HC Deb 28 May 1862 vol 167 cc75-84

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill. Its object was to assimilate the fishery laws of Ireland to those of England, not only as to the inland, but the deep-sea fishing. The question which everybody would ask was, why, with a dearth of food on the west coast of Ireland, sometimes approaching to a famine, the Irish fisheries were so neglected by the Irish people. The Commissioners, who in 1836 had inquired into the subject, had remarked upon the anomaly that Scotch herrings were imported into Ireland while there were living shoals of the same fish on the Irish shores. Very large quantities of herrings were, in fact, brought every year into the country from England and Scotland, along with ling, cod, and hake, although, as Sir William Temple long ago said, the fisheries along the Irish coast presented a mine of wealth beyond any existing underground, and Arthur Young declared that next to land there was no manufacture or trade of half as much consequence to Ireland as her fisheries would prove to be if judiciously encouraged. This was a subject of great importance to England as well as to Ireland, for the English market would derive great advantage from the new supplies which would be forthcoming if those fisheries were properly worked; and the Billingsgate dealers said that it was almost impossible to overstock the English markets with fresh fish. Various causes had been assigned for the neglect of the fishery. In 1849 a very eminent writer in the Edinburgh Review said that it arose from the peculiar social organization of the Irish, the Irishman being of such a nature that he would rather beg for a penny than work for a shilling. Again, M'Culloch attributed the cause to the minute subdivision of land; but the real cause was the bad laws which had so long existed in the country. There was no suggestion about the want of fish. Old Acts of Parliament showed, that a great and profitable fishery used to be carried on upon the coast, so that the Irish fishermen used not only to supply the wants of their own countrymen, but to export largely to foreign countries. Thus, in 1734, they exported 21,000 barrels of herrings, importing none, while in 1834 149,000 barrels of herrings were imported into Ireland, and there was no export trade whatever. The destruction of the Irish fisheries had been caused entirely by the restrictions imposed by erroneous legislation, one of the most important of which was a provision in an Act passed in the year 1777, requiring that all nets and fishing lines should be covered with tar and oil. The Commissioners who inquired into the subject in the year 1835 reported that the exigencies of the fisheries in Ireland were almost entirely similar to those of English fisheries. In accordance with that opinion, the object of this Bill was to extend to Ireland the Bill which was last Session passed for England, to repeal the laws by which the Irish fisheries had been so seriously injured, to abolish all unnecessary restrictions, and to deprive the Commissioners of Fisheries of the power of making by-laws.

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


said, he felt an objection to the Bill in limine. Legislation on a subject of such importance ought not to be left in the bands of a private Member. In their last Report the Irish Fisheries Commissioners advised a consolidation of the law, and the introduction of some restrictions upon the use of stake weirs and bag nets, and they stated that a Bill was already drawn for the purpose. He want- ed to know what had become of that Bill. Scarcely anything connected with Ireland was take up by the Irish Government; and when they did take up anything, the practical result was to stifle discussion and effectually postpone any beneficial legislation. But as they had before them the Bill of the hon. and learned Member, they must deal with it. He thought that the lion. Gentleman had made a mistake in mixing up the deep-sea fisheries with the salmon fisheries, and that as they were very different questions, they ought to be dealt with in two distinct Bills. With regard to the deep-sea fisheries, he (Lord Fermoy) was one of those who thought that it it was a bad system to encourage a feeling amongst the Irish people that they ought to look to the Government for support in all such cases as this, which would be better left to private enterprise. The old maxim was particularly applicable to the Irish people in those matters, namely, "Heaven will help those who help themselves." The Bay of Dublin was fished and the markets of Dublin were supplied by Cornish fishermen; and if Irishmen would apply their industry, capital, and intelligence in the same way, they would obtain the same profitable returns. With regard to the salmon fisheries, which formed the more important branch of the subject, it was proposed to sweep away all stake weirs and bag nets in the tidal waters and estuaries of Ireland. The best system of fishery was that which produced the largest amount of sound and wholesome fish without diminishing the future supply. He had ascertained that in 1861, up to the 27th of May, 3,647 baskets of salmon came from Ireland to Billingsgate Market. In the same period of 1862 the number of baskets was 5,183, being an increase of more than 30 per cent. If the majority of these fish were caught by bag nets and stake weirs, it only proved that they were brought to market in the best possible state, and that buyers appreciated the finer quality of the fish when caught nearest the salt water. But if they were not caught by bag nets and stake weirs, there was no case for destroying the right of property in them sanctioned by Parliament in 1842, and placed by law under certain limitations. The effect of the Bill would be to increase the profits of the proprietors of lax weirs at the expense of the proprietors of the stake weirs and bag nets, and to throw out of employment an immense number of industrious and deserving men. He contended that it was a measure which, if brought in at all, should be brought in upon the responsibility of the Government, and to test the feeling of the House he would move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.

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

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


said, if the Bill passed, it would inflict great pecuniary injury upon many persons who had engaged in the salmon fisheries. For them some compensation ought certainly to be provided, if the change proposed in the law were made. But the Bill made no provision for any such compensation, and he could not, therefore, give it his support. The contemplated destruction of the stake weirs and bag nets would not divide the fish more equally, but would simply give it all to the lax weir proprietors. The stake weirs and bag nets were recognized by the Act of 1842, and they were placed under the control of the Commissioners. There would be no objection to any modification of the regulations to which they were subject, if the Commissioners deemed any alterations to be necessary; but there was no pretence for saying that the produce of the fisheries had of late years diminished. On the contrary, he believed that since 1842 the fish had largely increased above the weirs, instead of diminishing. Such was especially the case with regard to the Shannon, with which he was well acquainted. It would, in his opinion, be a cruelty to pass this Bill without a full inquiry being first had. As to the sea fishery, it had no doubt decreased; but that was partly owing, he believed, to the fish having changed their haunts, and partly to the obstinate opposition of the Irish fishermen. When trawling boats were introduced into the Bay of Galway, they had to be protected by revenue boats, owing to the determined opposition of the Claddagh fishermen. He hoped, if the Bill were read a second time, it would be referred to a Select Committee.


said, he was glad the Bill had been brought before the House; but he felt that it had been introduced too late in the Session for practical legislation on the subject. He agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Fermoy), that the importance of the subject was so great that the Government ought to have taken it in hand. The noble Lord had used an argument which might be very fallacious. He had quoted the large increase of the supply of fish to the London market in proof of the fact that the stake weirs and bag nets did not interfere with the production of fish. That argument might prove the opposite; but whether it did so or not, it naturally suggested the inquiry whether such an enormous supply could he kept up without ultimately destroying the fisheries altogether. The preservation of the fish, and the development of the resources of the Irish waters, was a question of infinitely more importance than the claims of rival proprietors. He would suggest that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, in order that the whole question might be carefully investigated. He objected to the discretion allowed in the making of bylaws, ns too wide.


said, he thought the suggestion of the lion. Baronet was worthy of consideration. The hon. Member for Wexford was not open to the reproach which the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone had applied to him, for he deserved the thanks of the House for the labour he had bestowed on the preparation of the Bill. But whenever the noble Lord made a speech in that House, he always attacked a Member of the Government, generally himself and the introducer of a Bill. The question was one of immense importance. There were boundless resources on the coast of Ireland, which were not available, owing to causes into which he need not then enter, and which required protection and encouragement. The Bill was certainly very voluminous; but considering the numerous and complicated interests involved, it was doubtful whether it could safely be compressed. The main question might be put into a very small compass. The hon. Member justly complained of the fixed engines on the coasts and at the mouths of the great rivers, which were productive of incalculable mischief. The obvious answer to the argument that the supplies of fish from Ireland had increased was, that if such an excessive rate of production were persisted in, it would probably lead to the destruction of the fisheries. He had received communications from Limerick and elsewhere in favour of the Bill, and his correspondents all joined in complaining of the use of bag and stake nets. It was quite true that such nets were in a certain qualified manner legalized by the Act, and hon. Members who were interested in the employment of these engines of course opposed the Bill. He believed, however, that the bulk of the Irish Members were in favour of legislation on the subject. Repeated attempts to deal with the question had failed, yet the noble Lord blamed the Government for not taking it up. The truth was, that they had already so much business to attend to that they could not at present do justice to the subject. He thought it would be well to read the Bill a second time find to remit it to a Select Committee, before which evidence could be taken. They would have the Report of the Committee early next year, and would then be in a position to introduce a Bill which would have a reasonable prospect of success. The main points in the Bill were the abolition of fixed engines and the opening of Queen's gaps. The engines had been proved to be very injurious, and the opening of the gaps in certain cases had been attended with satisfactory results, as it enabled the fish to move about freely and encouraged them to fructify. The Solicitor General had expressed his opinion that the measure could, with certain amendments, be worked effectually, and the Chairman and several members of the Fisheries Commission also believed that it would be turned to practical account and deserved the support of the Government. For these reasons he supported the second reading, and hoped the Bill would then be sent to a Select Committee.


said, it was a matter deeply to be deplored, that as the Bill was of such importance in the opinion of the Government, they had not that Session introduced a measure of their own upon it. The fisheries of Ireland, whether sea or inland fisheries, were of paramount importance to Ireland. Out of the 122 clauses there were perhaps not more than three which could be said to be new, or to raise any serious question for the consideration of the House; but, as some clauses seriously affected vested interests, he should certainly give the Bill his opposition, unless he understood it was to be stringently examined by a Select Committee. He thought the most stringent measures should be adopted for protecting the fish in the upper waters of rivers, for it was there, in his belief, that the great destruction of fish took place.


observed that he would support the second reading of the Bill, on the understanding that it was to be referred to the Committee.


said, he had not heard a single reason why the Bill should not be read a second time. It was said that one clause of the Bill destroyed rights created by a former Act, the 5 & 6 Vict. That Act gave a qualified sanction to stake weirs; but a proviso to one of the sections of the Act reserved all the rights of fishing on the part of the Crown and the public. It had been laid down in a judgment of Baron Pennefather, in Ireland, that the erection of fixed engines in fishing waters was a violation of Magna Charts, which provided that fishing in all estuaries should be free to the public at large. They remained as illegal as they were before the previous Act. The present Bill consolidated the fishing laws, both as it related to the inland and deep-sea fishing; and it contained two admirable provisions, destroying the stake weirs, and enforcing the construction of free gaps in the fishing weirs, that would be of the utmost possible benefit by increasing the supply of salmon. Ho believed, if the Act were passed, the Black-water, one of the finest rivers in the empire, would be teeming with salmon; whereas at that moment it was almost hermetically sealed by weirs and other fixed engines. He hoped the House would not refuse to read the Bill a second time because some of the clauses were opposed by certain proprietors.


said, he must admit the importance of the subject, but be could not concur in the censure passed on the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, for the alleged neglect of the Government in not bringing forward a measure of its own. In common justice the right hon. Baronet must be absolved from blame; his industry during the present Session deserved all praise; indeed, he had shown rather an over-anxiety for legislating than any neglect. He was glad the Government had not brought in a Bill on the subject of the Irish fisheries in this Session, and that the question had fallen into the able hands of the hon. Member for Wexford. Not only what had passed during the debate, but what was passing out of doors, showed that they had not sufficient information to enable them to legislate. Before they did so there ought to be a searching investigation into the subject, and that inquiry would be made by the Committee. Most of them had received numerous communications as to the state of the Shannon. They were told that the existence of bag nets and stake nets were destroying the fishery. But in the Appendix to the Report of the Fishery Commission for Ireland it appeared from the answers given to a circular issued by the Commissioners, that in the Shannon, the river where they were told the fishing was being destroyed, it had improved, and that the prospects of a further improvement were very good. This was the answer given to the Commissioners by the Conservators of Limerick. It was a startling contradiction to what they had heard, and he could come to no other conclusion but that an inquiry was necessary. He thought that the interests that had sprung up under the Act of 1842 were too extensive to be dealt with in a summary manner; they ought to have an opportunity of stating their case before they were deprived of what they conceived to be their rights and privileges. At the same time, he thought that the exercise of these rights and privileges had much deteriorated the fishery. The hon. Member for Wexford said that great injury was done by the destruction of spawn in the upper parts of the Shannon. That might be; but it should be remembered that the owners of the upper part of the river had been deprived of their interest. The lower proprietors would always have the lion's share, but the upper proprietors ought to have their due share. He trusted that next year Government would bring in a measure founded on the present measure, and modified by the result of the inquiry before the Select Committee.


said, he agreed with the right hon. Member as to the propriety of referring the Bill to a Select Committee; but he did not concur with him in thinking nothing ought to be done till next year. He believed the Committee would come to a decision that might be acted on that Session. It was more easy to introduce Bills than to carry them. And the right hon. Baronet would not be just to himself if he left himself without the assistance of others. A Bill might be carried in that Session that would save himself the labour of introducing one.


said, he concurred with the opinion of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Whitcside). It was of the greatest possible importance that there should be some legislation during that Session. The proper course would be to refer the Bill to the Select Committee; and when it had been well considered there, then the right hon. Baronet might take charge of it, and pass it with the influence of the Government. It had been shown distinctly by the evidence of Mr. Fennel that the fisheries were becoming much more unproductive than they formerly were, and it was very unfortunate that a qualified sanction had been given to the existence of stake and hag nets in 1842. At the same time it would be very unjust to take away the power of fishing from the proprietors of the Lower Shannon for the mere purpose of increasing the revenues of the lax weir at Limerick.


said, he must insist on the necessity of legislation during that Session. The objection to Bills in the hands of private Members was a stereotyped one, with which he had been familiar ever since he entered the House.


said, the state of the House sufficiently showed that the subject was "a fishy one." His noble Friend the Member for Marylebone was not, he thought, open to the attack made upon him by the Chief Secretary for Ireland; but, at the same time, that right hon. Gentleman could not be charged with any unwillingness to take charge of Bills. At the present moment he had the conduct of fourteen Government Bills relating to Ireland exclusively. There were fifteen others in the hands of private Members, and every day and night brought forth a fresh one. All these measures related exclusively to Ireland, he supposed with a view of consolidating the Union between the two countries.


said, there were only eleven Government Bills relating to Ireland at present before the House.


said, he supposed two or three must have gone to the House of Lords. The Bills which still remained in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, were used night after night as "fixed engines" for the torture of Irish Members, and he did not wish to arm the Chief Secretary with any others. He very much wished that some means could he devised for reconciling the different interests affected by the present Bill; but, as far as he could see, the contest resolved itself into one between the proprietor of the lax weir at Limerick and the agent of Colonel White's property on the river itself. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, though he had failed in one competitive examination in Ireland, had succeeded at his second in England. Pie might, therefore, be certain that his interests would be properly attended to.


said, he had witnessed the disastrous effects of fixed engines on the fishing both of the rivers Suir and Barrow. He thought the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone must have listened to idle stories about the misconduct of the present proprietor of the lax weir at Limerick. He could assure the House that the statements about "crocodiles" and "stuffed otters" having been sunk to scare away the fish were altogether unfounded as far as that gentleman was concerned.


explained that the statements which ho had made were founded on the Report of the Fishery Commissioners. Ho was quite satisfied with the debate which bad taken place, and, with the permission of the House, would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn,

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee.