HC Deb 17 August 1871 vol 208 cc1765-6

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether he adopts the statement made, with apparent authority and without any limit as to locality, by Earl Granville, in his Despatch of the 11th. June 1870, to Governor Rawson (paper 269, Session 1871, p. 42), that "the principle of religious equality is inconsistent with and opposed to the principle of establishment;" and, if so, which of these two inconsistent principles does he intend to carry out?


Sir, I have not had an opportunity of communicating with my noble Friend on the subject of this Question. Notice of the Question was, I think, only given yesterday, and my noble Friend is at this moment on his way to Balmoral. I think, however, I can give a sufficient answer without any reference to my noble Friend. The phrase "religious equality" admits of different interpretations. You may say that religious equality prevails conditionally or unconditionally. In a country where there is an Established Church it cannot be said that absolute and abstract religious equality prevails. Notwithstanding that, it can and may be said that a substantial and practical religious equality, at any rate, to a very great extent prevails. Now, I see plainly that when my noble Friend wrote this Despatch he spoke of the principle of religious equality as applicable to the colonies, where really the principle of an Establishment has never had anything but a very partial and shadowy existence. Moreover, he had before him the great example set by the party to which the hon. and learned Member belongs in the case of the Island of Jamaica. In that case the principle of religious equality had been laid down in the most stringent manner in which it is capable of application. That became, I may say, the model case to which the policy of other colonies, and especially of the West Indian colonies, was to conform, and, therefore, adverting to the mode in which it was understood that the principle of religious equality had been applied to Jamaica, my noble Friend said that "the principle of religious equality is inconsistent with and opposed to the principle of establishment." That has nothing whatever to do with the principle of religious equality as it subsists and is understood at home. If, therefore, the hon. and learned Member wishes to know whether we adhere to the terms used by the Foreign Minister for colonial purposes, I say we do adhere to them. If he wishes to know what principle I, for one, and, I believe I may speak for my Colleagues, intend to act upon with regard to this country, I say that those principles may be gathered from the speeches which we have had an opportunity of delivering in the present Session on the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster).