Irvine defies Cabinet line on pay to keep ahead of judges

The Lord Chancellor is taking a pounds 35-a-week pay increase from 1 December, in spite of Tony Blair's appeal for pay restraint from the Cabinet. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, says Lord Irvine of Lairg is more worried about his differential over judges than setting an example.
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Lord Irvine, who was heavily criticised for allowing an expensive refurbishment of his official residence at Westminster, is refusing to toe the Cabinet line over his pay.

The Lord Chancellor will take a pay increase of pounds 1,800 in December, to a total pounds 142,508, in spite of the appeals for pay restraint by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor.

"The Lord Chancellor will not be waiving the 1 December increase. The link with the Lord Chief Justice's salary as prescribed by statute, will be maintained," said a spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's office.

Under a 1991 ministerial salaries Act, the Lord Chancellor receives pounds 2,500 more than the Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Irvine intends to make sure that gap is maintained.

He served notice that he will keep his differentials over the judiciary by taking another rise next April, following the recommendations of the senior salaries review body, which is due to report in January.

Lord Irvine's action may be seen as flouting the lead given by the Prime Minister and it may ruffle more Cabinet feathers. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has had the task of reaching a Cabinet consensus to forgo their pay increases of pounds 16,000 and a deal could be announced today setting out new linkage with civil servants to avoid further embarrassment for Cabinet ministers.

The confusion over Cabinet pay brought another broadside yesterday from John Redwood, the Tory trade spokesman. He said: "Given all that these politicians have said about fat cats and large pay awards in the past I find it extraordinary there should be any argument. These politicians should turn down the money and leave more cash for our hospitals instead."

"Derry" Irvine is a close friend of the Blairs - the Prime Minister and his wife Cherie met as student barristers in his chambers - and he is being given special dispensation to break the Cabinet line on pay.

It was confirmed that having given up a reported pounds 500,000 from a lucrative legal practice to take office in the Government as the country's senior law officer, Lord Irvine's main concern was to keep up the differentials between his own salary and those of the judges.

In April, the salary went up from pounds 134,678 to pounds 140,665 while his Tory predecessor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was still in office.