HC Deb 03 April 1867 vol 186 cc1093-100

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time, regretted the lateness of the hour precluded him, in justice to the hon. Members who wished to speak also on the subject, from entering into it as fully as he wished. He would curtail his remarks to the narrowest limits, more especially as he had extensively circulated in a printed form reasons in support of the measure. Twenty-one years ago competent authorities declared that the coasts around Ireland ought to give employment to four times the number of people engaged in the fisheries, and that the capture ought to be in the same proportion. There were at that time nearly 20,000 vessels and boats and upwards of 100,000 men and boys employed in the fisheries. The modes of capture had in the meantime improved, prices had increased, though fish was quite as abundant, increased facilities of transit had enabled markets to be more easily reached, and yet to-day there were not above 10,000 vessels and boats, and 40,000 hands engaged, showing a diminution of more than one-half of the latter, and fully half the former. The cause of this was in part told in the Report of the Royal Commissioners appointed in 1864 to examine into the fisheries of the kingdom— The fishermen suffered to the full extent in the misfortunes of the famine, and as most of them became physically incapable of going to sea, it was frequently found that men were starving whilst fish was in abundance. In many parts of Ireland the fishing population has not yet recovered from the depression and ruin caused by the famine, and the subsequent emigration, by taking off the youngest and ablest of the fishermen, and leaving behind the old and incompetent, operated most injuriously. Thousands of poor fishermen had to sell their boats and gear for anything they could get, and thousands of craft were suffered to go to decay, the owners in both instances never being able to replace them. This accounted in a great measure for the decline in numbers; but the causes which operated before the famine in preventing the fisheries from being as flourishing as they ought to be still existed, the want of good fishing harbours, want of capital to procure a better class of boats by the coast fishermen, unwise restrictions on the modes of fishing, the want of a constant supervision, and of a vigorous central authority. The Bill then before the House was intended to provide for those requirements. It removed the control from the Board of Works, and placed it directly under the Lord Lieutenant. He wished to speak of the Board as it deserved with every respect, but it had such multifarious and onerous duties to perform that the fisheries could not be properly attended to: and in justice it should be said the Board was vested with very insufficient powers. In conformity with the recommendation of the Royal Commissioners all restrictions on in-shore fishing was removed. This was a subject involving some difference of opinion, and the Board of Works had expressed an opinion contrary to the Royal Commission, as regarded trawling within bays and estuaries. It seems, however, that whilst in many places they prevented vessels which could not trawl in less than four fathoms of water from fishing in bays, they allowed small craft which could trawl in half a fathom to do so freely, so that if their theory was correct about destroying spawn in shallow places, they suffered the mischief to be done in the most effectual manner. Persons of capital were deterred in many instances from investing in large boats, as during hard weather they should keep their crews idle, from not being able to follow fish up estuaries, which could not be caught by small boats, and which after a time dashed back to sea again, and might never be captured. The provisions regarding loans were the most important in the Bill. They would in the first place enable owners of property on its security to obtain loans to plant oyster beds on the shore adjacent to their lands, and in the next empower the Board of Works to advance small sums on approved security for procuring boats and gear. This would very much encourage the purchase of craft more suited to deep-sea fishing than those generally used by the humbler fishermen. The Royal Commission of 1836 strongly recommended the encouragement of loan funds. A society, of which Mr. Andrews, the eminent authority on fisheries, was a trustee, had in a few years advanced several thousand pounds to poor fishermen, which, he stated, had all been repaid, after conferring great advantages on the recipients. Some, perhaps, would urge that to make advances to fishermen was contrary to the principles of political economy. On that day he had put the question to the first political economist of the age, who considered that the Irish fishermen ought to be fostered and encouraged by such means. A gentleman, who from his experience and official position ought to be competent to pronounce, had been quoted in a recent pamphlet as having stated that the Irish fisheries were capable of supporting twenty times the present fleet. Now, suppose that half that figure were adopted, and that ten times the present crews obtained a living, and contributed only £25 per man to the stock of fish, there would, in round numbers, be 500,000 of additional people employed, and £5,000,000 extra circulated among the Irish people, and fully £15,000,000 of additional food contributed to the stock of provisions of the kingdom. How £5,000,000 worth of fish represented £15,000,000 worth of food could be easily explained. A farmer easily obtained £60 per ton for his beef, the fisherman only got £7 per ton for his fish, prime and offal together. Now, even admitting that 1 lb of beef was worth 3 lb of fish in point of nutriment (and which it certainly was not), still those who bought it at £7 per ton had it at one-ninth the price of meat. With such a number of additional people employed, and so much money circulating, how far it would go to allay discontent and disaffection, and what a splendid nursery would be formed for the Mercantile and Royal Marine. Sensible of the latter advantage, the Emperor of the French was giving bounties and doing all he could to advance the fisheries of his kingdom. Their attention to fisheries enabled the Dutch once as a maritime Power to cope with England, and Dutchman boasted that their noble city of Amsterdam had its foundation laid on herring bones. He (Mr. Blake) admitted that there were some points in the Bill opened to controversy, and therefore did not seek it should become law until fully considered. The best way of doing this would be to refer it to a Select Committee of the House. In fact, the subject, together with the inland fisheries, had been so referred in 1862; but the latter, at his (Mr. Blake's) instance, was only then considered and reported on. The present Government on accession to office had through the Leader in the House expressed a desire to promote the material interests of Ireland. As yet, however, Ireland had been obliged to take the promise for the deed. A good opportunity now offered, without risk of loss to the State, of rendering a service to Ireland by aiding to place in a flourishing position the important industrial resource which he had brought under their notice. The Irish Members on both sides seemed most anxious that the matter should be taken into consideration, and the leading Irish metropolitan journals, Conservative and Liberal, had with great public spirit and ability urged the subject on the attention of Government, and advocated an inquiry which he hoped the House would not refuse.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Blake.)


said, it was impossible for him that day to enter very largely into the question which the hon. Gentleman had brought forward. The matter, however, was one of very great importance, and the Bill before the House would have the effect of repealing nearly the whole of their existing legislation upon it. He was disinclined to resist the appeal made to him by his hon. Friend; but he must guard himself and the Government from being supposed to be favourable to some portions of the Bill. Two Reports on that subject from very able Royal Commissions lay on the table of the House, and those two high authorities differed most essentially on some points connected with that question. Therefore, the House ought to be careful before it took any very decided line on the matter. Moreover, he understood that Parliament would probably be invited at no very distant day to consider the whole question of deep-sea fisheries as regarded the United Kingdom; and, if that were the case, it would, he thought, be premature for the House to legislate absolutely for one part of the United Kingdom. Still, the subject was not one which ought to be delayed unnecessarily, and he was not indisposed, therefore, to assent to the second reading of the Bill on the understanding that no further step should be taken in the matter until after Easter, when they would probably be better able to judge of the effect of recent legislation on certain parts of the question, and particularly with reference to the formation of oyster beds. The 12th clause of the Bill made a very serious alteration, because it provided that no boats should trawl within a distance of three miles from boats fishing with drift nets. [Mr. BLAKE: That is the existing law.] No, he thought not; and he mentioned that merely to show how difficult and complicated the subject was, and how cautious they ought to be before committing themselves to any opinion upon it. He hoped it would be understood that the question as to referring the Bill to a Select Committee should be allowed to stand over for the present. After Easter the House would be in a better position to decide whether it was desirable to take that course.


said, he wished to give notice that, after the second reading of the Bill, he should move that it be referred to a Select Committee; for he was convinced that only in this way could all the differences of opinion that existed on this subject be fairly considered.


said, it was his duty to call the attention of the House to certain provisions of the Bill with regard to the lending of public money. The Bill proposed that money should be advanced by the Public Works Commissioners in Ireland to enable persons to form oyster beds, build piers and harbours, erect houses or sheds for the curing or drying of fish, and also to mend or repair boats and vessels, to purchase fishing gear, or for such other purposes as the inspectors might certify under their hands were expedient. The money was to be advanced on the certificate of an inspector that the security was satisfactory. He apprehended that in most cases the security would be personal security. He was exceedingly anxious to see the Irish fisheries flourishing; but in assenting to the second reading of the Bill, he wished it distinctly to be understood that he did not consent to many of the clauses as they now stood, because he thought it was impossible to lend public money upon perishable articles such as boats and nets, upon what he supposed was merely personal security.


said, that in the present state of the matter what was wanted was a general Bill for the three kingdoms, instead of one applying to Ireland only; for as soon as the Convention with France was concluded some general legislative measure would be absolutely indispensable. It was not true that the decline of the Irish fisheries had been caused by the unwise interference of the Legislature or of Parliament, but by the decline of the population—a fact that was very clearly established by the Royal Commission that sat on the subject—and mainly through the continual fighting that went on between those parties who wished to carry them on in one way and those who wished to carry them on in another. He sincerely trusted that in any fresh legislation on that subject they would adopt the same system in the three countries. As soon, therefore, as the Convention with France was signed he hoped they would have a general Bill brought in for the three kingdoms. That would be better than any Government grant or exceptional legislation.


said, he thought that no sufficient reason had been shown for not proceeding with the Bill; he believed that the Bill would greatly assist in the development of the Irish fisheries, and he therefore trusted it would be referred to a Select Committee. The approaching Convention with France had no special reference to Ireland and ought not to be made the ground for obstruction to the progress of the present measure.


said, that having been a member of the Commission referred to, he could state that what was most needed for the development of Irish fisheries was that some means should be adopted to preserve peace between the different fishermen. That Report had led to the appointment of an International Commission between France and England, of which he was also a member; they had agreed upon the abolition of all restrictions beyond the three mile limit, and to establish a few simple police regulations for the preservation of order among the fishermen. He hoped, therefore, that this Bill would be simply read a second time, but that further progress should be stayed till after the production of the Report of the International Committee, which might render it unnecessary to send the Bill to a Select Committee. He approved of the abolition of restrictions in this Bill, but not of loans to fishermen, and pointed out that it would be impossible to take anything like adequate security, seeing the very perishable nature of the commodity which formed the chief security that could be offered for the repayment of the loans, He approved, however, of advances being made for piers and harbours at fishing stations, because something like a valid security could be given.


said, he should support the second reading, with a view to send the Bill before a Select Committee, because the Convention between France and England would by no means settle the many questions which it was the object of this Bill to settle. Moreover, there was a decided difference of opinion between the English and Irish Fishery Commissions as to the desirability of permitting trawling, the Irish Commission being totally opposed to it, while the Report of the Deep Sea Fisheries Commissioners was in favour of removing all restrictions upon trawling. With reference to what had been said against the proposal to assist the Irish fisheries with loans, he maintained that the Government were still retaining to their own use £5,000 every year to which Ireland was entitled, and which was given her for the very purpose of promoting her fisheries.


said, he would strongly support the proposition for the second reading with a view of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, where it might be examined by Members who were acquainted with the subject and with the country. He thought that a further consideration of the measure would show that there was nothing to justify the assertion that it proposed the lending of the public money upon perishable articles. What was proposed was that the money should be lent upon such security as the Commissioners should approve of, and this need not be either of a personal or perishable character.


thought that little disposition was shown to encourage the improvement and progress of Ireland, when a proposal such as this met with such an unfavourable reception; but when he saw one Secretary of the Treasury nodding over the way to the ex-Secretary of the Treasury, he felt sure that the scheme, whatever it might be, was doomed. Everything which had been said in the course of the debate showed that the Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee; but, at the same time, he would say that he advocated that course, not only on the ground advanced by other hon. Members, but because he did not agree that it would be expedient to do away with all restric- tions on fishing, because it would let in the employment of very destructive engines. So far as the loan question was concerned, he understood private loans were now advanced to fishermen on the security of the boats, nets, and gear, and that the results had been very successful.


hoped that any hesitation which the Government might have shown to refer the Bill at present to a Select Committee, would not be imputed to any desire on their part to throw obstacles in the way of the development of the important branch of national industry to which it related. He could assure the House that the Government were very anxious to deal with a subject of this importance in a way that would be satisfactory to Ireland, and there was no objection whatever to refer it to a Select Committee; but they thought the best plan would be to wait until the Report of the International Commissioners, and the particulars of the Convention were before Parliament, when they would be able to say at once whether it was advisable to send the Bill to a Select Committee.


expressed his gratification at hearing that there would be no opposition to the second reading of the Bill, and would have agreed readily to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, but he thought the facts stated by the hon. Member for Reading and the Attorney General ought to be sufficient to induce his hon. Friend to abstain from pressing for a Select Committee till after Easter.


said, that any Bill of the character of that now before the House ought to extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. He must condemn the principle of the loans referred to in the Bill as contrary to sound political economy.


said, he did not think that the Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee. It altered materially the Act passed only last Session, and it was rather early to legislate again on the subject.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday next.