HC Deb 25 February 1857 vol 144 cc1297-303

Order for Second Reading read.

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


said, it was his intention to move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. On a previous occasion the hon. and learned Member (Mr. M'Mahon) had introduced a Bill relative to sea-coast fisheries, which had been rejected by a large majority, and the present Bill, in his (Mr. J. D. FitzGerald's) opinion, was still more objectionable than the former one, the result of the proposed measure being to leave the sea-coast fisheries in Ireland entirely unprotected. With all respect for the hon. and learned Gentleman, he preferred the regulation of the sea-coast fishery Commissioners to the legislation of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Scotland was under a system of protection similar to that in existence in Ireland, and the fisheries had been prosperous in consequence. The present Bill would do away with the power of the Commissioners in reference to sea-coast fisheries, and largely as to inland fisheries, which it was admitted on all hands had been most prosperous under the bye-laws of the Commissioners. He felt bound to defend the general regulations of the Commissioners with respect to the prohibition from fishing between sunset and sunrise, and the use of trawling nets, which he contended would be injurious to the fishery. The greatest part of the fish were taken on the coast of Ireland by Cornish fishermen, under the regulations of the Commissioners, and if they, encouraged by the laws and regulations, could be successful, how much more successful ought persons on the spot to be? The report as to the coast of Galway was that the fishery had improved. He considered that the present laws, though they might be well included in one Act, were in the main good laws, while the measure of the hon. and learned Gentleman would utterly fail. It was idle to attribute to the fishery laws the reduction in the number of Irish boats and men employed, since that circumstance arose from the greater demand for labour in more lucrative modes of employment. He trusted the House would discountenance the introduction of a new Bill on this subject every year, and would trust to the present law and the regulations of the Fishery Commissioners, rather than resort to the mischievous provisions of the present measure.

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 to differ from his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. M'Mahon) but he was compelled to say that he did not think his Bill would work. He could not but think the regulations of the Commissioners, especially with respect to the inland fisheries, had been attended with great success. He must, therefore, however reluctant he was to differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman, give his vote against the second reading of the Bill.


said, he was at a loss to see why there should not be an assimilation of the laws relating to fishing on the coasts of Ireland to those of England, unless it could be shown that there was a difference between the habits of fish on the two coasts. He thought Ireland had a right to have any benefit which might be derived under the English laws on the subject.


said, he must remind the hon. Gentleman that the present Bill did not propose to assimilate the law of Ireland with that of England.


said, he should oppose the Bill, because he considered it was for the most part an exact transcript of the measure of 1855, and was brought in for the sole purpose of getting rid of the bye-laws of the Commissioners, prohibiting persons getting hold of the spawning fish in the River Slaney, Wexford. That Bill was rejected by the House. The assimilation of the Irish to the English law, which was stated to be the object of the Bill now under consideration, was a mere pretence. The preamble of the Bill stated that it was to remove all restrictions upon the Irish fisheries, and to put the persons engaged in them on an equality with those engaged in the English and Scotch fisheries, whereas they would find that there existed the most stringent regulations in reference to the fisheries in the two latter countries. He was quite aware that the fishery laws might be very well consolidated, but there could be no question that the regulations issued by the Irish Fishery Commissioners had been attended with the greatest benefit. In his opinion they ought not to allow the Bill to proceed any further.


said, he thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland had taken a wise course in objecting to the Bill. Considerable benefit had been experienced from the operation of the last Act on the subject, and he was anxious that it should have a further trial. If the consolidation of the fishery laws were to come under consideration there might be found many parts deserving amendment. Great difficulties arose from mouths of rivers not being properly defined.


said, that as the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland had said that the present Bill might be good for Wexford, but it was not good for the rest of the country, he thought it right to observe that he had received letters from the north of Ireland urging him to give his support to the Bill, as being a measure important to the whole of Ireland.


said, he very much regretted that Parliament did not consider the question as a whole. It was a remarkable fact, that whenever an Irish question arose, English Members rarely joined in the debate. When a Scotch Bill was on, English and Irish Members sat patiently by while it was fought out by Scotch Members, so that in effect there was really three Parliaments. Such proceedings, as a matter of course, occasioned a great loss of time. As regarded the Bill now before the House, he thought it ought to go to a second reading, and then the merits of the existing Irish law, Scotch law, and English law respecting fisheries might be tested, and the Government would be left open to reject the present measure, and substitute another, amalgamating the laws upon all the fisheries of the kingdom.


said, he could not perceive in what the Bill differed from those which the hon. and learned Member for Wexford had brought in on previous occasions. With respect to the observation of the hon. and gallant Member who last addressed them, he did not think it possible that any general law could be passed applicable to the three kingdoms. There was a law relating to the pilchard fishery off Cornwall. How could that be applied to Ireland? The only way, therefore, to make any law practically useful was to have a power of making bye-laws, and that power the Irish law gave to the Commissioners. It appeared to him that the objects of the Bill were to destroy laws which were amongst the best in the three kingdoms. He should therefore oppose the second reading.


said, he did not think that the Irish sea-coast fishery laws required any amendment; but he hoped that, if those laws were consolidated, the opinion of Irish Members would be duly considered. Whatever improvements might be required in the laws, he did not think the present Bill calculated to effect anything in that direction.


said, the Bill would repeal a portion of the Irish law, but not enact any part of the English law. The English law was very restrictive as to deep-sea fishing, and had been found beneficial. But the Irish restrictions were to be removed and the English restrictions not to be substituted. The other part of the Bill related to salmon fisheries in estuaries. The Bill would give greater facilities for fishing in the estuaries; but the effect would be to destroy the fisheries. The great object was to ensure a proper supply of fish by restrictions in the lower portions of rivers, and those restrictions were proposed to be repealed.


said, the Bill would be mischievous both to inland and deep-sea fishing. In some districts it would annihilate the fishermen; and the entire removal of restrictions would destroy the fisheries. Therefore he must oppose the Bill. He wished the hon. and learned Member (Mr. M'Mahon) would bring in a Bill to consolidate the Fishery Laws, instead of proceeding with the measure before them.


said, that up to the present time the Bill had not been debated on its merits, and the arguments that had been brought against it were founded on other and former measures. It was monstrous that Irishmen could not fish in their seas and streams without paying fines and rents; and so long as he had a seat in that House, he would advocate their cause. Such was not the law in England and Scotland. Those restrictions were set up for the sake of the Crown, under the Act of 1842, which gave them a monopoly of inland fishing. Now, what he asked the House to do was, to assimilate the fishery laws of Ireland and England. The effect of the Act of 1842 had been most disastrous. The results of it the following statements from Thom's Directory would show:—

Number of Boats. Number of Men.
1844 19,000 93,000
1848 15,000 70,000
1852 13,000 58,000
1853 11,000 38,000
1854 11,000 40,000
The fisheries of Ireland, he maintained, were far better before the restrictions were imposed. That would be apparent from Hoare's "History of the Irish Fisheries." In 1654, so great was the fishery in Ireland, that from one port 100,000 barrels of herrings were exported, and in 1798 the English fisheries actually petitioned against the Irish fisheries. Ireland in the last century exported immense quantities of fish, which she now imported. Thus had her fisheries declined since the present restrictions were established. No doubt monopolists of inland fisheries liked the Irish laws as so stringently restrictive. But as to deep-sea fisheries no one asked for such laws among the Scotch or English fishermen. Such was the restrictive system in Ireland, that over and over again—as it had been stated before Committees of the House of Lords—the fishing nets supplied by benevolent societies to the poor starving people during the famine, had been confiscated under the stringent provisions of the Irish fishery law. Why, there was a law in Ireland that no one should catch an eel or a herring in the deep sea or any part of the Irish coast, without a licence to fish! At the same time, the law was not even uniform, and there was one law on the east coast, and another on the west coast of Ireland. Nay, there was actually a law compelling the Irish fishermen to cure their nets, not with bark, but with tar; the effect of which was, that the fish were frightened away and the nets were rotted. But that was not all; the Cornish fishermen were absolutely allowed to fish on the Irish coast without restrictions, and actually caught and sold to the Irish their own fish, which the Irish were prevented from catching. The question was most important, and the Government ought to take it up. For years he had laboured on the subject in vain. The Government had counted out the House on the question on one occasion, and now made this an argument against him.


said, he should support the Bill. He wished to call the attention of hon. Members to a statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, on the occasion of the Motion for leave to bring in the Bill, to the effect that the proprietors of English and Scotch fisheries would gladly exchange the English and Scotch fishery laws for those by which the Irish fisheries were governed; but he (Mr. MacEvoy) doubted very much its correctness, because he felt certain, that if such were their sentiment, English and Scotch Members would long ago have introduced measures to assimilate the English and Scotch fishery laws to those of Ireland.


said, he hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would consent to withdraw his Bill, because he felt certain that it would ruin many of the Irish fisheries.

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

The House divided:—Ayes, 10; Noes 185: Mojority 175.

Words added:—Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.