HC Deb 05 March 1844 vol 73 cc581-3
Sir William Heathcote

had a petition to present relating to private business, on which it was desirable to have the opinions of Members, and also the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair. It related to the Committee on Petitions, of which he had the honour to be chairman, and complained that the Petitioner had not been heard by his Agent. The Parliamentary Agent did appear before the Committee but he not being acquainted with the case, the petitioner desired to be heard through his solicitor. He, however, was of opinion, and the Committee agreed with him, that a solicitor not being entered as a Parliamentary agent, as every solicitor had power to be if he pleased, was not a person contemplated by the Standing Order, and the Committee refused to hear him. The petitioner was of opinion that he was injured there by. He had promised the petitioner to obtain a consideration of his case, and said he was sure, that if he had done wrong the House would overturn his decision. He could not, however, as at present advised, say that he was wrong. The Standing Order provided, that parties should be heard by themselves or their Agents and Witnesses. It had been held that a Counsel could not be heard, not being a Parliamentary Agent, and on the same ground the Committee decided that a solicitor could not be heard, unless he complied with the form of the Speaker's order, and enrolled himself as a Parliamentary Agent. The hon. Baronet brought up the petition, which was from Sir Robert Harland, stating that his solicitors were not allowed to be heard in support of his Petition before the Select Committee on Petitions for Private Bills, on the ground that they were not Parliamentary Agents, and praying that his Petition may be referred back to the Committee, and his Solicitor permitted to be heard.

Sir G. Grey

observed, that this was a new point. His first impression was that the refusal to hear a person not being a Parliamentary Agent was right, but he was not sufficiently conversant with the con- struction of the Standing Orders to call upon the House to acquiesce in that view, unless some gentleman of more experience would state what the practice was, with a view to some general rule being laid down.

Lord C. Somerset

said he came to a different conclusion from the hon. Baronet, but thought it quite right that the question should be considered. His impression was, that if die Standing Orders intended to prevent any person from appearing as an agent, except a Parliamentary Agent, the word "Parliamentary" would have been added. He did not see the desirableness of forcing every person who appeared before a Committee to employ a Parliamentary Agent. In a number of cases the parties might, without incurring the expense of a Parliamentary Agent, employ a solicitor; and he was of opinion, that an "Agent" was any person duly authorised, and representing the party, and that the only person excluded would be a retained Counsel.

Mr. Aglionby

was sure the House would be happy to have the advantage of the Speaker's opinion, and if the right hon. Gentleman had not formed any decided opinion, he would suggest that it might be well to adjourn the question, in order that inquiry might be made as to the practice; but so far as his experience as a Chairman of Committees on Private Bills extended, he was not aware of a single instance in which the term "Agent" had not been construed "Parliamentary Agent." No doubt, solicitors from the country often attended before Committees, and if they offered a suggestion it would be attended to; but they would not be allowed to advocate the case if any objections were made, or appearing as agent for the party. The noble Lord was mistaken in supposing that either hardship or expense would arise from the necessity of employing Parliamentary Agents; they were better acquainted with the forms of proceeding than a country solicitor could be; and he was persuaded that both time and money would be saved by the employment of Parliamentary Agents.

Mr. Strutt

said, he had referred to the petition, and found that his authority as Chairman of a Committee had been quoted as having allowed some solicitor to appear before the Committee on the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Bill. He could only say, that there had been no decision to that effect, either by him or the Com- mittee; and that if any solicitor had appeared, it was without any knowledge on their part, that he was not a Parliamentary Agent.

The Speaker

said, if the House was desirous of hearing his opinion, he was quite ready to state it. In his construction of the Standing Order, he agreed with the hon. Member for Derby. During the time that he had the honour of being Chairman of the Committee on Petitions, an "Agent" had always been considered to be a "Parliamentary Agent;" and he was aware of a case in which a person had applied to be heard as an Agent other than a Parliamentary Agent and had been refused. If the House thought it desirable to adjourn the question, in order to ascertain what was the practice, perhaps it would be well to take that course; but if his opinion was asked, he said decidedly, that "Agent" meant "Parliamentary Agent."

Mr. Estcourt

thought the object of the Standing Order was to limit the attendance of Parliamentary Agents. If there were a new edition of the Standing Order, it might be as well to insert the word "Parliamentary;" but he saw no necessity, after the opinion which had been expressed from the Chair, to adjourn the question.

Lord G. Somerset

maintained, that as a Parliamentary Agent might not understand a particular case, and a country solicitor would, the party was under the necessity of employing both, and was thus put to additional expense.

The Speaker

said, it ought to be understood that the Parliamentary Agent was responsible to the House for the Fees, and therefore the House recognised the necessity of employing him. Under these circumstances, he apprehended that no person ought to appear before the House by an Agent except by a Parliamentary Agent.

Subject at an end.

Petition laid on the Table.

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