HC Deb 17 February 1857 vol 144 cc746-9

MR. M'MAHON moved for leave to bring in a Bill to assimilate the Law as to the Sea-coast Fisheries of Ireland to that of England. He said that it would be supposed in this nineteenth century there could be no objection to allow the people of Ireland to catch fish off their own coasts on the same conditions as the English fishermen were allowed to catch them off the coast of England; but though he had ever since he had had the honour of a seat in that House, been urging the subject on their attention he had invariably been defeated in his attempt to gain the assent of Parliament to a Bill on the subject. The question was one which concerned England as well as Ireland, inasmuch as this country got seamen from the Irish fishermen, and might obtain from the Irish coast considerable supplies of fish. He proposed to assimilate the laws of the two countries. If the Bill was carried, and the existing laws repealed, the large trade in fish, which they formerly enjoyed, would be restored. Whilst the law imposed restrictions on the Irish fishermen, it actually gave a bounty of £12,000 or £14,000 a year to the Scotch fisheries, and though they had abundance of fish on their own coasts, the Irish trade was obliged to import large quantities from Scotland. Two hundred years ago, when the laws of England and Ireland were the same in this respect, there was a very large export trade even, to Holland then the greatest fishery state in Europe, but ever since the restrictions of which he complained had been imposed the trade had dwindled away. During the reigns of Charles and James, the fish and flax trades in Ireland were considered the staples of that country. The town of Wexford alone, in the year 1654, exported an enormous quantity of herrings, and the fishing trade generally throughout the country was extremely prosperous. He read several petitions presented at different times to the House complaining of the gradual decline of the trade in consequence of the restrictions and prohibitions which had been imposed upon it. In 1816 the exports were reduced to almost nothing at all, and from 1817 to the present time, so far from there being any exportation, there was an actual importation of fish to a large extent from Scotland. He considered that the course taken by the legislature in reference to this subject was most unjustifiable, and one which the Government would not have dared to pursue with reference to England or Scotland. A commission having been appointed about 1836 to examine the question of coast fisheries, their inquiry led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1842, which repealed several of the objectionable laws that had formerly existed, but on the other hand introduced several new ones equally mischievous. He felt so greatly the gross wrong and injustice of the system that as an Irish Member he should, even if there was not a single vote in favour of his measure, still feel it his duty to persist in it as a protest against the course which had been pursued. By the Act of 1842 no person was allowed to set a net at night, without taking it up before sunrise next morning, under a penalty of forfeiture and a fine. Under that provision, persons had even been fined for the infringement of the Act, although they had been prevented from taking up the nets in consequence of a storm. He described the various nets which were prohibited to be used, the result of which prohibition, he said, was that great inconvenience arose, and the difference of opinion upon the subject was so great, that while in the Bay of Galway their use was permitted, persons using them in the Bay of Dublin were fined. This observation applied to trawl nets, the use of which was permitted upon every part of the English coast. The prohibition was equivalent to an absolute denial to catch particular classes of fish, including flat fish, on the coasts of Ireland by nets, thus reducing the fishermen to the alternative of using the line. In 1851 an Act was passed prohibiting the fishermen from fishing for eels without obtaining a licence from each of the fishery districts along which their boats might be drifted. He complained that such a law was a disgrace to this country, and that its enactment was the result of jobbing The House would, he thought, say, it was a system of legislation which it would no sanction. If this was a portion of the fundamental system of policy to be pursued towards Ireland his efforts to arrest it would be probably in vain; but he must say, that at the present moment the Irish people had less power than the natives o any country of Europe of availing them selves of the advantages of the riches to be found on the coast of that country. In his view, the present grievance was on which ought at once to be done away with.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to assimilate the Law as to the Sea-coast Fisheries of Ireland to that of England."


said that, being unaware of the exact nature of the provisions f the Bill, he was unwilling, on the part of the Government, to oppose its introduction; but, if he understood the hon. and learned Gentleman correctly, the Bill which he sought to introduce was identically the same in its principles and details with that which was rejected by the House in 1855 by a large majority. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that his object was to assimilate the legislation with respect to the fisheries of Ireland to that which regulated the fisheries of England and Scotland; but he (Mr. Horsman) could assure him that the proprietors of the English and Scotch fisheries would be disposed to ask the House to substitute the Irish for the English and Scotch fishery laws. The effect of these annual discussions about the laws relating to the Irish fisheries was very prejudicial to the proprietors of them, and unless the hon. and learned Gentleman could assure him that this was not identically the same as the Bill of 1855 he should be disposed to ask the House to refuse the Motion.


said, that the Bill contained only one section which repealed certain clauses of the Act of the 6 & 7 Vict. and subsequent Acts: and that it related to sea fisheries alone and did not touch inland fisheries.


said, that as no doubt if the measure were introduced, the House would be better able to discuss its details, the Government would not object to its being brought in; but the hon. Gentleman must not expect its future support.


wished to be understood that the present was not a question between salmon proprietors and the public. All that his hon. Friend asked was that the same laws which regulated the salmon fisheries in England and Scotland should regulate those relations in Ireland. It could not be right that there should be one law for the fisheries in Ireland and another for Scotland. He was glad that Government had consented to the introduction of the Bill, as it would then have an opportunity of being fairly discussed.


remarked, that if he understood the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Horsman), his objection to the Bill was that it had been introduced on a previous occasion and had been rejected. He did not quarrel with that principle, and he only wished that the hon. and learned Gentleman would act consistently with his opinion in relation to the obnoxious Judgments Execution Bill, which had been several times before the House and had not passed into law. He trusted, therefore, that when that measure came again before the House they might have the assistance of the hon. and learned Gentleman against it.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. M'MAHON and Mr. MOORE.

Bill read 1°.