HC Deb 24 June 1868 vol 192 cc2012-22

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he wished to give a short history of their present and past condition, in order that the House might see the necessity there was for passing the measure he proposed. Ireland was so noted in early time for the quantity of fish frequenting its coasts that the Danes were led in a great measure to attempt the conquest of the country on that account, and carried on a large trade in that commodity from the harbours in their possession. After the Norman conquest England derived a large revenue from licences to foreigners to fish in the Irish seas. The Dutch gave Charles I. £30,000 for leave to fish on the Western part. In 1556 Philip of Spain paid £1,000 a year for the right of fishing off the North of Ireland, and in 1650 Sweden, in return for services to England, was allowed to employ 100 vessels in the Irish fishery. The Scotch and English fishermen frequented the Irish coasts in preference to their own. The wants of Ireland were fully supplied, and large quantities were exported. So long as they were allowed the Native fishermen prosecuted their calling most industriously. But according to Sir Charles Morgan, in his History of the British Fisheries, the Government did not entertain the idea that "this resource could or ought to be made available for the Irish subject." Against no branch of industry were more merciless efforts directed by England than against the fisheries. The Parliament of the Commonwealth was inundated with petitions from English fishermen, stating the injuries inflicted on them by the rivalry of the Irish fishermen, and praying that they might be discouraged. Cromwell appears to have complied, as according to Pendergast's Cromwellian Settlement," the fishermen and gillers of the herrings were almost exterminated by the transplanting law." No doubt, also, cargoes of fishermen were sent with other deported Irish to Barbadoes and sold. For a long time ordinances were in force forbidding Irish fishermen to go out of harbour to ply their craft while Englishmen were so engaged. The same manifested itself quite as effectually in more recent times. As late as 1804 the Nymph Bank Company Bill to fish the South Coast, promoted by the Marino Society of London, was defeated, because the fishermen of Harwich, Gravesend, and Faversham represented that they might be injured by it. Again, in 1836, when Lord Morpeth, as Irish Secretary, brought in a Bill to give effect to the recommendations of a Commission appointed to report on the fisheries of Ireland, the Scotch Members—always most determined foes to the Irish fisheries—through the influence of the Duke of Sutherland, caused the Bill to be abandoned, to the discredit of the Whigs of that day Under the latter days of the Irish Parliament, the fisheries flourished; but like other branches of industry fostered by a Native Legislature, they declined after the Union, but rallied when again encouraged by the State. Between 1820 and 1830, aid, however, was prematurely withdrawn from Ireland, although continued to Scotland; and nothing exhibited more strongly the flagrant system of injustice pursued towards the former when at all likely to interfere with Scottish interests than the fact that, since 1800 £1,250,000 more had been given for the promotion of the Scotch fisheries than the Irish. And at that moment Scotland was receiving nearly £8,000 a year more for her fisheries than Ireland. Giving full credit for everything expended in Ireland, including harbours, Scotland had a special Board for the management of the fisheries, and a numerous staff of inspectors, whilst the Irish fisheries formed only a small part of another department, and had a solitary Inspector for a range of sea coast at least three times greater. In spite, however, of these disadvantages, just before the famine there were over 100,000 men and boys engaged in the fisheries, and nearly 20,000 vessels and boats. At present the crews were under 36,000, and the craft did not much exceed 9,000, and year by year the numbers were going down with fearful rapidity, This decline was attributable to the impoverishment of the fishing population consequent on the famine, and their inability to procure boats and gear, or keep what they had in repair. The fish were as abundant as ever; and though the demand might be less in Ireland from decrease of population, the demand had increased in England, and the facilities of reaching distant markets increased. London consumed £5,000,000 worth of fish in the year, and the provinces at least as much more. Ireland did not now produce £400,000 worth in the year—not; enough to supply London for one month, and was obliged to import £150,000 worth a year from Norway, Newfoundland, and Scotland, to supply her wants; the seaboard of Holland was not half that of Ireland, and yet 450,000 Dutch once supported themselves by fishing; those who tilled the soil in Ireland were under 1,000,000, so that if they were altogether deprived of the land, they ought to be able to gain a livelihood out of the surrounding seas. Estimating very moderately, the fisheries ought to produce £2,000,000 worth, and oysters as much more, instead of hardly £50.000 as at present. At Whitstabl'e out of less than three square miles of sea bottom £300,000 worth a year of oysters were sometimes dredged. Three years ago he introduced a Bill with a view of putting the fisheries in a better position, and after two years' struggling and discouragement from the then Government, thanks chiefly to the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Mayo) he obtained a Select Committee last year. After two months' examination of witnesses they amended the Bill, and reported in favour of his views. In the amended form he then presented the Bill to the House. Its leading provisions were removing the control from the Treasury to the Lord Lieutenant, constituting a Department independent of the Board of Works, removing certain restrictions on particular modes of fishing, and making loans for erection of curing houses, and purchase of boats and gear. But the very essence of the Bill consisted in the clauses empowering loans—they were the pivot on which everything turned, and if not granted he would, for his part, prefer to throw up the Bill, as he felt they were the chief means by which the fisheries would be saved from further decline. The former system of Government loans, the loans of the Society of Friends, and of the Society for bettering the condition of the Irish poor had done much good, and had been attended by no loss. The evidence in favour of the loans he proposed given before the Select Committee was conclusive. The Inspecting Commissioners of Coast Guards were unanimous as to the good they would do, and in the Report of the Inspecting Commissioner of Fisheries, besides strong recommendations in favour of the loan system, it was stated— I have heard of no instance of a fisherman having been implicated in the wild and wicked projects of Fenianism. When the good that was accomplished was compared to the means required, he thought no wise or paternal Government would hesitate one moment about putting into execution the suggestion offered by the Select Committee and other competent authority. Only £50,000 was required, spread over a number of years, not as a gift, but advanced on well-secured loans. How little the Emperor of the French would think of expending such a sum, even as a mere experiment, for the benefit of his people. At present France voted £250,000 a year for the promotion of her fisheries. The prosperity of Dutch fisheries was mainly owing to the encouragement given by that Government, and Sweden was then making great and most successful efforts for the promotion of the Norway fisheries. It was a great reproach to England to allow such a resource to decay as the Irish fisheries had done; and if no effort was made to arrest the decline it would be a deep disgrace, and afford good ground for the assertion that England was indifferent to the interests of Ireland, He supposed when he sat down, he would have some Scotch Members, as always occurred when he brought the subject before the House, starting up to dispute anything being done for the Irish fisheries, on the grounds of political economy. But he had the authority of two of the most eminent authorities on that science—the hon. Members for Westminster and Brighton—for saying it was consistent with its principles to put the implement of his industry into the hands of the willing labourer, and that the fisherman was just as well entitled to a loan, if he gave satisfactory security, as the landlord or the tenant for the improvement of his land, as proposed by the Land Bill of the noble Earl. The antecedents of the present Government were good with regard to the Irish fisheries. The late Lord George Bentinck in 1847 was most anxious for a Committee of Inquiry; and the present Head of the Government on the 15th of May, 1847, zealously seconded his unfortunately unsuccessful efforts to compel the Ministry to grant a Select Committee to inquire into the Irish fisheries, with a view of ascertaining the measures necessary to render them more beneficial to the people. The twenty years which have passed since the death of that lamented and warm friend of Ireland serve to prove the wisdom of his generous policy as regarded the Irish railways and fisheries. Had his enlightened views been carried out, there can be little doubt that without loss to the Imperial Exchequer, the country would be in a more prosperous and progressive position, and not as now, a source of anxiety and embarrassment to England. His biographer and friend—"one who stood by his side in an arduous and unequal struggle, who often shared his counsels, and sometimes perhaps soothed his cares," and who "stepped aside from the passion and strife of public life to draw up the record of his deeds and thoughts'—is now in a position to give effect to the kindly sentiment contained in that distinguished statesman's speech, 4th February, 1847— It may be said, as it has been said by some, if Irish enterprize cannot help itself, or walk without crutches, Irish enterprize must be allowed to fall. This is not my opinion, or the opinion of my Friends."—[3 Hansard, lxxxix. 799]. Almost the first utterance of Mr. Disraeli, after his late accession to Office, expressed a strong desire— To ameliorate the condition of Ireland by assisting to develop her industrial resources, and an unwillingness that the drain of her population by emigration should continue. No better argument could be furnished in favour of the action of the State in forwarding such matters, than the opinion of the noble Earl lately at the head of the Government, contained in the Report drawn up by him as Chairman of the Committee on Irish Railways some years ago— It is a waste of public available resources to suffer so large a portion of the Empire to lie fallow, or leave it to struggle, by slow advances and with defective means, towards its improvement, when the judicious aid of the State might quickly make it a source of common strength and advantage. It was shown that if the Irish peasantry were placed, in point of comfort, on a par with Great Britain, the Excise duties would show an increase of £6,000,000 per annum. 'This consideration alone,' says the Report, 'ought to silence any objection, on the ground of expense, against affording public aid, such as may be required, for these works, as it gives an enormous profit on the greatest contemplated outlay.' If the Government chose there was ample time to pass the Bill. With regard to advances, he believed there was perfect unanimity on the part of the Irish Members. There never, perhaps, was an occasion when a Government had such an opportunity of doing so much with so little trouble and outlay by yielding to the wish so strongly felt by the representatives from Ireland—an important step would betaken towards removing one of the causes of poverty and discontent, increased food and employment, two of the greatest wants in Ireland, and a valuable nursery for the Royal and mercantile marine kept up; as it should not be forgotten when the fishermen were flourishing under the Irish Parliament that the latter voted 10,000 men to help to man the British fleet during the American war. At all events, if Government would not pass the Bill this year, he hoped that the noble Earl would not refuse to allow it to be read a second time, as that would help it passing on a future occasion. He hoped some aid would be given this year in the way of loans out of the Irish Representative Fund—even £5,000 would go some way until legislation would be had—and that oyster instructors would he appointed. He asked the Government to do so much if they would not go to the full extent they ought this year; and he trusted that when the Premier next stated his policy with regard to Ireland, that the development of her valuable but neglected fisheries would form part of his programme.


, in seconding the Motion, said, there was no branch of trade in Ireland in so much decay, and which so much required assistance, as the sea fisheries. He hoped and expected that the House would sanction the principle of the Bill which had been introduced, in order to develop this branch of Irish industry. There was no decrease in the quantity of fish to be found in the seas surrounding Ireland; but the number of fishermen had decreased, and this, to his mind, proved that there was something radically wrong in the present system, and that it was desirable to assist the poor fishermen in providing themselves with the means of taking the fish and bringing them to market. During the last ten years, the number of both men and ships engaged in the Irish deep sea fishery had diminished more than one-half, and the industry could only only be revived by a loan of public money, and by its being placed under the superintendence of competent and active inspectors. The present inspectors were officers of the Board of Works, who were engaged one day in considering the advisability of granting a loan for drainage works in Ulster, another day in deciding whether a fence should be erected in Phoenix Park, or whether n railing should be re-gilt, and on the following day had to form themselves into a Fishery Board and plunge into the difficult subject of nets and meshes, trawling, and so on. One of the most important parts of the Bill was that which placed the new inspectors under the control of the Lord Lieutenant. The decrease of supply had been greater this year than formerly, which showed that something must be done at once. He hoped that the Government would sanction the second reading of the Bill, and would take the matter into consideration during the Recess, with the view of introducing a Bill upon the subject early next Session.

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


said, he should support the Bill, and he regretted that there were not more Bills of such a practical character brought forward for Ireland. When on a visit to that country, he was struck with the indifference to this important branch of trade. He was led to believe that the Irish fisheries were greatly neglected by the Board of Works. No sheds were erected in which the fish might be cured, and no standard value was placed upon the fish as was the case in Scotland, and thus the Irish fish only commanded a very low price in foreign markets. He hoped that the Bill would pass in the course of the present Session.


said, he hoped the Government would allow the Bill to be read a second time. There would be no difficulty in passing the Bill this Session, for they were all pretty well agreed upon what was wanted. The present Board of Commissioners had failed to discharge their duties, and they were annually renewing, by their appointment, a state of "do nothing," Irish Members were agreed not only upon the main principles but also upon the details of the measure, and what was requited for Ireland, consequently, the Bill need not be long in Committee, He urged the Government, if possible, to pass the Bill this Session. The Treasury was the great difficulty in this, as in all matters relating to Ireland. They were always ready to take money from Ireland, but they were not so ready to give Ireland even what belonged to her.


said, that by the 15th clause of the Bill the owner of a foreshore might lay down oyster beds at low water mark; but if he did not any other person might do so without his consent, the consent of the Commissioners being sufficient. This was an interference with private property which he thought the House ought not to allow.


said, that by the law as it at present stood an owner might plant beds within ten miles on either side of his property.


said, the Crown had been defeated on the question of foreshores in Scotland, If Irish Members were united, the same could be done for Ireland. As this Bill had gone through the scrutiny of a Select Committee, he wished to know why it should not proceed, he thought that, as there were not many Irish Bills before the House, the present one might be passed this Session, There was plenty of time to carry it through Parliament. It would prove a valuable measure for Ireland. If they wished to promote the Irish fisheries, they must adopt the Bill and take their management out of the hands of the Board of Works. They only asked for their own money with which to promote local interests.


said, he should be the last to underrate the importance of the question with which the Bill proposed to deal. It was quite true that the Irish fisheries were in a languishing condition; and there was hardly any subject more worthy to occupy the time and attention of the House. In his opinion the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Blake) had done great and valuable public service in bringing this question forward. He thought that the decrease in the number of persons said to be engaged in this branch of industry had been over-estimated, and he proposed to institute an inquiry during the autumn, by which the exact number of the persons so engaged might be ascertained. The decrease was no doubt out of proportion to the decrease of the population; but he doubted if the number said to have been formerly employed could be relied on as consisting of persons engaged solely in that branch of industry. He was not sanguine, however, about the possibility of passing the present Bill during this Session; for there were difficult and delicate matters of detail to be settled before any satisfactory conclusion could be arrived at. The Bill proposed to create a central authority, which should form a portion of the Irish Government. There were to be three Commissioners, who were to have jurisdiction over the river as well as the sea fisheries. This would be a great improvement upon the present system, under which no member of the Government was responsible for the acts of the fishery inspectors. He must, however, point out that there was in existence a Special Com- mission for the purpose of inquiring into the best mode of settling many matters connected with the inland fisheries. He regretted that the labours of that Commission had not been brought to a close before; but he believed they would terminate in the autumn of this year. It would be inadvisable, under these circumstances to appoint a Board to superintend the fisheries of Ireland alone, when in all probability a central Board would be appointed under the recommendation of that Commission, which would have the control of the whole of the inland and of the deep sea fisheries of the kingdom. The Bill attempted to deal with the vexed and intricate question of trawling, and under these circumstances he did not think that it could be properly discussed during the present Session. Nine-tenths of the fish sold in London were caught by means of trawling—a plan which tended greatly to economize labour. It appeared to him, therefore, that it would be utterly impossible to retain for any length of time the restrictions that at present existed. It should, however, be remembered that the main cause of the depressed condition of the Irish fisheries arose from the absence of a local market. At present no regular supply of fish, as a rule, reached the inland towns of Ireland. However much they might regret that circumstance, it was one which it was out of the power of Parliament to remedy. He had no doubt, however, that an alteration and improvement in the railway system would do a great deal. The hon. Member laid great stress on that portion of the Bill which enabled the Government to grant loans for the purchase of boats and nets. But he must remind the hon. Member that even if the Government felt disposed to accede to such an application, there would be a great difficulty in obtaining the consent of Parliament. It would, therefore, in his opinion, be holding out false hopes to those engaged in this industry if he were for a moment to suppose that the House would permit the Government to lend money to private persons, for the purchase of boats and fishing gear, upon the personal security of those to whom the money was lent. [Mr. BLAKE: No, upon satisfactory security.] It was, of course, hard to say what would be a satisfactory security; but in this case he apprehended scarcely any other security could be offered than the machinery for fishing upon the purchase of which the money lent was to be expended. If, however, the ratepayers of a county represented to the Government that money might be advanced on curing-houses, that might be listened to. With regard to the question of the oyster fishery, he felt that there was no industry which was capable of greater development in Ireland; and he might re-remark that the extraordinary loss and failure which had occurred in the experiments made in this direction in England had not extended to Ireland. He believed that in the bays and inlets on the West coast of Ireland there would be a much better chance of success. He had already brought the matter under the notice of the Government, and he was in hopes that steps would be taken to ascertain to what extent and by what means the culture of oysters had been successful in France, in order that that information might be made use of to promote the culture on Irish coasts. He felt that it would be impossible to legislate upon this subject during the present Session, and he wished it to be understood that there were several points in which he did not agree with the hon. Member for Waterford; but as be approved the principle of the Bill he should not oppose the second reading.


said, that in England there were no Commissioners to frame by-laws for the regulation of fisheries, and he must deprecate the appointment of three fresh Commissioners in Ireland. The Sea Fisheries Commission which reported two years ago did not recommend the continuance of restrictions. He concurred in all that had just fallen from the noble Earl opposite, and was also desirous of guarding himself from being supposed to sanction the principle of loans to the fishermen for the purchase of boats and fishing gear. If such loans were once granted he could not see why the fishermen of Cornwall and other parts of our coasts would not also have a claim upon the public money, or how loans could be refused to other branches of industry in Scotland or in this country.


said, the main objection of his hon. Friend who had just sat down to the granting of loans to the Irish fishermen was that if this were done for Ireland it should be done for Scotland and England. His answer was that Ireland was a more backward country than either Scotland or England, Government might very properly undertake to do things for a country which was industrially backward, which no one could expect from them in the case of a country which was in a more advanced and prosperous condition. This consideration was of all the more weight when it was remembered that the industrial backwardness of Ireland was, in a great measure, attributable to the past legislation of this country. For a long period English legislators, without distinction of party, employed themselves in crushing this and most other branches of Irish enterprize. It was therefore incumbent on us, now that we were wiser and able to look upon our past conduct with shame, to legislate in an opposite direction, and even to risk if necessary the loss of small sums of money to advance that industry which we had formerly endeavoured to retard.

Motion agreed to.

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