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Tuesday, November 10, 1998 Published at 16:09 GMT

UK Politics

Lord Irvine angry over wigs

Lord Irvine in his full traditional robes

Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine has called for an end to the "fancy dress" of wigs for barristers and judges in court.

Jon Devitt: "The Lord Chancellor's ceremonial garb includes buckled shoes, a wig and stockings"
Appearing in before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, dressed in a suit and tie, he said that wigs had disappeared in the 18th century for all except the legal profession.

He told MPs: "I do think lawyers ought to be distinguished from everyone else but bands and gowns seem to me to be sufficient.

[ image: Lord Irvine speaks to the committee]
Lord Irvine speaks to the committee
"Having appeared in arbitration in this country and abroad dressed as I am today, I have never found that the quality of justice and the effectiveness of the advocacy depended in the least upon the fancy dress that they wear."

Lord Irvine was also questioned by MPs over the reasons for his proposal to modernise his traditional parliamentary outfit.

He wants to abandon the tights, breeches and buckled shoes of his office.

He has suggested that he wear the gown, coat jacket, and ruffled collar, with ordinary black shoes and trousers while speaking from the government front bench as a minister.

But he would continue to wear the full ceremonial dress to sit on the Woolsack for question time or the formal stages of Bills and wear his full uniform on all ceremonial occasions.

Lord Irvine told MPs that he currently faces 13 or 14 hours at a time wearing the wig during the second reading and report stages of Bills.

"The wig weighs an absolute ton," he complained. "It is very, very uncomfortable but I am not proposing that I should not wear it on the Woolsack."

Symbol of the job

He said: "What I basically feel is that for male adults of sound mind like myself that the days of breeches and tights and buckled shoes should really go as part of the ordinary everyday court wear.

"And I have no objection on great occasions of state like the State Opening of Parliament to wearing the full kit but I think what I have described would be more sensible."

Lord Irvine came in for criticism from committee member, Tory MP Gerald Howarth (Aldershot), who said: "I would like to continue to uphold traditions."

And the proposal was condemned by Conservative peer Lady Young, who said the traditional outfit attracts respect. Dressing down would detract from the dignity of the office and would be the start of a downward slide, she said.

"He symbolises something. It's one of the most important offices of state. In protocol terms he takes precedence just below the Archbishop of Canterbury."

Any change should be made at the same time as reform of the House of Lords, she said.

'Ludicrous and nonsense'

But the change was defended by Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, who said he was pleasantly surprised by Lord Irvine's attitude given the sums he had spent furnishing his home.

"I think the idea that he should dress up in these fairly ludicrous robes is frankly nonsense and we should get ourselves into the 20th century before it passes us by and he should wear something more sensible.

"Likewise we should extend that to judges," he said. "The original reason was for judges wearing wigs was to hide themselves but things have moved on."

Anyone in public dressed as the Lord Chancellor risked arrest, he said.

He believed Lord Irvine had the power to make the change without needing to consult.

Lord Irvine now faces a debate and vote in the House of Lords on his proposals.

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