HC Deb 23 June 1986 vol 100 cc119-34 10.12 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I beg to move, That the draft Lord Chancellor's Salary Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 3 June, be approved. As the title of the order before us suggests, it is concerned only with the salary proposed for the Lord Chancellor. This arrangement for setting the amount payable to the Lord Chancellor is of only recent origin. I shall turn later to our past consideration of the order. First, I propose to deal with the order itself. I hope that it may then be helpful if I say a few words to remind the House why the Lord Chancellor's salary, uniquely among ministerial salaries, is fixed in this way.

The terms of the order are quite straightforward. They provide for the revocation of the Lord Chancellor's Salary Order 1985 and for an increase of £2,400 in the salary payable to the Lord Chancellor. This would have effect from 8 July this year, and would raise the amount due from £77,000 per year to £79,400. This order is needed because of the—

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Does the Leader of the House recall the many debates that we have had in recent weeks on wages councils? The £2,400 increase in the Lord Chancellor's salary is precisely the annual salary of young workers in hotels, shops, catering establishments and hairdressing establishments, which Ministers considered too high and argued should be cut. How can the right hon. Gentleman justify an increase in one year in one Minister's salary which is the same as the annual salary of young workers who are told that they are pricing themselves out of jobs?

Mr. Biffen

If the hon. Gentleman had fully acquainted himself with the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body—I am sure that he has—he would realise why the sums to which I referred are included in the order.

The order is needed because of the link between the salary of the Lord Chief Justice and that payable to the Lord Chancellor. This link between the two salaries dates back to 1983. Before that time, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor were paid the same amount. In 1983, however, the TSRB departed from its previous recommendations in this respect. Its report concluded that having regard to the pre-eminent position of the Lord Chancellor in the judiciary and his responsibilities as a whole … a more appropriate relationship would be established if he were paid rather more than the Lord Chief Justice. The principle of this recommendation was accepted by the Government and has since been accepted by the House. I believe that it represents a most appropriate way of taking into account the different roles of the Lord Chancellor in presiding over the other place, in being a Minister and head of a Department and in being the constitutional head of the judiciary. It does mean, however, that the Lord Chancellor's salary has to obtain the agreement of both Houses annually, while the salaries for Ministers and other office holders can be set for four years at a time. Although this may seem a cumbersome and complicated way of proceeding, there is no obvious simple alternative which would remove this requirement yet retain the link.

The Lord Chief Justice's salary is settled annually when the Government decide what action to take to implement the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body. This year my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 22 May how the Government proposed to act in respect of both the TSRB and the other review bodies which report annually.

In respect of the TSRB, the Government decided that the recommendation should be scaled down somewhat to an average 4 per cent. to take effect from 1 July 1986. This means that the effective increase in the pay for this group in 1986–87 is 3 per cent.— broadly in line with inflation. From 1 July, the Lord Chief Justice will thus receive an increase of £2,400 which raises his salary from £75,000 to £77,400.

The House can see from this that the terms of the order reflect very closely the change to the Lord Chief Justice's salary —the difference remaining being the £2,000 more which is payable to the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, when we talk of 10 per cent. of £100 and 10 per cent. of £10,000, the percentage is equal but the sums involved are different? Would it not be fair, at the top end of the scale, to award a sum of money rather than a percentage? When percentages are allowed, the rich get richer and those at the bottom do not keep up quite so much.

Mr. Biffen

I think that the hon. Gentleman suggests a proposal which would effectively narrow the differentials within the pay scales concerned. The recommendations made by the Top Salaries Review Body, which was accepted by the Government, maintains, broadly speaking, the differential arrangements. I think that the House would wish to be careful before producing salary arrangements which further depress differentials in that instance and, in my view, more generally.

The modalities of this arrangement mean that this is the fourth time that the issue has come before the House since this formula was devised in 1983. In that year, the Lord Chancellor's salary was like those of other office holders, set out in the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order. This was approved by the House on 26 July of that year without a Division. The following year, the Lord Chancellor's Salary Order was taken on 20 July with motions relating to Members' office, secretarial and research allowance and the motor mileage allowance. On that occasion, the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and I had the distinction of being the only two contributors to the debate to comment on the Lord Chancellor's salary.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Those of us who do not have the pleasure of being lawyers do not understand the great difference between the Lord Chancellor and the rest of us crude politicians. The Lord Chancellor may, in some theoretical way, be head of the judiciary, but he is at heart a politician who, at the Prime Minister's wish, or displeasure, is possessed or dispossessed of office. Why does the Prime Minister get one sum of money, because she is Head of the Government, but judges, Lord Chancellors and barristers who are politicians as well argue that they are on Olympian heights? Why does the Lord Chancellor, as one of the members of the Government, need to give a wretched example to the rest of the people by needing £79,400 a year? That must be nonsense and wrong, and most of us could not support it.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend made precisely that point last year, only more briefly.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

I shall make it every year.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend implied that the Lord Chancellor was a "crude politician"—I noted the words carefully. The Lord Chancellor's warmest friend and his most inveterate opponent would concede that he is a man of the utmost political distinction. But he has legal responsibilities. The legal responsibilities of his office were argued a few years ago in the reports of the Top Salaries Review Body. I can do no better than commend them to my hon. Friend.

Once again, the 1984 order could hardly be said to be controversial and the right hon. Member for Swansea, West said that the Opposition would not oppose the motion. Although the House did divide on the issue, the order was passed with the significant majority of 108 votes to 14.

Mr. Bermingham

What about last year?

Mr. Biffen

I think that the hon. Gentleman, who makes that comment gracefully but sedentarily—

Mr. Bermingham


Mr. Biffen

It is all right, there is no need for the hon. Gentleman to make the point at greater length. I think that we all recollect—none more so than me—that there was an understandable elasticity to the debate last year. It considered not so much the Lord Chancellor's salary as the political wisdom of behaving in the way in which the Government did with respect to the Top Salaries Review Body's report.

Mr. Bermingham


Mr. Biffen

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue.

I accept at once that our debate on this order last year was different both in character and in the level of interest it aroused. This, I believe, owed much to the fact that the debate was used by the House to express its views about the Government's implementation of the TSRB's overall recommendations. This evening, I believe— I think that I still believe—that we are in a calmer situation. Indeed, we may well remind ourselves that the only issue before us tonight is whether to approve the order. On previous occasions, the House has clearly shown its acceptance of the principle behind this order and, in these circumstances, I believe that it would be perverse to oppose the mechanism needed to implement what has already been approved. I commend the motion to the House.

10.24 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

This is an important debate, even though we are discussing the tip of the iceberg of public sector pay. Indeed, when the history of the decline and fall of the second Thatcher Government comes to be written, I am sure that last year's debate on the Lord Chancellor's salary order will have a special place.

As the House will recall, that event had a double significance. First, in seeking the approval of the House for a 16.6 per cent. increase in the Lord Chancellor's pay, taking his salary from £66,000 to £77,000 per year, the Government demonstrated more clearly than on any previous occasion that they were operating a manifestly unfair and totally contradictory incomes policy, with high monetary increases for the most favoured, those covered by the Top Salaries Review Body, with a 3 per cent. norm for the great bulk of public sector employees, with 5 to 6 per cent. for nurses and teachers, and a deliberate policy of pay reduction for the lowest paid, those covered by wages councils. Secondly, on that occasion over 411 Tory Back Benchers voted with the Opposition against the Government, and many more abstained. The order was passed by 249 votes to 232, a majority of 17. Although the order was discussed after 10 o'clock, the Lord Privy Seal and myself spoke to a nearly full House of Commons.

This year we have a somewhat less tense situation, with an attendance, I would guess, of about 50 hon. Members. We have a very different order and a very different background of public sector pay decisions. The nurses, the doctors and the armed forces were all recommended by their pay bodies increases of between 7.5 and 8.2 per cent. from this April. The Government have simply reduced that by the expedient of postponing payment from 1 April to 1 July, thus cutting the pay increase of the groups this year to 5 to 6 per cent.

The Top Salaries Review Body, which recommended an average of 6.5 per cent. increase, is to be more severely reduced to an average of about 3 per cent. Thus, the Lord Chancellor's salary, which, by recent convention, as the Lord Privy Seal reminded us, is linked to that of the Lord Chief Justice and should stand at £2,000 above his, would have been £81,000 today if the Government had accepted the Top Salaries Review Body recommendation. The order before us contains the lower figure of £79,400, an increase of 3.1 per cent. not the 5.2 per cent. that was recommended.

The House knows that, like last year, the Lord Chancellor does not want the increase and will not take it anyway. However, the Government's reasons for departing this year from the course they pursued last year does need some examination and explanation. According to the Top Salaries Review Body report, paragraph 30, the basis of its award was as follows: Last year we were concerned to establish the appropriate structure and salary levels; our aim this year is to keep them up to date. Taking account of comparator increases the report says: we consider that salary increases for the groups in our remit should this year be near the lower quartile of increases for the comparators rather than the median. Inevitably, the question arises why last year the Government insisted on the 16.6 per cent. increase recommended by the Top Salaries Review Body, when this year they recommend only three fifths of what has now been recommended.

Last year when replying to our debate the Lord Privy Seal was emphatic that these great issues of top people's pay, which are full of great political difficulty, are best vested for their recommendation in an outside body such as the Top Salaries Review Body. He concluded with the bold and defiant words: Whatever timing is resolved, it is always a matter of embarrassment and acute unease … There is no easy way out of this or any of the other major issues of politics. We are not here to hide behind any passing popular fashion. We are here to provide leadership as well. I do not resile from that observation. We are not in the business of paving-stone politics on this or anything else. Confronted with these difficulties, it is our obligation to give a lead and not to cringe and follow."—[Official Report, 23 July 1985; Vol. 83, c. 1008–9.] This year the Lord Privy Seal has struck a very different chord. It is not so much the trumpet as the tin whistle; it is the Government who must now determine top salaries, not the TSRB—the despised and rejected alternative of what the right hon. Gentleman described last year as politically decided pay determination. Quite simply, I applaud the change. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman in his present mood and presentation. I pay tribute to the revolting Back Benchers of last year, who helped the Opposition to drive it home to the Government that manifest unfairness in public sector pay determination is simply unacceptable.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

The right hon. Gentleman rightly refers to the Government's stance the last time we debated the issue. Will he say whether the 40 Conservative Members who went against the party line on that occasion will have more support from Her Majesty's Opposition this time than last time?

Mr. Shore

I shall come to that. Nothing that happens tonight should detract in any way from the warm tribute that we all wish to pay to the revolting Back Benchers of last year. [Interruption.] I was there voting with them.

Before I conclude, I want to draw attention to a longer-term problem that is rapidly emerging. The Lord Privy Seal must be aware, as is the House, of the pay explosion that is taking place in top salaries in the private sector. On 15 June 1986 The Sunday Times published its annual survey of salary increases of industries' top earners. It reported: the top 100 received an average pay increase of 28 per cent. last year. With 5 per cent. inflation at the end of last year and earnings increasing by about 7.5 per cent. they did very nicely in the wages battle. Their average salary is £188,000 per annum. It is not just in the top levels that the pay explosion is taking place. During the past year, as the City has prepared for this autumn's big bang, the financial services sector has massively increased no only salaries but a whole range of fringe benefits. In the vocabulary of pay increases, the golden hello has now taken place alongside the golden handshake. What is unique to top salaries in the private sector is that they are self-determined. It is the chief executives and the boards of directors of companies who determine their own worth and their own rewards.

I shall not vote against the order, but I conclude with a warning to the Government.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shore

No, I will not.

The Government will need to look again very closely at the whole workings of the TSRB, if we are to avoid next year or the year after another huge and unacceptable increase in public sector top salaries, propelled upwards to ever more dizzy heights by the explosion in private sector comparator pay.

10.33 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

It may be that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) will not vote against the order, but I shall. I hope that many other hon. Members will. Again we see in this award the way in which the Top Salaries Review Body reacts. I take on board what was said by my right hon. Friend about the private sector. It reflects much that is wrong in our society.

I do not object to the principle of quantum meruit—the labourer being paid as much as he deserves. What I object to is the little cartel that we see, which gleans a lot for the few, and ignores the many. I object when that occurs in the public and private sectors. In the private sector, as my right hon. Friend said, we have seen it in the City, with the golden hello and the golden goodbye. People are beginning to move from here to there, with a hello and a goodbye, and a hello and a goodbye. A vast amount of money goes into their hands, and a vast amount of money is taken out of society, which could have been paid to those who work in those organisations.

I accept that tonight's debate is about the Lord Chancellor's salary. I hope that any comment that I make will not be taken personally.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bermingham

I shall give way in a moment.

I apply to the Lord Chancellor the same argument of quantum meruit as I apply to any one else who is governed by the Top Salaries Review Body.

Mr. Ashby

On the hon. Gentleman's theme that a labourer is worth his pay, has he any comment to make on the fact that the pay increase for the Lord Chancellor is a little less than that which he originally intended giving to the Bar before that was stopped? I understand that the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Bar. Has he any comment to make on that point?

Mr. Bermingham

It is well known that I am a member or the legal profession. I hope not to bring the legal profession into dispute over the question of the Lord Chancellor's pay review. I have not sought to do that. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) is also a practising barrister and he may be egging me on to suggest that perhaps the rule of quantum meruit ought to be applied to the Lord Chancellor in respect of his determination in relation to the legal aid apportionments. Had a little more realism been shown in that respect, perhaps many members of the legal profession would have and could have said that they felt that the administrative part of the Lord Chancellor's occupation was properly performed.

I must not trespass down that road too far as I realise that many hon. Members would bring me to order for doing so. It would detract from the principle that I seek to advance tonight.

Mr. Ashby

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree with this if he thinks that the Bar is worth more than was originally offered—and I am sure that that is his view—is the Lord Chancellor not worth the increase offered in the review?

Mr. Bermingham

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. I am not trying to debate the merits of the Bar's case—which I fully support. I seek to debate whether the Top Salaries Review Body, in fixing the Lord Chancellor's salary—which is the notional subject of the debate—and in fixing the salary levels of many other senior civil servants and public office holders, has the right criteria. I immediately concede that those who serve in the judiciary need to be adequately paid, just as those who serve in the judiciary ought to be properly paid when they seek to administer justice in one form or another. Perhaps the Leader of the House will listen carefully to my next point. If those who serve justice — whether they be solicitor, clerk, articled clerk, pupil barrister or whatever, are not properly paid, justice will suffer.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

What about the workers?

Mr. Bermingham

I should like to return to the concept of how we fix public sector payments. If we take the basic principle of what is needed by way of salary matters, we must consider how they apply. I concede that I am concerned at what is happening in the private sector and how that could once again become a drain on the public sector. However, there is a more fundamental argument at stake. I concede that the Lord Chancellor combines many functions. He is Speaker of the House of Lords, and I trust that the House will appreciate that none of my remarks are personal. That role of the Lord Chancellor is a political function. At the same time, he fulfils the role of a Member of the House of Lords in a judicial capacity as Lord Chancellor—as head of the judiciary and appointments. That is a different function. Tonight's salary order debate seems as good a time as any to ask whether there ought now to be a divorce between the Lord Chancellor's traditional and legal functions.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

We are discussing a proposed salary increase of between 16 per cent. and 17 per cent. for the Lord Chancellor—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. Is this an intervention?

Mr. Randall

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am asking my hon. Friend, who is a very dear friend of mine, how he squares increases of that magnitude, which he seems implicitly to support in some cases, with the 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. that the Lord Chancellor constantly asks people in industry to accept.

Mr. Bermingham

That is a very interesting question if I understood it aright. Putting it simply, the increase sought by the Lord Chancellor this year is 3 per cent. Last year it was 16 per cent. I am arguing that the 3 per cent. should be 0 per cent. because there comes a time when one has to consider whether the salary suggested matches the job being done. I can advance this only in respect of the Lord Chancellor today, but I have the same reservations about all the other senior pay rises.

There comes a time when we have to consider how people are paid in this country. That is why I put this to the Leader of the House in an intervention earlier. It is all very well to use percentage points, but 10 per cent. of £100 is £10 whereas 10 per cent. of £10,000 is £1,000. There is a different way of looking at the whole subject of senior pay rises. I concede at once that there must be a basic figure, and a fairly substantial one, but once one goes above that if one continues to use percentage figures one increases the gap between the highest and the lowest paid in real terms to an extent that is both unacceptable and unfair.

I put it to the Leader of the House again that last year was a warning shot across the bows. The tragedy is that a second shot has not been fired this year. The House decided last year that it would not agree to very senior salaries ultimately reaching almost obscene levels of £80,000 or thereabouts. Perhaps this year some of us will reiterate the principle that we struck last year. We do not believe that there has to be an automatic increase at the top every year. There comes a time when we have to accept that the ceiling has been reached and that the money can be better spent elsewhere.

At a time when many functions in the legal world—law centres, for example — are in dire straits and in danger of closure, it seems wrong to increase the Lord Chancellor's salary still further into the alpine heights of unreality from the point of view of people who live and work in the real, everyday world where £20, £40 or £50 is a real and meaningful sum.

I hope that some hon. Gentlemen will ultimately agree with me tonight and oppose the Lord Chancellor's salary increase. I say that with no disrespect for the present incumbent, but merely with great critisicm of the principle on which the salary scale is based.

10.44 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I hope that the House will reject the Lord Chancellor's salary increase. This is an occasion when it would be valuable to the health of democracy if the House were televised, because British people living in enormous poverty would be able to see a group of Members of Parliament voting one person a salary of nearly £80,000 a year. I cannot imagine how anyone can be worth that salary. The gentleman in question is a pensioner to boot, but I do not know whether he also receives an old-age pension.

At the other end of the public sector salary scale, Ministers lecure health workers that they are causing irreparable damage to the Health Service by the size of their pay claims, local government workers that they are causing cuts in local government services by demanding the princely sum of two thirds of average industrial earnings, and young workers that they can live on £25 a week.

The principle should be that if a person is being paid such a high salary, he certainly does not need any increase whatever. It is disgraceful that the House should be prepared even to consider giving him an increase. It is an example of double standards of the first order that the Government should be prepared to lecture the majority of people on the need to tighten their belts and to make sacrifices for the good of the economy and the country, while at the same time they pay £80,000 a year to one Minister.

Mr. Michie

Would it not be more just if the Government gave every low-paid worker a £53,000 a year rise instead of giving a rise in this instance?

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend is correct. In reality, while the Government talk about our rising living standards, they do not intend that the living standards of the majority of the population should improve. If they did, 4 million people would not be unemployed and pensioners would not face the prospect next month of the princely increase of 40p a week.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must address himself to the merits of the increase for the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Corbyn

It is difficult to address myself to the merits of the Lord Chancellor's increase, because I can see no merits in it. I can see only demerits. I was merely drawing an analogy between the Lord Chancellor, who will receive £80,000 a year—I do not believe that anyone earns that sum—and the many elderly people who are the same age as him and who have also worked hard for many years to the benefit of the community, but who will receive an increase of 40p a week in their pension. That is disgraceful.

It is a shame that the order is being debated at this late hour and that most of the country is unaware of it. When it becomes clear that the Government are more interested in giving £80,000 a year to this gentleman than in settling the ancillary staff's pay claim, or giving pensioners or young workers a decent rise, people will once more oppose the Government. We may not be victorious in tonight's debate, but it will contribute to the nails in the coffin of the Government, who have continually shown themselves to be concerned only with looking after their wealthy friends in the police, the armed forces and the judiciary, and with imposing the lowest possible living standards on pensioners, the unemployed and low-paid working people.

10.49 pm
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

I, too, hope that the House will reject the order on an important point of principle. Like many hon. Members, I am conscious of the difficulties encountered in recent years by law centres, which try to serve the poorest in our society. My constituency is not the only one where a law centre has been threatened with closure during the past 12 months. Indeed, the law centre in my constituency has only just survived with assistance from the local authority. Many law centres in other parts of Britain have had to close or lay off staff or run their operations under the threat of closure because of a lack of adequate funding, which can be traced back to the Government's failure to ensure a proper base for the funding of this important legal service for poor people.

That principle should guide the House to say that, because of the Government's failure to ensure that such services are made available to the poor, the Lord Chancellor's salary should not be increased this year. That would be a mark of the House's concern about that failure. I hope that the order will be rejected.

10.50 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

I rise alongside my comrades and colleagues to oppose the order. It is an obscenity, at 10.50 pm, to be discussing an increase in the salary of one of the highest-paid public servants in Britain when, in recent weeks in the same Chamber, I and my hon. Friends have tried to defend the rights of 500,000 young workers, each of whose annual earnings are the same as or less than the increase in the Lord Chancellor's salary. There is no merit—the Leader of the House did not answer my question on this—in one individual receiving an increase of £2,400 a year when 500,000 young workers, who receive salaries of only £2,400 or less a year, are told that they are pricing themselves out of jobs.

Mr. Corbyn

Is my hon. Friend aware that the amount that the Lord Chancellor is due to be paid in one week is more than a YTS worker receives in an entire year? Could that, by any stretch of the imagination, be fair?

Mr. Nellist

I had intended to make that point later, but I shall refer to it briefly now.

If the report of the Top Salaries Review Body and this order are about parity, providing people with the necessary incentive and getting people of the right calibre into jobs, those on the youth training scheme, whose allowance in April 1978 was £19.50 a week, should be receiving £44.06 a week if their salaries had been increased by the average increase in wages. If the House holds dear the principle of democracy and even-handedness, it should say that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Tonight we are told that it is worth while increasing the Lord Chancellor's salary in line with inflation, but not the salaries of YTS workers.

I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) about law centres. After all, the Lord Chancellor is the titular head of the legal system. Only a week ago, I received a letter from the citizens advice bureau in Coventry, which works with the Coventry legal and income rights service, saying that one old couple living on the Stoke Aldemar estate in Coventry, South-East were discovered to have been underpaid £33.40 a week by the DHSS. Through the work of the citizens advice bureau, they received back payment of £1,500. If the energy evident among Tory Members tonight, when we are discussing an increase of £2,400 in the salary of one individual, was demonstrated more regularly in hunting out the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pensioners and others who are underpaid by about £1,000 million, the stature and reputation of the House might be enhanced.

Mr. Corbyn

Is my hon. Friend aware that the DHSS has cut the number of inspectors who chase after companies which have gone bankrupt, leaving workers—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have great difficulty in relating what the hon. Gentleman is saying to the subject before the House.

Mr. Corbyn

I was asking my hon. Friend whether the head of the legal service should be concerned about such companies not paying workers' national insurance contributions, and whether it should be the job of the DHSS to follow up these cases.

Mr. Nellist

I can find many uses for £80,000 a year—for example, employing six or seven more wages inspectors to chase up the 9,000 companies in the wages council sector which were found to be not paying proper wages, but of which only two were prosecuted. We might open the whole debate and discuss the implications of the legal system. On one side of the scales that hang above the Old Bailey we could put the 11,000 miners who were arrested during the miners' strike and in the other the only two employers out of 9,000 who were prosecuted for paying their workers illegal wages. If Lord Hailsham is worth £80,000 a year, he should at least be doing something to prevent such things from happening. Those should be the priorities of the Government's chief public servant. The £2,400 for an increase in the salary of the Lord Chancellor could have gone to help those on YTS and others who are on a low wage because of the Government's policies. There are 8,000 registered millionaires in Britain. It will not be long before Lord Hailsham is one of them if his salary is raised by this amount every year.

Under this Government, 1 million people earn more than £20,000 a year. The Government's tax cuts have given somebody on £100 a week a £1 decrease in his net tax bill over the past seven years to set aside the increase in indirect taxes. Those on £1,000 a week, which is less than the Lord Chancellor will be getting after tonight's order, have received a £330 net decrease in their tax bill. That shows the Government's priorities.

I do not normally quote from the Official Report of some time ago, but I shall do so tonight. I have returned from a meeting being held between the 7 o'clock and 10 o'clock votes. It is a somewhat historic quote, but I think that hon. Members will see its relevance to today.

It is interesting, because it would appear that the capitalist classes to-day are having a larger profit out of the slump than they did out of the boom. And while, at one end of the scale you have wage cuts down to the very bone, until millions of our people in full work are forced down to practical destitution and to a standard of living considerably below the subsistence level, you have, on the other hand, these fabulous dividends and you have, as everyone knows who goes about the West End, ostentation, luxury, extravagance, and waste of every description, which is being paid for by the blood and sweat of the workers. It is said that the country cannot afford a living wage for all its workers. It can afford a very large number of people, rich and super-rich people, who contribute absolutely nothing by their labour to the community. [Official Report, 7 March 1923; Vol. 161, c. 639.] Those words come from the maiden speech of Dr. Alfred Salter, the Labour Member of Parliament for West Bermondsey. There is foretelling in those words. Those words, uttered 63 years ago, apply precisely to the idea that the Lord Chancellor's salary ought to be increased by £2,400 when 8.5 million workers in this country do not even receive a living wage.

11.4 pm

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I do not think that I can entertain the House by drawing a connection, as did the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), between the Lord Chancellor's salary and his activities in the miners' strike, of which I was hitherto unaware. However, I wish to put before the House what I perceive to be the views of many in the legal profession —and I am one — on this substantial increase in the Lord Chancellor's salary.

It is not that the Lord Chancellor does not deserve to have a substantial salary, because, as head of the judiciary, of course he does. It is not that one opposes the concept of the Top Salaries Review Body, with its independent assessment of what is the correct professional salary for somebody holding the august post of Lord Chancellor. As you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is a fact that there are many underpaid, experienced lawyers in this country, particularly some members of the Bar carrying out criminal legal aid work, who are pleading with the Lord Chancellor to introduce into their fee assessments a similar element of independence as he himself has in his own salary.

However, I do not wish to indulge in special pleading for them. Rather, I wish to look for a moment at the position of the Lord Chancellor in relation to other legal institutions. If one regards the legal system of this country as a pyramid, it is the Lord Chancellor who is at the top of that pyramid. If the stature of the Lord Chancellor in terms of salary increases, it must increase only in proportion to the pyramid beneath.

Let us look for a moment at what has been happening to some of the other parts of the pyramid that is the edifice of our legal system. The Government quite rightly introduced the independent Crown prosecution service. When we were discussing in Committee the Prosecution of Offences Bill we were told by the Attorney-General that the Crown prosecution service would attract recruits of a sufficient standard of excellence, so that some of the best young lawyers in this country would join it. This would mean that prosecutions, however difficult, would be presented competently and without having to rely upon thinly spread resources.

The fact is, as we have discussed in the past in the House, that the Crown prosecution service salary structure is inadequate and that it has not been possible to recruit a sufficient number of people—although some have been recruited—of the right calibre. It is an insult to the Crown prosecution service that such an enormous and disproportionate increase should be given to the Lord Chancellor when it is not being given the appropriate basis upon which to staff its service.

We have seen cuts in legal aid which reduce the number of people who are eligible for legal aid when they have been injured at work or in road accidents, or when they face divorce proceedings or other litigation. These are cuts in both money and real terms. They, too, make this salary increase for the Lord Chancellor seem to be wholly disproportionate. We have seen law centres being decimated by this Government's policies. Therefore, while the Lord Chancellor's salary is being increased, some centres are having to close, while even the luckier ones are having to cut their services very substantially.

In rooms downstairs I have tonight seen representatives of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, who have made representations to hon. Members of all parties about the inadequacy of the funding of that part of the voluntary sector that deals with legal services. Yet, disproportionately, we see the Lord Chancellor's salary being increased in this way.

It is not the principle of the increase in the Lord Chancellor's salary which is so objectionable. Rather it is the singling out of the Lord Chancellor's salary from the Government's treatment of all the other legal services which I have mentioned which is greatly offensive to the legal profession, to those working voluntarily in the legal sector, and to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

11.5 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I have not been prompted to speak by the fact that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) quoted one of my predecessors who was Member of Parliament for Bermondsey in the 1920s and for whom I have more than a sneaking regard, although he was not a Member of the Liberal party — at least, he was not ultimately, although he started off in the Liberal party.

This is the only debate that we can have on the salary of a member of the Government and that is sad. I do not approve this year, as I did not approve last year, of the Lord Chancellor, who is already substantially paid, being given more money. I oppose it, not just on a point of principle, given the gross inequities of pay in Britain, but also in regard to his carrying out of responsibilities as head of the judiciary.

The Lord Chancellor has been justifiably criticised for responding totally inadequately, through the inadequate funding of the legal aid system, to the needs of people who have insufficient private finance to pursue their own legal remedies. He has been criticised, quite rightly, for not responding to the fact that many law centres will now not be funded and many people at the bottom end of the economic scale will not have the wherewithal to challenge, particularly in areas of welfare law, matters of fundamental importance to them, be they on housing or in other areas.

There is also one area that I am not aware has been mentioned. The Lord Chancellor has not responded, as head of the judiciary, to the massive need that there is in Britain for the funding of people in other forms of legal forums — in tribunals, and, in particular, at inquests. Until the Lord Chancellor does his job properly and makes sure that people in all walks of life have equal access to the legal remedies that are designed to be available, we should not give him anything that compliments him on his tenure in his job as head of the judiciary.

A family of constituents of mine are trying to obtain representation at an inquest looking into the death of their son while in custody in Devon. They have not had 1p of public funding to help them in an inquest of several weeks' length. It is unacceptable that this so-called civilized society cannot help people to obtain legal remedies when they do not have the means. The Lord Chancellor should have exercised some sort of social responsibility together with his judicial one. He has failed abysmally.

11.8 pm

Mr. Biffen

This has been a most good-natured and wide-ranging debate and it would be a courtesy to the House if I just uttered two or three sentences by way of conclusion.

Those of us with longish memories and who can recollect all the nocturnal orders that were issued under the Prices and Incomes Act 1966 will realise that there was a curious yearning for the entertainment that those episodes conferred in the way in which the debate this evening fairly quickly got into the wider track of wages councils, law centres, the miners' dispute, millionaires and then a charming reference to Dr. Salter, who, like the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I know only by repute. He was a formidable personality and a great evangelist for temperance, a man of great reputation and almost a legend in Bermondsey.

But I want to be wholly pedantic and narrow and speak solely to the order on which the House is invited to vote, but in so doing to draw attention to three points. If the House is satisfied on those three points, it must have no doubt about supporting the motion. But if the House and the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) are not so satisfied, they will have to vote otherwise.

I turn to the sum now proposed for the Lord Chief Justice, who is the regulator in this matter since his pay ultimately gives rise to what is paid to the Lord Chancellor. Do we think that a touch above £77,000 a year is a reasonable sum, given that the Judiciary can ultimately only he recruited from the Bar and that we must take account of the best earnings obtained by the most successful at the Bar? No one has seriously questioned that sum.

But the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey will reject the motion on the basis that the figure is too high. I understand that in the populist world of Bermondsey that may gather a few votes—

Mr. Simon Hughes

Not just in Bermondsey either.

Mr. Biffen

But in the real world we tread a dangerous path if membership of the Bar makes membership of the Judiciary relatively unattractive.

We must also judge whether the £2,000 or so that is a token sum to distinguish—

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Biffen

—yes, token. It distinguishes the role of the Lord Chancellor from that of others in the profession because he is its leader. I believe that that leadership is properly reflected in that sum, and that it was judged to be so by the Top Salaries Review Body. The House has been wise to abide by that recommendation.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) argued that there should somehow be a nominal figure at the top end of the judicial profession in order consciously to compress differentials within that element of the public sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) made the point well. That argument starts with the judiciary, is extended to the Civil Service, and then spreads to the nationalised industries. If the hon. Gentleman supposes that the public sector can he insulated from the differential pattern of the private sector, he is living in the illusionary Fabian world shared by the alliance and the Labour party.

We should have none of that, and should give the order our whole-hearted support.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Question is, That the draft—

Mr. Bermingham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

—Lord Chancellor's Salary Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 3 June, he approved. As many as are of that opinion —

Mr. Bermingham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, That the Question be not put, and that the previous Question be put.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that there is not a previous Question at this stage. I have put the Question—

Mr. Bermingham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have put the Question on the order.

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. Bermingham

(seated and covered): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I refer you to page 388 of "Erskine May", where you will see that the matter of the previous Question being put is a procedural matter. It is a perfectly proper Question. I am entitled to put it. It was last put in 1943, and it should take priority over the Question on the order. You have denied me my parliamentary right to put that Question, and I ask that the matter be now rectified.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have the appropriate page. The hon. Gentleman is quite right, but he talked about the previous Question, when he should have moved, That the Question be not now put. I did not hear those words, and the hon. Gentleman did not put the Question in that way.

Mr. Bermingham

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You cannot put the formal Question unless you are permitted to put it. You attempted to put the formal Question, even though I was on my feet attempting to raise a point of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I put the Question before I saw that the hon. Gentleman was on his feet.

The House having divided: Ayes 120, Noes 29.

Division No. 232] [11.15 pm
Alexander, Richard Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Ancram, Michael Bright, Graham
Arnold, Tom Brinton, Tim
Ashby, David Brooke, Hon Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Batiste, Spencer Bruinvels, Peter
Bellingham, Henry Butcher, John
Biffen, Rt Hon John Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Blackburn, John Cash, William
Boscawen, Hon Robert Chope, Christopher
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Murphy, Christopher
Cockeram, Eric Newton, Tony
Coombs, Simon Nicholls, Patrick
Cope, John Norris, Steven
Currie, Mrs Edwina Onslow, Cranley
Dorrell, Stephen Osborn, Sir John
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Dover, Den Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Durant, Tony Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Evennett, David Portillo, Michael
Forman, Nigel Powell, William (Corby)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Powley, John
Forth, Eric Raffan, Keith
Fox, Sir Marcus Rathbone, Tim
Garel-Jones, Tristan Rhodes James, Robert
Goodhart, Sir Philip Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Gower, Sir Raymond Rowe, Andrew
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Sackville, Hon Thomas
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Hanley, Jeremy Soames, Hon Nicholas
Heddle, John Spencer, Derek
Hind, Kenneth Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Stanbrook, Ivor
Jackson, Robert Stern, Michael
Key, Robert Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Knowles, Michael Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Lawrence, Ivan Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Lester, Jim Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Lilley, Peter Thurnham, Peter
Lloyd. Sir Ian (Havant) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Twinn, Dr Ian
Lord, Michael Waddington, David
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Waller, Gary
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Major, John Warren, Kenneth
Malins, Humfrey Watson, John
Maples, John Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Maude, Hon Francis Wheeler, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Whitney, Raymond
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Wilkinson, John
Mellor, David Winterton, Mrs Ann
Meyer, Sir Anthony Winterton, Nicholas
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Wood, Timothy
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Yeo, Tim
Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Moate, Roger Tellers for the Ayes:
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Mr. Michael Neubert and
Moynihan, Hon C. Mr. Gerald Malone.
Ashdown, Paddy Nellist, David
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Parry, Robert
Bermingham, Gerald Patchett, Terry
Bruce, Malcolm Penhaligon, David
Buchan, Norman Pike, Peter
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Raynsford, Nick
Clay, Robert Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Skinner, Dennis
Cohen, Harry Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Dixon, Donald Wallace, James
Duffy, A. E. P. Winnick, David
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Fisher, Mark
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Tellers for the Noes:
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Mr. Tony Banks and
Loyden, Edward Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
Michie, William

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Lord Chancellor's Salary Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 3rd June, be approved.