HC Deb 13 June 1845 vol 81 cc501-5
Sir Henry Winston Barron

brought forward the Motion of which he had given notice, for calling the attention of Her Majesty's Government, on the Order of the Day being read for going into Committee of Supply, to the neglected state of the Irish fisheries. He said he thought he could show that the Board of Works in Ireland were not doing their duty—that they had grossly violated the Act of Parliament, in not fulfilling the duties entrusted to them by the Legislature, with reference to the fisheries in Ireland. The proper management and encouragement of the fisheries was a subject of most vital importance to a large class of the people of Ireland. The present Act was in force for three years; and yet within that period, out of 160 or 170 rivers, in which the Board of Works were to fix the boundaries between the fresh water and salt water, they had only arranged these bounds in fifteen rivers, eight of which were in the county of Kerry. In the next place, he had to complain that they had not complied with the provision of the Act, which required them to lay Reports before that House within three weeks of the meeting of Parliament in each year. Instead of doing so, their first Report in 1843 was not laid on the Table of the House until May; their second Report, in 1844, not until July; and their third Report, for the present year, had been only made within the last fortnight, and had been only five days in the hands of Members. The third complaint which he had to make of the Board was, that when a number of gentlemen interested in the success of the Irish fisheries wished the Board to convene a meeting in Dublin last winter, as they were required to do by the Act, the Commissioners refused, but said they would take any written statement which might be sent to them into their consideration. Such a document was accordingly prepared; but no further notice appeared to have been taken of it. The next omission of which he complained was, that they had not made such statistical Returns as should appear practical to them, as the Act required. But, in their second Report, instead of doing so, they stated that they construed the word practical to mean convenient. Why, he would ask, if such were the case, and if they did not find it suit their convenience, did they not tell the Government so, and divest themselves of the responsibility of carrying the Act into effect? The officers commanding the coast guards in Ireland were required to register all the boats employed in the fisheries within their respective districts. These officers sent in twenty-eight Reports; every one of which testified to the industrious and peaceable habits of the people employed in the fisheries, and to the fact that owing to the want of piers along the coast, the large boats necessary for the deep-sea fishery could not be used in many places. He trusted the Government would take this subject into prompt consideration. They voted 14,000l. a year for the improvement of the fisheries in Scotland, besides 3,000l. a year for building piers, and improving harbours in that country; and yet in Ireland, where such assistance was so much more wanted, they had not given a single farthing within the last three years for building piers. On the 26th of July, 1843, Lord Glenelg brought forward a Motion on this subject in the House of Lords; and on that occasion he expressed his regret that so valuable a Bill should be allowed to remain a dead letter on the Statute Book; and Lord Carbery, on the same occasion, stated that the Commissioners in Dublin gave a very cold reception to gentlemen who were anxious to advance the interests of the poor fishermen. The Duke of Wellington stated at the time that he would take care that the attention of the Government, in the proper quarter, should be directed to the subject; but he was sorry that promise had not been carried out. He considered these Commissioners were bound to ascertain the rights of the public, as well as of private individuals, so as to have them properly defined. He complained, that in his part of Ireland, the salmon breeding were destroyed by thousands and hundreds of thousands every year. The Commissioners had no excuse on this point; for they had ample power, and could ensure the assistance of the coast guard and the police. He conceived, that it was also the duty of the Commissioners to diffuse information on the coast of Armagh and Kerry, amongst the fishermen, as to the nature of the fisheries. Nothing of this kind had been done. The truth was, that nearly all the mischiefs which existed, with respect to the fisheries, had arisen from their neglecting the provisions of the Act of Parliament. This was not a mere private right to be enforced by private individuals; but there were public fisheries which this Board was constituted to preserve. Again, the Commissioners admitted that the greatest destruction had taken place in several of the oyster fisheries; for instance, at Carlingford, and other places. It was said, that this deterioration of the oyster fisheries had been occasioned by the neglect of the Acts of Parliament. Now, these Commissioners were the only persons authorized to carry out the provisions of the Act. Now, he would suggest as a remedy, that instead of the present Board, to which such extensive duties were entrusted, that there should be a smaller Board, whose attention should be devoted entirely to the fisheries. He would also suggest the formation of local boards; at the head of each should be a paid officer; but that the other members should not be paid. He would also recommend that local inspectors should be appointed, to see the Act enforced under these boards. He also would recommend that steps should be taken to encourage the building of large boats, as the Irish fisheries were at about fifty or sixty miles from the coast; and, above all, he would recommend that small harbours and piers should be erected along the coast, and that the provisions of the Fisheries Act of last year should be carried out. The Irish fisheries were a most important nursery for seamen, and during the last war sent not less than 10,000 seamen to our Navy. The promotion also of the Irish fisheries would tend materially to ameliorate the condition of the poorer class of the people. He trusted that the Government would take up the subject.

Sir T. Fremantle

did not complain of the observations of the hon. Gentleman. On the contrary, he agreed with many of them, and shared his desire to encourage the fisheries of Ireland. He was not well acquainted with the details of this subject. Most of the correspondence connected with it had taken place before his period of office. He thought, however, that the hon. Baronet had been too severe in his animadversions upon the Commissioners. The Act under which they had acted had been improved last year, and very judicious powers were now entrusted to them. It ought, however, to be borne in mind that the full operation of the Fishery Act did not rest with the Government, or with the officers of the Government. Much must depend upon the energy and enterprise of the individuals themselves. The hon. Baronet had stated that the Commissioners had been guilty of seventeen violations of the Act of Parliament; and, though he had not made up his number, he had brought forward many objections to their conduct. With regard to the first, the hon. Baronet was mistaken in saying that the Commissioners had not defined the bounds of the rivers. It was true that the Commissioners had not regularly placed before Parliament their Returns; and, though there was a natural desire by all public Boards to render their Returns as perfect as possible, which caused delay, this was an evil which he (Sir T. Fremantle) would do his best endeavours to remedy. The statement made by the hon. Baronet as to the declining state of these fisheries was somewhat exaggerated. In 1844, the number of vessels engaged in the fisheries of the first class had been 1,887; and in 1845, they had amounted to 2,237; while of the second class the vessels engaged in 1844 had been 14,048; and in 1845, they had reached 15,718. The hon. Baronet had made several suggestions which were worthy of consideration; but the worst of all these suggestions was, that they required a considerable outlay from the Consolidated Fund. They would, however, receive the best attention of the Government. The only difference between the hon. Baronet and himself was, whether the Commissioners were going on fast enough. It was difficult exactly to decide this question; but he could assure the House and the hon. Baronet, that there was every desire on the part of the Government to encourage the fisheries of Ireland.

Mr. Sheil

thought that great credit was due to his hon. Friend for having directed public attention to another mode of improving the condition of Ireland. He admitted that Sir John Burgoyne was a most meritorious public officer; but he had so many matters to attend to in the various public departments with which he was connected, that it was impossible that he could attend to them all. He most strongly recommended the building of piers as being most essential to the well-being of the fisheries. He could not conceive that any serious objections existed to the loan system, although many existed against the bounty system.

Mr. Wyse

could bear testimony to many of the observations of his hon. Colleague as to the inefficiency of the Board of Public Works with respect to the public fisheries. He thought that a separate Board should be formed to attend solely to the fisheries. He was sorry that the recent Act had not been carried so extensively as it ought to have been into operation: he hoped that did not arise from any lukewarmness on the part of the Government. He entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend as to the advantage of the loan system, in contradistinction to a bounty system. He believed that such a system would be productive of the greatest good to a large class of persons.

Viscount Bernard

agreed with the right hon. Member for Dungarvon that it would be productive of great good if the Government would extend the loan system to the fishermen in Ireland, so as to enable them to build larger boats.

Subject at an end.

Sir C. Napier

having risen to bring forward the subject of the defences of the naval forts and arsenals,

Mr. Speaker

said, the hon. Member had lost his opportunity, having already spoken.

Lord J. Russell

thought it would be very hard if his hon. and gallant Friend should be precluded from addressing the House because he replied to an observation of the gallant Admiral opposite on a different subject. He should move, if necessary, that the other Orders of the Day be read, and then his hon. and gallant Friend would be in order; but he hoped his hon. and gallant Friend would be allowed to address the House.