HL Deb 09 July 1883 vol 281 cc725-9

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, "Whether he will accede to the petition of the inhabitants of Hong Kong praying for the retention of the grant for the maintenance of the public worship of the Church of England? The noble Lord said, that a Petition had been presented to the Governor of Hong Kong, on the 24th of March last, by Mr. Johnson, a Member of the Council. In presenting it, he said that it was numerously signed by the inhabitants of Hong Kong, of all classes and creeds, against the proposal made by the Secretary of State to abrogate the grant for the maintenance of the public service of the Church of England. If it had not been more numerously signed by the Chinese, it was not because signatures were not to be obtained, but because it was deemed unnecessary, in the presence of the statement which was made by the Governor's Predecessor, in a despatch to the Secretary of State, that the Chinese were almost unanimous in favour of the maintenance of the grant. Mr. Johnson went on to support the Petition individually, and because he thought the grant should be continued in the interests of the public, and that its abrogation would be a breach of virtual contract made with the members of the Civil Service. If the Chinese wished for the maintenance of the grant, it must be for one of these three reasons. They did so, perhaps, out of gratitude to the late Governor, Sir John Pope Hennessy, who had treated their community with liberality; or else they might think the grant was so insignificant in amount that it was not worth while to cavil at it. This was likely enough, as the last mail announced that receipts at Hong Kong had exceeded the estimates by $102,000. There was another reason, as to which he (Lord Stanley of Alderley) had consulted the Chinese Embassy; and he had been informed there that, without knowing any of the facts of the case or the particular circumstances, it was thought highly probable that the Chinese had, as stated by the late Governor, been in favour of the grant, because the precepts of Confucius enjoined on them harmony towards their English fellow-citizens. In conclusion, he thought that many of Her Majesty's subjects would rejoice if Her Majesty's Ministers would give more attention to those grave injustices, respecting which serious complaint was so often ineffectually made, instead of disturbing existing arrangements for the purpose of remedying ideal, imaginary, and impalpable injustices of which no one had complained.


, in supporting the prayer of the Petition, said, that if a grant of this nature, so small in itself, were withdrawn, it must be either for some reason of Imperial policy, or on account of pressure from Hong Kong. It could scarcely be on a ground of Imperial policy, because the withdrawal was in contradiction to that policy as adopted in other places; and from Hong Kong there had not only been no pressure in favour of the withdrawal, but there had been pressure in the opposite direction. Moreover, there had been a representation made in favour of the grant being continued by Sir John Pope Hennessy, who was himself a Roman Catholic, by Mr. Johnson, and by various Civil Servants as an act of justice. The Chinese also approved it. It did not appear to him to be wise, when they found small communities of Englishmen surrounded by Native populations, to withdraw from them the means of celebrating public worship. The amount of the grant was small, but it carried with it the recognition of Christianity, to the frank profession of which politicians were ready to admit that the greatness of England was largely due. In the case of Singapore, when a similar proposal was made for withdrawing the grant, the Colonial Office was quite willing to be approached, and to continue the grant for the reasons he had alleged. He hoped that, on the present occasion also, the Colonial Office would see fit to reconsider the withdrawal of so small a grant, which involved so large an issue, and might come to the determination that it should not be taken away. In such a community as Hong Kong, it was not desirable to withdraw, in the name of the British Government, the means for supplying public Christian worship.


said, he had received, some weeks ago, the Memorial to which the most rev. Prelate (the Archbishop of Canterbury) had alluded, and had considered it with all due deference, coming, as it did, from a very considerable number of respectable persons. But he had come to the conclusion that he could not adopt a different course to that which was taken by his noble Friend and Predecessor (the Earl of Kimberley) two years ago. The facts of the case were very simple. In round numbers, the population of Hong Kong was 160,000, of which 8,000 were Europeans, and of these not all were mem- bers of the Church of England; the remaining 152,000 consisting of Natives, who were almost entirely non-Christian. That was to say, the Natives stood to the Europeans in the proportion of 19 to one; and, under such circumstances, it did seem to him not to be consistent with justice to throw the burden of maintaining the worship of the Established Church of England upon those who did not even profess the Christian religion. We did not give anything towards the worship of the Native population, and he could not see that it was consistent with justice to call upon them to maintain ours. He saw no reason why it should not maintain itself. He had no means of stating the numbers of the various Christian Denominations; but, whatever the numbers were, the argument was the same. If those who belonged to the Church of England were numerous, they were able to pay for their own worship; if they were few, that was a reason the more for not giving them an exceptional position. The European community was well-to-do, and some of its members were extremely wealthy. The real argument of the Memorialists was that it would throw disgrace upon the Christian religion, in the eyes of the Natives, were the State to withdraw its aid to religion. That was an argument in which he did not agree. He did not think they would make religion more popular amongst the Natives by compelling them to maintain a religion in which they did not believe, whether they would or not. He thought the question was mainly a financial one, and that the way the members of the Church of England in Hong Kong could best do credit to their mode of worship, and show their attachment to their Church, was by showing their willingness to maintain it by paying the expense of providing public worship out of their own pockets. He might add that the withdrawal of the grant would not take place until a vacancy occurred in the chaplaincy; but he could not hold out any prospect that the Government would reverse the decision already arrived at on the question.


said, he thought the answer of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Derby) most unsatisfactory. It seemed as if this were the first step in disestablishment and disendowment of the Church, though it took place in a remote quarter of the globe. It would be felt that the Government of the country repudiating the Church would have a very prejudicial effect upon our position in the East.