HL Deb 16 July 1863 vol 172 cc850-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, stated that its object was to assimilate the law relating to salmon fisheries in Ireland as nearly as possible to that which prevailed in England and Scotland, and which, although only recently introduced, had already been productive of advantage. He had the more hope that their Lordships would sanction the measure because the Acts relating to the two last-named countries had been found to reconcile two classes of persons whose interests had been previously antagonistic, the upper and the lower proprietors of fisheries, who now found it their interest to co-operate in the preservation of the breed of salmon. In Ireland, up to the year 1842, there had been continual disputes arising from the uncertainty of the law in regard to the erection of fixed engines; but in that year their use was, by a Bill introduced by a noble Lord who was now a Member of that House (Earl St. Germans), under certain regulations, made legal. He much regretted that had been done, for it had contributed much to the injury of the salmon fisheries, and had produced a bad state of things in the country; but, at the same time, he must say that the Act was guarded by such restrictions and regulations as, if properly enforced, would have prevented much of the evil effects to which he had referred. The main provisions of the present Bill were that no bag net, or fixed engine, should be placed or allowed to continue in any river or estuary, or otherwise than in the open sea at the distance of more than three statute miles from the month, reserving, however, certain rights to the owners of any fixed engines erected before the close of the season of 1862. The power of deciding questions that might arise was intrusted to special Commissioners to be appointed under the Act. The Commissioners were also empowered to inquire into the legality of all fishing weirs. Provision was also made for abating any fishing weir illegally erected. Provisions similar to those of the English Act were made for enforcing and regulating the construction of free gaps, and for regulating the construction of boxes and cribs in fishing-weirs. An appeal was given from the decision of the Commissioners to the Court of Queen's Bench in Ireland. There were also certain miscellaneous provisions, one of which regulated the fishing with nets near milldams. There were also important alterations with reference to the annual and weekly close time. The annual close season was extended from 124 days as was provided by the Act of 1842, to 168 days—which was the same as the law enforced in Scotland. The weekly close time was to be from six o'clock on Saturday evening to six o'clock on Monday morning, with this addition, that as regards stake nets, fly nets, and bag nets, the weekly close time was to be from six o'clock on Friday morning to six o'clock on Monday morning. The close season for angling with rod and line was to be from the 1st of November to the 1st of February, but was to be permitted during the remainder of the year. Additional licence duties were put on fixed engines. The Bill also provided for the appointment and salaries of Commissioners and the necessary officers, and there were also provisions for penalties for the infringement of the several enactments. These were the principal provisions of the Bill, which he trusted would be accepted by their Lordships, and would prove as beneficial to Ireland, as the analogous Acts had proved to the fisheries of the sister kingdoms.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a: (Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


said, he had not the slightest personal interest in the question to which the Bill related, and had no connections who were; but having been requested by parties who had an interest in it to present a Petition against certain provisions of the measure, he had deemed it to be his duty to consider them carefully, and that, having done so, he had come to the conclusion that they would operate as an unjustifiable invasion of private lights. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley of Alderley), he might add, was under some misapprehension in attributing the origin of the rights which were to be taken away to the Act of 1842. Prior to that Act rights of fishing existed, founded either on prescriptive title or on grants from the Crown, by means of standing weirs, stake nets, and bag nets;—though it was true that bag nets had not been introduced into the Irish fisheries until early in the present century. The noble Lord had stated that the right to use these means of fishing originated in the legislation of 1842. The noble Lord was certainly mistaken. The 18th section of the Act of 1842 was a clause declaratory of existing rights, and the 19th section proceeded to create new rights. With regard to the legislation now proposed, at an early part of the Session a Bill was introduced by a private Member (Mr. M'Mahon), and the Government then declared their determination to protect existing rights. That Bill, however, was dropped by the Member who introduced it, and the present Bill was taken up by the Government, though it was then in a very different shape. This Bill was discussed at several morning sittings in very thin Houses, and clauses which would seriously encroach on private rights were forced upon the Government. One clause provided that bag nets should not be used within three miles from the mouth of any river or estuary, and he was told that the effect would be to annihilate bag net fishing in Ireland. Another clause declared it unlawful to use stake nets where they were not in use on the 1st of January 1863; so that the owners of fisheries who had been using bag nets could not revert to the use of stake nets. Another clause provided that the close season for all stake nets should commence at six o'clock on Friday morning and end at six o'clock on Monday morning; and as stake net fishing could only be carried on at low water, the result would virtually be to take away four days out of the seven, while the cost of the licence was raised from £15 to £30. By another clause it was proposed to give power to the Commissioners to open weirs at their pleasure without making the slightest compensation, and he believed the consequence would be that many fisheries would be entirely destroyed, and the owners deprived of very valuable property. The noble and learned Lord cited the instance of a lady who held a grant of a fishery for a thousand years from the year 1798, for which she paid a rent of £1,000 a year. She derived a considerable income from the lease of this fishery; but as the fishery would be rendered valueless by this Act, yet no compensation would be granted, the unfortunate grantee would be reduced from a condition of affluence to poverty.


said, that the noble and learned Lord was in error when he spoke of the right to use fixed engines as an immemorial right. By the ancient law of this country the fishing in rivers belonged to the owners of the land on each side, but the fishing in tidal waters belonged to the public. These stake nets were but of late origin in Ireland, having been erected there about the beginning of the century in direct defiance of the law, and had afterwards been made legal by Act of Parliament. Now, of this there could be no doubt—that what Parliament had given Parliament could take away. His noble and learned Friend wished to introduce into the Bill a clause which was to be found in the English and Scotch Salmon Fisheries Acts. He ventured, however, to say that those whose views his noble and learned Friend had so ably expressed would not be willing to have the English Act extended to Ireland. Let the House extend that Act to Ireland and he should willingly give up this measure. He believed that by immensely increasing the produce of salmon, the provision for the opening of free gaps in stone weirs would benefit the lower proprietors as well as the upper proprietors. He hoped their Lordships would pass this measure very much as it stood. The Bill was a com- promise, and any important alteration might have the effect of defeating it altogether; and as it had been discussed for several days in the House of Commons, he hoped their Lordships would pass it in its present form. At the same time, he gave notice, that if this compromise should not succeed, he should come to their Lordships in a future Session for an extension to Ireland of the Act now in force in England.


said, his tenants represented that the opening of a free gap in the weir on his property in Ireland would render the salmon fishery in the neighbourhood of that weir entirely valueless. This opinion might be exaggerated, and he should not ask for any alteration in the clause respecting those gaps unless an alteration should be made in favour of the owners of stake nets. But if the claims of the latter were to be considered, he thought the owners of stone weirs would be entitled to ask the House to do something for them.


said, that the noble Earl (the Earl of Donoughmore) had said that this Bill was a compromise, and that any important alteration would prevent the Bill passing in another place. Now, he (Lord Cranworth) thought there were strong reasons why their Lordships should pause before they even agreed to the second reading. He wished strongly to draw their Lordships' attention to the fact, that the Bill in its present shape proposed to enact that valuable property of a number of persons, which property had been expressly sanctioned by an Act of Parliament passed in 1842, should be confiscated. When the measure was introduced, it was said, or rather insinuated, that there were no such thing as ancient fishing rights in Ireland; but, in the course of a case which had recently been before their Lordships upon appeal, it appeared that the City of Limerick held a right of fishing in the Shannon under a charter from one of our early kings—he believed King John. Such right had been established in the Irish Courts, and no doubt would be confirmed by their Lordships. There was therefore no doubt that there were from very ancient times perfectly lawful rights of fishing in the hands of persons in Ireland. The Act of 1842 began by reciting that doubts existed as to the right to use stake nets, and went on to declare and enact that it was lawful for any person entitled to a several fishery to affix stake nets, bag nets, &c. The effect of this was that the law had theretofore been in favour of allowing the use of such nets. Notwithstanding this, however, it was now proposed to enact that it should not be lawful for any person to use bag nets, and further that there should be penalties for so doing. He had no personal interest in this matter, but he had had his attention called to the above facts by a pamphlet which had been sent to him, and which was entitled, An Appeal to the Justice of the House of Lords, and he trusted that the Bill would not pass without some saving clause being inserted.


said, he knew the case of the owner of some rights of fishing, which had been rendered almost worthless, in consequence of the large number of bag nets which had been used since 1842. But the fact was, that when an attempt was made to do away with an abuse, a claim was set up of vested rights. The truth was, that under the present law three parties were robbed. The proprietors of upper waters were robbed by those who had rights of fishing near the mouths; the rivers were seriously damaged, and the anglers were deprived of what was to them a source of great pleasure. Beyond this there was the fact that the people of London and other towns did not get that food which was intended for them. If this system were carried much further, the very proprietors of fishing rights would themselves be the greatest sufferers. He trusted that for the sake of common justice their Lordships would read the Bill a second time.


thought that it was the duty of their Lordships to pay the greatest attention to the principles embodied in this Bill; especially as there was the best authority fur saying that the English Act, which had been so recently passed, already required alteration. He trusted, that when the Bill was in Committee, their Lordships would consent to insert clauses preserving to the proprietors their ancient rights of fishing. At a future stage he should propose the insertion of some Amendments.


said, this Bill had been described as a compromise; and so far as regarded the proprietors of the upper and lower banks of rivers it might be so. But it should be remembered that the rights of both these parties would soon come to an end by the total destruction of the salmon, unless some means were taken to prevent it.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.