HL Deb 26 March 1885 vol 296 cc623-30

, in presenting a Bill to amend the Acts relating to lunatics, said, it would be convenient that he should explain that the present law was divided into two branches. One related to the class which it might be convenient to describe as Chancery lunatics, whose property was administered by the Court under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor and the Lords Justices. The other related to lunatics not in that position. The law as to the former was very ancient, going back as far as Edward II. It recognized the right of the Crown to the care and custody of the estates of such persons. There were Masters and other officials in Lunacy, who acted under the authority of the several Acts of Parliament, hold inquiries, and administered estates, rendering accounts to the Court. This part of the law it was not proposed to alter by the present Bill, although one or two clauses would effect some extension of the powers of the Lord Chancellor and the Lords Justices. The principal Acts of Parliament which had reference to this subject were three in number, passed respectively in 1853, 1856, and 1862, and there were in various other Acts particular sections and clauses referring to the same subject. The Chancery lunatics were comparatively few—they did not exceed 1,800 in number; and the rest of the lunatics throughout the country were on a different footing. He did not think any Acts were passed with regard to the latter class of lunatics until the Reign of George III., and it was not till 1845 that the subject was placed on a firm and lasting footing. There were now nine Acts, beginning with the Act of 1845 and coming down to an Act passed in 1863, upon that subject. It was most desirable and important that all those 12 Acts and sections of certain other Acts should be consolidated; but it would be better not to attempt to pass a Consolidation Bill until it was seen what alterations in the law would be made in consequence of the present measure. When that was done, all the Acts would be embodied in a Consolidation Bill, which would be introduced either in the present, or, more probably, in another Session, and by means of which the whole law relating to lunacy would be presented in one aspect. With regard to those lunatics who were not Chancery lunatics, and who constituted the great majority of the lunatics throughout the country, he might state briefly the present state of the law and its administration. They might be divided into two great classes—pauper lunatics, and private lunatics who were not paupers. The pauper lunatics were by far the most numerous class; last year they numbered 70,470, and of these there were in licensed houses 1,398. Of those licensed houses there were 85 in the Metropolis and 62 in the Provinces. At the time the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) addressed the House last year, there were in those houses altogether 4,779 patients. There were of hospitals, which were of a more public character than licensed houses, 13 for lunatics and two for idiots, or a total of 15, maintained either by endowment or subscription. Last year those hospitals contained 3,146 patients. In public asylums for lunatics generally, there were 686 private and 45,164 pauper patients. In workhouses there were 17,377 patients; the outdoor pauper lunatics were 6,078. There were 314 in naval and military asylums; and in criminal lunatic asylums 535. Besides those already mentioned, there were 449 single patients kept in other houses, conducted for gain or profit, and visited by the Lunacy Commissioners. They were a body constituted in the year 1845, consisting of three medical and three legal Commissioners, all of whom were paid, and five Commissioners, with the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) at their head, who were unpaid. They had a general supervision and very extensive powers over the whole of this great system. Of the Commissioners he could not speak without paying a humble, though very inadequate, tribute to the invaluable services which had been rendered to the public by them, and particularly by his noble Friend (the Earl of Shaftesbury), who had been their Chairman for more than 50 years. Under their auspices, the enormous abuses which once prevailed had been swept away. A Committee of the House of Commons had been appointed in 1860, and another in 1877, to consider various points in connection with Lunacy Law, and they had taken a considerable body of evidence on the subject. Some of the cases which had been subjects of complaint were investigated by the Committee in 1877; but the Committee did not think that any serious case of abuse had been established before them. He would not refer to any particular cases since that time which had come before the Courts of Justice; but several of the Judges before whom these cases had come had expressed strong opinions as to the insufficiency of the securities for the liberty of the subject under the present state of the law. Their Lordships would find embodied in the Bill most, if not all, the recommendations of the Committee of 1877. The Bill was an honest and carefully-considered attempt to deal with the subject; but he could not conceal from himself that there were some points in it on which considerable difference of opinion existed, and on one very important provision he regretted that the proposition he had to recommend to the acceptance of the House was not approved by the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) and his Colleagues on the Lunacy Commission. The Bill did not deal with the administrative establishments either of Chancery or the Lunacy Commissioners, which, on the whole, had worked well and proved satisfactory. He did not say that some changes might not hereafter be necessary in them; but, as they formed a collateral branch of the subject, it was not necessary to encumber this measure with any clauses dealing with them. The point to which he first wished to allude was the important one as to the state of the law with regard to the initial measures for the confinement of persons as lunatics. It had been stated that any man in the streets could confine anybody else as a lunatic if he got any two medical men, however inexperienced, to sign a certificate. He could not accept that mode of stating the case. He did not believe that anything which could properly be so described had ever happened, or was ever likely to happen. But what was really possible was that an opinion might be obtained from two medical gentlemen, who had to sign the certificate, upon insufficient grounds, by relatives or friends of an alleged lunatic, who might be acting in good faith, but whose motives might not be of that absolutely impartial and disinterested character which was desirable. It was possible, though he was not satisfied that there was proof of the fact, that abuses had taken place in that way. In legislating on a subject of this nature, while care should be taken to give the utmost reasonable security for the liberty of the subject, nothing should be done that would prevent the prompt treatment of patients in the early stages of lunacy. It should be clearly understood that, in a large number of cases of lunacy, a cure might be effected by prompt treatment, while delay might be fatal in many of them; and, therefore, the greatest caution should be exercised in interposing between patients and speedy treatment. By the law of Scotland no person could be confined as a lunatic on the solo authority of any private individual. The practice was to present a petition to the Sheriff, accompanied by a statement of the particulars of the case, and supported by the certificates of two medical practitioners, on the strength of which an order could be made for the reception of the lunatic into an asylum, or other proper place of custody. If the Sheriff was not satisfied with the certificates, he could make independent inquiry. The Scottish law also provided means for dealing with cases of urgency without delay. Similar provisions existed in the legal system of New York and other parts of the United States, in France, and in Germany. The Committees of the House of Commons which had sat in this country in 1860 and 1877 to consider the Lunacy Laws had both reported against that kind of public intervention, the former considering that it would do more harm than good, and the latter being of opinion that even if such intervention might do no harm it would do no practical good. But, unless he greatly mistook the expressions of learned Judges and the demands of public opinion at the present time, this question did not stand now as it stood either in 1860 or in 1877. In principle, it did not seem open to doubt that a man's liberty ought not to be interfered with for any long or indefinite time without the sanction of some public authority; and in practice, the experience of Scotland and other countries proved that this principle might be satisfied without injury to the unhappy class whose liberty was in question, if a measure for that purpose was attended by precautions to prevent its unguarded application. The Bill he was introducing proposed that no person, not a pauper or criminal lunatic, or under the guardianship of the Lord Chancellor, should be received or detained as a lunatic in a hospital, asylum, licensed house for lunatics, or for payment in any other place, without the order under the hand of a Judge of a Superior Court, of a Judge of a County Court, of a Stipendiary Magistrate, or of a Justice of the Peace having jurisdiction where the lunatic was. Should their Lordships, during the progress of the Bill, suggest any better authority in these cases than that of all Justices of the Peace, the Government would be ready to give further consideration to that part of the subject. There must be certificates of two medical men, one of whom was to be, if possible, the ordinary medical attendant of the patient; if not, the reasons were to be stated. The Committee of 1877 had suggested that there should be statutory declarations; but it did not appear that any advantage would be gained by this, while there would be the disadvantage of multiplying the stages at which application must be made to a magistrate. There was, however, a clause providing that, in certain cases, the same penalty should attach as if an oath or statutory declaration had been made. If the magistrate should be satisfied with the evidence of lunacy appearing by the medical certificates, he might at once make an order, or, if not satisfied, appoint a time when a further investigation should be made. The inquiry was to be conducted in private, and those necessarily present were to be bound to keep everything secret that had taken place in the course of the examination, unless required to divulge it by lawful authority. The patient was not to be present; but the magistrate might, if he thought it necessary, visit him. The magistrate was required to give his reasons in writing if he thought it desirable to dismiss the petition. The 3rd clause provided for cases of urgency, which were to be dealt with, substantially as in Scotland, until a magistrate's order could be obtained. They had thus done what they could to prevent the occurrence of the evils apprehended by those who objected to the introduction of the magistrate. With regard to pauper lunatics, the Bill contained provisions founded on the same principle. Besides the securities which they had endeavoured to provide for the initial stages, the Bill, in conformity with the recommendations of the Committee of 1877, proposed that, within a month after the reception of the patient into any authorized establishment, a report, additional to those now required, should be made to the Commissioners of Lunacy, and subsequently an official visit should be made as soon as practicable to the newly-received lunatic by a Commissioner or by the Visitors in the district. It was proposed that every order made should be limited in duration to three years, unless the proper medical authorities certified that the patient ought to be detained, in which case the order was to be renewed from year to year. At the request of any private person, two medical men, if authorized by the Commissioners, might visit any lunatic, who, with the sanction of the Commissioners, might on their report be discharged. The Bill also proposed to give to the Commissioners large powers, on receiving any information that any person was treated as a lunatic in any private house or any religious establishment, to call for information, and, if necessary, to visit the place. Power was given to the Attorney General and the Home Secretary to initiate proceedings for any offence against the Lunacy Laws. The question of licensed houses was one of the most important connected with this subject. Great objection had been frequently made to licensed houses, on the ground that it was inexpedient that any person should have a pecuniary in- terest in the care and continued detention of a lunatic who might possibly be better off elsewhere. At the present time the asylums provided by the County Justices were mainly for pauper lunatics, and private patients could only be received when there was superabundant room, and they must then be treated in the same manner as paupers. It was proposed by the Bill to give greater facilities for extending the public asylum system, so that it might by degrees become adapted to the reception of private non-pauper patients. The County and Borough Justices were to be authorized to provide for the reception of paying patients, either in the same buildings with the pauper patients, or in special asylums. For the purpose of carrying this out, the Justices were authorized, if necessary, to borrow money. These special asylums might be either for idiots or lunatics. In addition to the powers proposed to be given to the Justices, it was also intended that the Secretary of State should have the same compulsory powers with respect to private patients that he now possessed with regard to paupers. It was hoped, therefore, that the system of public asylums would gradually become, in a natural way, a substitute for licensed houses. At the present time, and looking to the large number of licensed houses and the outlay that had been made upon them, it had not been thought advisable, or indeed possible, to abolish them compulsorily. But there would be nothing to prevent the Justices from buying the licensed houses; though the Bill did not propose, as had been proposed in Bills introduced into the House of Commons in 1880 and 1881, that this should be done upon terms to be fixed by the Act, or that the amount should be ascertained by a jury or by arbitrators. To suppress those houses on which a large outlay had been made, and to do it suddenly, without having in the meantime made adequate provision, for the large number of lunatics to be dealt with, was a stop which could not be recommended. It was, however, proposed that after five years no paupers should be received in licensed houses, and that no fresh licences for private asylums should be granted by Justices without the consent of the Commissioners. There were many other provisions in the Bill, on a variety of subjects, and particularly some as to asylums for imbecile chil- dren capable of profiting by instruction, which he hoped would meet with their Lordships' approval. Having laid this summary of the Bill before the House, he trusted that their Lordships would read the Bill a first time.

Bill to amend the Acts relating to lunatics—Presented (The LORD CHANCELLOR); read la. (No. 60.)