THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL'S SALARY – 24 June 1997

Dr Julian Lewis: Like other Opposition Members, I was rather surprised that it was not possible to find a New Labour lawyer in the House to take up such a responsible position. My mind went back to an article in the Independent last September, which reported:

"New Labour is awash with lawyers, all waiting for their rewards".

It even said that the Society of Labour Lawyers had experienced a massive increase in membership. In just 12 months, it had increased to 800 members – an increase of two thirds in a single year. So why was Mr Falconer, as he was at the time, selected?

The answer is a good and honourable one. Charles Falconer QC is an outstanding and gifted lawyer, and he has much in common with the Prime Minister. They have known each other since their schooldays, they have been friends for many years, they have great mutual professional respect, and they both send their children to highly selective schools.

That is an important point to make when paying tribute to Lord Falconer, because he has taken an important salary cut. According to The Times on 8 May, in a decent year Lord Falconer could expect to make £500,000, which will fall to a derisory £78,000. Out of that, he will still have to find the £21,000 that he apparently spends sending his four children to private schools. I respect him greatly for taking a cut in his income of that magnitude, and my only sadness is that his children will not be joined at their private schools by the children of even poorer families, because of the abolition of the assisted places scheme.

I wish to draw attention to the gender discrimination that lies behind the treatment of Lord Falconer by the Government in comparison with the treatment of the new Minister for Women, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), with whom I have crossed swords in a previous existence outside the House. We are reliably informed by the Guardian that there are no fewer than 101 Labour women Members, but the Minister for Women was appointed six weeks after all the other Ministers, and will not receive a salary – not even a minimum wage. That contrasts badly with the treatment of Lord Falconer.

I shall conclude on a positive suggestion, arising from the bible of the old Labour Party – the Guardian – which today pointed out that the Government will send no fewer than 50 of its Members of Parliament at a time away from Westminster to keep them out of trouble –

Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman has strayed dangerously far from the confines of the order. He seems to be unrepentant. I wish him to return swiftly to the terms of the order.

Dr Lewis: I merely wish to suggest that similar consideration should be given, as we approve the order, to other people in less prestigious posts. They should perhaps be remunerated by a tithe from those of their colleagues who will not be serving in the House for part of the time.