HL Deb 24 July 1958 vol 211 cc175-80

3.24 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in Command from Her Majesty The Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty places Her prerogative and interest, so far as concern the matters dealt with by the State of Singapore Bill, at the disposal of Parliament.

This Bill is an enabling Bill; that is to say it gives Parliamentary sanction to an Order in Council to provide for the establishment of the State of Singapore and for the peace, order and good government thereof. Before touching on these matters it is the custom—and I think a very good custom—to go back into history and briefly survey progress since the time when the territory became a British responsibility.

For Singapore we have to go back 140 years. To be precise, on February 6, 1819, Raffles, who was then Lieutenant Governor of Bencoolen, in Sumatra, signed a treaty with the Sultan of Johore Lingga and with the Malay Governor of the island, which provided for the building of a British factory in Singapore. At the time it was a petty fishing village, its early history as a strong fort and city in the 13th and 14th centuries having given place to complete decay. Wa Hakim, a fifteen-year old Malay who saw Raffles land on Singapore Island, wrote later: At the time when Tuan Raffles came here there were under 100 small houses and huts at the mouth of the river. The population at that time of a mere 150 became 10,000 within five years. By the end of the century it was 200,000; now it is over 1½ million—Singapore is about the size of the Isle of Wight. Of the people of Singapore, the great majority, about 85 per cent., are of the Chinese race.

The reason for the astonishing growth of Singapore lies in the fact that it is a free port, strategically placed to serve the Far East. The proof of this is the volume of trade to-day, which is nearly 6,000 million Straits dollars or, in sterling,£700 million. Of course, Singapore owes a great debt to its industrious and skilful citizens. Of its individuals, apart from Raffles, who laid its foundations so brilliantly and so imaginatively, whether for town planning or education or good government. I would mention only Mr. Ridley. Many of your Lordships will remember that he fathered the rubber industry which has revolutionised the world, a revolution which he lived to see, for he died, aged 101, only two years ago. The Straits Settlements, of which Singapore was a part, became a Crown Colony ninety years ago. After the First World War Singapore became a first-class naval base. Since then there has been its conquest by the Japanese, and its liberation in 1945. These things are too well remembered to need mention in detail now. But I would remark how brave and loyal were many of its citizens during the occupation and how fabulous has been its reconstruction and development since then.

So much for the "bare bones" of Singapore's history. Let me now turn to the constitutional side, with which we are to-day particularly concerned. In 1946, on its detachment from the Straits Settlements, Singapore became a separate Colony and a Constitution was granted which introduced elected members into the Legislative Council and a few years later, into the Executive Council. In 1953 a mission was sent out, under Sir George Rendel, to advise on further constitutional development. The sequel in 1955 was a Legislative Assembly larger than in earlier Constitutions, which was in greater part elected by universal adult suffrage. There was a Council of Ministers, of which the majority were drawn from elected members of the Legislative Assembly, one being the Chief Minister.

Broadly speaking, the democratic form of this Constitution is not to be changed under the proposed new Constitution, except in the important respect that the powers of the Singapore Government will be greater, and those of the United Kingdom less. Singapore will be responsible for all internal matters, and the United Kingdom for defence and foreign affairs, though even here it may delegate some of its powers. In taking on this responsibility the Singapore Government has willingly worked out with us several important steps to ensure peace, order and good government. The Judiciary and the Public Service are to be independent, and that will be stated in the Constitution. It is clearly of great importance that expatriate officers are encouraged to stay until Malayanisation is possible. A plan has been worked out to compensate them for loss of career at that time. This plan has been made effective in the Retirement from the Public Service (Compensation) Ordinance, 1956, which, together with the Public Service Commission Ordinance of the same year, came into effect on January 1, 1957. In order to ensure that these assurances are binding on future Singapore Governments, those concerned have readily agreed to their being enshrined in the Constitution Order in Council.

I have talked about those concerned, and of course I have particularly in mind the delegations led by my friend, Mr. Lim Yew Hock, last year and this. I should like here to pay my tribute to him and to all the other members, whether of their Government or of their Opposition. I have had the happy experience of taking part in constitutional talks with these delegates, and while, naturally, there has been some straight talking, questioning and worrying-out of answers to difficult mutual problems, the meetings were always constructive and were based on trust. Those words, "based on trust", hold the key to what is by far the most important issue which these conferences had to face and to settle. That is, how best to reconcile the wish of the people of Singapore to have self government with the essential need of Her Majesty's Government to retain adequate rights to ensure the defence of Singapore and have the use of it as a base in troublesome times.

The solution which was threshed out is along the following lines. Singapore is to have virtual self-government in home affairs, including internal security, while Her Majesty's Government will control defence and foreign affairs. Clearly, in these two fields there may be quite a measure of overlap, and in recognition of this inter-relationship between internal security and defence and external affairs an Internal Security Council is to be set up. Its composition will be equal numbers for Singapore and the United Kingdom and one member of the Federation of Malaya. This Council will be able, if need arise—though I hope, and expect, that this will be very rare—to settle by majority vote decisions on internal security matters; and those will be binding on the Singapore Government. It may well be that there will be honest differences of opinion between ourselves and Singapore as to whether a particular question is defence (or external affairs) or an internal matter, and if such should arise the Internal Security Council will have the competence to decide where the matter lies.

The rôle of the Federation of Malaya in this Council is clearly a most responsible one, and we and Singapore are under a very real obligation to the Federation, and particularly to the Government of Tunku Abdul Rahman, for helping us to an agreement on what is a central feature of the new Constitution. But again I would stress that the solution is based on trust and on the belief that the democratic way of life is best, and that we and the citizens of Singapore share and will continue to share this belief. On our part it has needed some pretty severe heart-searching to reach this conclusion. The majority of the citizens of Singapore are, as I have said Chinese, and naturally some of them still feel the attraction of China. But we believe in these citizens and we believe that giving them liberty to tackle on their own, their own affairs is the best way to ensure that they will act responsibly and fairly and will succeed in defending their way of life against the Communist threat.

To all this we have made only one qualification on which I must now touch, as it is the only issue on which we and Singapore have differed. Her Majesty's Government have insisted that persons in detention known to have engaged in subversive activity shall not be eligible I to stand for election to the first Legislative Assembly under the new Constitution. We are determined that the new Constitution shall get off to a fair start and not be jeopardised by the interference of those who we know have in their mind the overthrow of the Constitution and the way of life of free peoples.

Before leaving the field of Constitution I should perhaps also mention that it always remains open to Her Majesty's Government to suspend the Constitution, but this is a last resort not easily to be contemplated, for it would be a confession of failure to work together and the failure of our trust. I confidently hope, as I am sure we all do, that this failure will not occur. So much for the Constitution.

There are just two further matters which I should mention. One of these is citizenship. The people of Singapore are to have their own Commonwealth citizenship. The other point is the change of name to the State of Singapore. This change shows to all the world that Singapore is far on the road to self-government. And should there come a day when she and her close neighbour, the Federation of Malaya, wish to join together in one nation, that is a step which we would gladly consider.

The Bill itself is necessary as it involves the surrender of some of the powers at present conferred on Her Majesty by Act of Parliament, and the amendment of other Acts of Parliament. It has only one main clause, in which there are four subsections. Subsection (1) enables Her Majesty to set up a new Constitution—whose main features I have outlined—by Order in Council, and provides that Singapore shall become the State of Singapore. Furthermore Singapore citizens shall be recognised as British subjects and Commonwealth citizens. Subsection (2) provides for the surrender of Her Majesty's powers to make Orders in Council under certain existing Acts. Subsection (3) lays down that the Order in Council for the Constitution may be revoked or amended only as detailed in the Constitution. Subsection (4) enables consequential and transitional provisions to be made by Order in Council.

So we come to Clause 2 and the Short Title of the Act "The State of Singapore Act, 1958". But I prefer, my Lords, the Long Title which is to "Provide for the Establishment of the State of Singa- pore and for the peace, order and good government thereof ". My belief and hope is that what has been worked out will help achieve just this purpose. I am encouraged in believing this by what I have seen of Singapore and its people, and I know I echo all your wishes in wishing them well. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Perth.)

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