HC Deb 29 November 1926 vol 200 cc963-84

Order for Second Reading read.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Chamberlain)

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

I thought this Bill was entirely non-controversial until I saw the Amendment on the Paper for its rejection. I am unable to discover what defects the hon. Member (Mr. Rhys Davies) who has placed this notice on the Paper has found to think it necessary to move its rejection. This is a Bill which is very urgently required in the interests of mental defectives themselves. There is a memorandum on the front page of the Bill which gives such a very concise and clear account of what it contains that I hardly think I should be justified in repeating it. Shortly I may say that the real substance of the Bill is to be found in the first Clause, which extends the definition of defectives.

Hitherto we have found ourselves limited and to some extent cramped in dealing with mental defective cases which were not defective from birth or early age. There have been some extremely painful and distressing cases of encephalitis lethargica or sleepy sickness in which most serious changes have taken place, but the boy or girl not being of an early age could not be dealt with under the existing law. We have drafted the Bill so that cases of mental defect of this kind due to disease, injury or other causes may be dealt with.

There is a number of Amendments which are of minor importance and which might directly be described as drafting Amendments, and which are designed to make the Act rather more complete. There is one Clause—Clause 6—to which I would call attention, and it is explained by paragraph 7 in the memorandum on the Bill. Although the Act authorises combinations of local authorities, it does not enable the local authority to provide additional beds which could be lent to other authorities, but Clause 6 provides for such a procedure, and it enables the local mental deficiency authority and the local education authority, who have responsibility-for certain classes of defectives of School age, to provide an institution jointly. We hope that mutual arrangements will he made whereby the best use will be made of the provisions of this Bill. This Measure has the unqualified support of the Central Association for Mental Welfare, which comprises 50 Voluntary associations throughout the country. This Measure does not in any way interfere with the safeguards in the Mental Deficiency Act. Of course we all recognise the strong public anxiety which exists that people should not be treated, or, as someone would say, branded, as mental defectives without sufficient cause. I would like to call attention to the fact that elaborate safeguards are provided in the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913, and under the second Section of that Act we find in Sub-section (1), paragraph (e), the conditions which must be fulfilled before a mentally defective can be dealt with. A mental defective may only be dealt with by Order if in addition to being a mentally defective he is found neglected, abandoned, or without visible means of support, or cruelly treated; if he is found guilty of some criminal offence or if he is undergoing imprisonment, or is an habitual drunkard within the meaning of the Inebriates Act; if he is notified by the local education authority as a mental defec- tive needing care and control; or, in the case of a woman, if she is in receipt of poor relief at the time of giving birth to an illegitimate child. In addition to these general limitations there are the following further safeguards. There must be two medical certificates, one of which must be signed by a medical practitioner specially-approved for the purpose, and the case then comes before a judicial authority. The judicial authority must be satisfied that the person is a defective and that he is subject to be dealt with under the Act for one or other of the reasons mentioned above; and then he is only empowered to make an order if he thinks it desirable to do so in the interests of the defective. All these safeguards apply before the case is sent to an institution for care and treatment. At the end of a year special medical and other reports have to be made on each case and forwarded to the Board of Control. If the Board after considering these Reports and the means of care and supervision which would be available if the defective were discharged, come to the conclusion that the continuance of the Order is required in the defective's interest, they may make an order continuing detention in the institution for one further year. The same procedure is followed at the end of succeeding periods of five years each. In the case of a defective under the age of 21 years there is the further safeguard following, namely, that the visitors may when the case arrives at the age of 21, discharge the defective if they think his detention is no longer required in his own interest.

In addition all defectives detained under the Mental Deficiency Act are visited by members of the Board of Control from time to time. The patients are seen, and if at the time of one of these visits the Board feel that any particular defective can with advantage to himself and without danger to the public be discharged they have power to discharge him. The present safeguards are not diminished by anything in this Bill I, therefore, put it to the House that ample safeguards are already provided to see that no injustice or miscarriage of the beneficent provisions of the Act shall take place, and we make the fullest possible use of such institutions as we have. Seeing what very distressing cases exist of people who under the present law cannot be sent to these institutions because they do not come within the technical language of the original Act I urge the House to give this small Measure a Second Reading.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."

I claim the indulgence of the House, in moving this Amendment, to explain the reason why it was put on the Paper. There is no one on this side of the House who wishes for one moment to prevent the Minister of Health from dealing with the consequences of that terrible disease, sleepy sickness. When, however, this Bill was introduced in another place, the only substantial reason given by the Mover was that the Ministry had consulted some medical experts on the subject of widening the scope of the Act of 1913. The first statement I desire to make is this—I do not know whether the House really appreciates the importance of this Measure—that this question is much too important to be settled by medical experts alone.

Up to 1913, so far as I understand it, the doors of our mental institutions were as wide open as the right hon. Gentleman wants to make them now for placing people in those institutions; but, because of an agitation throughout the country against putting people away in such institutions who ought never to be there, an Act was passed in 1913 limiting the number of cases and specifying by Statute law what type of ease was to be dealt with. What the Minister is going to do in this Bill, whether he likes it or not, is to destroy what are practically the main provisions of the Act of 1913. He used the argument that the provisions in the original Act were not destroyed at all; but I should like to call his attention to the fact that Section 2 of that Act states definitely that only young persons are to be dealt with, and only in conjunction with their parents or guardians. This Bill, however, is not confined to children at all; it opens the door so that everyone of any age may be dealt with under its Clauses. If the right hon. Gentleman can convince me that the Bill can be so improved as to meet what we require in this direction, we shall then decide our attitude as regards pressing this Motion to a Division.

There is however a much stronger argument than that against the Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, only a few months ago the Royal Commission on Lunacy issued a Report. I have not made myself conversant with every line of that Report, but I have looked at it very carefully, and can see no indication in the recommendations of that Commission with regard to this particular point. Surely, if a Royal Commission, having discussed for several months the problem of lunacy in this country, thought that an Amendment of the law of this kind was desirable, they would surely have brought forward a recommendation on the lines that the right hon. Gentleman is now proposing, but, as I have said, I can find nothing in the Report to indicate even a desire among Members of that Commission that this change should be made. Again, a Committee was appointed some time ago—and perhaps I ought to explain that I draw a distinction between the mental deficient who is harmless and the mental deficient who is criminal—has recently submitted a Report on the question of sexual offences against young persons. In that Report, however, there is a definite recommendation that this change should he made. That is a point which I must admit, and it should be remembered in our discussion. Still another Committee is inquiring into the problem of mental deficiency and crime, namely, the Committee on Juvenile Offences. I do not know what that Committee will report, but I am sure it must be giving consideration to the very issue we are discussing to-night. I venture to think, therefore, in view of the Report of the Royal Commission on Lunacy, the Report of the Committee on Offences against Young Persons, and the Report, which must be available in a few months' time, from the Committee on Juvenile Offences, dealing with all these problems, that it is very unwise to bring in a Bill of this kind before those Reports have received consideration by the Government.

10.0 P.M.

This question is really a very important one—much more important than the right hon. Gentleman has indicated in his short speech. As an illustration, I may mention that in some countries, notably in the United States, they have a very nice way of dealing with criminals. If a man becomes a habitual criminal and is sent to a prison or penitentiary three or four times, they certify him as insane, and retain him in a mental institution all his life. That is a very convenient way of dealing with criminals. Some of us on this side of the House, and I should not be surprised to find that there is a considerable Volume of opinion in the country to the same effect, think that the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Bill, is opening the door far too widely. If it is merely intended to deal with sleepy sickness, why not specify that disease and its consequences, in the way that other types of mental defectives are specified in the Act of 1913?

I have still another complaint to make. The right hon. Gentleman would lead the House to believe that this is a very small and simple Measure, touching only the question of sleepy sickness and no more; but in his own memorandum it is stated that the effect of the Bill is to eliminate the words 'from birth or from an early age' and to bring within the scope of the Act all eases of mental deficiency whether innate or induced after birth by disease, injury or other cause.' That is to say, the whole of the present Tory Government might be put in an asylum at any time.

I think I have said sufficient to indicate the lines of our opposition to this Measure. I just want to repeat that, the door having been closed in 1913 in such a way as to limit the number of cases that were to be sent to mental institutions, I think it is very unwise that we should to-day again open it so wide. The right hon. Gentleman will not be the person who wit! have to administer this Measure when it becomes an Act. The local authorities, the medical practitioners, and the magistrates will come in. Some people sometimes show a keen desire to send their relatives into an institution because they are poor; others, probably, because they are too rich; others, again, because they are inconvenient to deal with and so forth. I say seriously that the right hon. Gentleman ought to give us much more cogent reasons than he has given in support of this Measure; and, until we hear better reasons than we have heard to-night, we shall be bound to consider seriously whether we shall not oppose the Measure in the Division Lobby.


I beg to second the Amendment.

My remarks on this Bill will be more in the nature of an attempt to obtain information than of opposition. I am not one of those who manage to stir up a great deal of righteous indignation on Bills of this sort, and who at once suspect that people are actuated by ulterior motives in trying to get rid of people into institutions. I know that there is always, in all parts of the House, a great desire to make sure that no one is deprived of his freedom unless there are really sound and genuine reasons for it. There is another mistake that is often made when dealing with this subject, and that is to endeavour to treat it as a humorous subject. I do not propose, if I can avoid it, to commit either of those two evils. May I add that I do not think that in the past the legislation with regard to mental deficiency has been abused, nor do I think that a very large number of mistakes have been made.

The first thing that worries me about Clause I of this Bill is the point which rely hon. Friend has just mentioned. I can quite understand the necessity of extending the Act of 1913 in order to bring in cases of sleepy sickness, but why should it be necessary to introduce the words whether innate or induced after birth by disease, injury, or other causes. What other cause can there be? Could the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary give us some idea of the type of person whom they have in mind? If a person has been suffering from sleepy sickness, it will have been introduced by disease. There are many cases of mental deficiency at birth, and I have also in mind a number of cases of ex-service men who received, during the War, serious head wounds, and are now mentally defective. That has been produced by injury, so that the categories which I have run over have been produced by diseases or injury, and I want to know what these words "other cause" mean? They seem to me to be too vague, and I should like to know what type of case they cover.

The second Clause also seems to require some further information. According to the explanatory Memorandum, Under the existing Act a defective may be placed under care if he is found to be also neglected, abandoned, or without visible means of support or cruelly treated. Clause 2 (1) of the Bill adds to these categories any defective not under proper care and control. I should have thought if a defective was not "under proper care and control" that defective would be included in the category "neglected, abandoned or without visible means of support or cruelly treated." What type of person is it who would come outside the scope of those who are "neglected, abandoned or without any visible means of support or cruelly treated," and who would come under the heading presumably of being properly cared for, not being abandoned, having visible means of support and not being cruelly treated, but still being without proper care and control? That seems too vague, and I think there should be an opportunity for some further explanation.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said something about safeguards, and we are all agreed that there should be safeguards. I am sorry to say that I am not one of those who have a blind faith in the of medical experts. I will give the House one extraordinary example. The London County Council, in connection with its education authorities, employs doctors who are charged with the task of certifying children who are unfit to be in an ordinary School, and fit only to be in a special School. I believe that to educate a child in a special School costs roughly about twice as much as to educate a child in an elementary School. A few years ago, when the proposals of the Geddes Committee were put forward, the London County Council passed the word round to its staff and officials, including its doctors, that there had to be economy, and one of the results of that economy that a considerable number of children in the ordinary schools who previously were found to be mentally defective and who were to be put in the special schools, were found not to be mentally defective, and were allowed to remain in the ordinary schools, probably because of the fact that the economy proposals were on foot, and it was found that the children in the special schools cost twice as much for their education as did the children in the ordinary schools. So, under the jurisdiction of a medical expert, when there is an economy campaign on foot there are not so many mentally defective children as there are when there is no economy campaign.

In regard to Clause 3, that adds absence abroad' to the cases in which an order may be made without the consent of a parent or guardian. I should like to make the purely Committee point that possibly the word "permanent" absence abroad might be inserted, so as to make it perfectly clear that advantage will not be taken of a temporary absence abroad of the parents of a mentally defective child, or a temporary holiday abroad, to shut a person up in an institution.

Clause 5 makes explicit the power and duty of local authorities to provide suitable training for mental defectives. The question that I should like to put here is as to whether the Government propose to carry out this Clause, because the trouble has been that up to now there are thousands of mentally defective people, including boys and girls, roaming about the country at large. They are certified, and that is as far as anything is done until they commit some horrible crime, and then action is taken against them. But if this Bill is passed, I take it that the Ministry of Health are going to bring proper pressure to bear upon the people responsible for these institutions to see that not only are there defective individuals in these institutions, but that there is such training as is possible.

That brings me to the next Clause, with which the Minister specially dealt. That Clause enables the local authority to provide additional beds which could be lent to other authorities. I think, in a way, that the working of that Clause may be good from one point of view. Obviously, for an authority in a large industrial area that has provided an institution for these people, it is very difficult to provide the right type of institution, because to make these poor people happy such an institution should be right away out in the country. That brings me to another point, which is that the word "institution" is wrong altogether, and I hope that the Minister has no idea of encouraging local authorities to bind themselves together into joint authorities and establish vast institutions to hold thousands of these people. That would be simply like building a huge prison. Excellent experience has been obtained in some parts of America through the establishment of some of these colonies which have become almost, if not quite, self-supporting. If this Clause means that it will be possible for an authority in an industrial area to make an arrangement in a rural district to have a colony established there, then that is all to the good, but I hope it will not mean huge institutions. The last Clause is one upon which I am somewhat uncertain. It enables the local mental deficiency authority and the local education authority (who have responsibility for certain classes of defectives of School age) to provide an institution jointly. I want to be sure that this does not mean that a section of children who are at present under the education authority for their education are going to be removed from the responsibility of the education authority, and are going to be put under the responsibility of the Mental Deficiency Committee of the County Council. I quite see that the Clause, as it stands, means that the education authority will have the joint responsibility with the Mental Deficiency Committee in running this, but this Clause means also that inside these institutions it will be possible for a special School for the mentally defective to be established. The point I want to be sure about. is that the special School is only going to be used for the educational training of the inmates of that institution, and that it is not going to be used also as a day School for mentally defective children who may not be specially mentally defective after all. Our standard under the education authority is not perhaps quite the same as it is under the Ministry of Health. If a child is three standards behind it is regarded as sufficient to be put into a special School, but I want to know whether this passage in Sub-section (2) of Clause 6 means that a special School may be set up inside an institution only for the children of parents who are resident in that institution.

I hope also those who will be appointed to teach in these schools, which will be the joint property of the Mental Deficiency Committee of the County Council and the education authority, will be properly qualified teachers. We have had so much trouble in the past with industrial schools and the type of person who used to be allowed to teach in those institutions, that one would like to realise that these poor mentally defective children will be taught by teachers who have had special training to deal with mental deficiency. I do not propose to vote against the Second Reading because, generally speaking, I think it is a useful Measure. I cannot see that there is any likelihood of it being abused to any great extent. At the same time I should like to feel certain that in this or other stages of the Bill some of the inquiries I have made may be answered.


The hon. Member does not then second the rejection of the Bill?


I said when I rose, when your Deputy was in the Chair, that I rose to Second the Amendment.


I understand that there will be an opportunity later on in Committee to table Amendments, and in view of that opportunity I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Commander WILLIAMS

I think it is rather necessary on this occasion to take another point of view. Everyone sympathises most sincerely with the Minister in his natural endeavour to get this Bill through. We have passed some half e dozen Measures this evening, all, we will say for the sake of argument, good, and all useful. In this case we are dealing with one of the most unfortunate sections of our people. There is not a human being that I know of who would not wish to do his level best to help these people in any way that is possible, but this is a Bill which undoubtedly, in the Memorandum itself, opens the door wider to taking on more cases. If we were in normal times, and if we had an Opposition and all that kind of thing, we should have a very long Debate, demanding to know from the Govern- ment exactly what this meant, what was the extent of it, whether it would place burdens in the first place on the taxes and in the second on the rates. We should demand a very great deal more than has been done at present and it is only right and fair, if the Bill is to have a Second Reading, that we should have some sort of explanation as to how far it is intended to carry it and whether the burdens are going to be mainly on the taxpayer or on the ratepayer, because wherever you go now you get the same complaint—more burdens on the local rates or on the taxes. I should like to ask two simple questions. First, is it likely to mean an enlargement of the present institute and staff? I think I have a right to know that. Then under this Bill in connection with the 1913 Act, have you a sufficient staff and sufficient institutions generally throughout the country to deal with those you take in at present? If you have not, until you have them I do not think it is very useful to try to enlarge the number of people you take in. I am not a doctor, but I think you want in the first place to deal with the worst cases. You want to help those people more than anyone else. But it is no good opening the door wider unless you have adequate provision to deal with those you can already deal with. We must have some explanation as to what the cost is going to be and whether you can deal with more people than you do at present.


I should like an assurance in connection with the matter of encephalitis lethargica, that the same provision should be made for dealing with those cases. I am a little concerned about their classification in this Bill. These cases are not what are known under the medical term as mental defectives. I gather from some experts that many unfortunate victims of this complaint are intellectually unimpaired and very often are more dangerous because of lack of moral control. It will be within the recollection of the Minister that when Magistrates and Judges have had eases before them of persons afflicted with this complaint, they have deplored the facts that there have only been two ways open to them, either to make criminals of the persons charged or to send them to asylums to be treated as mental defectives. In these cases they have deplored that fact, and have said that some home ought to be provided in order that they could get proper care and attention. Some of the experts, writing to the "Times" in a correspondence which I initiated some time ago, expressed the opinion that, in these circumstances, these people could be cured. It seems to me that under the provisions of this Bill there is no guarantee that there will be any special preparation for or any special care given to this type of person. Lumping them together, if I may use that phrase, in a mental asylum, may be very much worse for them, and may do much more harm than happens under present conditions. It would be well if we could have a little further explanation on that point. I presume that these cases are included in Clause (2) which says: For the purposes of this section mental defectiveness' means a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind, whether innate or induced after birth by disease, injury, or other cause. I do not know how far these words go. I notice that they are quoted in the Memorandum. The determination will be very much in the hands of the Court, or whatever authority pronounces judgment upon these people and commits them to after-care. The concern that I have—the Minister is acquainted with it from our previous correspondence—is that these young people, whose condition mostly takes the line of a complete moral breakdown, which expresses itself in sexual irregularities, in stealing and so forth, should not be placed in a position where they will be classed with lunatics, roughly speaking, which will have such an effect upon them as utterly to break down both the moral and the mental side of their character. Whether they are to be treated in precisely the same institution or whether they will be treated in some other educational institution which will care for them when they reach the age of adofescence, I do not know.

There is one further point, which has been suggested to me by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser). It would seem as if there is a removal of certain safeguards when they reach the age mentioned in the major Act, in Clause 2. That Clause says: A person who is a defective may he dealt with under this Act by being sent to or placed in an institution for defectives or placed under guardianship— (a) at the instance of his parent or guardian, if he is an idiot or imbecile, or at the instance of his parent if, though not an idiot or imbecile, he is under the age of twenty-one. That safeguard is not in this Bill. Perhaps the Minister will put it right.


There is nothing in the Bill to take it out, therefore it remains.


Can the Minister tell me whether there is in the country sufficient accommodation for what this Bill proposes to do? Further, is he sure that placing the Board of Control as the arbiters between right and wrong is the right thing to do, seeing what has happened in regard to the Board of Control, over which no one seems to have any control, not even the Minister? I want these things made clear before I shall support the Bill.


The short time that has been given to the consideration of this Bill will be very useful as it deals with a most important subject. I feel that Members in all parts of the House will be anxious to see not only that proper safeguards are being maintained in regard to the care of these unfortunate people but that further provision is made for dealing with the number of cases which it is not possible to deal with under the present law. Several questions have been put to the Government as to the provision for these unfortunate people; whether there is sufficient accommodation available at the moment. The answer to that is that taking the whole of the cases throughout the country there is not sufficient accommodation at present, but the benefit of this Bill is that it will enable the accommodation which at present exists to be more usefully employed. In certain cases a certain number of beds are available, while in others they are not. It is perfectly true, taking the position as a whole, that we shall need more accommodation, but under this Bill we shall be able to make better use of the accommodation which is available at the moment.

A good many questions have been raised by hon. Members, and they will no doubt forgive me when I say that many of them can be dealt with in Committee, where they will be carefully considered. The hon. Member opposite was not quite correct when he said that we were destroying the main provisions of the Act of 1913, because prior to that Act there was no power in this country to deal with a mental defective at all. Then he also says that we are opening the door in order to deal with people of all ages. We are opening the door to certain cases, and it is very necessary that the door should be opened. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) has repeatedly brought before the House unfortunate cases, which are perhaps more prominently before the public eye than before, of sleepy sickness, and has indicated that if we are to do our duty as a Ministry of Health—something further has to be done. Let me read the latest Report of the Board of Control, which, after referring to the number of cases which have unhappily arisen in his connection, says: There are certain legal difficulties of bringing some defectives of this class under the Mental Deficiency Act, though they are clearly in need of the care and control for their protection which would be provided under that Act. I thoroughly agree with all the statements which have been made as to the type of care and attention which should be given to these cases. We want more of the hospital spirit in the treatment of these unfortunate people, and if hon. Members will look at the Bill they will gee that the treatment which is made available is, first, supervision, secondly, guardianship, and, thirdly, institutional care. I agree that we want to banish from our minds any prejudices for which there may have been good reasons years ago; but anyone who has studied the treatment which is given to-day to the great mass of these people, will agree that they receive every consideration and care now. We want to provide for them in one of three ways. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment said that we should wait for other reports. I believe that the first who would object to that would be the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser), who is constantly urging us to make provision for cases of this kind.

The definition, regarding which a good many criticisms have been raised to-night, has been very carefully settled by many eminent medical men whom we have called into consultation, with a view of arriving at something which will meet all the classes of cases which ought to be treated. We should have been quite prepared, naturally, to consider any suggestion which would improve the definition, but it is the result of consultation with a good many people who are eminently fitted to give an opinion. There was criticism of the words (2) For the purposes of this Section mental defectiveness ' means a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind, whether innate or induced after birth by disease, injury, or other cause. The question was put, why "by other cause?" You have naturally to cover any cases which may not arise from disease or injury. From the legal point of view it may be held not to be a disease, because it unhappily often occurs that the trouble follows an accident. This definition is put in in order to cover cases of that kind. It is not with a view of bringing in anybody who ought not to be included. It is done with the desire to give such treatment and assistance to all who need it. That is the true test of this definition—are we going to bring within the limits of the Clause all those who really require treatment in respect of their illness? It is not with a view of locking people up or of putting them away, but the question is whether we can give them the best assistance that is possible. Various other suggestions which have been made to-night are Committee points. I was asked a question as to the expense of this Bill. There is no Financial Resolution required. Therefore, so far as the taxes are concerned, we are not making any further direct demand on the community. I must be frank, however. A Bill of this kind may very well call for further assistance, so far as the rates are concerned. It is impossible for me to give an estimate of what that expense may be, but in the long run, and taking a long view, I think it will be a tremendous saving to the community, for these cases, if not immediately assisted, from the point of view of both taxpayer and ratepayer, are about the most expensive class of cases. Therefore, I believe in the long run, whatever be the immediate expense, it will be better both for the rates and taxes to have this Bill, and I hope the House will unanimously give it a Second Reading.


I feel so strongly about this Bill, which is not in any sense a party Measure, that I cannot conscientiously allow it to get a Second Reading without giving the House certain opinions which I have formed about it. The Bill introduces an entirely new class of person into the category of mentally defectives, and it is well that the House should recognise the fact. The existing classification is very wide, and so strongly do I feel regarding the liberty of the subject that had I been a Member of the House in 1913 I think I should have followed the example of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), and opposed at every stage the Act of that year. However that may be, the fact is that, enormously wide as is the present definition, it is limited to people who are mentally defective from birth.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

Or from an early age.


As has been said, before 1913 there was no such creature known to the law as a mentally defective. Then after great discussion the definition of the 1913 Act was set up and the description was limited to persons who were mentally defective from birth or an early age. Now we have an entirely new proposition which is that the term shall include anybody of any age who happens by injury, disease or other cause, to become what a doctor considers to be mentally defective and what a Magistrate or a Court is prepared to certify as such under the terms of the Measure.


I think the hon. and learned Member is under a misapprehension. He says the new definition enables persons of any age to be brought in. I put it to him that that is not so. What the Sub-section says is: For the purposes of this Section, mental defectiveness means a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind. The words used are "development of mind," and development of mind only takes place before adult age, and therefore the definition is really limited.


am obliged for the explanation, and I wish I could be satisfied with it, but I cannot accept that view. I find here a reference to arrested development: induced after birth by disease, injury, or other cause. Therefore, surely it must mean that if a man at the age of 50 has his development of mind arrested, he comes within the terms of the definition. I hope our minds go on developing all our lives. I do not accept the view that the mind is arrested in its development at so early a stage as the right hon. Gentleman suggests and, as I understand the Bill, a man of 50 may fall into a state of mental defectiveness. I do not know whether that is so medically or not, but I should like to understand the point. The Memorandum uses the words: Where the defectiveness arises at a later stage. That means a later stage than birth or early age. This Bill does introduce into the possible class of the mentally defective, persons who formerly could not have been brought within that class. I Personally cannot allow a Bill like this which is giving enormous powers to doctors and Magistrates to go through without registering my protest. After all, in 1913 the Minister was then able to point to the considered Report of a Royal Commission, which had considered the whole question of the mentally defective. Where is the Report of the Royal Commission, which has considered the ease of all these persons who are now to be brought in? I see in this Measure, as in so many of these Measures, a well-intentioned waiving of the rights of the liberty of the individual. I, for one am not satisfied, from what has been said tonight, that a case has been made out for locking up this large new class of people. In fact, they are nearly all poor people. One very rarely finds a case of persons who can afford proper treatment being dealt with under these Measures, and I am somewhat surprised to find sometimes even hon. Members possibly on my own side not realising that it is really the poor people only who are controlled and detained in these institutions. I think the whole matter has been treated in a very superficial and brief manner and that it deserves much more consideration than it has yet received, and if my hon. Friend is not going to divide against the Bill, all I can say is that, did he wish to divide against it, I should certainly support him in the Lobby, because I think there is a real peril to many persons whom doctors may consider mentally deficient and other people may consider sane under this Measure. Whether the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends or my hon. Friends will be the first to suffer under this Bill, I do not know. It goes far beyond sleepy sickness, which is only a sprat to catch a whale. The Bill deals with every "disease, injury, or other cause," and who knows where this thing is going to end? I want to be sure that, at any rate, someone has made a protest that this is a dangerous course on which we are embarking on insufficient information.


I am not sure whether I understood the Minister, when he referred to the case of encephalitis lethargies, to refer to elderly people. The Bill refers to a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind. A man of 50 who gets encephalitis lethargies and develops some of these awful symptoms afterwards is not necessarily suffering from arrested development or incomplete development. It is a perverted development, and I think the great benefit of this Bill is that it enables us to take charge of these sad cases at whatever age. I did not quite understand from the Minister that this applies to people of any age. I understand it to be so, but, if not, I think it ought to be so, because it is just as important that a man of 60 or 70 years of age should be under control after this disease as a child of 9 or 10, and as I should like to understand definitely whether people of all ages can be included under this Bill. I should also like before the Committee stage to see if we could not introduce the words "or perverted" into the definition of mentally defectives, because arrested or incomplete development is not sufficient.

Captain BENN

It would be well if the Minister would clear up this point of doubt. I understood in the Act of 1913 that it was a question of dealing with people suffering in this way from birth or an early age, and this is an extension, some say merely to adolescents who exhibit these symptoms, and others say that it gives powers to deal with people of any age. The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. V. Davies) thinks it gives power, or should give power, to deal with people of any age, but the Minister rose and told the hon. and learned Member for South East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) that it dealt only with adolescents. The hon. Member for Royton said it dealt with persons of any age, and the Parliamentary. Secretary showed complete assent. Which is the case? Might we have a word from the Minister to say if it applies only to adolescents or to persons of all ages?


I cannot imagine there is any doubt what my view is, because I have already explained it. My hon. Friend the Member for the Royton Division (Dr. V. Davies), confirmed my view that as the Bill stood it did not deal, as he thought it should, with people suffering from perverted development. I take it he thought it might arise where a person had arrived at a later age. That is a point which must be considered in Committee, but cannot be considered at this stage, and if the hon. Member is a member of the Committee, and brings up the point, it, of course, can be discussed. As far as my view is concerned, clearly it, is impossible at present to deal with all ages; it is only possible to deal with those mental defectives whose development has been arrested or rendered incomplete by one of the causes specified.


At what age do people's minds cease to develop?

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

May I say one word on that point, because I had the privilege of serving on committees with the experts who drew up this distinction, or something like it, and submitted it to the Ministry of Health. I may say it is quite clear in their mind that they wished only to extend it to the adolescent, and they did not intend to extend it to later ages. They did not consider those cases sufficiently numerous to require extension to them. There are some, undoubtedly. They felt it essential, however, to deal with the adolescents, but I take it even the most learned experts of our learned profession are liable to err in their definitions.

The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 27th September, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

Adjourned accordingly at Twelve Minutes before Eleven o'Clock.