§ MR. HUNT
said, he wished to call the attention of the House to a subject concerning which he gave notice before the adjournment for the Easter recess. It was only the thin attendance of Members that prevented his bringing the matter forward on the day of the adjournment. He now desired to direct the attention of the House to the sixth section of the Report of the Sea Fisheries Commission, respecting the desirability of appropriating certain public grounds in estuaries, bays, and places of that nature within the three-mile limit—over which now the inhabitants of the country had a common right of fishing—to companies or individuals for the purpose of cultivating oysters. He was anxious to elicit the opinions and intentions of the Government in this matter, and he hoped the House would not think it was a subject unworthy its notice. The subject was one which in France had received to a great extent the attention of the Government, by whom certain regulations were made and certain conditions prescribed, under which persons were enabled to take possession of the foreshores for the purpose of oyster culture. The Commissioners, in their very able Report, referred to the amount of ground which was favourable for such culture in these kingdoms, enumerating among 892 other places the coasts of Kent and Essex, chiefly the estuary of the Thames, Clew Bay, in Ireland, and portions of the Scottish coast. It seemed that there were in connection with the oyster fisheries certain spots which the public had a right to use, while in the immediate neighbourhood of those public grounds there were, for the most part, private beds, which had for years been devoted to the raising of oysters. The Commissioners were of opinion that a large portion of those public grounds might with advantage be appropriated to oyster culture, which they said was not promoted to the same extent in them as it would be if they were in private hands. For the purposes of such culture it was necessary that the ground should be kept clear, not only from the accumulation of weeds and mud, but also from the enemies of the oyster—the whelk and starfish—as well as from the accumulation of muscles. The Commissioners under those circumstances recommended that the public should be deprived of their right over the grounds to which he alluded, and that they should be delivered over under certain conditions to persons who would use them for oyster culture. Their Report, it was clear, would stimulate the applications of companies for the purpose. At present only one Bill had passed into law allowing such appropriation, and that was two years ago in the case of the Herne Bay and Reculver Oyster Fishery, and already there had been a Chancery suit with regard to that company. It might or might not be desirable that those appropriations should be permitted in future; but if they were, companies ought not, in his opinion, be allowed to go to a Committee upstairs for a Bill without having some general principle laid down for their guidance. He agreed with the Commissioners as to the desirability of the appropriation, but he thought the Government should bring in some general measure on the subject, so that the parties applying should know the conditions under which they would take the grounds, and also that the public might be protected as far as it should be thought right for them to be. The government would therefore, he hoped, bring in some general measure on the subject. The questions which would have to be decided by such a measure were, whether any portion of the public grounds should still be left open to the public, or whether the whole should be appropriated as was recommended; whether, in the event of their being appropriated by an individual or by 893 companies, the laying out for a certain number of years of a certain amount of capital should be required on the penalty of a forfeiture of their rights; and whether the owners of private oyster beds in the neighbourhood of the appropriated public grounds should be compensated, for they said that the public grounds were in a great measure stocked by the spat or oyster spawn which went from their private grounds, and they were anxious to retain the advantage they enjoyed at present, of being able to reclaim that oyster spat. If the Government endorsed the views of the Commissioners to the effect that the appropriation should be allowed, they might, perhaps, deem it advisable to declare that clauses should be introduced into private Bills for the purpose similar to those required by the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act. He was anxious, inasmuch as he believed that before long applications would be made by many persons seeking to form themselves into companies, with a view to oyster culture, to see some uniform principle adopted by the House, under which the appropriations to which he adverted might take place. He asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, Whether his attention has been called to that part of the Report of the Sea Fisheries Commissioners (United Kingdom) which relates to the desirability of promoting the Cultivation of Oysters by the appropriation of public grounds in estuaries and other places for the formation of Oyster Beds; and if it is the intention of the Government to bring in any general measure upon the subject?
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, the subject had been under the consideration of the Government. The Board of Trade, without exactly pledging themselves to every recommendation urged by the Commissioners, were favourable generally to their objects with respect to the cultivation of oysters. There could be no doubt that there were portions of the bed of the sea within the marine league which might be appropriated to the cultivation of oysters, and over which exclusive right might be given to private persons without any disadvantage to the public. The question, as far as he had been able to form an opinion upon it, stood thus: If a portion of the bed of the sea were granted by the Crown there still remained to the public the right of fishing; and if any person having such grant of foreshore and bed of the at a with the marine league were to lay down au oyster ground, and to go to great ex- 894 pense in cultivating and raising a crop of oysters, others might come and in a few years sweep them away under the sanction of a common right of fishing. He concurred with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that if an exclusive right were given in the way proposed, we should be contributing very usefully to the encouragement of the cultivation of oysters, and to the increase of the supply of that important article of food. The Government had a Bill under consideration, but whether it would be desirable to proceed, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, by proposing a set of clauses that should be incorporated in all private Bills in those cases in which persons sought for powers to appropriate the bed of the sea or any river, he was not quite prepared to say. That might be a fit way of accomplishing the object in view, or it might be attained by a system of licences with proper safeguards. Great caution would be required to be observed before any Department of the State should take on itself to grant exclusive, rights of property in those cases in which rights were now possessed by the public. The question of the enclosure of waste lands and public commons, was one which at the present day excited considerable attention; and if persons could easily enclose and appropriate to themselves portions of the coast where humble fishermen obtained a scanty livelihood, without fitting compensation and proper consideration, a general ground of complaint might be furnished. The Government were alive to the great importance of the subject, and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) had done good service in bringing it under the notice of the House. After some further time had been given for its consideration the Government would, he hoped, be able to mature a measure which might, perhaps, meet with the favour of the House, and accomplish the end which the hon. Member had in view.
§ Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," agreed to.