§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, I do not know that I need trouble your Lordships to any great extent in describing the provisions of this Bill because they are fully 138 set out in the Memorandum attached thereto. I think the most important provision is in Clause 1, where the definition of a mentally defective person is altered and extended to include persons affected by injury or disease since birth or early age. As your Lordships are aware, there is a difference between mental deficiency and lunacy. The latter condition, I understand, is caused by a general breakdown of the normal faculties, but in the case of a mentally deficient person there is actually some physical defect in the brain. Naturally, therefore, the majority of these cases occur either at birth or by development at an early stage of the individual's life. There are cases where some injury or disease, particularly the disease known by the name of encephalitis lethargica, produces a condition analogous to innate mental deficiency. Under the existing definition it is impossible to certify these individuals as mental defectives owing to the inclusion of the words "from birth or from an early age." Under this Bill this will be remedied and these persons will be able to be attended to in the proper kind of mental home. There are also certain other amendments made in the original Act of 1913.
I might mention the next most important provision, which occurs in Clause 6. Subsection (1) of this clause provides that a local authority may build a larger institution than it requires for itself and take cases by contract from other local authorities. An institution for from 500 to 1,000 places is more efficient as well as being more economical than a smaller institution and some of the smaller local authorities would themselves not need an institution containing this number of beds. Subsection (2) of this clause contains provisions allowing the local education authority and the mental deficiency authority—both committees of the one Council—to provide a joint institution should they deem that desirable. This clause has the approval of the Board of Education. I do not know that it is necessary to go into other clauses which merely make small administrative changes which have been found desirable. I may add that this Bill has been very thoroughly investigated by a Committee on which all the leading specialists on the subject were represented as well as the medical members of 139 another place, and I understand that it has their entire approval. I hope in those circumstances your Lordships will grant the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.