HC Deb 29 February 1864 vol 173 cc1252-4

said, in the absence of his hon. Friend (Colonel Wilson Patten), he would beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade, Whether he intends to proceed with his Bills for the Amendment of the Private Business of the House, so as to enable parties to take advantage of them during the present Session; and whether the Parliamentary Bar has made any communication to him with respect to a change in the system of Counsel's Fees?


The two Bills, Sir, to which the hon. Gentleman refers stand for second reading on Thursday next; and should the business of the House permit me to do so, I will proceed with them on that day, and with all convenient dispatch, so that the parties interested in them, should they pass, should have the benefit of them as soon as possible. With regard to the second question, I have to state that this day I have received a communication from a most influential Member of the Parliamentary Bar, which had the concurrence of the leaders of the Parliamentary Bar, as I am informed. The communication is satisfactory, as far as it goes, although not entirely dealing with the whole question. But to be quite accurate I will read the statement, which has been placed in my hands, and state what I am permitted to make known to the House. The words are these— It is understood that it be not considered inconsistent with the etiquette of the Parliamentary Bar for any Counsel to appear before a Committee of either House of Parliament, if he should think fit, at a lower rate of fees in respect of daily attendance and consultation than that which has hitherto prevailed. From the conversation which passed, I understood the meaning of that document to be that any Counsel should be permitted to take a case with a small refresher, or without any; and with regard to consultation, that the fee upon consultation should be such as might be settled between the solicitor and barrister without reference to the present practice of having a minimum of at least five guineas for each consultation. I was further informed that this consultation fee is not for the future to be taken as a matter of course, but is only to be allowed in cases where a consultation had been considered necessary by the parties, and had been actually held. I believe, however, there was some misapprehension formerly as to consultations having been paid for and not actually held. I am told that that was not the case, and that I was rather incorrect in the statement which I made on the subject, and I am glad to have the opportunity of correcting it. I am told that no change is to be made in the fee upon the retainer and upon the brief, both of which are to be restricted to the present amount, as a minimum in each case that can be taken by a barrister—namely, five guineas on the retainer and ten guineas on the brief—so that it will be impossible to appear before the Committee in any case for less than fifteen guineas. At present, they cannot appear for less than thirty guineas, so that the House will see that a considerable reduction has been made by the Parliamentary Bar. That subject is under their consideration, and it is hoped they will be able to make such a change in that system as will enable Counsel to practise at the Parliamentary Bar under the same rule, with regard to fees, that prevails in the ordinary Courts of Law and Equity.


I consider the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the Parliamentary Bar very unsatisfactory, and I wish to ask, in the event of the Parliamentary Bar not taking upon themselves to alter the system as now proposed, is it the intention of the Government to deal with that question?


I can only say, that what the hon. Member has indicated is a possible course, but I would rather not commit myself upon the subject. I would rather leave it in the hands of the Parliamentary Bar.


I wish to ask, whether the public are to be confined to the services of the Parliamentary Bar, or whether it is competent to them to employ other barristers to conduct Parliamentary business on such terms as they may think desirable?


I believe, so far as I am informed, that there is no rule of the Bar in general that would prevent Counsel from practising before Parliamentary Committees, taking the same fees which are permitted to be accepted in the Courts of Law and Equity. Whatever rule exists is made by the Parliamentary Bar itself. It is altogether a question of professional etiquette.