The Conservatives secured a narrow overall majority on 7/8 May, winning 330 of the 650 Commons seats.
The change in the Commons from Coalition Government to Conservative majority is reflected, in reverse, in the Lords. Peers in the previous Government’s parties – 224 Tories and 101 Lib Dems – together counted for 325 of 779 Lords. It can readily be seen that a Conservative Government would now command only a third of the Upper House. While the Lords does not, conventionally, vote against legislation on manifesto commitments, outside of those areas it does seem likely that the new Government could suffer some notable reverses in the Lords.
With the return to majority Government, there will therefore be no Coalition Agreement to set out agreed priorities for the incoming administration. The Queen’s Speech, to be delivered on 27 May, will be the first clear indication of the Government Bills and other measures necessary to deliver the key commitments set out in its manifesto.
The following are among the principal measures set out in the Conservative manifesto:
- holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of a reformed EU by the end of 2017,
- introducing a British Bill of Rights in order to “scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act”,
- legislating for a new ‘right to buy’ so that housing association tenants will be offered this option, and
- lowering the existing benefit cap and rolling out Universal Credit.
Some in the public sector in particular will interpret the last of these as a continuation of an era of cuts and austerity. It is certain that there will be measures to expand academies and free schools, as well as new powers to intervene in schools judged to be requiring improvement.
Looking at standards in healthcare, the Government’s manifesto pledges to ensure that the NHS is accountable for mistakes and it commits to full implementation of recommendations of the Francis review (of the causes of failures in the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust). The Care Quality Commission will rate all hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries.
Buried deep in the manifesto was a promise to give Parliament a free vote, in Government time, on repealing the legislative ban on hunting with hounds.
Former Education Secretary Michael Gove replaces Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary and will be responsible for the legislation to repeal the Human Rights Act. He will also be tasked with the delivering on the manifesto pledge to continue “the £375 million modernisation of our courts system [and to reviewing] our legal aid systems, so they can continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way”. The three themes in that phrase – modernisation, review and efficiency – may well be interpreted by some to mean yet further yet cuts in the legal and justice sectors. Mr Gove – along with Chancellor George Osborne – will have to respond to the recommendations of the Insurance Fraud Task Force when it reports at the end of the year.
Lord Faulks QC remains as Minister of State for Civil Justice. Measures which might be introduced in this field could include: the extended use of fixed costs, changes to the small claims track and implementation of an on-line court service (as recommended this year by the Civil Justice Council).
It is anticipated that the LASPO reforms could be taken further forward. Costs in defamation and privacy proceedings could be brought within the scope of the ban on recoverable success fees and insurance premiums. The same may well apply to mesothelioma claims. Section 48 of the LASPO Act – which currently exempts these claims from LASPO – had been inserted into the Act as a compromise to meet Lib Dem concerns. Freed of its former Coalition partners, a new Conservative Government might well take the view that the recovery of success fees in these claims should now be brought to an end. Whether such a reform might form part of a fresh attempt to review the overall process, procedure and costs rules applying to these cases (and in respect of which Chris Grayling suffered one of several high-profile losses in judicial review proceedings) remains to be seen.
About the Author
Alistair Kinley is BLM’s Director of Policy & Government Affairs.
Alistair is responsible for BLM’s engagement with government departments and regulators on policy and public affairs issues and consultations affecting the firm and its customers. He coordinated BLM’s market-facing activities in connection with the Insurance Act 2015 and the consultations which preceded its publication and introduction in Parliament.
He is a member of the Civil Justice Council (CJC), a regular speaker and experienced commentator on legal and procedural reforms and was a contributing editor to the Law Society’s Litigation Funding Handbook (September 2014).