PRIVATE BUSINESS. - SOLICITORS BILL, 1923.—First Stage.

The next business is the Solicitors Bill, 1923, a Bill to amend the Solicitors (Ireland) Act, 1898.

This is not a revolutionary or opoch-making Bill at all. It is a Bill that I have been asked by the Governing Body of one branch of my own profession to bring in. There are two matters in it worthy of consideration. They are two slight amendments to the Imperial statute that was passed thirty years ago to govern the solicitors' profession—two amendments the profession had hoped for some time to get passed, but they never could get anyone to take sufficient interest in, or get sufficient time at Westminster to enable them to be taken up there. Now they have seized the first opportunity of having a Parliament of our own in this country to come and ask for the relief that they were unable to get owing to pressure of time and other business in other places. The third amendment which they want to introduce is to put the Solicitors' profession in Ireland on a level, and to obtain for it the same privileges that the corresponding people have in the Dominion of New Zealand, the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Union of South Africa, and to put the profession in this country on an equality as regards privileges with the corresponding profession in the other great co-equal nations of the Commonwealth to which we now belong. The amendments are very brief. The law at present compels them, whether they like it or not, or whether they have candidates or not, three times in the year to hold three examinations, preliminary, intermediate, and final. One day last year they had to set nine papers and employ nine examiners for the one candidate who turned up. They do not seek to abolish these examinations altogether, but they do seek that they shall be at liberty to hold only two, instead of having to hold three compulsorily as at present. If times get better and there are more candidates they will have three examinations, because they are anxious to give opportunities to people who want to join the profession to join it. But they do not want to appoint examiners and print papers for candidates who are not there. Another amendment is to raise the fee of 5/- for registering and issuing certificates, which was fixed, not only in pre-war days, but in pre-Boer War days, when the income tax was 6d. in the £. I am told that the fee of 5/-, which is given for keeping books and issuing and printing these certificates, does not now pay the expense of the certificates, and it, is sought to raise the fee to £1. The third clause is to grant certain privileges to English solicitors and Scottish law agents, in return for which we become entitled to what we have not got now—the privileges that are enjoyed by the solicitors of those other great Dominions. I ask leave to print the Bill. Of course, it has not been circulated, but I did take the opportunity of handing one or two spare copies I had to Deputies in order that they might not say that the thing had been sprung upon them altogether by surprise. I move for leave to introduce the Bill.

Mr. O'HIGGINS rose to speak.

Is the Minister seconding the motion?

Mr. O'HIGGINS

I will. We are quite satisfied with Deputy Fitzgibbon's assurance that the Bill is not revolutionary in character. We happen to be familiar with its provisions, and we consider it a good and useful measure, and will be prepared to set aside a certain amount of Government time to facilitate its passage. Speaking only for myself, I may say that I have great sympathy with solicitors, as it is a fate from which I was only saved myself by the intervention of the police, and I will be very glad to help the measure through.

Motion made, and question put: "That leave be given to introduce The Solicitors Bill, 1923."

Agreed.

When is it proposed to take the Second Stage?

It has to be printed and circulated, and the second stage depends upon the next date after that on which private business can be taken up. I do not see how it can before Friday week.

The Minister has stated that he will give Government time—shall we say, provisionally, this day week?

Bill ordered for Second Reading on Wednesday, 7th March.