HL Deb 10 February 1853 vol 124 cc5-7

said, he had also to present to the House a series of Bills relating to Lunatics. No Rills had been prepared with greater care and caution, and after greater consideration. They were three in number. The first Bill proposed to regulate the proceeding and dealing with the property of lunatics under the care of the Court of Chancery. The Court already possessed powers under Act of Parliament, but some addition to those powers was necessary. He had already explained the general purport of the Bill:—its effect would be greatly to lessen the expense and to throw a great deal more caution around the subject; it would prevent the unnecessary summoning of juries—unnecessary references to masters in lunacy—unnecessary attendance of the next of kin—often a source of great expense—and also unnecessary orders by the Lord Chancellor. It would also introduce for the first time chamber practice on tin-part of the Lord Chancellor with reference to lunatics. He believed that very few cases would arise which this Bill would not provide for. The second Bill related to Lunatic Asylums, and consolidated the laws on that subject; and its object was to remove the many objections and difficulties that existed under the present law. The third Bill had reference to the care and treatment of lunatics, and was an amendment of the Act known as Lord Shaftesbury's Act, which, it would be recollected, appointed Commissioners for the purpose of visiting lunatic asylums. That Bill contained a number of provisions which, it was found by experience, required amendment. In drawing up the present measure, every possible care had been taken to guard the liberty of the subject, and to prevent an accusation of lunacy being improperly made against a party, and, at the same time, to avoid unnecessary expense in establishing lunacy when it admitted of no doubt. It did not touch cases of criminal lunatics, because he understood it was the intention of the present Government to bring in some separate measure with regard to them. The subject of criminal lunatics was a most important one, and required to be treated by itself. He believed that one-tenth or one-eleventh of the lunatics committed to Bethlehem Hospital were actually sane, and had always been so, but they made pretences of insanity in order to escape the punishment which the law awarded for the crimes they had committed. If he could make his voice heard, he would warn persons not to imagine they could escape the punishment which justly awaited them by affecting insanity. He had seen instances which would make men tremble at the consequences of adopting such a course. In a county asylum in Ireland, he had witnessed two criminals, each of whom had been guilty of murder under the most atrocious circumstances, but who had affected to be of unsound mind; they were both perfectly sane, and after some years' confinement the agony which, as tears ran down their cheeks, they confessed they endured when they reflected on the horror of passing their whole life in an asylum surrounded by lunatics, was a far greater punishment than that which the law prescribed for their crimes, In the county asylums, though the criminal lunatics were supported by the public money, no attempt was made to cure them of the insanity under which they laboured; yet, if they were unaccountable subjects, they ought to be treated in the same way as other lunatics. He had no doubt the Government would give the subject that thorough consideration and revision which it deserved. There was one clause of the Act which might lead to a good deal of discussion. It was proposed to open Bethlehem Hospital to the same inspection by the Government Commissioners as other lunatic asylums were now liable to. He had read the whole of the voluminous reports respecting that establishment; but nothing would induce him to say anything painful as regarded the conduct of the persons adverted to in those documents, because it appeared that the examinations took place in the absence of the parties accused. He rejoiced to learn that the governors had, with great propriety, entirely altered the old system; they had appointed a resident physician, and were about to appoint, or had appointed, a resident apothecary, and had made other arrangements of an equally beneficial character. He thought the check proposed to be held over the management of the Hospital would work well, and he apprehended it would not be objected to. One of the governors had himself stated that he believed the exception in the Act in regard to the inspection of Bethlehem was very injudicious. That being so, it was to be hoped the governors would gladly accept the means which were suggested for keeping their own officers and establishment in order, and for obviating the origination of abuses of any kind. The noble and learned Lord then presented a Bill for the Regulation of Proceedings under Commission of Lunacy, and the Consolidation and Amendment of the Acts respecting Lunatics and their Estates (Lunacy Regulation Bill); a Bill to consolidate and amend the Laws for the Provision and Regulation of Lunatic Asylums for Counties and Boroughs, and for the maintenance and Care of Pauper Lunatics in England (Lunatic Asylums Bill); and a Bill to amend an Act passed in the Ninth Year of Her Majesty for the Regulation of the Care and Treatment of Lunatics (Lunatics Care and Treatment Bills).

Bills read 1a respectively.