HC Deb 04 July 1918 vol 107 cc1975-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £18,348, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919, for the Salaries and Expenses of the General Board of Control for Scotland."—[NOTE.—£12,000 has been voted on account.]


I am sure it must be a matter of deep regret to yourself, Mr. Hogge, that other duties have prevented you from taking part in the discussion on this Vote, as we know your interest in the work of the Board of Control for Scotland. I was hoping that the representative of the Government would tell the Committee the results of the work of the Board of Control during the past year, and, in view of the startling developments which have taken place in that period in the work of this Board, I think the Committee are entitled to some information from the Government. From time to time during the last twelve months we have read in the inspired Press good accounts of the work of this Board, but what I am anxious to find out is whether the public money which is being spent by the Board is bringing in a fair return. We know that very large sums of public money have been spent by this Board during the past twelve months, and many of us are sceptical as to the results of this expenditure and whether they are charging to revenue—


I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is confusing the title of the General Board of Control with that of the Board of Liquor Control. This is the Board concerned with lunacy.


I am bound to say that I certainly understood that the Vote concerns the Board of Liquor Control. May I ask whether this Lunacy Board has any jurisdiction over the prison at Greenock?


They have nothing to do with prisons.


On this Vote I had rather hoped we might have had some words from the representative of the Government as to the excellent work which this Board has, I believe, done, in addition to what might be called its ordinary duties, in the case of the arrangements that have been made for nerve-stricken soldiers. I understand that a very great deal has been done by it in this way. Various representations have been made to me that the institutions under the Board might rather be regarded as sanatoria. I do not know how far that may be carried into effect, and in making any suggestions of that kind I would not limit myself to a question of names, but would also suggest that as far as possible they should be put on that status. We all know the great difficulty of this subject. We all know that those gallant men who have suffered in that way deserve the kindest and most sympathetic treatment that they could possibly have. We know what the Board of Control has been doing, or, at least, we have some idea of it, and I venture to hope my hon. and learned Friend on the Front Bench will be able to give us a little detailed information on this subject. I myself should have given notice of this beforehand. The Vote has been reached rather early, and perhaps it is unreasonable to ask for that just now, but I am sure throughout Scotland some record of the work that has been done would be very welcome. It may possibly be in the Report. I do not know whether that has been issued.


It has.


How long ago?


That I could not say. It is dated 29th May.


I only wanted to mention this because this particularly useful kind of work has been done in Scotland, and, I believe, very well done.


I desire To make a few observations on this Vote, but I quite candidly admit that had I had a satisfactory reply, or any reply at all, to the observations I made on the last two Votes, so far as I am concerned I would have allowed this Vote to go through without favouring the Committee with any observations. But the Vote is one on which I must take strong exception that on our one day in the year in which Scottish Members get an opportunity of stating their criticisms of the various Departments, when we have made these speeches, we do not have the honour of a reply from the Front Bench. That has from time immemorial been considered an insulting way of treating Members—I repeat it, an insulting way—and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), an old Parliamentary hand, was astonished beyond measure the other evening that, having made a speech to the Committee, he was not replied to by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education, and he made so pronounced a complaint that the Committee had an immediate apology from the President of the Board of Education regretting that he had been discourteous. I hope that Scotland is not more discourteous than England, and that my hon. and learned Friend will on this Vote give us an answer to the speeches that have been made. The expenses, according to the heading, amount to £30,348. Mr. right hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. McKinnon Wood) was responsible for the passing of the measure dealing with mental deficiency in Scotland, and I remember when we had that in Committee that we adumbrated that the cost of that measure would be very stiff indeed, and no one was more eloquent on those occasions than my hon. Friend, who has commercial experience and who represents so well the Central Division of Edinburgh (Mr. C. Price). I hope he will have a few observations to make on the expenditure now it has eventuated, because £30,348 is certainly a very large sum for any single Department to spend in Scotland. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman should indicate to the Committee what kind of work this Board of Control have done. What are their duties? How have they fulfilled them? There is one particular item to which I should like to refer, and that is the travelling expenses of the Commissioners and Deputy-Commissioners—exactly £1,600. It is rather extraordinary, by the way, that the expenses should come to an exact figure. It looks as if a rough-and-ready way of totting them up had been adopted. Would my hon. and learned Friend indicate what those Commissioners and Deputy-Commissioners have to do in the way of travel? They must have a great deal of it to do when it amounts to two or three times the salary of any one of them. I cannot see what can be the object they have in travelling. I should have thought that they would have been stationed in Edinburgh, and would have gone through their duties there daily, and would not have been called upon to make visits outside Edinburgh; but, judging by the very large sum in travelling expenses, they seem to have a great deal of work to do outside Edinburgh. I hope, therefore, my hon. and learned Friend will explain the matter clearly and succinctly to the Committee.


When this Mental Deficiency Act passed through Committee upstairs, I took the liberty of calling the attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to the expense which would fall upon the authorities, and the, Grant made by the Treasury was not sufficient to meet the expenses under the Bill. I remember at that time he so frequently criticised my figures that, when the Committee was over, I wondered whether I had been competent to take part in the discussions at all upstairs. I think I have been justified in the criticism I made at that time by the Report which is now before us under the Vote we are now considering. I pointed out that the Treasury would not grant a sufficient amount to meet the increased expenditure, and I find this in the Report. It says that, in consequence of the embargo placed by the Treasury on building operations, no expenditure on new buildings has been undertaken. A note says: In view of the fact that there is not likely to be any increase in the amount of the Parliamentary Grant in the immediate future, and also that there is a likelihood of the Grant falling below the limit of 10s. in the £, the local authorities have refrained from placing defectives under care as they are entitled to under the provision of Section 26 of the Act. Therefore, whilst it was estimated to us by the right hon. Gentleman opposite what would be the effect of passing that Act on local authorities, it is now reported that the Treasury actually declines to meet the obligations placed upon them by that Act. Therefore I have called attention to this fact by way of justification of the observations I made at that time. I am quite sure it must be a very great pleasure to my right hon. Friend, as it has been a great pleasure to many people, to notice a fact which very few people would have thought possible, that since the War began there has been a considerable decrease in lunacy. If you refer to page 6 you will find that there has been a steady decline from 1st January, 1915, in the number of patients in these establishments. That is a very gratifying thing to observe. It only shows that, as a great many of these people have been called upon to work, that steady occupation is a preventive of the maladies from which they suffer.


I feel I must make one or two remarks in reply to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh. I am afraid he cannot congratulate himself upon having justified his prophecies. The normal state of affairs has not occurred, and, therefore, it is quite impossible to test whether he was right in his prophecy or whether other people were right in theirs. As a matter of fact, before this Act could be brought into effective operation the War broke out, and it was quite impossible to prepare the. buildings necessary. The result was that neither did the Treasury provide the money which had been proposed, nor were the local authorities really called upon to spend the money which they would have had to expend under peace conditions. No test whatever has, therefore, occurred, and I am afraid my hon. Friend cannot congratulate himself on his prophetic insight when the circumstances did not occur which were required to test it. My hon. Friend and colleague in the representation of Glasgow need not be surprised that the Commissioners of the General Board of Control require to have travelling expenses. I must point out to him that one of their duties is a duty which cannot be performed in Edinburgh, and that is to visit and inspect the lunatic asylums all over Scotland. I am rather surprised at the smallness rather than the largeness of the amount. The fact of the matter is that, in my time at any rate our medical Commissioners were employed in war work. Though I presume their salaries would remain upon the Vote they really were serving the State by performing war services rather than by carrying out their ordinary duties. I think it will be found that the expenditure has not been incurred in carrying out the provisions of the Mental Deficiency Act, but in doing special war service of various kinds, some of it, I hope—though I do not know what has happened recently—involving the use of their special experience in dealing with cases of nervous disorders amongst wounded soldiers and officers. I do not know that I have anything further to say upon this matter except that this General Board of Control is a very competent body, and I thought I was bound to make some reply to the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh.

10.0 P.M.


One realises fully, I think, that the outbreak of the War has prevented any serious work being undertaken under the Mental Deficiency Act. Personally, I was a supporter of that Act, and I think it is a very unfortunate thing that no work has been able to be done under it. I know from experience in other cases what a serious thing it has proved having so many mental defectives at large during these last few years. But I am bound to say that nothing has been able to be done during the War. The Department, I trust, is insisting upon schemes being got on with so that local authorities will be prepared with them at the end of the War, when there will be a reasonable chance of putting the Act into effective operation. I hope we may have some assurance on this matter, that it has not been lost sight of, and that the local authorities are being pressed to prepare their scheme so that they may be ready when the time comes.


I am particularly obliged to my right hon. Friend opposite who has so kindly explained what has happened in respect to the Mental Deficiency Act, passed so comparatively recently. What my right hon. Friend said was perfectly true. The putting into operation of that Act was interrupted by the outbreak of the War, and the situation is such that one can neither foretell nor foresee what the expenditure will be that we shall require to make in order to carry out the Statute. Then, as to the other question put, I am afraid the hon. Member has not read the Report issued by the General Board of Control dated some six weeks ago. It is a very clear Report. It gives the details of the administration which has been conducted by the General Board of Control. I think I can safely refer my hon. Friend to that Report as being a complete and accurate account of the administration which that Board has carried out during the past year. In regard to the question of expenses raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Glasgow, all I need say is that I quite agreed with what was said by my right hon. Friend opposite. My hon. and learned Friend will recollect that the Commissioners undertake a statutory inspection of all the lunatic asylums in Scotland, and I fancy that the great bulk of the expenses which this Vote carries on that subject have been incurred in the discharge of these statutory duties. At the same time, I know that the members of the General Board of Control do good work which is intimately connected with the War. There is no doubt that they have rendered very valuable services to those members of the Army and Navy who are classified as Service patients. Not only important work has been done, but regulations have been drawn up by the Board of Control which deal with the treatment of Service patients. In regard to what the hon. Gentleman opposite said about schemes being put in order, I am sure the local authorities are keeping steadily in view the importance of carrying out the Mental Deficiency Act. Personally, I cannot speak for the various local authorities, but I think I may state on behalf of the General Board of Control, that they are extremely anxious that that Statute may be made as beneficial as possible in Scotland, and they are desirous that the local authorities should discharge their part in carrying out that Statute.

Question put, and agreed to.