HL Deb 12 June 1854 vol 133 cc1354-6

in presenting a petition from merchants, traders, and other residents at Singapore, in the Straits of Malacca, praying that a resident professional Judge be appointed to that settlement, and that certain other ameliorations in the administration of justice be introduced, said, that the principal prayer of the petitioners was for the appointment of a resident professional Judge, instead of one whose services were divided, as at the present moment, between three settlements, one of which was 400 miles distant from the others. The present population of the three settlements of Singapore, Malacca, and Prince of Wales' Island was a quarter of a million, and their import trade amounted to about 4,500,000l., which was within one-fourth part of the import trade of Bombay. Since 1827 the population had increased as much as 125 per cent, and the increase which had taken place in trade was still greater. He knew that Indian subjects were generally unpalatable in that House, but Singapore had some claim upon their Lordships' consideration, because it afforded the earliest instance of the operation of free trade. Only thirty-five years ago the population of Singapore consisted of a handful of Malay fishermen, who also engaged in piracy whenever they considered that piracy could be committed with safety. Singapore now contained a thriving population of 70,000, and its import trade amounted to upwards of 3,250,000l. But while this increase had taken place in the trade and population, the arrangements of the judicial establishment not only remained the same as it was in 1827, but the same as it was in 1807, when there was but one settlement. The judicial establishment of the settlements consisted of a recorder, who was an English barrister, and two lay Judges. There was also a Governor, and each of the three settlements had a Lieutenant Governor belonging to it under the title of a "resident councillor." The two lay Judges—being, in fact, the executive— had ample business to attend to independent of their business as Judges, and, having had no legal training, were entirely incompetent to perform the high judicial duties, civil and criminal, that were required of them; and accordingly, it was said that when the recorder went on circuit to one of the stations there was a suspension for several months of all judicial business at the other stations. Bombay possessed a Chief Justice at a salary of 6,000l. a year, and two Puisne Judges at 5,000l. a year, with retiring pensions, and Madras had very much the same establishment, while the foreign imports of Madras were a fifth part less than those of the three settlements. Hong Kong also possessed a resident professional Judge, although its population was not one-seventh part that of the settlements. It might be said that these settlements would not bear the cost of an increased judicial establishment; but if this were a good argument, what would become of Bombay, the income of which was not sufficient to meet its expenditure? But, in fact, the argument with regard to revenue would not apply to Singapore, which did produce sufficient to pay its own expenses. The taxes, which were easily levied, produced 55,000l. a year, which was amply sufficient to cover all the charges, civil and military, of the settlement. But Singapore did more than pay its own expenditure, for it was charged in common with the other settlements, with the expenses of the convicts of the continent of British India, the share paid by Singapore amounting to 6,315l. What business had we to call upon Singapore to contribute to such a charge as that? It was just as if the convicts of England were inflicted upon Australia, and that country was also charged with their maintenance—and we knew that Australia had refused to receive the convicts of this country, even if an allowance were made for their maintenance. There was another burden placed upon the settlements to which he wished to allude, and that was the charge, amounting to 3,186l., of a steam-ship of war. It was said to be of use in contributing towards the suppression of piracy; but here again arose the question, what business had we to charge the settlements with the cost of the suppression of piracy in which England, the whole of India, and all commercial countries, were concerned? The charge might be placed with just as much justice upon one of the Ionian Islands. But they de- creased the efficiency of the judicial establishment by sending one Judge upon a circuit of 3,200 miles every year, when the hire of the vessel in which he was sent would pay the salary of a resident Judge. Having pointed out the grievances of which the petitioners complained, he would now briefly point out the remedy that had been proposed, which was not his own, but had been suggested by Mr. Crawfurd, the former Governor of Singapore, a gentleman who was in every way competent to offer advice on the subject. He proposed that two Judges should be appointed, one for Singapore and Malacca, at 4,500l. a year, and another for Penang, at 3,500l. a year. To meet this expenditure, he proposed to do away with the charge for the Indian convicts, and with the expense of the Governor's salary and establishment, for he said, what must be obvious to any one who recollected the position of the three settlements, that the three settlements were so far apart that there was no use of him. He also proposed that the expense of the steam-vessel should be done away with. This would leave for Singapore alone a sum of upwards of 10,000l., and, taking the three settlements together, more than 22,000l. There was a deficit in the revenue of Penang; but by this proposition it would be reduced to about 11,000l., and there would remain besides sufficient for a resident professional Judge, leaving a broad margin for a retiring pension. He did not make any charge against the present Government on account of this system, which had been in existence for several years, and, now that we had a reformed Administration, he was sure the matter might be safely left in their hands, and that they would endeavour to remedy the evils of which the petitioners complained.


said, the matter had only lately been brought under the consideration of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Control. It was rather complicated, and an Act of Parliament might be required to carry out the wishes of the petitioners if it should be found desirable so to do—but the best attention of the Government would be given to the subject.

Petition ordered to lie upon the table.

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