Gary Streeter: hard man goes in feet first

GARY STREETER is one month into his role as parliamentary secretary for the Lord Chancellor's Department and has already created a furore by calling legally aided litigants “state-funded Rottweilers”.

As a qualified solicitor, Streeter may presume he is qualified to make such a comparison, especially as he spent 16 years working at Plymouth firm Foot & Bowden, which has a large legal aid practice.

But his fellow professionals, who widely condemned the legal aid White Paper published on 2 July, are not amused by the remark he made to the Daily Telegraph. They have dubbed him a gamekeeper-turned-poacher.

Roger Smith, director of the Legal Action Group, said no solicitor who had acted for legally aided litigants would identify with Streeter's “unfortunate” description. He said the remark had demonised legal aid recipients.

Since his appointment as parliamentary secretary, Streeter cannot be accused of having been biased towards his own profession. In public he takes a belligerent line towards the Law Society. He recently upset members by describing the society as a trade union and said legal aid reforms must be a good thing if the Law Society was against them.

His debut appearance as parliamentary secretary in the final reading of the Family Law Bill was, however, celebrated by the Press and family lawyers.

After making concessions to the Labour Party and other interested parties he was heralded as the saviour of the Bill. The Times described his performance as “courteous and sympathetic, always interested and never vindictive”.

David Slater, vice-chair of the Solicitors Family Law Association and partner at Leeds firm Booth & Co, praised him for playing a bad hand well at the 11th hour. He said: “Streeter gave an impressive display and resolved some of the issues which were concerning family lawyers.”

Streeter inherited the parliamentary secretary post from Jonathan Evans MP after being a whip on the Family Law Bill during its committee stage.

On his appointment he was forced to give up his position as commercial partner at Foot & Bowden. He had been involved in politics since he was elected as councillor on the Plymouth City Council in 1986 and his legal career had gradually diminished.

He was elected Conservative MP for Plymouth in the 1992 general election. A year later he became the parliamentary private secretary to the Solicitor General and then to the Attorney General in 1994.

Streeter's former senior partner Tony Holland says his negotiating skills are without parallel and defended his “Rottweiler” remark.

But Streeter's hard line approach to legal aid is not surprising. He is not renowned for the soft approach. He is pro-capital punishment, opposed to lowering the age of consent for homosexuals and against Sunday trading and betting. He identifies himself as a “Christian Conservative”, apparently implying the two are no longer synonymous.