HC Deb 14 August 1901 vol 99 cc822-32

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]

Clause 1:—


The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for East Waterford cannot come in in the place at which it appears upon the Paper. If the hon. Member will alter the phraseology of it, I think he could bring it in at line 10 after the word "at," or else he could move it as a new clause.

MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)

, on behalf of Mr. Crean (Cork, S. E.), formally moved— In page 1, lines 10 and 11, to leave out 'not exceeding one hundred pounds,' and insert 'of fifty pounds, and for any subsequent offence to a line of one hundred pounds.'

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


said that if this Amendment were accepted it would defeat altogether the object the hon. Member had in moving it. The Bill provided that any violation of the bye-laws rendered the offender subject to a penalty not exceeding £100. The effect of this Amendment would be to deprive the magistrate of all discretion and fix £100 as the minimum fine to be inflicted for offences, whether grave or venial. The imposition of penalties was against the views of present days, and the only effect would be that the magistrates, were they compelled to inflict a large penalty, would not convict. He thought it would be far better to leave the Bill as it was, and therefore he could not accept the Amendment.


said the object of the Amendment that he now proposed to move was to give power to inflict a penalty not only upon the master of a vessel which committed the offence, but also upon the owner of that vessel. It frequently happened that nothing could be obtained from the captain of a trawler who was not a man of substance, and under the Bill as it stood they could not get at that trawler.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 28, to leave out sub-section (3), and insert the following sub-section:—(3) The court before whom a person is convicted under this Act may by the order provide that, if the fine imposed upon him is not paid within eight days after the conviction, one-half thereof shall be paid by and may be recovered under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts from such owner as aforesaid, and that, in default of payment by the person convicted of the remainder of the said fine within a further period of eight days, the same may be recovered from him under the said Acts."—


asked what happened supposing the owner lived in England.


We have provided for that by means of substituted service.

MR. MORRIS (Galway)

suggested that the words "the owner" should be substituted for "him" in line 7, so that it should read "that the same may be recovered from the owner under the said Act."


thought the alteration unnecessary, as it was evident from the context that the word "him" referred to the person convicted.

Amendment agreed to.

Other Amendments made.


said he desired to amend his proposed new sub-section by substitution in line 3 thereof of the words "the skipper" for the word "registration."

Amendment proposed— In page 2, line 13, at end, to insert '(6) In addition to any other penalty or penalties that may be imposed by the court on the conviction of any person under this section, the court may make an order suspending the certificate of the skipper of the vessel on which such person was when the offence was committed for any-period not exceeding six months.'"—(Captain Donelan.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


hoped the Amendment would not be pressed, and pointed out that hitherto there had not been any provision by which the certificate of a skipper could be suspended without the concurrence of the Board of Trade.


suggested that the clerk to the petty sessions should send a copy of the conviction to the Board of Trade, leaving it to the Board to suspend the master's certificate if they thought fit. There was always the difficulty that the magistrates might fine a man £1 or £100, and it would be a very severe thing if the certificate was suspended in addition. They did not want a man to be punished twice for the same offence. At the same time, they had been so worried all over Ireland by these trawlers that if it was proposed to guillotine them he would cheerfully vote for it.


said the penalties to be imposed under this Bill were so much more severe than at present existed, and so much more effective machinery was provided for their recovery, that he did not think the Amendment of the hon. Member was necessary.


mentioned that his Amendment had the approval of the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture in Ireland.


said there were great objections to making the penalties more drastic at so late a period of the session. There were Members of the House interested on behalf of the owners of these vessels who would have been present had they thought there was any possibility of the Government accepting this Amendment. In any case, he had scruples against going further than was originally intended at a time when some of the parties interested were away, without any idea of the matter coining on.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

thought the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman were perfectly reasonable. While he agreed with the Amendment on its merits, he would suggest that under the circumstances it should not be persevered with. The Bill originally met with great opposition from the owners of the trawlers, but they had been brought to agree to the Bill in its present form, and it was only reasonable that the Amendment should not be pressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 and remaining clauses agreed to.

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)

said he had no desire to interfere with the passage of the Bill this session, but unless more drastic machinery was provided for the enforcement of the Act it would be useless. A sufficient number of gunboats were required to watch the shores, and if the Government would accept the principle of his Amendment he would modify the wording in any way to meet their wishes. He moved.

New clause proposed— From and after the passing of this Act there shall be detailed, for special service from time to time for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of the Fisheries (Ireland) Acts, 1842 to 1898, and of this Act, six gunboats or other steam vessels which shall act for such purpose under such regulations as may be prescribed by His Majesty's Lords of the Admiralty if such gunboats or other vessels are provided by them, or by the Department if same are provided by such Department."—(Mr. Field.)


said it was open to the Board to negotiate with the Admiralty for the assistance of gunboats, but it was altogether irrational to pass an Act to make it imperative on the Admiralty, no matter what other demands there might be, to maintain six gunboats at all times for this purpose.


asked in what way it was proposed to make the Bill effective. The Congested Districts Board had a vessel doing a certain amount of work in this direction, but it could not be contended that one vessel was sufficient to watch all the coasts of Ireland. It was because of the absence of any provision in the Bill to ensure the enforcement of its provisions that he had placed his Amendment on the paper. The whole of the fishing grounds of Ireland were being destroyed by these trawlers, and Members were entitled to some assurance that the Act would be made a reality.


thought the proposed new clause was more reasonable than might at first sight appear. From the time the Act of 1889 was passed until last autumn there had not been a single Government boat supplied to enforce the bye-laws under the Act, although the First Lord of the Treasury promised that every protection should be given. The authorities in Scotland had three boats of their own, in addition to which three boats were supplied by the Government, but Ireland could not get any at all. The Government, for eleven long years, had neglected their duty, and had allowed the Irish fisheries to remain unprotected, and some assurance ought to be given that there should be no such remissness in the future.


assured the hon. Member that the Irish Government would leave no stone unturned to make the Act effective, but the proposed clause could not be accepted without some arrangement having been previously come to with the Admiralty. If hon. Members desired to elicit from the Government a promise that the Act should be effectively administered, he could only say that he was as anxious to secure that object as any hon. Member opposite.


said that under the Naval Works Bill something like £23,000,000 were to be voted, from which Ireland would get no benefit whatever. Perhaps it would waken the Admiralty up a bit if the Irish Members discussed that Bill for a few hours on the next day in order to impress upon the Department that at any rate the equivalent of, say, £100,000 in the shape of a gun-boat should be granted to Ireland in return for her share of the enormous expenditure on the Navy.


said that feeling on this matter was very strong, and it was absolutely necessary that some steps should be taken to assist those who were endeavouring to protect the coasts. He suggested that the Chief Secretary and the Board of Agriculture should consult with the Admiralty and see whether something could not be done in that direction. The question might be made the subject of a long and important debate, but inasmuch as he desired the Bill—although an altogether inadequate measure—to pass, he deprecated any serious discussion on this occasion. If the right hon. Gentleman would promise that after the passage of the Bill he would endeavour to obtain from the Admiralty some better terms, doubtless the hon. Member would withdraw his Amendment.


promised, in conjunction with the Vice-President, to approach the Admiralty to see whether some assistance could be obtained.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


moved a new clause [not appearing on the Notice Paper] the object of which was to prohibit steam or other trawling within three miles of low water mark. He reminded the House that exactly the same thing happened in 1889 as was happening now. A Bill was introduced prohibiting steam trawlers on the coasts of Scotland. The objection of the Irish Members was admitted by the then Chief Secretary to be perfectly reasonable, but he gave ample assurances that, though the trawlers would be driven off the Scottish coast, the Irish fisheries should not suffer in the least. With that assurance the Bill was allowed to pass. A few weeks later a Bill was introduced prohibiting steam trawling on the Irish coasts, but giving the Commissioners of Irish Fisheries the power of admitting trawlers to various waters. The Bill went as far as passing its Committee stage, and then, for some unexplained reason, the measure was recommitted and it whole scope changed. Trawling was allowed everywhere on the Irish coasts, but the Commissioners were given power to prohibit it at various places. In the hope that the measure would afford some little protection it was allowed to pass, and ever since the matter had been in a most unsatisfactory condition. What was the use of bye-laws? The trawlers coming over from Scotland did not know where the bye-laws commenced or where they ended, and the result was that trawlers simply threw their nets wherever they liked. It was an absolutely imaginary line, because the trawlers came in and swept up the lines of the fishermen. If a general law were made it would be easier to police and protect these waters. At present these trawlers had this excuse, "If you legislate by bye-laws how are we to know what the bye-laws are?" The dropped their nets wherever they wished and did infinite harm. Where bye-laws were made and were known the trawlers went round a cape or promontory until it was dark, when they returned to the fishing grounds and did a lot of harm. If the Government adopted the principle of their original Bill, which was introduced in compliance with the promise made by the First Lord, and prohibited trawling all along the coasts, giving to the Commissioners power to say where it might be carried on, he ventured to say they would do a great deal to improve the fishing industry. He was sorry to say that the pledge which the First Lord gave when the Irish Members allowed the Scotch Bill to pass had not been kept in the letter or the spirit, for trawlers from the Scotch coast were doing a great deal of injury to the Irish fisheries. The Irish Members asked that the law, which was generally enforced on the Scotch coast, should be enforced with regard to the Irish coast.


said the clause which the hon. Member proposed was identical in terms with one of the sections of the Scotch Act of 1889. The principle of the Scotch Act was that it absolutely prohibited fishing within the territorial limit of three miles, or within certain points indicated in the schedule, and the Act gave power to the Commissioners to exempt certain portions of the area included within the statutory provision. The Irish Act proceeded on an entirely different principle, namely, it enabled the Commissioners to prohibit fishing within certain areas by the passing of bye-laws. The Irish Act prohibited steam trawling within three miles of low-water mark on any part of the coast of Ireland, or within the waters of any other defined area specified in the bye-laws. There had been a recent decision of the Irish courts whereby it was established, as against trawlers coming from a foreign country, that the Irish Commissioners might extend the area of prohibition outside and beyond the three mile limit. The hon. Member's clause would entirely destroy that.


No, I think not.


At the present moment there were bye-laws in existence protecting the fishing grounds outside the three-mile limit. Experts informed the Government that all round the coasts of Ireland there were most valuable fishing grounds outside the three-miles limit, and if they passed the proposed clause they would simply invite trawlers who would come and fish with impunity in these waters. The clause was absolutely unnecessary. He did not see what benefit it would be if the hon. Member got statutory prohibition within the three-mile limit when the powers at present in existence enabled the Commissioners to prohibit fishing by trawlers both within and beyond that limit. The hon. Member had asked how trawlers were to know what bye-laws were in force on the Irish coast. If they chose to transgress the bye-laws they became liable to penalties, and it was their business to know the law. It would be no excuse for any master or owner when brought before a court to plead ignorance of the law. The bye-laws were published in the Gazette, and it was their duty to inform themselves where they could fish off the coast of Ireland. The prohibition of trawling outside the three-mile limit was already secured in a better way by the bye-laws passed from time to time by the Commissioners than it could be by the hon. Member's clause. He asked the hon. Gentleman not to jeopardise the Bill by pressing the Amendment.


said they proposed to leave the Act of 1889 untouched. Under that Act the Commissioners had power to make bye-laws with respect to the extra-territorial waters. How the Amendment could affect the powers under that Act he failed to see. All these questions of making laws came to the question of enforcement. Supposing they made a law that night stating that any trawling whatever would be illegal, the law would not be worth the paper it was written on unless they had the means of enforcing it. The vessels lay outside the three-mile limit until it was dark, and then they came into the fishing grounds. There was nobody to watch them. The coast-guard had no means of coping with the trawlers. There were Government vessels at Hong Kong and Singapore, but there was no means whatever of catching the trawlers. He sympathised in this matter with his hon. friend, and believed the Attorney General was entirely wrong.

MR. BIGNOLD (Wick Burghs)

said he could assure the hon. and learned Member that they in Scotland were far worse off than the fishermen in Ireland in regard to the invasion of territorial waters by tramp trawlers.


appealed to the House to bring the debate to a close. The Chief Secretary had promised, and he entirely endorsed the words of his right hon. friend, that the Irish Office would do its best to see that the police would do their work and that the Act was carried into operation. There was therefore nothing to be gained by a prolongation of the debate.


confessed that he was somewhat humiliated at the manner in which the Irish Members were obliged to transact business in regard to Irish Bills, although he did not desire to go into the question at that moment. He recognised that they were in the position that they must take this Bill as it stood, or be prepared to see it sacrificed; and therefore he was in favour of the Bill as it stood, notwithstanding all its shortcomings. Under the circumstances in which they were placed, humiliating as they were, some doubt was raised in his mind as to whether it would not have been better to sacrifice this small boon rather than lend himself to this system of legislation. He was almost tempted to regret that he had promised to facilitate the passage of this Bill, for it was humiliating that they could not discuss these matters with some little freedom. At the same time, having given the assurance that we would facilitate the passage of the Bill, he made an appeal to his friends to allow the Bill to pass, and he asked the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Waterford to withdraw his Amendment, and not to divide the House.


said that he felt very strongly on this point, and he believed that he had made out a very good case, and that the policing of the waters would be very much simplified by the adoption of the Amendment. However, we would be the very last persons in the world to put his hon. friend in an awkward position, if he had come to some understanding with the Leader of the House, by taking any action by which that engagement should not be carried out. Under these circumstances, though he felt strongly that he had a good case, he begged leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered to-morrow.