HC Deb 18 April 1855 vol 137 cc1531-44

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, the object of it was to assimilate the fishery laws of Ireland to those of England. He particularly desired hon. Members to consider that this Bill did not form a necessary part of another Bill which stood for second reading, the Inland Fisheries (Ireland) Bill. They were totally unconnected, and their objects were altogether different. At present there was one law for the east and another for the west coast of the Irish Channel, and this anomaly also applied to different parts of Ireland itself, there being one law for Dublin Bay and another for Galway Bay. He would, therefore, revert to the ancient wisdom of our ancestors, and make the laws on this subject uniform. He considered that this diversity of law produced a very prejudicial effect upon the fishery trade of Ireland. In order that hon. gentlemen from England and Scotland might be made aware of the declining state of the Irish sea-coast fisheries, he would bring to their notice the fact that between 1848 and 1853 the number of fishermen had decreased from 70,000 to 38,000, while the number of boats had fallen from 15,000 to 11,000. Now, the complaints which his Bill proposed to remedy were these. In the first place by the Act of 1842, no one could catch a herring on the coast of Ireland in the daytime, without forfeiture of his net, and rendering himself liable to a fine of 5l. Again, no one could catch herrings in any other than a seine net; so that the poor fishermen upon the coast of Kerry were actually prohibited from attempting to take a single herring, although there might be a shoal of them in sight—unless he did so with what was termed a seine net. Well, he asked the House to repeal both of these prohibitions. Another provision of the existing law was this; that no one could use a trawling net upon the coast of Ireland, unless with the permission of the Fishery Commissioners; although upon the opposite coast of Pembroke, no such restriction existed—or ever had existed from time immemorial. And to show the injurious effect of such an enactment upon the fishing trade of Ireland, he would mention that one-third of the fish brought to Billingsgate Market were caught by trawling nets, by boats belonging to the port of London, the owners of which paid no less than 10,000l. a year for bait. He found, on searching into the question, that the Bill enacting this prohibitory provision was carried through this and the other House of Parliament in 1842 without a single comment; but he now appealed to English and Scotch representatives no longer to tolerate such exceptional legislation for Ireland. For be it observed, all other nations—the French, the Belgian, the Dutch—might come and trawl upon the coast of Ireland, yet the Irish fisherman was prohibited from doing so. Now the course pursued by the Irish Fishery Commissioners themselves supplied an argument in favour of the repeal of this last restriction; for what had they done to revive the almost extinct fisheries of Galway? Why they actually proposed to encourage trawling there; a practice which was stringently prohibited in the opposite bay of Dublin. Another provision of his Bill had reference to trammel nets, which were allowed in England, allowed in Scotland, but restricted in Ireland. The trammel nets were large nets formerly used by the poor fishermen—and were set during the lull of a storm to catch fish. Now, what did the House think was the real objection to the use of these nets? Why, the fear was that salmon might be taken by them. During the year of the famine the Society of Friends furnished the people of Pring on the coast of Ireland with nets to enable them to obtain a livelihood, but trains of those nets were forfeited every year during the famine, because they were not taken out of the water before the sun had risen. The object of the Bill was to give to the people of Ireland the right to fish on their own coasts to the same extent as that right was enjoyed by English fishermen, and by French and Belgians under the Convention Act of 1843. The next object of his Bill was to repeal certain bye-laws enacted by the Fishery Commissioners. The Commissioners ordered that no one should fish with nets at the mouths of bays or estuaries. Now, that regulation amounted in many parts of the coast to an actual prohibition to catch fish at all, for several descriptions of fish—the mullet, for instance, could only be taken in such spots with nets—so the consequence was the fish departing from the shores of Ireland were captured on the coasts of England and Scotland. And if hon. Gentlemen objected to the Bill curtailing the prohibiting powers of the Fishery Commissioners, he would remind them that in England there was no board in any way corresponding to the Fishery Board of Ireland, while in Scotland—where 14,000l. a year was expended by Government for the promotion of the deep-sea fisheries—although a Fishery Board did exist, yet it never attempted to impose restrictions upon the people. The two remaining clauses of the Bill had for their object—the first to revive an old clause of the Act of Charles I., securing to fishermen the right to go on the shores of the sea for drying their nets and bawling fish ashore; the second to re-enact the provision of the Act of George III,, also repealed in 1842; and which enacted that all subjects of the Realm should have perfect liberty, without let or hindrance, to fish upon all the sea coasts of Ireland. That was a provision which he was sure would recommend his measure to the consideration of English and Scottish representatives; and he would sit down earnestly imploring thorn to support him in this attempt to assimilate the fishery laws of the three kingdoms.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, and he thought he would have very little difficulty in proving to English and Scotch representatives in whom the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. M'Mahon) seemed to have much more confidence than in Members from Ireland, that they ought to join in rejecting this measure, as well as the second Bill having reference to the inland fisheries. The two Bills were vitally and essentially connected, and had previously been kept together; but this Session the Bills were separated. Now, the effect of passing this Bill, to say nothing of the subsequent one, would be simply this—that whereas a bye-law at present existed which affected the river Slaney, which was in the county of Wexford, represented by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. M'Mahon)—now up that river a tideway or estuary went for a considerable distance—but by a bye-law passed in 1854, the fishermen on the Slaney were restrained from fishing with seine nets during the close seasons between certain points on the river. Well, the effect would be that that portion of the river would be exposed to the operations of constituents of the hon. and learned Member. Indeed, he might lay it down as a general rule with reference to these Irish Fishery Bills, which were brought in year after year, that if one were made acquainted with the particular restrictions or customs prevailing in the locality represented by the mover, a pretty correct conjecture might be formed as to what would be the main clauses and principal points of any Bill. He believed no one would be disposed to deny that the salmon fisheries of Ireland were beginning to flourish, and that the code of laws framed to regulate the Irish fisheries were at last working most beneficial effects. From every locality in Ireland testimony was offered to that fact, and yet they were now asked to repeal the Act of 1842 and subsequent Acts, under which all that good had been effected, and to derange the vested rights acquired. Let the House, at the same time, observe that the Bill now before them applied not merely to the sea coast, but to harbours and estuaries, which might be termed the very nursery of the fisheries, where the fish were most exposed, and where, there- fore, it was most necessary they should be protected. He was assured from many quarters, that by an attention to that fact, and by affording to the fish that protection, the result had been that both public and private rights had been largely benefited by the increase in the supply of fish. And this matter was of the greatest moment to Ireland, inasmuch as this country was indebted to Ireland, in a great measure, for the supply of salmon. So far from it being considered generally desirable that the fishery laws of Ireland should be assimilated to England, it was actually a fact that applications had been made from many quarters in England to have their laws assimilated to those of Ireland. As for the law of Scotland, it was well known that it was surrounded by strong guards. He owned to feeling very strongly on the subject; so much so that, immediately on the present Bill making its appearance, he had called on the noble Lord at the head of the Government to take his stand in opposition to it. The effect of these annual attempts upon the fishery laws of Ireland, as expressed in the petition of the Limerick conservators, was to keep the people of that country in a continued state of nervous anxiety, and to prevent the investment and application of capital to the fisheries. The present Bill proposed to sweep away all the Acts down to 1851, and to assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England. Now, did the hon, and learned Gentleman suppose that regulations introduced with reference to the Severn and the Thames would be applicable to the Slaney and other Irish rivers? The haunts of the fish no more than the habits of the people of the two countries were alike. As for the ground of complaint that the Fishery Commissioners possessed the power of making bye-laws, the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be unaware that the Commissioners for Scotland possessed a similar power; while, with regard to the prohibition to fish for herrings by day, he believed that nowhere was herring fishing carried on otherwise than by night. Again, with respect to trawling, those bye-laws only extended to six or seven places northward of the bay of Dublin; while to the south of it—including the coast of Wexford, where the fisheries were in a worse state than any other part of Ireland—no restrictions existed. And, let it be further observed, these prohibitions as to trawling were enacted on the application of the fish- ermen themselves. All the Reports recently presented show a vast increase in the amount of salmon captured, and in the production of the fish. This improvement was almost entirely owing to the Act of 1848, introduced by the right hon. Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Somerville). If they repealed the Acts referred to they would be taking away all those protective measures which regulated the practice of fishing in estuaries, and disturbing all those vested rights that had heretofore been recognised. It was owing to the existing system and the existing laws that the fisheries had improved so wonderfully of late years, and it would be a narrow-sighted policy to kill the goose for the purpose of obtaining the golden egg. The proposed Bill, instead of doing good, would materially injure the trade itself. This was by no means a wise or a fair way of dealing with the subject. As to the licensing system, if there be any hardship arising out of it, he would be most happy to give his best assistance in the way of improving it. The amount of money, however, demanded under this system was in his mind but a small sum to pay for the liberty of fishing in rivers so wisely protected by those laws. As to the objections urged against the wording of those laws, he would remind the House that the Common Law Procedure Act of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) got rid of all the old jargon of the Statutes of Charles. But the hon. and learned Member for Wexford said that there were no such regulations existing in connection with the fisheries of England and Scotland. If the hon. and learned Member had but looked into the Report upon the Irish fisheries presented to the House in 1852, he would find that there were similar regulations made for the English and Scotch fisheries. He need only point to the Convention Act with Scotland, and the old Statute of the 13th & 14th Charles II. to prove the legality of those regulations. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, proposes to give indiscriminate power to break through all the existing regulations upon the subject in Ireland; and this he calls a mode for assimilating the fisheries of Ireland to those of England and Scotland. By the repeal of the provisions of the Act 59th George III., all the regulations now in force, and which had been found excellently adapted to promote the interests of the Irish as well as the Scottish and English fisheries, would be abolished. He (Mr. Napier) appealed to the House generally not to assent to such a proposition. It was most important that all those rights of property should be placed under proper regulations. The Act of 1851 established local boards of conservators for the protection of the salmon fisheries. There was a large fund created for the purpose of paying water bailiffs to protect the rivers. The result has been the greatest improvement in the production of spawn and of fish; so that there has been of late years a vast increase in the quantity of salmon brought to market. That trade was now in as hopeful a state as any other trade in Ireland. He had always taken a warm interest in this question, and since he entered Parliament he had endeavoured to improve the fisheries of Ireland by every means in his power. He had heard several most unfounded statements made upon the subject. The late Member for Youghal, for instance, at one time stated that there was no such thing as a several salmon fishery in Ireland. The case, however, of the Duke of Devonshire, which was a remarkable one, established the existence of several fisheries. What makes the peculiarity in Ireland? The mixed and varied rights over the rivers. There were public as well as private rights to be protected. It was the duty of the Legislature to watch over the interests of all parties, and to secure a proper and a cheap supply of fish, for the markets. As regards the River Slaney, in Ireland, one of the bye-laws regulating the fishery stated, that during the close season for salmon, the use of nets was not permitted. Now the hon. and learned Member wished to abolish all those bye-laws and regulations in regard to estuaries. Why the hon. and learned Gentleman, by doing so, would be greatly injuring the very interests which he professed so much anxiety to serve. He (Mr. Napier) found many intelligent persons who were loud in their complaints against those laws so late as 1849, but who were now perfectly satisfied that their working was most advantageous. What was the fact? Why, during the last year the supply of salmon had during doubled—a result which he attributed to the great increase in their production, occasioned by the employment of conservators. He was rejoiced to see the improved habits of the country generally, and the improvement which was gradually going on within the last few years. He certainly thought it would be desirable if those laws relating to the Irish fisheries were Consolidated and properly amended. With regard to the fines and penalties, they were originally intended to form a fund for the payment of the watermen; but they were now diverted from that object. Some alteration in respect to this part of the subject might be made with advantage. He believed that nothing more was wanted in Ireland than the improvement of the people by education—the encouragement of trade—the introduction of capital, and the increased intercourse of the two countries. By measures that would carry out these objects, he believed that Ireland would gradually advance to a high pitch of improvement. The want of a sufficient number of curing-houses for fish was much felt; but he believed that the Society of Friends had effected a vast deal of good by enabling the people of Ireland to establish these curing-houses. The rivers of Ireland were well stocked; and it was a sad thing to think that so many persons should have suffered from the want of food during the existence of the famine while there was an abundance of fish to be had in those rivers. The English fishermen, who periodically come over, were enabled to take away large quantities of fish, while the Irish people themselves appeared to be doing nothing. There was the Shannon, a noble and a, splendid river—a mine of wealth in the way of fish. It was just at the moment when the conservators reported the most encouraging facts as to the Irish fisheries that the House was called upon to pass a Bill repealing all those laws and regulations under which the trade had so wonderfully increased. He hoped that these annual attempts to disturb the existing code of laws would be new given up, and that no further impediment would be thrown in the way of the improvement that was gradually going on. Such a measure as the present would, in effect, confiscate and disturb the existing vested rights. He, therefore, felt it his duty to interpose his opposition at this early period, from a conviction that nothing more disastrous to Ireland could occur than to pass either of the Bills proposed by the hon. and learned Member, or even to leave the impression upon the people of Ireland that there was a possibility of any such Bills being passed by the British Parliament. Within the last few days he had met with a work upon the subject of the Irish fisheries, written by Dr. Davy, in which the author expressed an opinion favourable to the extension of the Irish Acts to England. Whatever amendment was to be made in those laws, he thought that it ought to be made quietly, and to be of a practical character. The salmon fishery was now progressing most satisfactorily. The artificial propagation of the fish by Mr. Phillips, although at present only an experiment, was likely to turn out to the greatest advantage. He hoped that they would hear no more of those Bills—and if defeated now, the result would not be like the inquest that had sat lately upon the body of a boy in Ireland, which was abruptly stopped in its investigation by the circumstance of the boy coming to life and proving the uselessness of its labours.


seconded the amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, he was sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Napier) should have thought it necessary to impute personal motives to the hon. and learned Member for Wexford (Mr. M'Mahon) in connection with these Bills. It was within his own knowledge that long before the hon. and learned Gentleman was Member for Wexford, he had taken the same identical views which those Bills meant to establish in an article, which had been often quoted, in the Dublin Review. Before the Committee which sat in 1849, that hon. and learned Member was a material witness, and in his evidence maintained the same opinions. He (Mr. Duffy) trusted that those facts would be taken as a sufficient answer to the charge made against the hon. and learned Member of personal motives. He would also remind the House that the hon. and learned Gentleman had that day presented a petition, numerously signed, from the captains and crews of vessels engaged in the trade with Dublin and elsewhere in favour of these Bills. Such persons could not have any special interest in the River Slaney. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin did not really apply himself to the question raised by those Bills. The question was this—whether the people of Ireland were entitled to catch their own fish upon the same terms as the people of England, of Scotland, of France, or of Belgium. It seemed to him to be a rare piece of inconsistency for the House of Commons to refuse the people of Ireland those English laws when they asked for them. Here was a law which had existed only twelve years, which no one but the proprietors of salmon weirs approved of, and which all persons connected with the trade of the country complained of. Was this law, then, to stand in the way of the justice of that House? If Irish fish were aliens in blood and nature, as had once been said of the Irish people, there might be some reason for dealing with them in a special manner; but this was not pretended by any one. He thought that a most irresistible and overwhelming case had been made out in favour of these Bills.


said, in rising to support the Amendment, he felt that if he attempted to enter at any length into the subject he would be only weakening, instead of strengthening, the plain and unanswerable arguments advanced against the Bills by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier). Although he represented the same county as the hon. and learned Gentleman who had introduced the Bills, he took a different view altogether as to the policy of such measures. He denied the right of his hon. and learned Colleague to call those Bills measures for assimilating the laws of England to Ireland. They might, he thought, be more aptly called measures to annihilate and destroy all the laws relating to fisheries in Ireland. During the last few years there had been a manifest and extraordinary improvement in the fisheries of the rivers of Ireland, and the quantity of salmon that had been taken there had been trebled or quadrupled. He therefore, thought, that the time was most ill chosen to attempt to alter those laws which were found to be of such practical benefit to the country. Believing that the repeal of those laws would prove most injurious to the poor fishermen themselves, he was there to prevent, as far as he could, the adoption of those measures. The effect of the measures would be to prevent the salmon going up the rivers for the purpose of spawning, and any that did get up would be destroyed in their passage down the rivers to the sea. The junction of the estuary with the sea was the most critical spot of all, and the one where it was most needful to afford protection; yet this was the precise point at which it was now proposed that protection should stop, and the fish should be abandoned to the mercy of every person who chose to catch them, no matter with what tackle or instruments.


said, he had understood, although he hoped he was in error, that Irishmen were in many instances deprived of the privilege of fishing in their own seas, and that they did not even enjoy the privileges that were possessed by Englishmen. The Act 6 & 7 Vict., cap. 79, gave British and French fishermen the general right of fishery at and beyond a distance of three miles from low watermark, while the 5 & 6 Vict., cap. 106, see. 7, prohibited Irishmen from fishing upon their own coasts with particular descriptions of nets, the construction of which was cheap, and which wore worked very inexpensively. He thought, then, that if greater restrictions were imposed upon Irish fishermen than existed with regard to English fishermen in Irish waters, it was the duty of the House to interpose. If their object was to give the Irish poor that most valuable possession, self-respect, they must give them the means of labour. Wherever the Irish had work to do they were ready to do it, and it was useless for the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) to call, "Educate, educate, educate!" while the people of Ireland were asking for "Bread, bread, bread!" and the means of earning a livelihood. He (Mr. Chambers) trusted that the House would, by passing this Bill, so far contribute towards affording the poor population of Ireland a means of subsistence. He believed the adoption of the measure would do much to encourage and extend the coasting trade, which had in former days been a nursery for the navy. If they threw open the seas of Ireland to the industrious exertions of her fishermen, they would at once have a new race of seamen springing up. A large number of boys would enter into the fishery trade, and, becoming practised sailors, would volunteer into the navy, and by declaring the freedom of the Irish fisheries they would create a strong force of seamen available for any emergency.


said, he must deny that under the law as it now stood French and English fishermen enjoyed privileges not possessed by the Irish as to the taking of fish. The Act 6 & 7 Vict. gave the Privy Council the power to suspend the operation of the Act 5 & 6 Vict., and to make such regulations as they deemed fit for the management of the fisheries on the coast of Ireland, so long as they were carried on only by subjects of Her Majesty. Now he (Mr. Whiteside) had never seen a French fisherman on the coast of Ireland, but he had seen Cornish men engaged in the herring and pilchard fishery, and last year he was informed that 200 boats from the English coast had caught fish to the value of 40,000l., or 200l. each boat, on the Irish coasts—on those very coasts on which, according to some hon. Members, there was now no fish. Again, it was no doubt true that by the 5 & 6 Vict., Irish fishermen were precluded from using certain nets, such as seine and trawl nets, by night; but that was also modified by the 7 & 8 Vict., which gave an appeal to the Privy Council against the regulations which the Fishery Commissioners might make on this point. And so far from the regulations that were actually in existence being injurious to the fishermen, they tended to their protection, by preventing the adoption of methods of fishing which were destructive to the fish. So far had the Acts at present in force been from checking the employment either of men or of capital in the Irish fishery that he found the number of boats, and men and boys employed, were as follows—

Boats. Men and Boys.
1836 10,761 54,119
1844 17,955 84,708
1845 19,863 93,073
1848 15,932 70,011
The reason of the decrease in the latter period—at least of men and boys—was, that they were not, he was sorry to say, in the country. Such had been the rise in the rate of remuneration in Ireland that Mr. Dargan told him the other day that good workmen were not now to be had at 10s. a week, while he (Mr. Whiteside) recollected the time when 4d. and 6d. a day were the ordinary wages. Under those circumstances, it was not surprising that so many persons were not engaged in the fisheries. He certainly wished that the men were there, for if the Irish population had not been so materially diminished he thought we should have beaten our enemies, the Russians, more quickly than we now seemed to be doing.


said, the Act for carrying out the French convention only applied to the fishing of foreigners more than three miles from the coast. Now, the Act of which the hon. and learned Member for Wexford (Mr. M'Mahon) complained related to restrictions imposed upon fishing within three miles from the coast. It was true that the Fishery Commissioners could make regulations for the ordering of the fishery within those limits, but they had not despotic power in this matter, for before they could enforce any bye-laws they must give public notice of them, and any one who objected to them might appeal against them to the Lord Lieutenant. These bye-laws must, moreover, be considered by the Privy Council and the law officers of the Crown, and must be approved by them before they could be put in operation. He therefore denied that any of these bye-laws restricted the deep-sea fishery. They all, without exception, related to fishing between particular head lands on the coast. He believed that the provisions of the existing Acts, enabling the Fishery Commissioners to regulate the mode of fishing, were of the greatest possible advantage to the poor, because they protected their interests, guarded them against poachers, and tended to the increase of fish. He had seen a letter addressed to an hon. Member of that House from a man who described himself as a member of the guild of the snap-net fishers of the Shannon, stating emphatically that the Bill proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Wexford would be injurious to the interests of his class, as tending to promote poaching, and to cause a great diminution of fish. It was not the fact, as seemed to have been assumed, that these restrictions upon fishing were peculiar to Ireland. Similar regulations were in force in England and Scotland, and with a similarly beneficial effect in increasing the produce of the fisheries.


in reply, said that the Bill had no connection whatever with the inland fisheries of Ireland, but solely related to the question whether Irishmen were to have the same privilege on their own coasts as they would have on the coasts of England, Fance, America, or any other country, or as the people of those countries would have on the coasts of Ireland.


said, after listening to the debate, he had come to the conclusion that no answer had been given to the arguments used by the hon. and learned Member for Wexford (Mr. M'Mahon), who had charge of this measure. The argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) against the measure was, that the sea-coast fisheries of Ireland ought not to be encouraged in the way proposed by the Bill, because their being so might inflict some injury on the vested interests of the proprietors of salmon fisheries in the rivers of Ireland. But it was notorious that those sea-coast fisheries in Ireland some time ago afforded employment for a large portion of the people of Ireland, while latterly, though the coast abounded with fish, the fishery had been almost put an end to, in consequence of the ridiculous restrictions which had been imposed. The object, therefore, was to place these coast fisheries on a proper footing, in order that they might afford a means of living for a large portion of the population, as well as be a sort of nursery for seamen for the navy; for it was well known that, in consequence of the deterioration of the Irish fisheries, but few seamen were contributed by that country to the navy. If it was the case that the measure now proposed would injure the inland fisheries, which he did not believe, then let those parties whose interests it would interfere with be compensated, rather than allow this legitimate and profitable source of industry to be shut up from the people.


said, all that was wanted was to assimilate the law of Ireland in relation to fisheries to that of England, the circumstances of the case in both countries being the same. It seemed, however, to be a feature in all legislation for Ireland to assimilate the law of Ireland with that of England, where the circumstances were totally different, and to dissimilate it where the circumstances were exactly the same.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 19; Noes 145: Majority 126.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for six months.