Parliamentary agents

43.17Parliamentary agents are responsible for the promotion of private bills and may also be engaged in the conduct of proceedings upon petitions against such bills. They are normally members of existing firms of parliamentary agents, and must apply to the Speaker for inclusion in the permanent register (known as Roll A) of parliamentary agents. The Speaker must first be satisfied that they are persons with practical knowledge of the standing orders and procedure of the House of Commons regulating private business. An individual petitioner against a private bill may choose to conduct their case in person, or engage a parliamentary agent or other representative to act on their behalf. Societies or groups of persons must authorise a parliamentary agent or a representative to act on their behalf in opposition to a specific bill. Until 2017, the representatives of petitioners who were not Roll A parliamentary agents were required to attend the Private Bill Office to sign a sessional register of parliamentary agents entitled to practise in opposing bills only (known as Roll B). Their registration ceased to be valid at the close of the session in which it was effected and, unless they were solicitors or had previously been registered as Roll A parliamentary agents, their application had to be accompanied by a certificate of respectability from a Member of Parliament, justice of the peace, barrister or solicitor. All of the requirements relating to Roll B agency, including the maintenance of the register, were abolished following the publication of revised Speaker's Rules in December 2017.

Various duties and responsibilities are imposed by the orders of both Houses upon parliamentary agents and the representatives of petitioners who are not parliamentary agents; and in both Houses rules have been laid down to be observed by the officers of the House, and ‘by all parliamentary agents and solicitors engaged in prosecuting proceedings in the House upon any petition or bill’. The rules currently in force were reissued in 2017.1 In 1949, the Speaker drew the attention of the House to the fact that certain persons who did not possess the necessary qualifications were representing themselves as parliamentary agents. He referred to the rules on the subject, and stated that any person contravening them was liable to be dealt with by the House as guilty of a contempt.2 Besides these regulations, there are certain disqualifications for parliamentary agency. Members may not be agents, though they can deposit petitions on behalf of parties (see para 44.1 ). Members of staff in either House are not allowed to transact private business before the House for their emolument or advantage, either directly or indirectly.3

The name and place of business of the parliamentary agent promoting a bill are entered in the registers in the Private Bill Office, which are open to public inspection and available online. The conduct of a bill may not be transferred from one agent to another during the course of its progress through the House without the approval of the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Footnotes

  1. They are also printed with the Private Business Standing Orders, HC 1573 (2017–19).
  2. HC Deb (1948–49) 464, c 1665.
  3. HC 648 (1833) p 9; HC 606 (1835) pp 17, 19. See also F Clifford History of Private Bill Legislation (1887) Vol II, p 878; Report of Joint Committee on Parliamentary Agency, HC 360 (1876); and D L Rydz The Parliamentary Agents—a History (1979), pp 69–79.