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Lunacy (Visiting Committees)

Volume 155: debated on Wednesday 21 June 1922

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I beg to move,

"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable local authorities to co-opt members of visiting committees, and to provide for the appointment of women as members of visiting committees."
I apologise to the House for detaining it a short time, but my object in asking leave to introduce this Bill is so simple that I hope when the House has heard what little the Bill proposes it will at once assist in getting it placed on the Statute Book. The object of the Bill is to enable County Councils and other local authorities to co-opt a certain number of persons from outside their bodies to serve on Asylum Visiting Committees. As the law stands at present, public bodies such as county councils can co-opt certain outside persons to serve on education and other committees, and guardians can co-opt a certain number of persons to serve on their boards. But this does not apply to lunatic asylums in the counties of the country. There are no fewer than 50 per cent. of the county councils which have no women members, and in less than 50 per cent. no woman has been appointed on the Asylum Visiting Committees. When we consider that the majority of the unfortunate inmates of these asylums are women, it certainly seems to me—and I think it will so appeal to the House—it is to be regretted that not a single woman should be serving on the committees in so many cases. It is quite true there is a provision in the Act of 1913 which enables local authorities to appoint women, but this is conditional on them appointing their visiting committees to asylums as committees to deal with the care of the mentally defective. Anyone who has had experience, as I have, of the work of local authorities knows that councils very often rather object to reconstructing the whole of their committee for the purpose, perhaps, of enabling some women to be appointed. That is my only object in bringing forward this Bill.

May I, in conclusion, point out one thing which I think will weigh with the House? A great number of these unfortunate women have to be taken to these asylums, far away from their homes. Their relatives, very often, are not rich people, and cannot visit them very often. It is hard enough, in these circumstances, to place them in asylums that are far away, but I venture to think that many a man, who has to put his wife or his daughter in one of these asylums, would feel a considerable amount of relief in his mind if be thought that, at any rate, there were a few ladies on that visiting committee, instead of its being a committee consisting only of men.

Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable local authorities to co-opt members of visiting committees, and to provide for the appointment of women as members of visiting committees," put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Robert Newman, Mrs. Wintringham, Lieut.-Colonel Hurst, and Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle.