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Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : It gives me great pleasure to associate myself with what has been said about Sir Victor Le Fanu. I am glad to have this opportunity to express, on behalf of my colleagues, our gratitude for the service Sir Victor has given to the House.
I do not wish to detain the House by repeating the many points that have already been made, but the post of Serjeant at Arms requires special qualities, which Sir Victor has shown in abundance. He has provided a tight rein, a tight ship and the administration that we need to be able to do our jobs effectively.
Column 1210I shall pick out two special qualities of Sir Victor. The first is patience, which has certainly been required to put into practice the system of passes that provides the security that has already been mentioned. The second is courtesy, which we have all seen in abundance, and which is something for which I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are especially grateful.
Sir Victor has a wide range of interests, so it would be inappropriate to wish him a restful retirement in Bath, but we wish him a happy retirement and we assure him that we are grateful for his services to us.
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : I agree with what has been said in tribute to the retiring Serjeant at Arms. Without the firm authority that you, Mr. Speaker, exercise over our exchanges in this place, the wise counsel of the Clerks and the orderly arrangements of our high steward, the Serjeant at Arms--without, so to speak the wig, the pen and the sword--I doubt whether the rest of us would get very far. You jointly provide the framework without which we eager, disparate and sometimes argumentative legislators could not do our work, and for that, and the skill and dedication you show in our service, hon. Members on both sides of the House are truly grateful. It is therefore fitting that, when one of these guardians of our rights, our convenience and working arrangements, retires, we should acknowledge the debt and pay our tribute. It is truly astonishing that we have had only seven Serjeants at Arms in the past 100 years, and perhaps it says something about my great age that I have known, personally, five out of the seven.
The Serjeant at Arms does not have an easy role. He has to carry out his duties as housekeeper with whatever means the House itself wills and provides. He directs a large staff, who serve us admirably. He is responsible for our security--and never has that been a more onerous task than in recent years. Above all, he must possess qualities of firmness and tact.
Victor Le Fanu learnt how to manage people in a very hard school. He served with courage and distinction in the Coldstream Guards, and was badly wounded in Italy in 1944. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that the regimental motto of the Coldstream Guards is "Nulli Secundus"--"second to none". Those of us who served in the Army know that that is a clarion call which evokes loyalty and devotion to one's regiment.
For over a quarter of a century, Victor Le Fanu has given that same loyalty and devotion to the House. He has done so in his own quiet, courteous and effective way. As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) pointed out, he has always been a good listener, has always done his level best to help individual Members. He has shown no favour to either side, and I can honestly say that he has been a true friend to us all. His service to the House of Commons has been "Nulli Secundus", second to none. We salute him for a task faithfully discharged ; we thank him for all that he has done in our service ; we wish him and Lady Le Fanu a long and happy retirement.
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The House of Commons is not a very gentle place--it is a cruel crucible that does not always forge friendships or appreciation--but many of us who have been privileged to work with Victor Le Fanu know that he is a special kind of man. Although I support other hon. Members' recognition of his formal abilities, they have not highlighted--as I wish to--his wit, warmth and real wisdom. Those of us who have been in the House for many years know that to serve Members of Parliament is not the easiest task in the world : they are a difficult, individual and occasionally anti-social group. This man has achieved--with tremendous effort and great
kindness--something truly unique. He has served us all and given of his best, but he has done more than that : he has proved to us that those who serve the House of Commons with the degree of intelligence and ability that he has shown throughout his career do us great honour, and we miss them deeply when they go.
Sir David Price (Eastleigh) : I intrude on these tributes to Sir Victor only for a moment. I believe that I knew him professionally before any other right hon. or hon. Member present today : we went through the Guards' depot as recruits on the same day, and no one can start lower in the British Army than as a recruit at Caterham. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) mentioned Sir Victor's military service. Our then squad sergeant went under the name of Lance-Sergeant Jelly, than which a more improbable name could hardly be imagined for a man who ended up as one of the Brigade of Guards' most distinguished regimental sergeant majors. We saw in Victor then the qualities that the House has seen since. He will always remain a sergeant in our minds, and anyone who has once been a guardsman is always a guardsman.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : I wish to recount, very briefly, an incident that occurred when Sir Victor first came into the service of the Serjeant at Arms' Department 26 years ago. When he had been in the House for three or
Column 1212four weeks and I was still a fairly new Member of Parliament, he said to me, "I do not know whether I shall be able to put up with all these late nights."
I remind the House that in those days we had many more late-night sittings- -on the Finance Bill, for instance--and the junior member of the Serjeant at Arms' Department had to be present until 2 am, 3 am or 4 am. Sir Victor was well able to overcome his worries, however, and went on to give the House distinguished service. The difficulties that the Serjeant at Arms' Department experienced in those days may be balanced by today's different problems, but the way in which Sir Victor coped with a life that was very different from what he had previously experienced pays tribute to his persistence. We should all be most grateful for all that he has given over the past 26 years. 5.35 pm
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : As yet another Back Bencher, I wish to pay tribute to Sir Victor for the service that he has given and for the friendship that he has extended to me, as the person responsible for the allocation of accommodation for Opposition Members and also as Chairman of the New Building Committee. His interest in that has already been mentioned. He was most understanding when Members had no reasonable accommodation.
I well remember, when I was first elected, being taken to the Serjeant at Arms when a request had been made by the then James Callaghan. The Serjeant at Arms said, "We have no accommodation for you, but I can let you have the key to a locker." I thought that I would have somewhere to hang my coat, and was very disappointed when I found that I could not even fit my briefcase into the locker. We have progressed since then.
Let me also pay tribute to Sir Victor's staff : they, too, are deserving of credit for the understanding way in which they deal with Members, particularly new Members.
I well recall Sir Victor's understanding behaviour on a cold night in 1983. You, Mr. Speaker--then as Deputy Speaker--decided to ask for my removal from the Chamber, and he was far more understanding than you were.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House recognises the loyal and devoted manner in which Sir Victor Le Fanu, KCVO has discharged the duties of the Office of Serjeant at Arms ; expresses its profound appreciation for his 26 years of examplary service to the House ; and extends to him its best wishes for his retirement.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising on Friday 28th July, do adjourn until Tuesday 17th October.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
Mr. Speaker : May I say to hon. Members anxious to take part in the debate that, if they limit their speeches to about 10 minutes or a little less, it will be possible to call all who have so far signified their wish to participate?
Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : As a Member of Parliament, I have always believed that Parliament's main duty--and the main duty of those of us who comprise it--is to safeguard the individual against excessive bureucracy and oppressiveness. That is why I am raising a subject that should, I think, be debated and considered by the House. I believe that an inquiry should be held into the way in which the Official Receiver's office is run, how many mistakes it makes and why, when its clients are in understandable distress, it takes such an icy, offhand attitude.
Recently a constituent of mine was declared bankrupt, which came as a terrible shock to him, for--I am glad to say--he was no more bankrupt than I, or any other hon. Member present. My constituent, Mr. Raymond Francis Wood of Warwick, who had been in poor health, received an official form out of the blue stating that the court had ordered that he be publicly examined for insolvency. It said that he was liable to imprisonment unless he complied. The form came from the office of the Official Receivers at Atlantic house, Holborn Viaduct, London. My constituent was shocked and lodged a protest. He then received a summons which said that upon the application of the Official Receiver
"the above-named bankrupt do attend the Court sitting in Bankruptcy at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand".
Dire warnings were attached about what would happen to him if he did not attend.
Those communications were followed by a letter written by a Mr. E. S. Burns, assistant official receiver. The letter sets out my constituent's name and the High Court number of the hearing. It says :
"You may have recently received an Order of the High Court of Justice requiring you to attend at the Court Premises for a Public Examination.
The purpose of this was to enforce the attendance of a bankrupt who bears the same name as you Raymond Francis Wood'.
Unfortunately a Land Registry Search for the name quoted was undertaken which appeared to indicate that the bankrupt had the same address as you.
My further investigation has revealed that you are not the same person whom the Official Receiver is seeking to be publicly examined.
In the circumstances I ask you to ignore the Order and return the same to the Official Receiver. The Court would be informed of the mistake made.
I apologise sincerely for any inconveniences caused." Not unnaturally, my constituent was upset by that letter and was not prepared to accept that kind of apology. He declined to accept it and wrote to Mr. Burns and to me. In his letter to Mr. Burns, he said : "After receiving my first High Court order I rang your Mr. Banwell and was told that your investigators had traced me to this address. I am not at all satisfied with this explanation as I have lived at this address for 22 years, since the house was built, and within 800 yards of it all my life. There is absolutely
Column 1214nothing to connect me with the person you require. I have never lived in London, never been in business for myself, and in fact I worked for the same Company for over 22 years.
As Mr. Banwell told me he had issued five other Court Orders in this matter it would seem that you send them at random either from the Electoral Roll or Land Registry to anyone who happens to have the same name. If this is the case I feel very strongly that it is wrong and steps should be taken to stop this practice immediately, particularly as two days after my conversation with Mr. Banwell, in which he promised me an apology, I received yet another identical High Court Order, this time by recorded delivery. If I had been elderly or in ill health the consequences could have been extremely serious."
My constituent, Mr. Wood, suffers from some ill health. I am sure that hon. Members will agree with the tenor of that letter. I immediately raised the matter with the then Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs and he went into the details, obviously having an official brief on the subject. His letter to me concluded :
"Official Receivers have instructions that in circumstances such as existed in this case they should proceed with extreme circumspection and only after due enquiry. Clearly that did not happen here, for which I can only tender my and the Department's profound apologies. You will wish to know that officials have now reminded Official Receivers of those instructions and reinforced the necessity for them to be followed."
I hope that that is true. In my experience many bureaucrats shrug off such admonitions. They are well protected from the sack and carry on in their own bureaucratic, self-satisfied way.
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate) : Does my hon. Friend know whether a note has been placed upon their employment files giving a clear warning under the terms of the relevant Acts about the way in which they have behaved?
Sir Dudley Smith : I do not know, but my hon. Friend raises an important point. When such things happen, people should not be allowed to escape, because they would not escape in private industry or services.
Plainly, the Official Receiver's office has been inefficient and often relies just on names. If a person is unlucky enough to have a reasonably common Christian name that is coupled with a reasonably common surname, he is vulnerable. As I said to my constituent when I went into this matter with him, I found the conduct of the Official Receiver's office quite disgraceful. In its warning notice to my constituent, the office described him as "the above-named bankrupt". I think that the office committed libel by calling my constituent a bankrupt, and it would have been most embarrassing if the document had fallen into other hands, because it would have branded him with other people.
It is Parliament's job to curb the excesses and the inexcusable bureaucratic mistakes that can harm people. I hope that, by raising the matter, I shall perhaps have done something to ensure that in future other people will not go through the trauma that Mr. Wood had to endure.
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : Before we adjourn for the recess, we should pay attention to one important matter, even if we do so only briefly. It is unfortunate that, coinciding with a significant change at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commentators are agreed that there is a change of attitude, especially towards
Column 1215the European Community. That has coincided with a series of what are perhaps the most forthright comments made by another Community Head of State about the British situation. I refer to the remarks by President Mitterrand about British policy towards European Community development, and specifically about how this development is seen by our Prime Minister and by the new Ministers who will have responsibility for EC matters.
During Prime Minister's Question Time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) raised the matter with the Prime Minister, who simply suggested that, because we had liberalised capital movements and the French had not, we should not be criticised. During business questions, the matter was briefly raised with the new Leader of the House, who, in his calm, emollient way, said that we did not necessarily have to respond to comments made by other friendly Heads of State about our conditions and policies. I am aware that we are under pressure of time and I shall not seek to generate a general debate on the topic. President Mitterrand puts the matter well, with his Gallic succinctness. In talking about Britain, he says :
"This important country is caught between two contradictory desires : one to remain in Europe, and the other not to accept the trend set by the majority of the Community countries."
That is very true, and President Mitterrand puts his finger on the exact spot. Then he draws certain conclusions from that.
The President had earlier drawn certain conclusions from that. He talked about another intergovernmental conference having been agreed in Madrid heading towards economic and monetary union and the working out of Delors and said :
"what cannot be agreed by 12 may be done among 11, 10 or nine. I do not want this. It would create a new political situation which at the moment I do not welcome. Each of the 12, including the United Kingdom, is attached to the Community."
Hon. Members will note that President Mitterrand puts the whole matter in a fair and balanced way and does not seek to be pejorative about it--a lesson that could perhaps be learned by others. He continued :
"Let us play the card of agreement. But let us also accept that if this does not work, we should press on with those who want to. So you do not rule out a new treaty agreed by all 12 members? I do not exclude this."
That is a significant statement by a leading Head of State of a friendly European Community country. If such a person is moved to put things in such a blunt, although balanced, fashion, the Government have a responsibility to make some response and to say that the United Kingdom is not interested in a two-stage Europe. We shall fight our corner and argue our case, but we should be committed to the objectives that were set out clearly when we signed the Single European Act. We too want to participate in the influence and the considerable prosperity that will stem from economic and monetary union.
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : Before the House rises for the summer recess, I shall put again the case for Manchester international airport. This airport is important because it is far and away the largest single employer in my constituency. I am anxious about something that I have raised time and again--the need for
Column 1216more transcontinental flights into and out of Manchester airport. We are continually being told about the congestion in the airports of the south-east, and we can do something about that by giving more flights to the north. For far too long, the north of England has been treated as a poor relation. I cannot understand why it is so necessary for people from the north of England to have to take the shuttle to London, change planes and fly from there when they want to fly to the continent.
I am grateful for all that the Government have done for Manchester airport in the past 10 years. In that period, it has been the fastest expanding airport in the United Kingdom, if not in the whole of Europe. Recently, we had the approval of the rail link, which will bring about an enormous boost. We know that the Department of Transport regards the terminal 2 project that is under way as of key importance for the achievement of the Government's national airport policy objectives.
However, I am concerned that efforts should be made to ensure additional airport capacity, away from the congested south-east and into the north. That will not only remove some of the congestion in the south-east but will combat the serious competititive threat posed to United Kingdom aviation interests by air service and hub developments in northern Europe. That is why it is essential that we have a successful conclusion to the on-going negotiation with the United States Government about allowing additional United States airline services to serve the regional market via Manchester. Recently, the Civil Aviation Authority published its interim advice to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in which it stressed that it would wish to consider more fully the contribution that airports outside the south-east could make to resolving capacity problems before recommending solutions involving additional runway capacity within the London area. As Lord King, the chairman of British Airways, recently said, unless the capacity problems in the United Kingdom are solved soon, the impetus may be lost to alternative European gateways such as Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam and, dare I say it, Brussels, which we have recently read could be actively promoted by British Airways in conjunction with Sabena. In the British regions, we believe that there is a strong and attractive alternative--the opportunity to release from the London system the 25 per cent. of air travellers who are unnecessarily forced to use either Heathrow or Gatwick when they would be better served by using local airports. There would be two benefits of such a move : it would allow London to continue to meet the air travel needs of the capital, and it would ensure that the economic benefits from air service growth accrue in the British regions, not the more prosperous parts of northern central Europe. It cannot be sensible, taking only congestion into account, for London to be served by 367 weekly return flights to the United States, whereas Manchester has only 16.
I was pleased and encouraged to learn that the CAA said in its recent report that there may now be a case for linking air service licensing policy to the achievement of airports policy objectives. I think that it will be agreed that these objectives should take full account of regional economic benefits.
The United States airline services are a vital part of any strategy both to relieve congestion at the London area airports and to combat the competitive threat posed by alternative European gateways. For a long time, the
Column 1217United Kingdom has served as the transatlantic gateway to Europe through London. Recognising the congestion there and the evident strong demand levels generated away from the south- east, the United States carriers have, for several years, been expressing increasingly strong interest in servicing northern and central Britain through Manchester.
Applications for five routes are already on the table, from American Airlines, NorthWest Airlines and PanAm with Delta Airlines expressing strong interest as well. In addition, the daily American airlines flight from Manchester to Chicago has operated since 1986, but only on a temporary permit. It should be remembered that United States airlines not only wish to serve the buoyant regional market but are also looking to service gateways into Europe. It follows that, if the United Kingdom is not willing to provide those gateways, the flights will, sadly, go instead to alternative European points. This could mean that the United Kingdom regions will increasingly find themselves served from European gateways such as Frankfurt and Paris, by airlines of other European countries, not directly or from London. If this happens, all the United Kingdom aviation industry will suffer. Surely this cannot be in the national interest.
To emphasise this point, I can tell the House that two American Airlines aircraft earmarked to fly this summer between Manchester and New York and to operate a second daily service to Chicago, are now flying instead to Brussels and Lyons. I understand that the French Government, about whom the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) has just been talking, actively encouraged the airline to fly to Lyons as an instrument in regional policy, whereas in the United Kingdom we have allowed procrastinated negotiations to stall access to Manchester since 1986.
It is generally acknowledged that air service development brings strong economic benefits. Recent studies have shown that the American Airlines service to Chicago has already created 1,200 jobs. Moreover, the additional route licences applied for to serve Manchester would generate an estimated income of £45 million a year, and 3,500 jobs. Furthermore, it is essential that Britain's accessibility is maintained if it is to be competitive in the single European market. The United Kingdom should not allow the emphasis to shift away by adopting policies that drive air service development to continental Europe. I know that it is not entirely in the interest of the United Kingdom to give away such rights to the United States ; nobody could dispute that. However, there is a clear need for a balanced package that weighs the regional economic benefits and the strategic European dimension against pure airline economics.
I recently received a helpful letter from my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Transport on the subject of route licensing, which explains that the ball is in the hands of the United States Government. However, without wishing to weaken the British negotiating stance, I urge that we seek a reasonable price at the talks due to take place later this year.
It is essential that a speedy conclusion be reached in the negotiations, which have already been going on for four years. Prior to the White Paper on airport policy, the Department of Transport was looking to promote
Column 1218Manchester as an alternative gateway, and hence only moderate reciprocal rights were sought. However, strong airline interest was expressed subsequently in the United States, to which the British negotiators responded by forcing up the price. For example, United Kingdom demands have risen from six behind points in early 1988 to 90, at one stage, in the most recent negotiations earlier this year. In the talks that take place in October, or, I hope, sooner, I trust that the Department of Transport will weigh fully the costs of delay within the wider European context and ensure that a deal is struck at a reasonable price that is acceptable to all. If the talks break down there is a real risk that the emphasis will shift so firmly to the European mainland that the Amricans may withdraw their interest in serving Manchester and concentrate on European gateways, with the attendant benefits being lost to the United Kingdom. That must not be allowed to happen.
Manchester international airport is of enormous importance to the economy of the north of England. At one stage, it was hailed as the jewel in the crown of the north of England. I hope that, to relieve congestion in the south-east and to ensure that the north gets a fair deal, my right hon. Friend will take note of what I have said. We should have a statement on this important issue before the House rises for the summer recess.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston : I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a matter that should be of concern to the entire House. I refer to the dock strike and the activities that have been taking place in dockland over the past few weeks.
The Government constantly claim that they are an Administration of non- intervention in industrial relations. In fact, it was the hand of the Government that removed the national dock labour scheme, which had served the industry well since 1947. It was said on Second Reading of the Dock Work Bill, and in Committee, that one of the reasons why the Government felt that the scheme was no longer relevant was that it was 42 years old. If that is the criterion on which we are to base the usefulness of institutions, this place should close down. The other place should certainly go. There are many other institutions that are 400, 500 or 600 years old, and some are even older than that. Should they all be scrapped? It is a weak argument to say that an institution or a scheme should be abolished merely because of its age. The scheme was introduced because of the consequences of the second world war and to eliminate the foul practices that obtained in the dock industry between the wars. The Government have shown by their actions that they are not an Administration of non-intervention in industrial relations. They are creating a climate in which it is virtually impossible for a trade union to pursue its proper responsibilities in representing its members without finding itself before the courts. Injunctions will be served upon it, and it will find that its finances are threatened. The Government argue that they have a right to introduce legislation that has that effect, but have they reflected on the long-term effects of such legislation?
We have often heard Conservative Members express sympathy for the Polish workers, for the trade unions in the Soviet Union and for the deprivation of workers' rights
Column 1219in countries, where it could be argued that the unions are part of the state machine. Tears are being shed for the Polish workers and for other workers elsewhere, but it is far easier to have a strike in Turkey or in some Latin American countries--countries which have been referred to as tinpot dictatorships--than it is in Britain. The Government should be aware that the trade union movement was established to combat the power of capital and to achieve some balance in the industrial world so that hyper-exploitation could be eliminated and men and women could work in decent conditions for decent wages. It is depressing that the balance has swung so heavily in favour of the employer and of capital. When the Dock Work Bill was being considered in Committee, employers were telling Ministers that they had no intention of taking advantage of the abolition of the scheme to introduce practices that had been eliminated as a result of the legislation of 1947. Hands were placed on hearts and employers said that they would be reasonable men. We were told that there was no need to fear the removal of the scheme, because employer's attitudes had changed and they were now men of reason. On the first day of the strike, the men of reason were sacking employees with 25 years' experience in the industry. Some of the men had been working in the industry for as long as 30 years.
I have seen many acts of victimisation in the docks over many years, but probably the most blatant was the sacking of 16 shop stewards at Tilbury while other ex-registered dock workers were allowed to return to work. That demonstrates the almost obsessional hatred that the Government have for the trade union movement. There have been examples of this in many industries. It appears that we, the Opposition, must consider seriously whether the events of the past few weeks constitute a challenge to the right to strike. The events at Tilbury suggest that, if a person or persons go on strike, they can be faced immediately with the choice of returning to work or losing their jobs. In many instances, if not all, men and women will be compelled to return to work. Should we condone the actions of employers that result in the removal of the right to strike? When the Minister replies, I ask him to tell the House whether the Government, and the Prime Minister especially, still believe that there is a right to belong to a trade union, and, more importantly, a right for the individual to remove his labour if the conditions in which he is working are unacceptable. Those issues relate directly to the foundation on which the trade union movement was built. I am talking of the tradition which has been upheld by the movement, and which has served industry well over the years.
I do not doubt that, during the summer recess, there will be more trouble in the docks. In the past decade, or possibly the past two, there has been a better relationship in the docks between employers and dock workers, and the strike record will prove that that is so. There have been dramatic changes in the industry, which prove that dockers are not adhering to outdated and outmoded practices. How can it be argued that dock workers are following outmoded practices when they are working with machinery which is worth in excess of £500,000? Dock workers are now skilled technicians. All the old practices have long since left the industry.
The Government have acted with pique, spite and hatred towards the trade union movement. However, I
Column 1220believe that, at the end of the day, they will relent, because as long as that attitude prevails, industrial relations will remain in the state that they are today.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Part of me is delighted that I have the opportunity to address my remarks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, because, as he is a most distinguished and eminent legal figure, he will appreciate my remarks more than most.
The Government are about to commence, or are in the course of drafting, their legislative proposals on the work and organisation of the legal profession. As the House has not debated the Green Paper, still less the proposals in the White Paper announced only last week, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will not mind if I take a moment or two to set out why I and many other lawyers opposed the Green Papers and are extremely apprehensive and rather unhappy about the White Paper, while conceding that it makes some improvements. Contrary to popular mythology, the Bar's opposition to the Green Papers had nothing to do with keeping the earnings of the Bar high. The proposals would certainly drive many barristers into becoming solicitors, in which capacity they would earn a considerably higher income. That is made self-evident by two facts. The average income of a solicitor in a City of London firm is approximately double that of a barrister, in London chambers, of similar age and experience, as assessed by independent financial experts. Also, the Crown prosecution service in London pays £250 per day for a solicitor for precisely the same work that it pays a barrister £100 to do. I had five main concerns about the Green Papers, which have not been dispelled by the White Paper.
First, as there has been no great surge of public criticism of the legal profession, why is it necessary to reject the advice of the Benson royal commission on legal services in 1979 that changes such as those now proposed are unnecessary? What has happened to make the Government eat their own words, given that they confirmed in 1981, 1983 and 1987 that they also did not consider any changes to be necessary?
Secondly, if the profession of solicitor has all the advantages of being a member of the Bar, plus its own very considerable attractions, why should graduates want to go to the Bar? If they do not, the independent Bar will dwindle and die. Nearly everyone concerned with the law agrees that the independent barrister, like the surgeon or specialist in medicine, is worth preserving. The Bar provides a high-quality, professional service of particular expertise which serves the consumer well.
Thirdly, the end of the independent Bar would be bound to mean higher legal costs. They would not be brought down, but driven up--as the figures I gave earlier show--for two reasons. The Bar enjoys lower overheads than many solicitors' practices, and the cab-rank principle provides a faster legal service, which means a cheaper legal service for the community.
Fourthly, the availability of lawyers in small towns and villages will diminish if solicitors, because of losing their conveyancing bread and butter, are forced to move to the bigger towns and cities to stay in practice. People living in small towns and villages would no longer find solicitors
Column 1221easily available locally and would have to pay more to get to and to use the services of those in the bigger towns and cities. Finally, the introduction of contingency fees, however gentle its proposal in the White Paper may be, would be likely to lead down the slippery slope of a doctrine of "win at all costs", which would considerably lower the integrity of the British legal system. Those who opposed the Green Papers took their stand on grounds of increased cost, the diminished availability of legal services and the lowering of quality.
The judges responded angrily and almost unanimously--though there was never any threat of strikes, as malicious voices in the media pretended. The judges were concerned that, according to the Green Papers, if rights of audience were extended to solicitors, the issuing of permits to practice advocacy in the higher courts would be by a state bureacracy, which would be wholly undesirable in principle, and possibly pernicious in practice.
In response to those strong criticisms, my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said, "I am listening, and although I did not intend to give you a White Paper, I shall--so that you can consider my further thoughts. I will stick to my original intention to permit the right of audience in the higher courts to solicitors; to open up the restrictive practice of conveyancing by solicitors; and to introduce contingency fees because that change may give some people more access to lawyers and to justice." But my noble and learned Friend has in effect said, "I will leave the circumstances in which the solicitor will actually have a right of audience to the solicitors' professional organisation, to the predominantly lay advisory committee, and finally to the judges. I will also hedge about the conveyancing extension with certain protections for the lay client, who might otherwise receive no independent advice before buying a house."
The Bar's response was dynamic, statesmanlike and very constructive, and moved a long way to meeting the solicitors' profession without going so far as to concede the right of audience. The pace of reform undoubtedly quickened because of the Green Papers, and my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is due considerable credit for that.
The Bar has proposed many reforms, and some of them are already in train. They are, for example, improving the vocational course at the Inns of Court school of law and of continuing legal education; overhauling the pupilage system, its payment, and the availability of tenancies in particular; the introduction of freedom for barristers to advertise; the establishment of an alternative to the chambers system, to provide cheaper, wider and better access by the public; easing the route by which a solicitor who wants to practise in the higher courts can easily become a barrister; and giving direct access to the Bar by professionals, so cutting out unnecessary activity by solicitors.
Apart from being the most far-reaching proposals ever set in motion in the legal profession, they do more to make legal services widely available at cheaper cost and without any reduction in quality than the Government's counter-productive proposals would ever achieve. Now we have arrived at an impasse. The Government have placed responsibility for working out the rules for