HL Deb 17 June 1852 vol 122 cc831-3

Order of the Day for Second Reading read.


in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said that the importance of the subject would, he was sure, be a sufficient excuse for his bringing it forward at this late period of the Session. It was a measure which had been long in preparation, and every week's delay in its progress had more and more contributed to manifest its necessity. The case of a Member of the other House, which had recently engaged such general attention, was one which added great force to the growing demand for legislation of the kind. It was become quite essential that persons so afflicted should not be permitted to wander about, merely because they had not committed some absolute crime. When a crime had been committed, it would be poor consolation to the sufferer, or to the sufferer's friends, or to the public, to know that the perpetrator had at last been taken into safe custody; and there was no knowing from hour to hour when the crime would take place; blows with the hand might at any moment be followed up in the case of such madmen by blows with a knife or a sword. Such cases, moreover, were not exceptional; on the contrary, they were very numerous, and they were particularly rife at moments of public excitement on any subject. The necessity of some provision of the kind was first brought under public notice by the Commissioners of Police in 1848, in a memorial to the Home Office, which arose out of the case of Mr. M—, a case that often appeared in the police courts, and was the case of a man who went about threatening the lives of various persons, but whom, in the absence of any overt act of outrage on his part, the police were not in a position to take into their charge, though he was well known to be mad, and whom, to prevent any violence on his part, no fewer than twelve policemen were engaged for several weeks in watching. This danger prevailed to a much greater extent than their Lordships supposed, insomuch that the police complained of their time being occupied by duties of that kind. The law as it now stood would not permit any man to be apprehended, though notoriously and to all intents and purposes a lunatic, until he had committed some positive overt act, and then he was not brought up as a lunatic, but as having been guilty of a breach of the peace. The case of Mr. M—was but a fair sample of that of very many persons who were still at large, with very great pressure on the police, with very great danger to the public, and with obviously extreme uneasiness to the threatened parties and their friends. The measure now before their Lordships had been prepared under the sanction of the Commissioners of Police, of the Commissioners in Lunacy, and of the Home Office. Why it had not been brought in before he could not say, but he presented it now under what he considered an immediate and pressing necessity, and he trusted it would meet with their Lordships' ready concurrence. The provisions of the Bill were very simple and safe. They enacted, that in the case of any person of the description to which he had referred going about without relatives, or having relatives who did not discharge their duty, the police might go before a magistrate, and, having made deposition on oath of the facts of the manifestation of insanity, and the probability of violence, the magistrate might order the alleged lunatic to be brought before him, cause him to be examined by two medical men, and, if they pronounced him insane, make out an order for his transmission to the county lunatic asylum; or, if that should be full, to some other place of lunatic reception duly licensed and registered. The existing law (8 & 9 Vict., cap. 126) was quite inapplicable to the case in view, reaching as it did only the case of wandering lunatics, or those who were ill-treated or neglected by their relatives. The machinery of that Act, besides, was slow and clumsy, being in the hands of overseers and relieving officers. It could not be objected that this provision of the Bill narrowed the liberty of the subject, for it, on the contrary, gave far greater security against the possibility of abuse, in the reference that it made of the alleged lunacy to a magistrate in the first instance, than was given to alleged lunatics generally under the existing law; but, even were it otherwise, lunatics were surely not the only persona to be considered; the public at large, and threatened parties, had at least an equal claim to protection. The other provision was, that where any keeper of a private asylum had a dangerous lunatic, for whom payments had ceased to be made, and whom he might, therefore, discharge, in such cases the keepers of the licensed houses were required to bring such persons before a magistrate, and the magistrate, on duo inquiry, might give an order for his admission into the county asylum. Such wore the provisions of this measure, which he thought did not infringe on public liberty at all; and he trusted that their Lordships would at once give it their sanction.

Moved—"That the Bill be now read 2ª."


did not wish to oppose the measure itself, but he strongly objected to the manner in which it was proposed to add largely to the liabilities of the county rate. The relatives of lunatics who were at all in a position to pay should he made to pay for or towards their maintenance.


would not oppose the principle of this Bill; but he would suggest that his noble Friend should postpone further proceedings with it until the next Session of Parliament. It was a most important measure, and required more consideration than it was possible for their Lordships to give to it at the present advanced period of this Session. The evil of which the noble Earl complained ought to have a remedy, and next Session he should be happy to give him every assistance in his power.


said, he would adopt the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack, and postpone this measure until next Session.

Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.