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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

In the matter of the Lord Chancellor's salary, my right hon. Friend is making her first-ever error.

There are many reasons why the three Green Papers have been so angrily attacked. There are constitutional reasons and reasons of principle. I want to mention one particular sort of harm that will be done—the harm to the ordinary consumer of legal services. The claim that these proposals will be consumer-friendly is about as absurd as the claim that the salmonella scare will boost the sale of eggs.

Let us consider the cost of legal services under the proposals. If a young man or woman wants to leave university and go into the legal profession now, he or she has the choice of going to the Bar, which will be slow in yielding its returns but which in due course will give the right of audience to the higher courts, the right to become a Queen's Counsel, and the right to become a High Court judge. If the proposals go through, the graduate wanting to enter the legal profession will find all those advantages in becoming a solicitor, because the solicitor will have the right of audience in the higher courts, the right to become a Queen's Counsel and the right to become a High Court judge.

On top of that, the graduate will be able, if he joins a solicitor's firm, to be guaranteed a pension, holidays with pay, a car, steady work and a roof over his head—the kind of attractions which the Bar does not offer. In those circumstances, who in his right mind would choose the risks of the Bar in preference to the absence of risk involved in joining a solicitors' firm? Almost every graduate in his right mind will choose to become a solicitor, and very few—there may be some—will prefer the misery of going to the Bar to the luxury of becoming a solicitor. If such people want to become advocates, they will become solicitor advocates, and the supply of barristers of the independent Bar will dry up.

At the other end of the profession, there are people at the Bar who have spent 20 or 30 years running around Britain. They are the people who have to wait for two, three or four weeks for another case to come on stream after the case in which they were involved has collapsed. They would leap at the offer of an advocate solicitorship with a leading firm in the City with all the luxuries and the assurance of the steady income that would accrue. At that end of the profession the Bar would be depleted.

At the end of the day fewer people will come to the Bar, there will be fewer people at the top and a much smaller independent Bar. Anyone who wants to be represented by a Marshall Hall or by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) can go to the cab rank. People can go to the wonderful firm of solicitors of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker). Someone seeking legal services can instruct my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross and will get the best barrister in the land instructed by the best solicitor in the land.

But if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross decided to join the firm of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North, people who need the services of a barrister would have to go to that firm in London to get his specific representation in court. The cab rank principle will disappear, one of the achievements of the British Bar and the British legal system will be diminished, and the consumer will suffer.

If there is a smaller cab rank and the number of independent barristers is reduced, what will happen to the provincial solicitor? I am talking about the small two or three-man firm in the country areas—most of the areas of Britain. Most of our constituents employ small country solicitors who cannot afford to have an advocate partner but instruct barristers to represent the interests of their clients in the most effective and efficient way. If there is no cab rank and those solicitors cannot make a living because their conveyancing work has all gone to estate agents, building societies and finance houses in the high street, they will close down and go to the big towns and cities to make a living.

The smaller consumer who wants to seek legal advice from a solicitor in a small town will not be able to find one and will have to go to the big towns and cities and pay big city prices. If that is one of the likely results of the Green Papers, who will suffer because of the lack of legal advice and legal services, not just from the Bar but from solicitors? The ordinary consumer, the person who sends us to this House and expects us to vote for salary increases for Lord Chancellors who will improve legal services, will suffer.

There is also the matter of quality. I accept that solicitors are inherently as capable as barristers. However, they are not specialists and they are not trained in court work in the way that barristers are. They are unlikely to do the job as efficiently as barristers. Most of our solicitors deal with divorces, wills and conveyancing and with many kinds of problems, some of which are referred to us in our surgeries. Now and again they go to court and are expected to conduct an adequate defence of someone charged with rape, with running someone down or with killing a citizen through dangerous driving. If they are not doing that kind of work all the time, of course they are not as skilled.

I understand the points about monopoly and restrictive practices. We have a parallel in the medical profession. We would not expect the general practitioner who is advising Mrs. Bloggins about her cold, her varicose veins, her limp, her tiredness—a thousand different ills—to turn up and do a heart-lung transplant. We would, however, expect a surgeon who does heart-lung transplants, hip operations or lip operations day in, day out to be a skilled operator.

We do not say, "Let us abolish the rank of consultant" or "Let us abolish the rank of surgeon" because the general practitioner is as able as any surgeon or consultant to operate or give detailed advice. That would be nonsense, and we should adopt the same approach to solicitors and banisters. The barrister is the surgeon who operates in court; the barrister is the consultant. The solicitor is the general practitioner. That is the system which the Lord Chancellor is seeking to overthrow, and that is the reason why we should seriously consider whether his salary ought to be paid at all, let alone increased.