HC Deb 04 March 1863 vol 169 cc1057-63

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. M'Mahon.)


said, that he rose to move that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. It was quite true that this subject came under the consideration j of the Select Committee which sat on the hon. Member's Bill last year. But the present Bill was different from its predecessor, and the former inquiry was unsatisfactory because it was conducted by a packed and biassed Committee. The object of the measure before the House was to sweep away all the interests recognised by the Act of 1842, and to maintain and increase the rights which were said to be held under Royal charters. It was an error to say that the Act of 1842 was passed in a hurry, for it received full and careful consideration. He could prove that during the last twenty years, and especially during the last three years, salmon had been increasing instead of diminishing. No doubt salmon were unfortunately destroyed, but much more by the mills than by fixed engines. Those whom he represented on that occasion did not want any special favour. They would be satisfied with a full and fair hearing before an impartial tribunal; and, in the event of his Amendment being adopted, he thought the nomination of the Select Committee should be left in the hands of the Government. He contended, indeed, that so important a question as the salmon fisheries of Ireland should be dealt with by the Government, and not by any private Member. The lower proprietors admitted that the Act of 1842 had been strained, and even violated in some instances; he himself was prepared to acknowledge that the upper proprietors did not get their fair share of fish, and he had no doubt, that if all parties consulted together, a satisfactory arrangement could be made with respect to an extension of the close-time. But the question was eminently one of detail, and on that account it should be referred either to a Select Committee or to a Royal Commission. A one-sided measure such as the present, if passed without previous inquiry, would give great dissatisfaction in Ireland, and would merely result in wholesale confiscation for the benefit of a few upper proprietors.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from, the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be committed to a Select Committee,"— instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


begged to second the Amendment. He was interested in the salmon fisheries of Ireland, and had some right to speak on the subject of the present Bill. One effect of the Bill would be to place the fisheries in the north of Ireland at the mercy of the Irish Society, and he contended that more salmon were improperly and illegally destroyed by the lessee of the Irish Society than by all the sea fisheries put together. He admitted that the subject was surrounded with considerable difficulty, but that was a strong reason for referring the Bill to a Select Committee; and he hoped, that if any inquiry were to be instituted, care would be taken to give the lower proprietors a fair hearing. There was no foundation for the statement that great injury was done by the sea fisheries. Only a very small proportion of salmon were taken in the sea, but everybody knew that fish caught in the sea were infinitely superior to those killed in fresh water. Why, then, should the owners of sea fisheries be subjected to a species of legislation for which there was no precedent, and which could not fail to do a great deal of harm without one particle of good? During the last few years salmon had increased to a considerable extent in Ireland, and it would be imprudent as well as unjust to interfere with the existing law, at any rate without some previous investigation. The river fishing conducted by the lessees of the Irish Society in the north of Ireland was particularly fatal to the increase of salmon in that country. He did not believe that the present Bill would give one fish more to the upper proprietors; on the contrary, he was convinced it would have an entirely opposite effect, and to pass it in its present shape would be an act unworthy of the intelligence and wisdom of the House of Commons. He hoped the Select Committee, if appointed, would include some hon. Member from the north of Ireland.


said, that the hon. Baronet who spoke last admitted that his observations were coloured by his personal interest in this question; but, for himself, he was influenced only by the public interest in the matter. The Irish Society, of which ho was the deputy chairman, which received some thousands a year from these fisheries, and expended the whole of the money for the benefit of Londonderry and Coleraine, had, alter full consideration, arrived at the conclusion, that although this Bill might, if passed, reduce their fisheries to a certain extent at first, yet the subsequent increase which it would cause in the take of salmon would amply compensate for any such temporary loss. He believed, that if the fish were allowed to go up the rivers to spawn, the result would be such an increase of the quantity of salmon that there would be enough for both the upper and lower proprietors. The supply had fallen off and the price had risen, not from any over-fishing in the upper waters, but entirely in consequence of the stake nets and hag nets placed at the mouths of the rivers by persons having an interest similar to that of the hon. Baronet. He saw no necessity for the proposed Committee of Inquiry.


said, that while admitting that the decision of the House upon this question ought not to he governed by local or personal considerations, yet he maintained that it was neither right nor fair entirely to ignore the law passed in 1842, confirming, if not creating, certain vested interests in the stake net and bag net fishery proprietors. It would be quite as unjust to take away the rights of these persons by a Bill like the present, as it would be to deprive the purchasers of land under the Encumbered Estates Act of their property held under a Parliamentary title. There was no analogy between the case of England, where the value of the rivers for fishing purposes was now very small, and the case of Ireland, where the fishing interests in the river were very large. The lower proprietors-had as much claim to compensation for the loss of their property as any man whose house was taken from him by a railway company. The whole of the matter ought to be fully investigated, and every interest affected allowed to state its case. This end might be attained by a Select Committee, or, better still, by a Royal Commission.


said, that he felt bound, on the part of his constituents, who were greatly interested in preserving the fisheries along the river Shannon, to protest against what he conceived to be almost a revolutionary proceeding—namely, the sweeping away of rights which had been enjoyed for twenty years under the authority of the Legislature in 1842. An Act of the Queen, Lords, and Commons surely afforded as good, if not a better title to property than any prescription or any charter given in olden times. The aggregate quantity of salmon exported from Ireland to England had increased between 1860 and 1862, although there might have been a decrease in the case of some rivers, where proper regulations did not prevail. This Bill would not only destroy vested rights, but would throw everything into chaos and confusion, produce endless litigation, and lead even to a revival of violence and outrage. It struck at all fixed engines in rivers, and would justify persons in forcibly removing weirs. It would thus bring back again the old days when mobs were incited to knock down weirs and were brought into collision with opposite factions, thus engendering tumults and bloodshed. He hoped the House would refuse its assent to a measure fraught with such evil consequences.


hoped that a fair inquiry would be made before a Committee or a Royal Commission. The Bill now before the House was very different from that of last year, for the Amendments brought forward by Her Majesty's Government entirely changed its nature. If any satisfactory measure were to be brought forward, the matter must be taken up by the Government, who might then produce a measure which would meet the wishes of both parties.


begged to remind the House that the rights of the poor fishermen along the shores of the Shannon had been abolished, which rights ought to be as much protected as those of the large landed proprietors. The House had quite sufficiently discussed this question, and the sooner they proceeded to bring the provisions of the Bill into operation the better.


said, that the people of the county of Waterford were in favour of this Bill, and they, by their petitions, bore testimony to the injury which the bag and stake nets had committed to the fisheries of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman quoted from statistical Returns, to show that the supply of salmon from the whole of Ireland to the London markets had considerably fallen off in late years.


said, that the Bill should not be permitted to pass through the House without the fullest discussion. They were dealing with property of private individuals in Ireland, which amounted to £100,000 a year on a low valuation. The Bill was without precedent, for it proposed to destroy the rights of all private persons in all fisheries without any inquiry. He would ask, whether it was fair or just to take away the rights of persons without offering some compensation for the great losses which they would sustain if the Bill passed? They were asked to confiscate the rights of property deliberately conferred by Acts of Parliament, and enjoyed for more than twenty years, and they ought not to do this without a previous full and fair inquiry.


begged to observe that the Bill professed to deal with the Act which passed in 1842, and which for the last twenty years had governed salmon fishing in Ireland. What was the Act of 1842? That Act was not passed by any inadvertence or surprise, but after the greatest deliberation, and with the consent, if not of the whole, of a very great majority of the Irish Members. Till that time it was doubtful whether owners of land along the shore could put out stake or bag nets, but that Act declared, that provided the parties owned a certain amount of interest in the soil, they should have the right, subject to certain regulations, to put out and fish with bag and stake net. The weir owners had a Parliamentary title of the clearest character, and he was surprised that the Bill, which dealt very tenderly with chartered or patent rights, took no notice of the stronger rights conferred by an Act of Parliament. The Act of 1842 was very careful in dealing with vested rights, and that example should be followed in any future legislation upon the subject. Reference had been made to the cases of England and Scotland, but he denied that those eases were analogous to that of Ireland, as no Act like that of 1842 had been passed in reference to those countries. He hoped the House would assent to the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord.


said, that he believed the opinions of the majority of Irish Members who had spoken were in favour of the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone. But he must remark that many of those hon. Members then present had not been present at the discussion which took place upon the question of the second reading of this Bill. Upon that occasion the question of referring the Bill to a Select Committee or a Commission was brought under notice, but the opinion of the House was then opposed to such a course. He was not aware of any fresh facts which should lead to a different conclusion, and therefore he should vote for going into Committee. He had given notice of a number of Amendments which he should propose in Committee, and he believed, if they were adopted, the measure would be made a useful one. The question of the interests of a particular individual did not influence him; he cared most for the general interests of the public; but the opinions of the upper and lower proprietors were so discordant that it was difficult to arrive at any satisfactory legislation. As to fixed engines, he believed that in all Acts passed before the time of George III. they were treated as illegal. There were many fixed engines in the Shannon and Blackwater which materially interfered with the navigation, and which were not legalized by the Act of 1842. He thought that in Committee of the Whole House they would be enabled to make such Amendments as would render the Bill acceptable to most, if not to all parties.


begged to move the adjournment of the debate. If that variance of opinion, which the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down had stated, did really exist, it was the duty of the Government to undertake the legislation upon the subject—


said, he rose to order. The hon. Member had moved the adjournment of the debate and was entering upon a discussion of the Bill.


ruled that the hon. Member was in order, as he might show some reasons why the debate should be adjourned.


continued: The assizes were going on in Ireland, and there were many hon. Members there, attending to their duties, whose presence in the House would be useful when a question of this sort was under discussion.


begged to second the Motion for adjourning the debate— when it being a quarter to six o'clock—


said, he should proceed with the Bill on Wednesday, March 25.

Debate adjourned till Wednesday, 25th March.