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Lord Chancellor (Salary)

Part of Schedule 16 – in the House of Commons at 11:20 pm on 10th April 1989.

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Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton 11:20 pm, 10th April 1989

The question is: is the Lord Chancellor doing such a fine job that he deserves a salary increase? What a pity that we have only one and a half hours in which to discuss this extremely important matter, because I have enough to say on the subject to make the four and a half hour speech that I dedicated to trying to stop the poisoning of our drinking water by the addition of fluoride seem like the twinkling of an eye. It is also a pity that we have only this golden one and a half hours once a year to exercise any control—or at any rate, any influence—over the Lord Chancellor's discharge of his political duties.

By what criteria should we presume to judge whether the work of so eminent a legal luminary, so highly regarded a judicial figure, so well-admired and well-liked a political person, is worthy of the accolade that we are asked to give him tonight, expressed in the sordid terminology of money? May I have the temerity to suggest a test? Is the Lord Chancellor going to improve the legal system of the United Kingdom so that it will better serve the people—not the lawyers—of Britain? Is he making the legal system cheaper and more accessible for the consumer? Will it be a service of higher quality for the consumer?

By these criteria, sadly I have to conclude that many people who know and understand these matters are by no means convinced that—however good, honourable and well-intentioned a man, however brilliant a Scottish lawyer and judge he may have been, however eminent and well loved he undoubtedly is to anyone who has been privileged to know him personally in his work—the Lord Chancellor is the wrong man for this salary at this time.

No other Lord Chancellor in living memory, perhaps in our history, has succeeded in antagonising almost the entire legal profession throughout the land. Has there ever been a debate in the House of Lords, on a Friday of all days, in which 56 of their Lordships rose—nearly all of them in anger—at his well-meaning but destructive proposals? They will pull up by the roots the legal profession as we know it, which—for all its faults—still works reasonably well and is the envy of the civilised world.

Are all the greatest legal minds of the land incensed for no reason? These include the Lord Chief Justice of England, two former Lord Chancellors, the Master of the Rolls, all nine Law Lords and a most distinguished former Attorney-General who threatened to resign the Conservative Whip. There is also an impressive list of non-lawyer luminaries—many from the Opposition side —including Lord Benson, chairman of the recent royal commission on legal services, Lord Rees-Mogg, the former editor of The Times, who felt so strongly that he used his maiden speech to speak against the proposals, Lord Murray of Epping Forest and Lord Longford. That is a long list of unquestioned authority and influence from Opposition as well as Conservative Benches and outside Parliament are the——