I put forward then, which I think is a serious objection, namely, that in legislation of this sort the danger is of institution government by specialists. The growing authority of the specialist over the liberty of the individual is a very serious matter. One can bring public opinion to bear on an autocrat when he exercises his autocratic power in a way we can all understand. If it happened to be a Bill saying that people holding certain opinions should be put in prison, we should all exercise our criticism upon the way that power is exercised, but when you put this autocratic power in the hands of specialists whom we cannot criticise because we do not know on what ground they base their executive action, it is then you are introducing a serious danger to the State. If a specialist, a doctor, or a eugenist said that So-and-So is a danger to society and ought to be imprisoned, it is not possible for the ordinary layman to criticise the grounds on which he has based his dictum of imprisonment. Here, in this Bill, we have a very large number of people, who are at present perfectly free and in the enjoyment of a certain amount of happiness, rendered liable to be sentenced to perpetual imprisonment on the dictum of these specialists, and that is a very dangerous thing.

I know that the Home Secretary urged that there was no perpetual imprisonment in this Bill. I have studied this measure very carefully, and I can assure hon. Members that there is perpetual imprisonment writ large all over the Bill. The people who are the victims, or subject to a petition under this Bill, are first of all sent to a home for feeble-minded for one year. They are not released at the end of that year, but at the end of that period their case is reconsidered. Reconsideration does not necessarily mean an examination of the victims by the people considering the case. If at the end of the year the case is decided against them, another period of five years' detention follows, and there is no reconsideration of that case, and at the end of the five years they will be recommitted for another five years. For ever after they first enter the doors of that lunatic asylum, gaol, feeble-minded home, or whatever it is, they will never be allowed to leave even to see their parents or go out on ticket-of-leave. They are segregated for life. Consider the terms under which their cases are reconsidered at the end of one, five, ten, or twenty years, or whatever it be. A special report is asked for on each case at the end of one or five years. That report is made by the medical officer in charge of the feebleminded home, a person who prima facie has an interest in keeping up the numbers in the home, because these homes are run for private profit. You would think, at any rate, that the report of that medical officer in each case would be considered by the Commissioners. Not a bit of it. By a sort of refinement of cruelty, the report is made a general one and not a special report on each case, so that the Commissioners merely get a report saying, "We have examined all the persons in this establishment, and they all ought to be locked up for a further period." I want to make this quite certain. The Clause says:— The special report and certificates under this section may include and refer to more than one patient. I think that is making it intolerable. Of course, that is a Committee point, but I do submit that a Bill drafted on these lines and with such a Clause, is not one which this House should readily accept, even on Second Reading, because it shows the spirit in which the whole Bill has been drafted. The Home Secretary dealt at length with the Report of the Royal Commission on the Feeble-Minded, and this Bill, of course, is based upon that Report. The Royal Commission consisted of specialists, many of them members of the Eugenics Society, all of them people who have one aim and object, and one only, and that is the materialistic one of improving the race and the breed of people in this country. I submit our object as politicians in a democratic country is not first and foremost to breed the working classes as though they were cattle. Our object first and foremost is to secure justice for everybody, and that is a higher duty of every Member of Parliament than the materialistic one of improving the breed. It seems to me that Commission concentrated throughout on the materialistic side, and not on what you might call the idealistic or religious side, the side which considers human rights as coming before human advantages. Therefore, I do not lay in the same way as the Home Secretary does this excessive importance upon the Report of that Commission. They are a Commission of experts and specialists, I admit, but they are a Commission of experts and specialists on lines which should not necessarily appeal to every Member of this House. The great mass of the evidence given before the Commission and the gravamen of the Report are subjects with which I and my Friends who take the same view on this question can heartily agree. We approve of the Government providing homes in which these people can be looked after. I think we approve very largely the administration of these homes by local authorities, and of the Government finding the money in order that these unfortunate people may be decently looked afted instead of dragging out a miserable existence in homes where they are ill-treated. But our approval of that is quite another thing from saying that we ought to give to the doctors and magistrates a power to compulsorily send people to homes for an indefinite period whether they like it or not. Every one knows that the homes that have been successful are the voluntary homes. Ninety-nine people out of a hundred sent to them prefer to remain rather than go back to their old position. Why has the Government jumped from the natural stage of developing the homes on voluntary lines. And why have they gone the further stage of making them compulsory prisons. Not only are you committing the offence of putting people in prison who have committed no crime but you are inducing the people who run homes at the present time on humanitarian lines to cease to conduct them, as they should be regarded as voluntary homes. There will be no longer the temptation to lead people to run them on the lines which the inmates will appreciate, and there will be the risk that the inmates will no longer have the option of freedom, and that they will not be treated as hitherto.


Would the hon. Member allow an inmate his liberty irrespective of his mental condition?


Certainly. If they are feeble-minded people we must give them this power. The report on which this Bill is based is in favour of the provision of homes for the feeble-minded on those lines, and it is merely when you change the character of the institutions and turn them from voluntary homes into prisons that we object to it. You will find that the whole country will be up in arms against a Bill run on these lines; in fact, it will have a very poor chance of becoming law.

I want to go into the details of this Bill in some detail, because there has been very little chance of discussing it up and down the country. It was only last Friday we were told that it was to be brought on to-day, and I am sure other hon. Members would have done as I have done—had they had time—and given notice to move its rejection. Here, again, we have a proposal for an increase of the staff of permanent officials. You are proposing to create a new Department. Hon. Members cry "Hear, hear," but the only question they have raised is whether the new Commissioners shall be under the Home Office or the Lunacy Commissioners.


I only suggest that at first the Lunacy Commissioners would probably be able to do the work.


The hon. Member stated, in the short speech he made on the question just now, that he wanted to have every one of these defectives examined personally by the Commissioners once a year. Does he imagine that the Lunacy Commissioners can do that? Is. it not obvious, if any sort of segregation of defectives is to be combined with satisfactory inspection, that a vast army of officials is necessary to carry out that inspection. He comes here and pretends to attack the Government, while the whole party he belongs to is behind this Bill and the compulsory scheme of segregation. We here are in a perfectly fair and honest position to attack this Bill, but not a single Member opposite except the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) has opposed the principle of compulsory segregation. Not a single Member opposite has to this day shown any objection to the fundamental principle of this Bill; they have merely criticised details in order to try to find, if they can, some ground for fighting in the country as they fought the Insurance Bill. Our objection to this Bill is that it is unjust. The objection of hon. Members opposite is apparently that the Lunacy Commissioners are not to be consulted instead of the county councils. I come to the powers that are to be conferred on the local authorities under Clause 5. The House will see that the Commissioners are to perform various duties. They shall

"exercise general supervision, protection, and control over defectives"


"they shall provide and maintain institutions for defectives of criminal, dangerous, or violent propensities."

Those are one class of defectives. I see the justification of selecting that class. It is because they have already provided for them in gaols, and if the Government are going to deal with this question on the lines of this Bill it is more necessary that we should provide for the other defective classes as well. I hope that in Committee they will consider whether the Government cannot take over the whole of these homes for defective persons, because anyone who has intimate knowledge of the way in which charity mongering goes on in this country must be aware of the tremendous risks incurred when we see defective persons in semi-charitable institutions run without any inspection, where you cannot be certain that the best treatment is being undertaken for those defective persons. Any treatment of defectives, such as goes on at Birmingham or Sande-bridge, is intimately connected with education. These semi-charitable homes are not places where you are likely to get this educative side to the treatment of defectives. They are bound to be run on the most economical lines and not on the lines most to the interest of the defectives. Therefore I urge that the Government should, if this legislation goes through, see that all the homes in which defectives are looked after are homes run by the Government, and not for private profit, where the inspection is of the best and where the treatment is of the very highest character, and that the earliest possible term should be set to this licensing of private homes where private profit is likely to be the main cause of the existence of the home, and where, to a large extent, employment will be carried on under extremely undesirable conditions by people who are absolutely unable to protect themselves.

And, it being Eleven o'clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Tuesday.)

Adjourned at Five minutes after Eleven o'clock.