HL Deb 12 May 1882 vol 269 cc548-53

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the proceedings of the Legislative Council of Singapore on the 16th of February in opposition to the proposed disendowment of the Church of England in the Straits Settlements, and to move for Copies of the despatch of the Governor of the Straits Settlements in reply to the Secretary of State's despatch of 30th September 1881, and of the Secretary of State's reply thereto, said: My Lords, on the 16th of February last the Legislative Council of Singapore met to consider a despatch of the Secretary of State, recommending the disendowment of the Church of England in the Straits Settlements. The Council consisted of the Governor and six officials and six unofficial Members. The discussion was commenced by Mr. Shelford, who said that 'he wished to ascertain upon what grounds the Secretary of State, unsolicited, seeks to apply to this Colony a principle that obtains elsewhere.' He objected at some length to the proposed change, and said that the decision of the Secretary of State appeared to have been taken without a knowledge of, or at any rate regardless of, surrounding circumstances. Mr. Currie spoke next as a Dissenter, and objected to the proposed change, the immediate effect of which, he said, would be to curtail the revenues of the churches dependent upon voluntary contributions. Mr. Graham followed with regrets that the existing religious harmony would be interrupted by this introduction of Church and State strife. The Acting Colonial Engineer said that it was with feelings of much sorrow and regret that he had perused the Secretary of State's despatch. Mr. Sandilands, a Presbyterian, opposed the proposed change, which, he said, they had not wished for, and which he thought would be a very great blow and hardship. Mr. Bond then said that, though he was not now a member of the Church which it was proposed to disestablish, he should vote against the proposal, and he failed to see any good ground in the Secretary of State's despatch urged for disestablishment, either in Ceylon or in the Straits. The Chief Justice next spoke at length against the proposal, and looked with great mistrust at the misplaced economy of the Colonial Office in the matter of the small payment of 12,000 dollars to the Church. Mr. Bishop next opposed the proposed disendowment; from what was said by another speaker, he also appears not to belong to the Church of England. The Colonial Secretary said that, 'as a Member of the Executive Government, he had great doubts whether it was open to him to criticize, as he wished to do, the despatch upon the table; but he could not conceive that temperate remarks of a Member of the Government would be misplaced on a subject of this kind. He believed that in depriving the Church of England of State aid a great harm would be done to the Service to which he belonged.' Last of all, the Governor, who is a Roman Catholic, stated that he had not been consulted by the Secretary of State on the question of disendowment, and said that when he was Prime Minister of New Zealand, the organization of the Church of England was settled by a Bill to which he gave great attention, and which met with the special approbation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In a case like this, he said, oven if 'levelling up' be set aside, he would not disendow. He con- cluded by saying 'he had much pleasure in acceding to the Motion for Correspondence.' Thus it appears that the Secretary of State's proposal of disendowment was unanimously repudiated by the Legislative Council of Singapore, and that it was objected to by four Nonconformists and by the Catholic Governor. It further appears, from the Singapore debate, that the Secretary of State did not consult, nor even sound, the Colony upon this matter, and that he gave the Colony no reason for his decision. I trust, therefore, that as the noble Earl's despatch to the Governor of the Straits Settlements does not contain the reasons which induced him to make his proposal, the noble Earl will now give your Lordships some information as to his reasons. It might have been supposed that the reception which his proposal of disendowment met with last year in your Lordship's House would have discouraged him from renewing such an attempt this year in another Colony. I am confident that disendowment was not pressed upon the Secretary of State by the Permanent Staff of the Colonial Office; and I am equally confident that the noble Earl is the last person to have recommended such a measure merely on account of a pedantic infatuation for symmetry, and the desire to model all the Colonies on a uniform pattern, notwithstanding that the noble Earl's despatch of September 30 does mention incidentally that the principle of disendowment has been adopted in other Colonies. From Paragraphs 5 and 6 of the despatch of the Secretary of State it might be inferred that he considered it an injustice that $12,000 should be allotted out of taxation to the Church of a minority of the total population; but, in the first place, arithmetical justice is not considered in this country in the matter of appropriating the proceeds of taxation. Highway rates are paid for roads used by those who do not contribute to their maintenance; heavy education rates are paid for teaching Latin and Algebra under pretence of teaching the "three R's." And this argument loses sight of the fact that the great bulk of the 300,000 of Asiatic population flocked to the Straits Settlements after that Colony was founded, and the appropriation to the Church made. Unless the State is to be made to appear as unbelieving and careless as to religion—a state of thing which is abhorrent to the Asiatic mind—some such appropriation must be made, and it is most natural and fitting that it should be made to the State Church. Several of the speakers in the Singapore Legislative Council had said that the proposed measure would be disapproved of and misinterpreted by the Natives. Last year I spoke of the opinions of the Mussulmans and Buddhists on this subject, with reference to Ceylon. I have lately read in a Hindu newspaper expressions favourable to the Missionaries in India, on the ground that they keep a check upon the Civil Service and Europeans, by keeping up the tone of public morality. If the Governor had not stated that he had not been consulted on this question, I could not have believed that the Secretary of State would have rushed into this unwelcome proposal without having previously ascertained the facts and the ground he stood upon. The only plausible explanation that remains is that the Secretary of State for the Colonies has wished to imitate the Prime Minister, and has trimmed his sails to the wind that blows from Northampton, and that he has mistaken that wind for a steady trade wind, whereas it is only an irregular and transitory gust, such as that which sank the Eurydice, and which will assuredly cause the Government ship to founder if they set their sails for it.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for copies of the despatch of the Governor of the Straits Settlements in reply to the Secretary of State's despatch of 30th September 1881, and of the Secretary of State's reply thereto."—(The Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


, in reply, said, that he was very glad of the opportunity which the noble Lord had afforded him of stating the course he had pursued, and which was a very plain and straightforward one, and one that he did not think would sink the ship, as the noble Lord seemed to fear. His noble Friend had been a little hard upon him in regard to this matter, and he thought he could not have read the despatch he sent out on the subject, acting upon the information which he had received. What he had stated was as follows:— It appears, as far as is shown by the information before me in the Blue Book for 1879, that out of a population of 308,097 there are only 1,730 Europeans, excluding Americans, and 5,772 Eurasians, the rest being Malays, Chinese, Hindoos, Klings, and people of other Eastern races, and that the number of persons generally attending Christian services were—Church of England, 749; Roman Catholics, 6,683; Armenians, from 30 to 50; and miscellaneous, from 190 to 320. The total amount of the grant was about $12,700; and on general principles he thought that where the Church of England population bore so very small a proportion to the general population it was only natural to expect that they should provide necessary funds for maintaining public worship by voluntary contributions. In those parts of the Colonial Empire where that plan had been adopted the result had generally been to strengthen that Church and to infuse greater energy into it. In the case of Singapore, however, the Members of the Legislative Council of all denominations had concurred in expressing a desire that the annual grant for the endowment of the Church of England at that place should be continued, and he had much pleasure in stating that that desire would be carried into effect. The policy of disendowment and disestablishment of the Church of England in our Colonies had not been initiated by himself. His noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Carnarvon), who was the last person to take any course unfavourable to the Church of England, was, by force of circumstances, the first Secretary of State to take a step of that kind, and the case with which his noble Friend dealt had reference to the West India Colonies. The Papers asked for would be laid upon the Table of the House.


said, he thought that the noble Earl who had just sat down had exercised a wise discretion in not adhering, for the sake of consistency, to the terms of his original despatch. He wished to explain that, so far from having voluntarily initiated the policy of disestablishing and disendowing the Church of England in our Colonies, the measure he had brought forward some 12 or 14 years ago on the subject had been forced upon him by the circumstances of the time. He should like to bear his testimony to the manly and straightforward manner in which this subject had been discussed by all Parties in the Legislative Council. There were two sets of circumstances in which it was most undesirable that a policy of disendowment and disestablishment should be carried into effect—the first was where there was a strong feeling in the Colony against the adoption of such a policy; and the second was where a small White population was surrounded by a large Native population, in which latter case carrying out such a policy might lead to much misunderstanding and misapprehension.


remarked, that, although it was satisfactory to know that the feeling of the inhabitants of the Straits Settlements had been consulted in this instance, it was desirable that these things should be done on some recognized principle and by some recognized authority.


replied, that it was impossible to lay down a rule in such cases, as the various Colonies of the Crown differed in their constitutions. Matters of that kind had to be settled according to the circumstances of the Colony concerned.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.