I want to say a word about this levy. The levy on salmon exports is a disreputable and scandalous imposition and we all know that. It was put on for the relief of the Exchequer under false misrepresentations to the House that it was designed to make an added contribution to the funds of boards of conservators. The fact is that, whatever the supplement, the ordinary revenue of the board of conservators was made available through the Fisheries Vote year after year after year. The sum fluctuated; sometimes it was greater and sometimes it was less. Then Deputy Childers was made Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Fisheries. He was responsible for introducing this disreputable and scandalous levy. We are now in this ridiculous position: if an Irish fisherman catches salmon and exports it, he must pay a levy of 2d. per 1b. on his exports; but if a German or a Greek or a Chinaman comes to Ireland and manufactures fish boxes and exports the fish boxes, he is exempt from income tax and corporation profits tax on these exports because he exports. But the man who puts the fish in the boxes must pay 2d. per 1b. for every fish he sends out.
That is a ridiculous anachronism which is utterly wrong. It operates solely to deprive the Exchequer of a relatively trifling sum. Yet from the point of view of people earning their living by fishing, it is quite a substantial impost. What disgusts me about it particularly is that it is a grotesque violation of every decent standard of taxation. There is no justification whatever for saying that an industrialist who manufactures for export is not only free from any import tax on the raw material he uses but is exempt from income tax or corporation profits tax in respect of anything he exports, while a salmon fisherman must pay a levy of 2d. per 1b. on whatever he exports.
It is wrong to allow these anachronisms to survive because they give rise to legitimate grievances. They are indefensible and in time contribute to an accumulation of grievances which explodes into a violent demonstration of bitter feeling. The sad thing is that when we reach that stage, they are usually put right. I would much sooner have them put right through our own goodwill and our own acceptance of their inequitable character, so that subsequently, if somebody starts kicking up a row and breaking windows, we will be standing on firm, solid ground and will be in a position to say: "The Legislature and the Government have no intention of changing their mind as a result of violence because they have done what is equitable, just and fair." I do not think we are in that position now. The sooner we remove that legitimate cause of grievance and complaint the better.
I want to refer now to a matter which causes me very considerable anxiety. In Section 28 and Section 34 of this Bill the Minister proposes to proceed, not by way of regulation, but by way of order. That injects an entirely new procedural principle into the powers he seeks under these two sections. All this Bill and other Fisheries Acts, as far as I know, are controlled by an over-riding section in the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959—I think it is Section 4—which requires that whenever the Minister makes a regulation under the Fisheries Acts, that regulation must be laid upon the Table of the House, and unless it is annulled within 21 days, it takes effect and continues to have effect; but if no measure is introduced by anybody to annul it, it becomes statute law without further ado.
Under the procedure proposed in Sections 28 and 34 of this Bill, the Minister does not make a regulation; he makes an order. If I read the Bill correctly, that exempts him from the obligation to lay the statutory instrument on the Table of the House. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, it is very rare that a statutory instrument laid on the Table of the House is called up for review. It is called up for review only if some Deputy feels there is something serious in it which requires to be examined by the House. I remember Deputy Harte on one occasion seeking to call up an order in connection with the Foyle Fisheries. There was some question as to whether he had the right to bring it up, but a procedural device was provided which enabled him to discuss what he wanted to discuss. In my experience as Minister for Fisheries, and I think Deputy Flanagan, who was Parliamentary Secretary, will confirm that in all the time we were there, I do not think any regulation we made under the Fisheries Acts was called up for review in the Dáil.
Nevertheless, the fact that that power exists is a very useful check on any arbitrary use of the regulations in respect of the powers conferred in this and other Acts. Section 28, as Deputies will have heard, deals with the whole question of fishing for salmon at sea. Section 34 relates to implementing international agreements for the conservation of fish stocks. I cannot imagine any situation arising which would cause the Executive any embarrassment if they were asked to proceed in these two matters by way of regulation or by accepting the obligation that any order made would be laid on the Table of the House and, unless annulled within 21 days, would continue to have statutory effect.
If the Parliamentary Secretary can meet me on that, then Draconian as many of the proposals are in this Bill, I think they are justified. It is necessary we should strengthen the hands of the authorities, who are simply seeking to preserve the inland fisheries for the benefit of our own people primarily against the ravages of poachers, poisoners and the people who I think are often as bad or worse: the hotel keepers and shopkeepers who buy what they know to be poached fish from poachers. The fact is that if there were no market for poached fish, very few fish would ever be poached. It is the receiver who keeps the burglar in business. It is the purchaser of illegally-caught fish who provides the poacher's market. I am glad Dáil Eireann is being asked to tighten the precautions and to increase the penalties for persons who consciously and deliberately break the fishery laws.
I would like to say one last word on a matter raised by Deputy O'Donnell. I share the sentiments, which I suspect are shared by everybody in this House, Deputy O'Donnell voiced in respect of private fishing. The ideal system is the system obtaining in the United States of America. When I lived in America, certainly in the State of Wisconsin— and I believe also in Colorado—the law was that if you had a fishing river passing through your land, every person had a right of way to the river bank if he had a fishing licence. At first glance that would seem to suggest that there would be so much fishing that the rivers would all be rapidly exhausted but it does not work that way because the fishery laws in America are extremely stringent and they enforce them quite arbitrarily. They fix a minimum length of fish and if you are found with a fish of less than that size on your person, there is no defence to a charge of illegal fishing and you are liable to imprisonment. It is not a defence to say that when you took the fish off the hook he was killed in the process; your duty is to put the fish back into the water. The law provides you may not have him on your person or under your control, and it seems to work, but it does create a situation in which all citizens of the United States are on a basis of strict equality and, so far as I am aware, there is no private fishing water at all.
That is a very desirable state of affairs and when I became Minister, the first thing I asked my colleagues in the Department was: "Why cannot we do that here?" They said: "You can, Minister, the Fisheries Acts give you full power to do so but unfortunately it would cost £x million." When you come to examine the whole problem, the fact is that we have power to take over all private fisheries in Ireland, provided we pay for them. We cannot, by legislation, expropriate people who bought fisheries and provided money for them, but if anybody wants to provide money for that purpose, there is nothing to stop us doing so.
Heretofore we took the view when in office — I assume the present Government do likewise — that there are other prior charges on the available capital before the necessary sum is put up to buy out all riparian owners who have fisheries. People sometimes forget how valuable these things are. If you own a length of a river like the Slaney, the Barrow or Nore, quite a modest length of riparian rights there can be rented to a series of tenants for up to £2,000 or £3,000 a year. If you want to buy that out, it will cost about £50,000. If you apply that to every river and lake in Ireland in private ownership, it runs into money. We must also face the fact that if and when we do adopt the American system, the cost of licences will go very much higher because somebody must pay the interest on the capital sum laid out to purchase the fisheries. Secondly, restrictions on fishing will have to be very much more rigorous than at present. With all these considerations in mind, I would not urge the Government to buy out all private fisheries in Ireland, much as I should like to see them in private ownership. If the problems associated with that purchase can be solved, I should be glad to see the American system working here.
We are what we are and we should realise that. We are not Americans; we are not Wisconsin people. I wonder if you arrested a fellow here for having a trout less than six inches in his bag and gave him six months in jail, what would the neighbours say? I think they would raise their eyebrows and say: "He is a very respectable widow's son and you cannot send a boy like that to jail for six months for taking a trout less than six inches." Unless you enforce rigid regulations of that kind, free fishing will not last ten years for the simple reason that the rivers will be swept clean.
I should like to make this reservation. A good many fisheries are in the hands of the Land Commission and some are owned by the Department itself. I know how difficult it is to avoid the charge of improper influence or something of that kind when you deliberately prefer a tender of a local angling association to a higher tender from a private fisherman from abroad. I took that risk when I was Minister and said quite deliberately that I preferred the tender of the local angling association, provided that association's membership was open to everybody who was prepared to conform to reasonable membership terms.
If the angling association provided that membership should involve payment of 100 guineas per head per rod, then I would have treated it simply as a rich man's preserve. Where the angling association was open to any man who paid a £1 or £2 or whatever seemed to be a reasonable annual subscription, and where that applied to every resident of the district, I was prepared to say, if they would pay any reasonable figure to rent a fishery, that they ought to get it in preference to a stranger who was prepared to pay substantially higher. I think I was right. I think that is a sound principle. I would have sympathetically considered submitting to the obligation of either laying an annual statement on the Table of the House or providing it in the annual report as to how these fisheries had been set —in fact, I think we had that obligation. That was something I was quite prepared to defend but it is something that must be watched. It does give rise to bitter resentment in the country if a local angling association makes a reasonable offer and is turned down in favour of another.
Angling associations do not consist exclusively of archangels and once the principle I have enunciated is generally known, the next thing that happens is that you are offered 3/9 by the local angling association for the rent of a fishery worth £1,000 a year. I should tell that angling association to have a running jump at itself. Then, gradually you will find the gap narrowing until you are offered £400 a year when you know that the fishery has been set for £800 a year to private owners. Then it becomes a matter of degree about which it is very hard to make up your mind. I am inclined to say: "You are offering £400; we can get £800 but we will split it with you. If you do not want that and if you want to get tough and write letters to the papers, then I will not let it at all rather than submit to a kind of blackmail and give it away for half nothing." That is to put it quite crudely. But if an angling association will act fairly and reasonably, they ought to get a preference and the more angling associations become the tenants of these fisheries, the better it will be from every point of view.
I am not altogether as enthusiastic as Deputy Harte is about the Parliamentary Secretary's andrewmartens throughout the country. We sometimes criticise poor Deputy Dr. Browne for getting bitten by a dog in order to get a bit of personal publicity. The Ministers' Parliamentary Secretaries do not bring around Alsatian dogs with photographers to get their publicity but really I get weary of it sometimes with their Government Information Bureau and the Irish Press and Telefís Eireann. I declare, the Parliamentary Secretary cannot blow his nose at a tea party without some organ of publicity being rushed to the scene— Telefís Éireann or Radio Éireann or the Irish Press or the Government Information Bureau—and hot on his heels, wherever he opens his beak, the Minister is after him to show that there are two people in that Department and the Minister for Lands is the top dog.
These little internal dissensions are matters on which I do not wish unduly to dwell but publicity becomes a little tedious when it grows excessive. I sympathise with a young man on his way up. If he does not blow his own bugle, I suppose he cannot expect his boss to blow it for him and I sometimes suspect that when his superior in that Department blows his bugle for him, he blows it with a most uncertain note and, therefore, when he blows his bugle energetically, I have no serious reason to complain but if I were Deputy Harte, I would not allow it to dazzle me. All these bugles are not blown exclusively in the service of the fishing public of Ireland. Some of them are introduced in order to drown the trumpet of a colleague who sometimes appears to desire to minimise the energy and intelligence of his Parliamentary Secretary. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will bear in affectionate recollection Deputy Harte's tribute to his energy and the next time his Minister is being awkward, he can produce that certificate from the noble-hearted member of the opposition to rebut the Minister's denigration of his activities.