HL Deb 18 March 1861 vol 161 cc2146-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said a great deal had been done to improve the position of lunatics by his noble and learned Friends Lord Brougham, Lord Lyndhurst, and Lord St. Leonards, but a great deal remained to be accomplished. There were many persons of unsound mind possessing a small amount of property which a Commission of Lunacy would wholly absorb; but unless there was a Commission the property could not be made available for the benefit of the owner. It was proposed by the Bill that if it were made out to the satisfaction of the Lord Chancellor that these persons, who had incomes under a fixed sum, were lunatic, and if after notice the lunatic made no objection, the Lord Chancellor should have the power to dispose of the property as if a Commission had issued and they had been found insane by the ordinary method of proceeding. He admitted that it was a very stringent measure, and one which he should not propose if he did not think it absolutely required. But he did think this power very necessary, inasmuch as there were a great number of cases in which small properties to which lunatics were entitled were withheld from them, owing to the present defective state of the law. A list of cases had been supplied to him by the Lunacy Commission, in which money was withheld from them, the Lord Chancellor having no power to interfere because no inquisition had taken place. In 1858 a governess, at that time lunatic, became entitled to about £100, and it continued to this day to be held by a joint-stock bank, who refused to pay it over without the authority of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor could give no authority unless a Commission found her insane, and the expense would wholly absorb the property. In September, 1858, A. B., then in a country asylum, became entitled to a legacy of £200. His own funds were exhausted, and the trustees refused to apply the legacy for his benefit, because they could receive no proper discharge. There was a patient in St. Luke's Hospital possessed of £100 in a saving's bank. His wife could not maintain him; she could scarcely maintain herself. She had repeatedly requested the Commissioners to appropriate the money to his use, but they had no power to do so. There were other cases to the same effect, but if the Lord Chancellor for the time being were intrusted with the power proposed it would be always exercised for the benefit of the unhappy lunatics. Another improvement he proposed to make was in respect of the traverse of an inquisition; he proposed that the traverse should not be of right, but may be granted by the Lord Chancellor. By the present law a person of whose lunacy there was not the smallest doubt could insist upon a second inquiry; but the whole property of lunatics was frequently wasted by unnecessarily multiplying inquiries. Some years ago a Mrs. Cuming, after an inquiry which lasted sixteen days was found lunatic on very satisfactory evidence. She insisted on another inquiry. Lord St. Leonards saw her, and tried to dissuade her; but whether from her want of understanding or from her being prompted by others who might have had mercenary motives, she persisted, and another inquiry would have taken place had not Providence interfered and cut her life short. It was proposed by the Bill to give the Lord Chancellor a discretion to grant or refuse a second inquiry, after having seen the lunatic and taken the best means in his power to come to a right conclusion. Another important improvement was provided for in respect of the visiting of lunatics. It would be the duty of Visitors to visit lunatics, and to make inquiries and investigations as to their care, treatment, mental and bodily health, and the arrangements for their maintenance and comfort, in such manner as the Lord Chancellor, by his general or special orders, should from time to time direct. All lunatics in licensed houses were to be visited once a year; in addition to visits by Commissioners, and all other lunatics twice a year. With regard to the officers in lunacy the Visitors and Registrar were to hold office during good behaviour, the Lord Chancellor having power to remove them. Power was also given to the Lord Chancellor to allow pensions to the present Visitors if they desired to retire, and to future Visitors if afflicted with permanent infirmity; such pension* would come out of the Suitors' Fee Fund. Two of the present Visitors had been office about thirty years. He believed they had done their best to discharge the duties imposed on them; but they were now of a very advanced age and physically unfitted; to continue in office. It had been proposed that the Chancery Visitors should be abolished, and that lunatics under the charge of the Lord Chancellor should be visited by the Visitors of the General Lunacy Board. He was afraid, however, that this proposition could not be carried out. The General Board had already more to do than they could well get through, and if there were any increase to their numbers it must be at the public expense; whereas the Chancery Visitors did not cost the public anything. It had been proposed, too, in order that the General Board might take charge of them, that the Chancery Lunatics should be brought together, in the neighbourhood of some central railway station; but this was absolutely impracticable. They were scattered about the country in their own houses, among their friends, or in the charge of clergymen, physicians, and so on, so that it was impossible to bring them all together. It was most essential, too, that there should be direct communi- cation between the lunatics and the Court, and this could only be done by releasing the Chancery Visitors. The only other provisions of the Bill were one for declaring that Masters in Lunacy should not be able to sit in the House of Commons, about which a doubt had been raised a short time ago; and another to make the registrar in lunacy a permanent officer.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.


was understood to recommend other improvements in the Masters in Lunacy offices, and with that view he hoped the Committee would not be proposed till after Easter.


thought his noble and learned Friend would find that all which the Committee of the House of Commons had recommended had been provided for by this Bill.


heartily concurred in the principle and detail of the Bill, which he believed to be calculated to promote the welfare of this unhappy class of persons. It was absolutely necessary that something should be done to protect lunatics possessed of a small amount of property. The cases mentioned by the noble and learned Lord were merely representative cases; many others equally striking might have been brought forward. It was not the General Lunacy Commissioners who had proposed that the Chancery lunatics should be transferred to them, for they had already a great deal more work than they could do; but it was the wish and desire of the House of Commons, as the system of Chancery inspection was so imperfect and infrequent, that the visitation should be transferred to the General Board. The Board said they would be perfectly ready provided certain facilities were given to them. If the noble and learned Lord desired to retain the visitation in the hands of the Court, he hoped that the Visitors would be required to devote themselves exclusively to the work. It would not do for them to devote one-half of their time to visiting, and another part to the general duties of their profession. Their whole time, strength, and attention must be given to the visitation, otherwise the system would not attain that degree of efficiency which the noble and learned Lord desired.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on the First Sitting Bay after the Easter Recess.