HL Deb 23 March 1871 vol 205 cc448-50

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the object of the measure was to apply to Ireland, with some improvements, the reforms effected in England nearly a quarter of a century ago. The latest statistics showed that there were at large 6,000 lunatics of whom no account was given, and that there were at least 1,622 who might be supposed to have property, and ought to be under the protection of the Court of Chancery; whereas only 156 were actually under its protection. This unsatisfactory state of affairs was to be attributed to the absence of any means of ascertaining the lunatics who possessed property, and to the expensive and complicated procedure of the Court. In the smallest case there had to be a commission, consisting of two Judges and a jury; so that the expense could scarcely be less than £60, was usually as much as £100, and was frequently much more. When, moreover, a lunatic was placed under the protection of the Court the expense was enormous, there being a formal petition, every part of which had to be verified at every step. The measure which he now submitted to their Lordships was a complete code of regulating the law relating to Commissions of Lunacy in Ireland, and the procedure under the same, and to the management of the estates of lunatics, and to provide for the visiting and protection of the property of lunatics. It was a very large measure, consisting of no less than 118 clauses. The Bill provided, in the first place, that the present Clerk of the Custodies should be in future styled the Registrar in Lunacy, and should perform all the duties hitherto performed by the clerk; and to him all medical men certifying to a lunacy, all managers of hospitals receiving a lunatic, and all persons dealing with any lunatic, were to make a return. The Lord Chancellor was empowered to order a medical visitor to visit an alleged lunatic, and might order an inquiry on his report, or might order an inquiry before a jury on the demand of an alleged lunatic, or might send the fact for inquiry to a common law court; the order of the Lord Chancellor, or the certificate of the Judge, to be conclusive. The Lord Chancellor might also order an inquiry by legal visiting as to the necessity for taking charge of an alleged lunatic, and might thereon direct the interim administration of his estate by a receiver. The Bill further defined the duties of visitors in regard to the care and treatment of any lunatic. All lunatics were to be visited four times in every year, and the visitors were to make reports to the Lord Chancellor. The Bill then made provisions for the management and administration of estates of lunatics. In order to meet the expenses of proceedings in lunacy where the estates were small, the Bill proposed to establish a lunacy fund, as was established in England in 1853, by a percentage on the estates administered to defray the cost of the machinery; but small estates not exceeding £100 were free from the percentage. He believed the Bill would be a substantial boon to Ireland, would effect a valuable assimilation of the law, and would benefit a class which more than any other was entitled to care and sympathy.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord O'Hagan.)


said, he believed the regulations proposed in this Bill would, taken as a whole, be found as useful in Ireland as similar ones enforced in England now were. One or two provisions of the Bill, however, required more explanation than that afforded by the noble and learned Lord (Lord O'Hagan). The question of percentage on lunatics' estates managed by the Court of Chancery was first introduced in this country by a Bill passed a few years ago; the same kind of proposal was made in the present measure; but he remarked that the percentage was different in the amount. Another part of the Bill requiring further consideration was that which related to the payment of officers' salaries. The Lord Chancellor appeared to possess the power of remunerating the Registrar and clerks without the ordinary reference to the Treasury in such, cases. This was too large a power, and he hoped that the provision would be so altered as to limit the amount of the salary—at any rate, to fix a maximum beyond which no officer should be paid.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.