*LORD BUSSELL OF KILLOWEN
My Lords, I rise to call the attention of the House to what the Press has described as the "St. Pancras Scandal"; and to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who has special authority and responsibility in relation to the care of lunatics in this country, whether it is proposed to take any, and what, proceedings in the matter. Looking to the hour which has been reached my observations will be brief. Your Lordships are aware that the parish authorities have very important duties to discharge in relation to lunatics within their parish, and that these functions are discharged largely by two sets of officers paid by the parish, called the relieving officer and the medical 1060 officer. Some very startling facts have been brought to light in connection with the administration of the lunacy laws in the parish of St. Pancras which certainly do call for public notice, especially as; it appears from the report of the authority itself that the state of things there disclosed has existed for a period of something, approaching thirty years. The remarkable facts connected with the case are mainly three: (1) That the number of persons detained as insane in St. Pancras is some 100 per cent. greater than in the adjoining parish of Islington, according to population; (2) that a much greater number of lunatics- are sent to private asylums from St. Pancras than from the adjoining parish; and (3) that the cost of the maintenance of insane persons in St. Pancras, which falls, of course, upon the ratepayer, is from 100 to 200 per cent. higher than in the adjoining parish. According to the report issued by the Marylebone Vestry, it appears that the total cost to St. Pancras for the half-year ending Lady-day, 1899, was £14,143 17s. 3d. At Islington the cost was £5,543 17s. 4d.—between a half and a third of the cost in St. Pancras. Further, the report states that in Islington, for the whole six months, only six patients were sent from that parish to expensive private licensed houses at the rate of £2 2s. a week, while twenty-seven were sent from St. Pancras to Hoxton House and thirteen to Bethnal House—namely, forty from St. Pancras as against six from Islington. These facts having been tardily drawn to the attention of the vestry, an inquiry was instituted into the matter, and the report discloses what I am now about to mention. I would remind the House of what the duties and the powers of the relieving officers are. A relieving officer may, on his own responsibility, take up—take into custody practically—a person whom he has reason to believe to be insane and dangerous to the public, and without any medical examination, and without authority from anyone, cause such person to be detained for a period of three days, after which time some step must be taken which involves judicial inquiry before a magistrate and a medical examination. It appears that the relieving officers in St. Pancras have, over the long period I have mentioned, been in the habit of receiving, and receiving regularly, as if it were a right, a sum of about five shillings for each medical 1061 examination of a person believed to be insane. That is to say, when a relieving officer produced a patient for the purpose of examination to a medical man, that medical man paid him five shillings and sometimes less. When I remind your Lordships that there may be two or even three of such examinations when the medical officer and the magistrate are not able to arrive at a definite conclusion, your Lordships will see that the fees paid in that way may become considerable. Next, the; report ascertains the fact that the medical men who were honourable and high-minded enough to decline to pay these douceurs to the relieving officer for doing that which was merely his duty were, as it were, boycotted by the relieving officer, and persons supposed to be insane were not brought to them for examination. Lastly, the report finds that relieving officers, on taking patients to private asylums, are paid varying fees by the owners of those private asylums— fees varying from 10s. to £1 and sometimes as much as £2. The figures of those detained do not exhaust the working of this corrupt system, because it does not follow that every person who is taken into custody by the relieving officer is pronounced by the medical man and the Justice of the Peace to be a fit subject for further detention; but, whether that is the result or not, the medical officer gets his fee all the same, and the relieving officer who takes the case to his pet medical man also gets his proportion of that fee. I think your Lordships can have little doubt as to the obvious dangers to which this state of things gives rise. What is most significant is the statement in the report adopted by the St. Pancras Vestry, that there is reason to think that the system is not confined to St. Pancras, but is very general. Since this notice appeared on your Lordships' Paper, I have been waited upon by a member of the vestry of St. Matthews, Bethnal Green, and I will tell your Lordships the result of the communication made to me by him. That vestry found that there existed this dishonest state of relations between their salaried officer and the medical officer and the owners of these private asylums. They drew the attention of the Local Government Board to it as far back as September, 1899. They also drew the attention of the Lunacy Commissioners to it, but the latter replied that they had no authority to deal with 1062 the matter. All they could do would be to give warning to the owners of these private asylums that they must not continue to give these douceurs or bribes to the relieving officers. It was not until much later that an inquiry took place by an inspect or appointed by the Local Government Board. What the Local Government Board contemplate doing I know not, but I am informed that up to this time they have done nothing. I would like to read to your Lordships two documents. The first is the statement of the relieving officers of Bethnal Green in their own defence. They say, with some naiceté—In order that there may be no misunderstanding on the part of the Board as to our position, and also, if possible, to avoid the trouble and indignity of question and cross-question, we beg to set forth herein the facts of the matter, which we declare to be the truth.They begin by a general denial that they had been parties to any system of blackmail or tipping, and then proceed in this remarkable language:—The examinations being now conducted by district medical officers, these gentlemen have, in the full exercise of their own free will and judgment, chosen to hand us respectively at the end of each quarter—Your Lordships will see that there is a running account between the relieving officer and the medical man.—"a sum varying in amount, but usually equal to 5s. for each £1 1s. received for lunacy examination work during the preceding quarter.And then they say—As to the allegations made with reference to occasional fees being received from private asylums—to wit, Hoxton House and Bethnal Green—the simple fact is that when it is not possible to secure vacancies for cases in the county asylums it has been, and is, the custom of the authorities of these local asylums, through their respective secretaries, to give to the officer concerned an honorarium— at Hoxton House of £2 2s. and at Bethnal Green of £2.How far these offerings from medical men are to be regarded as a voluntary tribute to the merits of the relieving officers your Lordships will gather from a communication, also furnished to me from one of these relieving officers to the doctor asking for an advance of payment. It is dated 3rd August, 1899, and there is no reason why the relieving officer's name should not be mentioned. It is Christopher A. Forrest, and he writes— 1063Dear Doctor Burdoe,—As a matter of very i great urgency I ask you to let me have £1 of next quarter's affair. We have seven cases, and I am going after another one to-night. I do sincerely trust that you will endeavour to oblige.That is addressed by the receiving officer to a medical gentleman in the neighbourhood. The same gentleman who gave me this information has informed me that since the inquiry last autumn there has been a marked decrease not only in the number of persons detained, but in the number of those originally taken up, so to speak, by the relieving officer and afterwards rejected—in other words, the number of cases is reduced to bonâ fide cases. The conclusion is almost irresistible that people have been taken up for examination with a view to fees being obtained. It appears that the guardians have no power, of their own motion, to dismiss these relieving officers; they cannot do that without the sanction of the Local Government Board. It does not appear that they have asked for that sanction in either case. Therefore I have thought it right to call the attention of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who, as I have said, is vested with special authority and responsibility, to the matter, in order to see whether some scheme cannot be devised to prevent the continuance and recurrence of this state of things. I desire also to ask whether the attention of the Law Officers has been drawn to this matter. Has the Public Prosecutor had his attention called to it, because, unless I am greatly mistaken, a clear violation of the law (Lord R. Churchill's Act, 1889) has been perpetrated both by the relieving officers and by the medical men. I see that in the other House of Parliament the learned Attorney General stated, as I expected he would state, that the law is as I conceive it to be. He said—If the facts were as stated an offence of a very serious character had been committed, both by the officials in question and by the persons who were alleged to have given the bribes.I have a very earnest conviction that this system of corruption is very much more widespread than is generally conceived, and that it is eating into the public sense of morality. It surely is necessary, therefore, that the Government of the country should take notice of this evil.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I do not think the noble and learned Lord has at all overstated the seriousness of the matters to which he has called attention. I should say at once that the attention of the Commissioners in Lunacy was called to the Bethnal Green case as long ago as last November. They took exactly the same view as the noble and learned Lord does, and invited the Public Prosecutor to consider whether or not there ought to be a prosecution of the persons concerned. The Public Prosecutor, after taking the opinion of counsel, came to the conclusion that the particular section of the Act to which the noble and learned Lord has called attention would not reach those persons who are in the ambit of animadversion. My own attention has been drawn to the matter this year by the Lunacy Commissioners in connection with an amending Lunacy Bill which passed through your Lordships' House on 9th March last. After the Bill had left the House I received from the Commissioners a draft clause, which they suggested, providing that if the proprietor or manager of a house licensed under the principal Act should offer, or cause to be offered, any gift to any person as an inducement to bring any lunatic to the house, he should be guilty of a misdemeanour. I regret to say that the Bill has not been read a second time in the House of Commons. It is, I believe, a measure urgently demanded, not only in regard to the particular matter now brought under review, but on other and general grounds. Looking at the period of the session, I am afraid the Bill is in peril, and so long as the House of Commons permits its business to be delayed by one or two persons who may have particular objections, so long, I am afraid, will great public evils continue to exist. This is, I think, the third time that the Bill has passed through your Lordships' House, and it has not yet had an opportunity of passing into law. Unless some legislation with regard to this subject is placed on the Statute-book the evil will continue to increase. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord has at all exaggerated the matter. If anything, he has understated it. My own belief is that the evil is much more widespread than is supposed, and the facilities with which sometimes certificates of insanity are signed is one of the things which the Bill 1065 to which I have referred is intended to correct. This is another branch of the system of corruption to which the noble and learned Lord has previously called attention, and I hope most sincerely that the Bill will pass, and that it will be rendered penal both to give and receive money for these purposes. The case to which the noble and learned Lord has drawn attention occurred since the Bethnal Green case, and there is reason to believe that there are many other cases in which the same system prevails. I only regret that for some technical reasons, with which I need not trouble your Lordships, the Public Prosecutor and the learned counsel whom he consulted were of opinion that under the particular circumstances of this case an indictment would not have a chance of being successful. In a case of this sort an unsuccessful indictment is an extremely dangerous thing, and therefore the Public Prosecutor was quite right in not instituting a prosecution. But no such objection could be raised if the clause to which I have referred had been passed into law. I can only say that the noble and learned Lord has done a public service in calling attention to the matter, and I hope it will not be forgotten in the House of Commons when the question of the Lunacy Bill is under debate.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether he can give us any information as to any action taken by the Local Government Board. I read that these officers had not been dismissed. If that is the case, it is a most outrageous proceeding. If it is really the case that an important local body in this city have deliberately condoned an offence of this kind and have continued in office persons who have been guilty of these most abominable practices, then if the Local Government Board possesses any powers to deal with that body and to compel them to do their duty, that power ought to be exercised. If, on the other hand, the Local Government Board cannot compel that body to do its duty, the sooner the law is altered the bettor.
§ *LORD RUSSELL OF KILLOWEN
I should like to correct a misapprehension under which the noble Earl who has just spoken is labouring. I stated that the local authority had no power to dismiss 1066 the officials of their own motion, but that they required the authority and concurrence of the Local Government Board.
§ *LORD RUSSELL OF KILLOWEN
I believe it is the case that a censure was passed on the officials by the local authority. I am not aware that any application was made to the Local Government Board for their dismissal. With reference to what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said, I would remind the House that I have read the language used by the Attorney General a few days ago in the other House upon the very facts which I have mentioned. I do not wish to set up my opinion, not having thoroughly considered the matter, against that of the counsel whom the Public Prosecutor consulted; but, as at present advised, my opinion is that the case comes within the statute known as Lord R. Churchill's Act, and I would suggest that the Lord Chancellor should ask the opinion of the Law Officers on that point.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
Not unnaturally, my mind was more particularly directed to that for which I am responsible, and I have in consequence omitted to state that I have received a communication from the Local Government Board on the subject. It states that the guardians of the parish of St. Pancras have forwarded to the Local Government Board a report in connection with this matter, from which it appears that the guardians have publicly and severely censured the relieving officers and warned them that any recurrence of the offence will result in their immediate suspension from duty. In view of the gravity of the charge, the Board have directed that a careful inquiry shall be held by one of their1 inspectors. The Local Government Board state that the charges in the Bethnal Green case appear to be well founded, but they have not yet given their decision in that case. As it is alleged that similar practices prevail in other parishes, the Local Government Board propose to address a circular letter to boards of guardians on the subject.