HL Deb 05 May 1898 vol 57 cc345-9

My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which is substantially the same as last year. The state of business then obliged me to say that I should drop all opposed clauses in the hope of passing the rest without occupation of time. That course, nevertheless, did not secure its passage, and this year the Government propose that it shall not be dropped, but passed, after full consideration of all that may be said on the clauses. The main occasion for the introduction of the Bill was a feeling that the power to make urgency orders for the detention of persons supposed to be of unsound mind should be safeguarded. While thinking this object of great importance, it is no less important to avoid doing anything which will interfere with the promptest treatment in proper cases. When it was first proposed, more than 10 years ago, to make the order of a justice a necessary condition of the detention of a person as a lunatic, a special exception was made in cases of urgency; and in deference to learned representations which I received I extended this exception so as to operate for seven days. I have been convinced by experience, and particularly by a recent case which created some public excitement, that it is desirable to shorter the period during which an urgency order may be used, and to exact very strict compliance with the rules as to the conditions and the evidence upon which any such order is obtained and acted upon. The rest of the Bill deals with points of detail, which are entirely for Committee, some of them somewhat minute matters of administration. There is no doubt a question of principle involved in them. That is clear from the observations which have reached me respecting some of the clauses. The question is, where are you to draw the line between local freedom of action and central control? The provision and administration of asylums is one of those matters which are thought to be best provided by each county for itself, but a Central Lunacy Commission has been appointed to maintain uniformity in the principle upon which the treatment of lunatics is to proceed. On the one hand it is felt that the advantages of local action are lost if they are hampered or stereotyped by too much interference in detail; on the other hand, it is futile to provide a Board of Control if they have no real power. The exact line is difficult to draw. Indeed, it is the best course, if possible, to trust to discretion, ability, and mutual confidence to work out a system of this kind in a practical, common-sense, and business-like manner. Unfortunately, cases appear to arise occasionally showing that the intentions of the Acts relating to lunacy administrations are not everywhere realised, and some steps have to be taken by way of remedy. In illustration of this I will mention two points in the Bill arising on Clauses 18 and 20. I will deal with Clause 18 first. Under the existing law the plans for asylums have to be approved of by the Secretary of State, but he has no power to interpose where the buildings are subsequently used in a different way from that to which his consent was given, and cases have frequently arisen where that has been done to an extent which practically nullifies the substance of his control. A clause has been introduced with the object of making the Secretary of State's approval effective, so that the arrangements of the asylum shall continue to accord with that approval until other arrangements are similarly approved. The clause has been criticised as interfering with the necessary freedom of working an institution whose requirements cannot be absolutely scheduled, and which will do better with the utmost latitude for meeting contingencies as they arise. Now, this appears to be a case where it is impossible to controvert the principle of the clause, but I shall hope to hear it most freely debated in Committee from a practical point of view, and I shall be ready to accept any Amendments which will prevent any interference, or ground for apprehension of interference, with local administration. I will next refer to Clause 20, relating to pensions. When Parliament gave power to the counties to charge their funds with the expense of a pensions system for asylums' officers, it never occurred to anyone that the power would not be universally used, and used liberally. It has been very generally and satisfactorily acted upon, but not, I regret to say, everywhere. There is no class of public servants (as they aria entitled to be called) who deserve more consideration in this respect than the attendants of asylums, not only in their own interest, but in the interest of the unfortunate persons of whom they have charge. The principle of the clause is one to which I attach great importance; but here, again, I am most desirous that the House should consider in Committee any Amendments which may be proposed to give the best shape to this proposal. I have myself suggested a minimum scale by way of illustration, but I am quite prepared to learn that better details can be inserted in the Bill. These are not the only clauses upon which I have reason to believe that Amendments will be proposed well worthy of consideration; but I have only to repeat that I invite discussion and assistance in Committee and in pressing, as I shall press, for the passing of the Bill this year. I trust that it will prove, in its final shape, to be a workable and acceptable Measure in the opinion of all who interest themselves in the subject. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, I. should like to say a few words with reference to the last point touched upon by the noble and learned Lord—namely, with regard to pensions to officers of lunatic asylums. It is quite true that at present a very great difference of opinion exists in various parts of the country with regard to this matter. In some parts considerably larger pensions are given than those provided under the present Bill. In the West Riding they take an opposite view with regard to superannuation allowances. They hold that the Asylums Committee ought to retain the discretion hitherto vested in them of deciding the question as to whether there should be any pension or not, and as to the amount of that pension, and that it should not be made compulsory upon county councils to spend their money in this manner if they do not think fit. For my part I think that is a reasonable contention, and that where there is such difference of opinion it is undesirable that you should lay down a strict rule by Act of Parliament. Speaking generally, and not upon this point exclusively, I may say that I have always thought it a mistake to enforce expenditure upon county councils by Act of Parliament. At the present moment a very large portion of the money expended by county councils is not directly expended by the county councils themselves, but they are bound to meet the demands which are made upon them by outside bodies. I venture to submit that it is undesirable to increase the number of cases in which that occurs, and that it is only reasonable that county councils should ask that this matter should be left to their discretion, it being quite manifest that there is a very great difference of opinion upon it. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be willing to omit the clause from the Bill at a subsequent stage.


The county councils are by no means agreed upon the question as to whether pensions should or should not be given. This is one of the questions upon which there appears to be no general agreement whatever.


My Lords, when we consider the authority which the county councils possess throughout the country, and their representative character, I think it is extremely undesirable, unless a very strong necessity arises, to do otherwise than to leave them a free discretion with reference to the expenditure for the maintenance of lunatics. It is very desirable that the county councils should feel that they have entrusted to them the real business which comes under their control, and that they are largely responsible for the manner in which they conduct that business. If this clause is passed you will diminish that responsibility. If you go too far in laying down what they shall do you will weaken the authority of the county councils very seriously, and the result will be that you will not get men of the same position and the same knowledge to take part in the management of the various matters which come under the administration of the county councils. I am afraid there has, to some extent, lately risen in the country—I observe it in speeches that I have read—a desire, which I very much deprecate, that lunatic asylums should be placed under the direct control of the Government. I should regard that as a great calamity. We could not do worse than increase the functions of the Government with regard to local affairs. The Government having successfully established very useful and important bodies throughout the country for the management of local affairs, I feel very indisposed to limit in any way the discretion which these bodies now enjoy.

Bill read a second time.