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Business Of The House

Volume 83: debated on Friday 19 July 1985

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11.40 am

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement about the business on Tuesday 23 July.

In addition, at the end there will now be a motion on the Lord Chancellor's Salary Order 1985.

The House will be grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for making a statement to the House on the Lord Chancellor's salary order for which, in marked contrast to the Prime Minister's written reply on top salaries generally last night, time has been found for debate next week. I have only one question. Is the 16·7 per cent. increase to £77,000 per annum in the Lord Chancellor's salary due to the fear that the present incumbent will be tempted to leave his post for more lucrative offers, or is it due to the inability to attract suitable candidates from other Government levels to take his place?

The right hon. Gentleman's question is of such seriousness and substance that it requires a debate rather than a mere question and answer session across the Table. Parliament is being invited to consider the measure because it needs parliamentary approval.

May I say how pleased I am that we are to have a debate on Tuesday, because it will allow Government Back-Benchers to say that, although we understand the reasons for accepting the Top Salary Review Body recommendations, we believe that the timing is inept and that the Government are not demonstrating that the burden of moderate salary increases should be shared by everyone?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me advance notice that we shall experience a lively 90 minutes on Tuesday.

Since the Leader of the House is infinitely more sensitive to feelings in the country and the House than the Chief Secretary, who has fled the Chamber, may I ask him whether he appreciates the genuine sense of moral outrage caused by a salary system over which the Government preside that allows people such as the Lord Chancellor to be paid more than £40 per hour—more than some adult workers are paid per. week? The Government have forced people to accept such low wage levels.

Will my right hon. Friend accept my thanks and congratulations on providing the opportunity to debate the Lord Chancellor's salary increase—and perhaps others—next week? Does he accept that there is deep concern about the issues discussed this morning on both sides of the House, because such rises go against the need to control public expenditure and are a poor example to those of us who are trying to persuade prison officers, the police and teachers to accept sensible and moderate pay awards? Secondly, does he agree that such rises do not set the example that leaders have set before and which the Prime Minister is at present setting? Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is concern and will he further accept that I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues next week?

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. He will realise that the change of business covers a relatively narrow issue in relation to the Lord Chancellor. He is right to imply that the wider issues can feature in the Consolidated Fund debate.

Some Opposition Members wishing to ask a question were called earlier so if I call them now they must confine their remarks to the Lord Chancellor's salary order.

I wonder whether I can help to sort the matter out. Earlier we were told that one of the reasons why the top people, including the Lord Chancellor, need a pay increase is to keep them in their jobs. Perhaps I have not listened to everything that has been said, but I have not heard that the Lord Chancellor is threatening to pack in his job because he cannot get a proper pay rise. We were under the impression that the Lord Chancellor is being kept in his job because the Government are frightened to face a by-election if they have to put somebody else in his job. If that is so are not the Government lining the Lord Chancellor's pockets to save themselves from a by-election which would prove to be another disaster for the Minister?

I understood from the hon. Gentleman's preamble that his comments were by way of assistance. I shall have to reflect considerably before I embrace that assistance.

When we decide whether to increase the Lord Chancellor's salary next week will it be on the basis that his morale is low, that he is in danger of leaving his post or that we are not paying him enough compared with what he might receive outside?

I shall be happy to give my considered reflections on those direct questions in the debate. In the meantime, I shall have time to acquaint the Lord Chancellor with my hon. Friend's comment so that he can give me some advice.

How does the Lord Chancellor's rise square with the Government's assertion that people cannot have wage rises because they price themselves out of jobs? How can a rise of thousands of pounds for the Lord Chancellor be squared with that principle when youngsters who are earning £29·70 a week are not even allowed a few pence extra?

Earlier, the hon. Gentleman said something from a sedentary position about corporals being paid the same as field marshals. The hon. Gentleman is quiet about that now. In any society, particularly in relation to public office, differentials are accepted and certain premiums are paid for responsibilities. We must face up to the challenge implicit in the Top Salaries Review Body report. We cannot run away from them.

While I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement may I ask hire to ensure that when we debate the motion on the Lord Chancellor's salary our attention is drawn to the fact that the politics of jealousy, which has given rise to the squeals from the Opposition today, went out with the 1970s? Will he confirm that the majority of people will welcome the rise for the Lord Chancellor and others on the ground that it creates opportunities for their children?

I am not sure whether the debate on Tuesday will resolve that issue, but I agree that orchestrated envy has been endemic in politics from the beginning.

Will the Leader of the House reflect on what he said about differentials? Many groups of workers have fallen out of the pecking order scale. Does the Leader of the House accept that the Government should consider what has been said today because they seem to fail to understand that, when ordinary people read in the paper about these great increases for some sections of the community, when skilled engineers, for instance, whose differentials have been eroded——

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the business statement is about the Lord Chancellor's salary.

I was talking about the proposed increase in the Lord Chancellor's salary. I think that on reflection the House might refuse to grant that increase.

This matter can be resolved on Tuesday night. I wonder whether the orchestrated indignation we now hear was evident at all when hon. Members read the written answer on 4 July 1978 which stated:

"The increases now recommended by the Review Body over salaries currently in payment are on average 35 per cent."—[Official Report, 4 July 1978; Vol. 953 c. 98.]