HC Deb 27 May 1881 vol 261 cc1536-50

who had given Notice that he would draw the attention of the House to the Report of the Committee appointed by the Colonial Office in 1880 to distribute the grant of £2,000 voted by the Dominion of Canada towards the relief of Irish distress, and to the aid afforded by the Committee to the fishing population on the West Coast of Ireland; and to move— That, in view of the surprising and excellent results obtained by the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money on the construction and repairs of harbours and piers, and on the provision of boats, nets, and gear, it is expedient, in the opinion of this House, that further assistance should be given for the development of the Irish fisheries, that such assistance should be given from public sources, and should be in the form of a free grant, said, that if the Government intimated that it would be inconvenient to discuss the subject in the absence of the Chief Secretary, he would refrain from bringing it forward at present. On two or three occasions previously attention had been called to the fisheries of Ireland; but the House had never manifested any great interest in them, and it had not entertained any large scheme for their development. It had been said on those occasions that there were no actual facts to bring before the House to show that any outlay of money would be remunerative. Now, however, there was some evidence of the return that might be obtained by pecuniary outlay. In the winter of 1879, at the time when very severe distress existed along the West Coast of Ireland, the Dominion of Canada voted £20,000 for its relief, and the late Secretary of State for the Colonies intrusted the distribution of it to a Committee selected from the two central Relief Committees then existing in Dublin. The Committee came to the conclusion that the proper way to carry out the wishes of the Canadian donors was to expend the money on works or objects that would have a permanent and lasting effect. The importance of harbours and piers on the West Coast of Ireland had long been recognized. For some years it had been in the power of the Government to make grants to localities for the purpose of assisting to construct harbours and piers for the advantage of the coasting population engaged in fishing pursuits. But those grants had been of a very niggardly character. They were limited to about £5,000 a-year from the Treasury; it was stipulated that the locality should provide one-fourth of the sum required, and from the outset the conditions laid down rendered the liberality of the Treasury almost useless. So poor were the people that it was all but impossible for them to find even a fourth of the money for any such works as were required. It followed that the works constructed had been very few in number, and the authorities had been unfortunate in the selection of sites. The Irish Board of Works had failed in this as in other things, and had enforced the necessity for its re-construction. The Canadian Grant was a godsend to a poor population, who were peculiarly situated in this respect, that no amendment of the Land Laws would place them in a satisfactory position, because they could not subsist wholly on agriculture. In the West of Ireland the resources of the people, so far as agriculture was concerned, were deplorable; but on the coast the compensation of nature was remarkable in the great productiveness of the fisheries. Some years ago the Western population derived very great profits from the fisheries. Kelp was also an unfailing source of income; but that trade had entirely failed from no fault of theirs. From year to year the funds which enabled them to provide boats and nets had disappeared. Repairs were not carried out; their boats became unseaworthy, and their nets rotten. He thought the House would gladly recognize the deep debt of gratitude they owed to the Parliament of the Dominion in voting spontaneously a very liberal grant of money for the relief of the poor Irish population. The Committee appointed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies determined to apply this sum of money partly in the erection of piers and harbours, and partly in the provision of boats, and nets, and fishing gear. With regard to piers and harbours, the greater number were either completely dilapidated or out of repair. They were fortunate enough to secure the assistance of Dr. Brady, who was most enthusiastic in his devotion to the cause of Irish fisheries. That gentleman gave himself heart and soul to the distribution of the grant. His information was always of the most reliable character, especially as to the localities on which they should expend their money in providing piers and harbours, and they were able to contribute more than 24 piers. The Committee provided the one-fourth required to be advanced by the locality, and the Treasury advanced the other three-fourths. But the Treasury made an additional grant, and instead of the usual £5,000, they made a grant last year of £45,000, which had enabled a very large number of works to be commenced. He regretted, however, to say that the Treasury, with that extreme prudence and caution which were, perhaps, right at the time when great demands were made for Irish distress, had given the House to understand that this £45,000 was an accumulation of the grants for nine years to come, so that Ireland would have to go so long without any grant from the Treasury for these harbours. He hoped the Government, on re-consideration, would not adhere to this resolution. The Committee had been able to contribute to 24 piers. There were 79 other applications for improvements to harbours, for many of which other resources were available; but in consequence of the insufficiency of the Government grants they could not be proceeded with. The total cost of the 24 piers was £55,000, and the estimated cost of the 79, which the Committee, after careful investigation, thought absolutely necessary, and to which the localities were willing to contribute, was £181,000. The works appeared to have been carried on very carefully and satisfactorily, some by the Board of Works and others by contracts. They were not completed; but the Committee reported that when completed they would be of the greatest possible value to the population, and would stimulate the fisheries very much. If hon. Members had been on the West Coast of Ireland, on the tremendous coast of Donegal, for instance, as his right hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Law) had been, they would understand that, with the terrific gales on that coast, unless shelter was provided, men could not be expected to run the risk that would have to be incurred. The richness of the Irish fisheries had been brought out by the Committee in the most remarkable way. In some localities the Committee said that each canoe returned laden with mackerel from 50 to 80 dozen in each. There had not been so heavy a fishing for years. They also said that for miles along the coast of Clare there were no nets among the fishermen until they provided them. According to their Report, one boat realized £60 in three nights, and the cost of the boat was only £12. In another locality, where nets were given to 50 fishermen at a cost under £200, in four weeks over £1,200 worth of mackerel were sold. These poor Irish fishermen had for years been prevented from going to sea by the paralyzing effects of a poverty which had grown on them year by year; but the tiny aid which had been given by means of this fund in various parts of Ireland had done great good. If the Government were anxious to do good on a large scale there were results to encourage them. The men went to sea regardless of weather, and were so skilful as to make enormous captures. The first necessity was the provision of harbours for the population of the West Coast. If the Government wanted to effect any real improvement they must not proceed at the rate of £5,000 a-year, as they had been doing of late years; but they must set aside a very considerable sum for the scientific construction of harbours all over the West Coast, and there was no question but that the outlay would be highly remunerative. He would recommend an absolutely free grant for the purpose, and he was perfectly convinced the arguments in its favour were very strong. It was said that the liberality of Liberal Members extended only to dividing among Irishmen the property of a particular class. After all, the sum he asked for was not very large, considering the enormous resources of the country. His own idea was that at least £250,000 might be expended on Irish fisheries in a manner that would be exceedingly popular, judging from the results of much smaller loans. About the population of the West Coast of Ireland there was something very remarkable. Probably the Attorney General for Ireland had seen the Reports of the Irish Fishery Inspectors. If so, he could not have failed to notice that the Inspectors, whose visits made them acquainted with the fishing population all round the coast, invariably spoke of them in the highest terms as peaceable, orderly, and well-conducted, even in the disturbed districts. In short, while the difficulties of the country were wholly caused by the attitude of the agricultural population, the fishermen were worthy objects of liberality. It would be understood, of course, that if piers were constructed by means of a free grant of money, a small tax should be levied on those using them in order to keep them in repair. But piers were not all that was wanted. He had also to advocate a grant that was not equally defensible from a business point of view. It would be useless to provide piers and harbours for men who had no fishing-gear, and who were too destitute to buy it. In this case, however, a much smaller sum would suffice, or, rather, would be more than sufficient. He had good authority for saying that £50,000 would do a great deal of good in supplying proper fishing appliances. At present the fishing people were in a condition of extreme poverty. Their misery was undeniable, and had been caused by no fault of their own; and the remedy that he suggested had also been indicated by the Duke of Edinburgh as the result of his experience while distributing The New York Herald Relief Fund among the people of the West Coast. Considerations of political economy might, no doubt, be urged against the grant; but political economy had been banished to Jupiter and Saturn, and it would be hard indeed if it were recalled from those heights as an argument against needful liberality. It was to be borne in mind that the distribution of the grant would be a very easy task. The Coastguard officers and the parish priests would be able to furnish certificates stating the names of the individuals who were in need of some such State system as he had described, and it could be arranged that a certain sum should be paid back by the fishermen themselves out of their profits. If a grant were made on such a scale as he had suggested a most important supply of fish would, doubtless, be brought into the English market. There was already a fair extension of railways to the West Coast of Ireland, and there would be little difficulty in getting the fish to the market. At present there were three times as many English as there were Irish boats—to say nothing of French boats—gathering this valuable "harvest of the sea," which was the property of Ireland. If the people on the West Coast had the appliances by which they could become accustomed once more to the management of boats and to marine exercises, and if the Admiralty were to place one or two training ships on that coast, a most valuable recruiting ground would be provided for the Navy. In conclusion, he was sorry he could not ask the House to come to an absolute decision on his proposal at the present moment; but, on the other hand, he bad been glad to avail himself of this opportunity of bringing the subject before the House.


said, he could corroborate the character which the noble Lord had given the fishermen on the West Coast of Ireland; and he thought there was no part of it which showed more clearly the advantage of such a proposal as that now made than the district at the month of the Shannon. Before the Canadian Grant to the fishermen there, the fishermen in the neighbourhood of Loop Head were in the most dreadful poverty. To-day he had had a a letter from the parish priest, Father Vaughan, who was regarded as the father of the fishermen in that district, and he told him the poor people there were getting on well this year, and, as an instance of this, he wrote, "their rents are nearly all paid." The rev. gentleman pointed out that in the district there had been caught this year £100,000 worth of fish; but this quantity had been nearly all caught by English and French boats. At the same time, the canoes in which the natives fished had done extremely well. Although the people were poor, they were extremely honourable, and he (Mr. O'Shea) knew instances in which they had repaid loans in the most unexpectedly prompt manner. It was impossible for those who had not been on the West Coast of Ireland to understand the great difficulties which fishermen there experienced. He must offer his testimony to the numerous services of Mr. Brady on the West Coast of Ireland. It was marvellous how that gentleman had devoted his time for months past for the good of the fishermen on that coast; and he could assure the House the gratitude of the men towards him was very deep. He sincerely hoped some means would be taken by the Government to show they were not insensible of Mr. Brady's services.


said, he would not trespass upon the House beyond a few minutes, because he had given Notice of a Motion on the subject of the Irish Sea Fisheries, and he could state his views fully when that came on. The noble Lord, to whom too much credit could not be given for the admirable manner in which he had introduced this matter, had spoken about the Canadian Fund. That fund could not have been so advantageously made use of if it had not been for the exertions of his late Colleague, Mr. Brady, who, at great sacrifice to his comfort, had worked at its distribution most laboriously, zealously, and efficiently. The noble Lord had not time to touch upon the benefits conferred on the maritime population by another fund. As many hon. Gentlemen were aware, there was a sum of £40,000—the residue of a charitable fund raised some 40 years ago—which, during the Viceroyalty of the Duke of Marlborough, it was determined to use in granting loans to the Irish fishermen. In six years £32,000 had been advanced, and £20,000 had been repaid. There was overdue for arrears £856; but the greater portion of that sum was in course of repayment. In a couple of years the whole amount would be repaid. He himself, as Inspector of Fisheries, was engaged in the distribution of that fund. They could have advanced advantageously 10 times as much as they had at their disposal. In the county of Galway ho had, the first year, only £1,400 to advance, while £20,000 was applied for. That, of course, was an excessive figure; but he believed, had he had £10,000, it would have been usefully employed. The expenditure, according to the noble Lord, of the Canadian Fund, had boon attended with the most beneficial results, for the amount of fish captured was 50 times greater than it would otherwise have been. Only eight counties in Ireland had the benefit of the Reproductive Fund. It would be of the greatest advantage if the sum available could be increased, and the eight counties which had been left out, but in which fishing was carried on, could participate in the benefits arising from the advances. There was one thing particularly wanted for the Irish fisheries, and that was a vessel to look out for new fishing grounds and for surveying purposes. Scotland had for a long time been possessed of a vessel—an efficient vessel, under the Fishery Board; but, notwithstanding repeated requests, Ireland had never succeeded in obtaining one. If such a vessel were provided, he was sure much more fish would be caught. Upon the coast of Kerry, as, indeed, upon the coast of different parts of Ireland, vast shoals of mackerel were coming in, and there could be no doubt that if the seas around Ireland were properly fished, the wages and food of the people would be enormously increased. It was a deplorable thing that so magnificent a field of industry as the Irish fisheries afforded should be so much neglected and comparatively unused; and he hoped the earnest and powerful appeal of the noble Lord would have the effect of causing the Government to do something in the direction of taking some steps to render more available the fisheries of Ireland.


thanked the noble Lord for the careful attention he had given to this subject, and said, his excuse for intervening in the debate was that he represented a portion of the country that was more largely affected by the question than, perhaps, any other part of the country—he meant the town of Galway. What must have struck everybody who had visited Galway was the almost appalling rapidity with which the fishing population in the town had decreased. There was no part of the Irish problem that more immediately demanded the attention of Parliament than that of the Irish fishery population. With regard to the loans, the noble Lord had shown, first, that they were profitable; secondly, that they could be granted with security; and, thirdly, that the people fully deserved the loans, and would properly employ them. He had proved that they were profitable, and shown that the comparatively small sum of £11,000 spent on fishing gear had resulted in a profit of, at least, treble the outlay. One of the a numerous correspondents who had written on this subject had shown the immense difference there was between the people who had had the advantage of loans and those who had not. In the second place, it had been proved that those loans could be given with security, and he thought that that was a lesson in the direction of further loans from the State. On this point he could speak with a certain amount of local knowledge, because in a village just outside Galway a large number of loans had been granted in the course of nine years, and he was sure that an instance was unknown of anything like a breach of engagement by those to whom the loans were made. One of the most painful difficulties that had occurred to his mind upon this question was that somehow or other it seemed very hard to find out how the wishes of the people could best be met and their interests best advanced. One of the difficulties was that the population were rather backward; and owing to their antagonism to anything like innovation, and in order to relieve people, especially people of the unlettered class, the State must not only give relief, but they must give them relief in such a way as to secure the co-operation of the people themselves. The people in some parts of Ireland had had considerable difficulty with the persons sent to deal with them through a want of sympathy and a true knowledge of the way in which to deal with those people. It was from no want of zeal or industry on the part of the fishing population that they did not make use of such opportunities as were placed at their disposal, for he found that the Connemara men engaged in lobster fishing were sometimes found hundreds of miles away from their homes, living for weeks together in a small boat under the shelter of an old sail. It was true that that showed in a way that the people had not yet made much progress in the best means of utilizing their opportunities, because with better management they might, perhaps, have been more comfortable in their fishing operations; but when they were found spending weeks in an open boat, and travelling hundreds of miles in pursuit of their occupation, it was a strong proof that they were perfectly willing to spare themselves no trouble to gain such advantages as their opportunities gave them. He had been told of a remarkable instance in his own constituency of the difficulties placed in the way of developing the fishery industry in Ireland. There was a place where a harbour was very badly wanted, and his hon. Friend the Member for Waterford County (Mr. Blake), when he occupied an official position, had recommended the construction of the harbour, and the local landlord was willing to give one-fourth of the money required. The harbour was also recommended by the Board of Trade; but those were the halcyon days when one who had since been removed to a higher sphere, under the title of Lord Sherbrooke, was the disposer of the finances of this country, and when the proposal came before Mr. Lowe it was with a single stroke of the pen dismissed. No reasons, he believed, were given for the refusal; and this place still remained without a harbour. Thousands of pounds a-year were in that way kept from the fishermen in that district. He wished to guard himself against the expression of any opinion which would subject him to the charge of believing in Government encouragement to trade in any country. His opinions were rather in the other direction; but he thought this was a case in which it was the duty of the State to largely foster the industry of the people.


said, he might mention the case of a village at Cape Clear as an instance of the development of fisheries through the system of loans granted by the Baroness Burdett Coutts. Three or four years ago there were only nine boats there; but now the people had 25 boats. Those loans certainly were granted without interest, and when they were repaid, as they had been punctually, they were thrown into a fund from which loans were granted to other people; but he was satisfied that the people who took those loans without interest would be willing to pay the Government a small amount of interest. With respect to piers and harbours, a change in the present system was, no doubt, required. In the present system the locality interested demanded a grant; but before the Treasury would commence the work the district had to raise a certain amount of the money required. He thought the system ought to be reversed, and managed by the Commissioners of Fisheries, who might decide where harbours might most suitably be constructed, and could carry out the work irrespective of the local contribution. There were long stretches of coast in the county of Cork where there was no sort of harbour; but the Commissioners, if they could act, would find good places for harbours. Then, with regard to the loans from the Reproductive Loan Fund, they only amounted to about £800,000; and when the House considered the three bad years which Ireland had experienced they ought to be ashamed of that amount. The fund ought to be entirely re-organized.


regretted that, owing to the absence of the Chief Secretary, it had devolved upon him to take part in this discussion. Time was valuable, and he should have been glad if, instead of this long discussion, they could have been providing the money for the year's expenditure; but he admitted that the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had done well by calling attention to the good work done by the Canadian Committee. He thought we owed a tribute to the generosity of Canada, and to the gentlemen who had administered the liberality of Canada so beneficially and so well. His only complaint against the noble Lord was that, whilst calling attention to the subject, he did not seem to have given very close and minute attention to it himself. Anyone studying this question would have avoided the singularly incorrect statement in the Resolution as to the amount of the Canadian Grant, and also the conclusion of the noble Lord as to the conditions which were now attached to loans. Again, the amount of money lent was not so small as the noble Lord thought. He had given a marvellous instance of the results of the money advanced by the Canadian Committee. The conclusion which occurred to him (Lord Frederick Cavendish) was that, as few, if any, of the fishery piers to be provided by the assistance of the Canadian Grant were as yet completed, they could not as yet have been of any assistance to the fisheries; yet, in spite of that, there had been the marvellous development, in bringing to the coast large shoals of fish this year, of which the noble Lord had spoken. He thought a great deal of that development was due to the merciful interposition of Providence rather than to the expenditure of loans. Then, if it was true that the money had earned 500 per cent in a few days or weeks, how came it that fishermen generally were in the deplorable state described? The noble Lord had complained with severity of the niggardliness of the advances which Parliament had made for many years in aid of the fisheries; but those grants were very much larger than those made for the similar industry in Scotland; and the conditions which the noble Lord had so bitterly complained of simply consisted in asking that the locality benefiting should show some interest by contributing one-fourth of the cost. And how had that engagement been fulfilled? Was it unwise for the State to take some precautions to prevent the money it spent being absolutely wasted by the neglect of those to whom it was intrusted? He feared that the expenditure of £5,000 a-year had, so far, resulted in but little real gain to the fisheries; and he was not quite so sanguine as the noble Lord as to the expenditure of further sums. The noble Lord asked the Government to make a grant of public money for the purpose of developing the Irish fisheries. This year's Estimates included a grant of £28,000, irrespective of the ordinary grant; and he thought they had better see the result of the expenditure of this large sum before embarking upon any further undertaking in this respect. The noble Lord wished, also, that grants should be given for the purpose of providing the fishermen with nets and boats; but many of the hon. Gentlemen who had supported him had not gone so far as that. He would ask a question of the noble Lord. Why should this particular industry be singled out for State favour? They might just as well, and with equal propriety, find money for the development of agriculture. He held that the State would incur very considerable responsibility if, by offering grants, it induced men to enter on this trade, which he believed was a very precarious one, inasmuch as it greatly depended on the seasons. He did not know whether the noble Lord had read all the Report to which he had referred; but if he had done so, it was wonderful that he had escaped the warning which its pages gave as to the danger of the proposed generosity of the Government—if they called it generosity—being abused. In the Report of Mr. Brady, and of the Canadian Committee, attention was strongly drawn to the difficulty of selecting cases in which to make grants. They stated they were flooded with applications; but, upon investigation, many of the applicants turned out to be improperly recommended. If this were the case with a Committee of gentlemen administering a voluntary fund, was there not a likelihood of a greater abuse if a grant were made by the State? Every locality would think it right to get as large a share of the plunder as possible. But whilst he thought it would be unwise for the State to embark upon the experiment, he considered the Canadian Committee had done good by the example it had set. It had shown how money might be applied by the liberality of individuals; but he hoped he had explained the detrimental results which would follow if the State attempted to foster by direct grants a particular industry.


said, his noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had done very valuable service in bringing this extremely important Irish subject under the notice of the House; and, bearing in mind the difficulty of the position of those in charge of the Treasury, he did not think it could have been expected of the noble Lord opposite to say much more than he had just addressed to thorn. They could not expect the Treasury to be anxious to make grants for every purpose; but, at the same time, it must be borne in mind that the Irish fisheries presented immense opportunities for a great fishing industry, and that now they were not as prosperous as they were some years ago. It was quite true, as stated by the Secretary to the Treasury, that it was impossible to be sanguine as to every proposal made in this matter; but he did hope the Irish Members and people interested in the question might regard the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Frederick Cavendish) as indica- tive of an earnest desire on the part of the Government to foster and encourage the fisheries of Ireland in every legitimate way. They must look at the matter rationally, practically, and with a discriminating eye; and he thought they might expect the Government would do everything they possibly could to develop this great Irish industry. It would be unreasonable to ask the noble Lord or the Government to say very much more on the present occasion, particularly at this hour; but he trusted, when the matter came again before the House, it might do so at an earlier hour, so that they would have the opportunity of considering it at greater length.


said, there were one or two points which the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury had overlooked. Ireland contributed to the Imperial Exchequer £3,000,000 a-year over and above the amount spent in Ireland; and, therefore, it was not unreasonable for them to ask a very small portion of this money for the development of their fisheries. Furthermore, the English people altogether forgot they had crushed all organization in Ireland for the last 150 years. It was only for the last 30 years they had had Corporations and Farm Commissioners, and as yet they had no county organization. The English aristocracy had carefully crushed out all means of organization in Ireland. At this moment Ireland, which in reality had great industrial resources, was suffering from former oppression and present neglect, and until the Government did something to remedy such a state of things it was not fulfilling its duty.


would not have risen to take part in the debate but for the concluding words of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury. The noble Lord devoted a great portion of his speech to showing what a great mistake it would be for the State to expend any money upon piers and harbours in Ireland, and upon nets or boats, or upon anything which would tend. to develop and encourage Irish fisheries; but he wound up by telling them that it would be an excellent thing for foreign Governments and charitable and benevolent individuals. How did it happen that what was not befitting an English Government was noble and good on the part of the Canadian Government? So much for the development of Irish industry under the fostering rule of the British Parliament and a Liberal Administration. Charitable ladies and gentlemen would do exceedingly well to come and do for Ireland what the British Government and British Exchequer thought very wrong on their part. The sum of money sought by the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) was very small; but, nevertheless, it was refused. He had often noticed that millions of money were readily granted to carry on some disgraceful little war in some distant part of the world, or in pursuit of a scientific Frontier; but when it was proposed to foster a native industry in a country which had been oppressed by British rule the question was too large to be considered, and a vast number of objections were taken on the score of political economy and other things. The present question had been met on the part of the Government in a very paltry, ungracious, and niggardly manner. They did not want to take away anything from the pockets of the British taxpayer; but this was a question on which they missed the care of a native Government. Under self-rule in Ireland, 12 months would not elapse without a liberal outlay, which would be fully justified and repaid in a short time. If the British taxpayers would leave them to manage their own resources and use their own money and credit, they would not ask a farthing from England; but while they were oppressed and impoverished they might fairly claim that the British Treasury should give them that small instalment of justice. The case had been powerfully stated, the arguments were conclusive; but the case had been met in the manner in which such proposals usually were.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.