HL Deb 08 May 1879 vol 245 cc1945-57

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the Bill was altogether a novelty in Imperial legislation. It was purely permissive and experimental, and as it had come up from the House of Commons, he hoped that their Lordships would accept it, and join them in an effort to apply some remedy, however small, to the great evil that was devastating all social life, and threatening the very manhood of Great Britain and Ireland. But though experimental, it rested on a good foundation; for the system had long been tried, and on a large scale, in Scotland and the United States. It was asserted that great and permanent results had been obtained—and asserted, too, with a good show of reason; for though many of the relapses might not be known, some not recorded, and others concealed, there was quite enough of evidence to justify the institution of the proposed experiment. Considerable authorities, no doubt, had declared that such efforts were utterly hopeless, and could issue only in failure; but the Report of the Committee in the House of Commons, over which Mr. Dalrymple presided—a Gentleman of whose labours, intelligence, and zeal it was impossible to speak too highly—established beyond question the fact that the attempt, at least, might be made with confidence. True it was that many might object to merely experimental and permissive legislation; but the supporters of the Bill pleaded the peculiarity of the case, the necessity of the position, and believed that endeavours, even if somewhat abnormal, were called for, that they might discover, if possible, some loophole of escape from one part of the evil that beset them on every side. The point before them for consideration was the power of restraint to be given over those who had voluntarily entered the retreats. It was a power much asked for in Scotland and the United States—for though in some of the States local enactments had been passed to that effect, such enactments were declared to be unconstitutional; and although, both in Scotland and America, the patients went in of their own accord—which was a hopeful sign—the Medical Profession of both countries were very loud and decided in their demands for legal power of detention. Under the first Bill proposed to the House of Commons very large powers were claimed for forcible seizure and imprisonment. Retreats, moreover, for such persons were to be opened at the expense of the country. The present Bill was more restricted, for it contemplated none but retreats founded by private enterprize or charitable subscription, and into which the patient was to be admitted only at his own request. By some persons it was denied that a man had a right to surrender his liberty; but he did not believe that this plea would find much favour with their Lordships. Men surrendered their liberty every day, with a view to their personal benefit, by engaging, for instance, as soldiers or sailors, or even as ordinary servants; or were allowed to submit to a surgical operation which might cost them their lives, and which a surgeon could not undertake against their will without laying himself open to the charge of at least a grievous assault. The case of an habitual drunkard was specially similar to this last. He found himself suffering from a grievous disease, and voluntarily gave up a portion of his liberty in order that he might be cured. But here could be no fear of abuse, for under the Bill every form of security was given. Now, drunkenness had hitherto been regarded as a vice. They had in the police courts "drunk and disorderly," "drunk and incapable," and other distinctions. It was now to be treated, in a great measure, as a disease, or something akin to disease. It was, perhaps, difficult to discover at all times which it was, but that in many persons it was vice was beyond all dispute, and it was much to be deplored that in our magisterial decisions offences were so often condoned because committed under the influence of liquor. The learned Sir Edward Coke was not of that mind, for he said— A drunkard who is voluntaries dœmon hath no privilege thereby, but what hurt or ill soever he doeth his drunkenness doth aggravate it. But, whether vice or disease, was not of so much importance under the present Bill, which was simply voluntary; under the compulsory measure it was almost vital. Vice, however, it was in abundant instances. Short periods of punishment were of no avail, and the laws were not strong enough to inflict long ones. That point, again, need not come under consideration at the present moment, for the provisions of the Bill, as it stood, would be within the reach only of the well-to-do people; and unless charity were largely stimulated no retreats would be opened for those whose excesses disgraced and endangered society. On this point he would call the attention of the House to some very judicious observations by the Rev. J. Willett, Superintendent of Inebriates' Home, King's County, New York. Mr. Willett said— After many years of careful investigation, surrounded with facilities for inquiry and study which few men have been able to command, we are free to state that while we are forced to regard drunkenness as a disease, at the same time we are fully convinced that in its preliminary stages it is, in the largo majority of cases, avoidable, and, therefore, this class of inebriates are mentally and physically responsible for their debauches and for all the consequences result- ing there from. Some weak-minded men regard it impolite to refuse an invitation to drink with a friend or in company, when invited to do so. The great bulk of this silly class drift into habits of intoxication. Some men drink for stimulation. This is frequently the case in literary circles. As the dram must necessarily be increased from time to time, intoxication ensues, and the mighty men are brought low. Some men drink in order to drown sorrow. This class of men very soon succeed in drowning the little brain power once possessed. Some men drink for the purpose of forwarding business. They cannot buy or sell without ratifying the bargain with a debauch. Notorious criminals drink for the purpose of nerving themselves for the perpetration of premeditated crime. They first charge the revolver with powder and bullet, and then fire the brain and stimulate the nerves with alcohol, so that they may be prepared for the perpetration of any deed which may be found necessary for the accomplishment of then object. In this last class of cases which we have presented all the parties concerned are obviously responsible for their conduct, and they ought not to be allowed to plead intoxication as an excuse for the crimes which they may commit while under the influence of liquor. But, regarded as a disease, habitual drunkenness might be either acquired or hereditary. Disease was, perhaps, too strong a term to be applied to all cases; but no other could be found. In some it was called morbid appetite, craving, a tendency against which it was difficult to contend, and so on. In some it arose from intermediate causes, and could not be ascribed either to vice or disease, such as excess of care or sorrow, overwork, or a blow on the head. But that the evil—either in the form of craving for drink, or other forms of mental, moral, and physical imbecility—was hereditary, and derivable from parents, rested on universal testimony. He had, many years ago, preparatory to a Motion in the House of Commons on National Education, instituted much inquiry from most of the lunatic asylums in the United States and in England. Their evidence was then identical, as it was now, that the sins of the parents were visited unto the third and fourth generation. But he requested the very special attention of their Lordships to a report by Dr. S. G. Howe and others, appointed as Commissioners to investigate the condition of idiots in the State of Massachusetts. It appeared in the 28th Annual Report of the School for Idiots in 1875— The habits of the parents of 300 of the idiots were learned, and 145—nearly one-half—are reported 'as known to be habitual drunkards.' Such parents give a weak and a lax constitution to their children; who are, consequently, 'deficient in bodily and vital energy and predisposed by their very organization to have cravings for alcoholic stimulants.' Many of these children are feeble and live irregularly. Having a lower vitality, they feel the want of some stimulation. If they pursue the course of their fathers, which they have more temptation to follow and less power to avoid than the children of the temperate, they add to their hereditary weakness and increase the tendency to idiocy in their constitution, and this they leave to their children after them. The parents of case No. 62 were drunkards, and they had seven idiotic children. He begged their Lordships to listen again to the last paragraph of the extract— The parents of case No. 62 were drunkards. and they had seven idiotic children. Now this statement not only showed the hereditary nature of the evil, but it met an objection oftentimes urged in opposition to their efforts. They were encountering, it was said, only symptoms, nor did they take the drunkard in hand until his malady had become almost inveterate. At the first glance it might seem that there was nothing really remedial or preventive in such legislation; but, at the second, one must come to a different conclusion. This couple had seven idiotic children, whose existence was a burden and an impoverishment to the community. Had they been reformed, morally and physically, they might have been the parents of seven healthy children, who would have been a strength and a comfort to society. Now, the victims of an inherited appetite for alcohol were considerably more numerous than the fragmentary records of published statistics would lead them to suppose. Dr. Darwin, as quoted by Dr. Howe, said— It is remarkable that all the diseases from drinking spirituous or fermented liquors are liable to become hereditary, even to the third generation, gradually increasing, if the cause be continued, until the family becomes extinct. Dr. Parrish remarked that— This appetite is often an inheritance with which its possessor would gladly part if he could. It constitutes an element in his temperature. It is a part of his constitution. He did not create it, he does not cherish it, nay, he abhors it; but it clings to him like the poison of other forms of disease. Hence the assertion by so many eminent physicians in America and Great Britain of the crying need for such institutions. The author of the 18th Report of the Inebriates' Home maintained that such peculiar and special treatment was indispensable. He wrote— It has for a long time been a popular fallacy to suppose that social condition, comfortable surroundings, religious associations, educational facilities, and, last of all, marital obligations, have any perceptible influence in curbing the appetites of those constitutionally inclined to the excessive use of stimulants, or of those who have acquired this pernicious malady through habitual indulgence. Our experience is to the contrary. No matter what may be the conditions by which the inebriate is surrounded, we find that judicious hospital treatment, personal restraint, and a lengthened period of abstinence from strong drink are absolutely necessary to the complete recovery of will-power; and if an inebriate fall after such an experience, it is safe to say that he falls with his eyes wide open, though, as we have shown, the relapse is the exception and not the rule. It afforded considerable hope of success, if such retreats were sufficiently numerous and judiciously conducted, that a very large proportion of the habitual inebriates would rejoice to be delivered from the terrible slavery under which they laboured. Nevertheless, though the largest proportion of the inmates of these institutions were there of their own free will, it was held by many most experienced gentlemen that, after the first admission, some power of detention was necessary in order to complete the cure of the more obstinate and capricious patients; and he bowed to their decision. He confessed, for his own part, that he preferred the purely voluntary system; the moral, self-restraining efforts made by the patients were the most effective and permanent form of cure. It was analogous in principle to the non-restraint system of our lunatic establishments; and many noble Lords, in visiting the great asylums, must have observed how occupation and liberty of action, so far as was compatible with safety to themselves and others, tended not only to the comfort, but to the ultimate restoration of the inmates. He had seen his position exemplified in an admirable establishment kept by a foreign lady on the other side of the Thames. There were some 60 or 70 women who were willingly undergoing the discipline of the place. Anyone could withdraw at any moment, and yet, during many years, not one had rebelled against the rules. One woman, while he was there, came in and stated to him that she had passed through the cure; that for many years she had never tasted a drop of spirit; and that she was enabled to obtain a comfortable livelihood. This was evidence as to what might be done under the voluntary system, and the lady superintendent assured him of her belief that had she power to control them it would destroy all her influence. And this was the view of the State Board of Health of Massachussetts, for they said in their Annual Report— Unless a great determination to become temperate be made by the drunkard himself and the wisest course be pursued by the friends, such a person is doomed to spend a worse than useless life, disgraceful to himself and a source of endless sorrow to his friends. With all that, however, he said that he bowed to the opinion of the learned men who gave such earnest and such scientific opinions. Now, to meet that want, the Bill before their Lordships contained certain provisions. There was a difficulty in the outset, and there was a difficulty still, to define with precision an "habitual drunkard." It had been much discussed; but most agreed that, on the whole, the present definition was the best. Nor was great accuracy necessary under the present Bill, the applicant for admission into these retreats being left to declare that he wished himself to come under the power of the Statute. Now, the main provisions were—first, that retreats might be opened either by private enterprize or public subscription, they were to be licensed by appointed authorities, and inspected by officers named for that purpose. On the introduction of the Bill this season into the House of Commons no period of limitation in time was imposed on private as compared with the public establishments. But an enactment was carried to the effect that the existence of the private retreats should be restricted to five years. This was all but a death-blow to the value and efficacy of the Bill. No medical men—to whose zeal, and science, and humanity, he must bear the strongest testimony—would quit their general practice and invest considerable sums of money in an undertaking that must terminate at the close of five years—it seemed to stop the career of the measure at its very outset. Nevertheless, he entreated the House to accept it, so virtually necessary was it that some experiment or other should be set on foot. The second provision was still more serious and cogent. The first Bill proposed to enact that the applicant for admission should go before one Justice of the Peace, who should attest the application to the superintendent of the retreat, having satisfied himself that the applicant was an habitual drunkard within the meaning of the Act, and that the applicant quite understood what he was about to do. This was a necessary caution—there were many influences from various motives to which persons of feeble minds or in ill-health might be subjected. But the Amendment insisted on by the Home Office carried protection to its utmost bounds. It demanded that two statutory declarations that the applicant was an habitual drunkard should be made by two persons, and then laid before two Justices of the Peace, who, as in the former case, would make the prescribed inquiries. It was not necessary to enlarge on these requirements. Their Lordships would see the trouble, the impediments, the anxiety it would stir up in the way of the applicant; and if this difficulty would be great in respect of men, what would it be in respect of young women, in whom sentiment and modesty were not altogether extinct? Again, notwithstanding the imperfections of the measure, and such obstructions thrown in the way, apparently insuperable, he urged as strongly as he could the adoption of the Bill, as simply tentative. The evil was a growing one in many respects; and in one well worthy of notice—in the growing deterioration of the liquor. The evidence to that effect was decided in the United States; and when he was in Ireland, two or three years ago, he inquired of many of the priests, whom he found remarkably intelligent and well acquainted with their people, whether drunkenness was on the increase. "Not numerically, perhaps," was the reply, "but the effects of it are far worse in the poisonous and maddening quality of the spirits they now drink." Such was the Bill, and as such he propounded it to their Lordships. The experiment might succeed, and then much would have been gained for posterity. It might fail; but then much would, have been learned by the failure. At any rate, it was better to fail in a good effort than stand still in frigid wisdom and make no effort at all. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Shaftesbury.)


said, that having, in I860, opposed the Wine Licences Bills for England and Ireland with very small minorities, though his views were afterwards adopted by the Legislature, he might venture to make a few remarks. Where a man or woman were convicted before two Justices of drunkenness and rioting, he or she might be imprisoned for a month. In such cases he thought a man or woman, if placed before the Bench for the first time, might consider whether he or she would avoid the shame of imprisonment, and be glad if a very small fine were substituted for imprisonment, and the privilege be granted of going to a retreat, according to the provisions of this Bill. Again, many a poor man's home was broken up by the intemperate habits of his wife, who took her husband's earnings, or sold his furniture, to satisfy an unlimited passion for drink. From the state of the law, she could not be treated as a thief, nor those who received goods from her—at half their value—be deemed receivers of stolen goods in the eye of the law. He thought it would do much good if such a woman could be placed in a retreat and subjected to compulsory abstinence, if her relatives and neighbours—as was often the case—considered it the best thing that could be done for her and her husband and family, and it would be a very small infringement of liberty, as she had, morally, forfeited her liberty, much more than any common thief.


did not object to the second reading of the Bill, but thought objections might be taken to many of the clauses. These objections were well embodied by the Committee of the Medico-Psychological Society, and were chiefly that it would give unusual facilities for illegal detention, and that the inspectors should be qualified medical men. They thought the term "habitual drunkard" should be drawn so as to exclude an insane person; that provision should be made for the quarterly inspection of the retreat, and each individual then seen and reported upon by a medical man. For his own part, he did not think that any expense for these establishments or for their inspection ought to fall upon either the rates or taxes.


said, that the noble Earl who had charge of the Bill had had, as Chief Commissioner in Lunacy, very great experience of the management of lunatic-asylums, and was thereby enabled to speak with great authority on this subject. He (Earl Beauchamp) did not propose to touch upon the question of drunkenness in the abstract—the question was, what was the fittest way to deal with persons who were drunkards? The Bill, therefore, proceeded on the assumption that it was desirable, in certain circumstances, to impose limitations on the liberty of those who were described as "habitual drunkards." The reason alleged was, that the habitual drunkard had, by intemperate habits, brought himself to such a pass that though he was capable of being benefited by treatment of a certain description, that treatment could not be effectual unless it was continued for a certain time. That being the assumption on which the Bill was based, three questions presented themselves—how was the habitual drunkard to be admitted to the retreats which might be established—how was he to be treated when there—and how was he to be discharged? It was held to be necessary that, in order to obtain any good result, the patient should be retained in the retreat for a considerable time. The Bill, no doubt, as introduced in the House of Commons, was very imperfect in the safeguards which it provided for the liberty of the subject, for it was open to a person coming under the category of a habitual drunkard to go before one Justice of the Peace and declare in writing his desire of being admitted into a retreat, and in the result find that he had parted with his liberty for the period of a whole year. He did not think that a sufficient safeguard was secured by such a provision; but as the noble Earl had accepted the Amendments on that point introduced in the House of Commons, he would not enter further into the subject. The real utility of such a Bill depended on providing adequate regulations for its proper administration. The powers given by the measure were extensive and vague; the whole responsibility was put upon the Secretary of State, and if Parliament, in its wisdom, intrusted the Secretary of State with those powers, and if they were wisely used, much good might be done. But there were further safeguards provided. The Secretary of State might appoint an Inspector and an Assistant Inspector of Retreats, who were to inspect every retreat twice a-year at least; and the Secretary of State might make rules and regulations from time to time, and a Judge of the High Court of Justice, or the County Court Judge, was empowered to make, on application, an order to inspect. Then there was a clause to the effect that anyone who contravened the rules for the management of a retreat would commit an offence against the Act, and would be liable to summary conviction and a fine not exceeding £20, or, at the discretion of the Court, to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months, with or without hard labour. There was every guarantee that the rules to be framed by the Secretary of State would be adequate for their purpose; but in any case the matter would be reviewed by Parliament within a limited period. As to extending the provisions of the Bill, as suggested by his noble Friend, that would not be possible, or, if possible, its effect would be to destroy the nature of the retreats, which were to be founded on the assumption that the persons admitted were to be treated as subjects of disease, and not by way of punishment. If persons were to be put into the retreats by way of punishment, they must be maintained at the cost of the ratepayers; but this Bill would impose no burden upon the ratepayers of this country. Those who established those retreats for their private gain would pay substantial fees, which would very largely cover the expenses of inspection. It was not among the least advantages of the Bill that it did not impose taxation on the public. He thought, therefore, their Lordships would do wisely to accept the second reading, and see if something could not be done to remedy those great evils which it was the object of the measure to mitigate or relieve.


said, that the Bill endeavoured to meet a very great evil which had long affected this country, and one which might very well have been dealt with many years ago. No doubt, it was wise, in dealing with a subject of this kind by means of new legislation, to do it with extraordinary caution. It seemed to him, however, to be the error of this Bill that its caution was rather extreme. In many foreign countries there was a law which enabled family councils to place the affairs of those who were not able to manage them properly under regulations. In this country there were a great many who answered the description of habitual drunkards, and who were not only dangerous to themselves and others, but also incapable of managing their affairs. If they looked upon this question from the point of view of principle merely, he could see no good reason why such persons, after a proper public investigation, should not be taken care of as much as lunatics themselves. Theirs was a state which to his mind did not differ much from lunacy, and was at least as dangerous to society. He doubted whether the Bill as at present circumscribed, and surrounded with so many precautions, would have as large an operation as might be desired. On the other hand, he knew what the course of legislation in this country usually was. If there existed a desire for legislation on any subject, a measure was introduced tentatively, and experience afterwards suggested means by which legislation in the same direction might be strengthened. Such, he hoped, would be the result of the present measure, and he should be glad if it did something towards mitigating a really great evil.


said, he was in favour of the principle of the Bill, which, however, would require alterations in its details. No doubt, there were drunkards in every class of society, but by far the greater proportion of habitual drunkards was to be found in the lower classes; and these were precisely those which the provisions of this Bill would not reach, because those only could avail themselves of it were those who could afford the expense. He thought far larger powers were required to be given to the Inspectors, who were the real guardians of the unfortunate persons who might be detained in these retreats.


said, two Bills lately introduced into their Lordships' House tended to alter the religious and social character of our people. One was the Bill for the opening of Museums on Sundays, and the other was the Bill for legalizing marriage with a deceased wife's sister. Those measures were of a very un-English character. He believed that the character of the English Sunday was very different from the gloom of the Scotch Sunday, on the one hand, and the frivolity of the French Sunday, on the other. ["Question!"] Well, he had not had an opportunity of speaking the other day. He had been reading a pamphlet by Dr. Barnardo called "Day and Night." The noble Lord being again called to Order, concluded abruptly by saying he should support the second reading of the Bill, although he had not read it.

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

House adjourned at half past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.