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Conservative estimate - what legal changes might the new government make?

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 11 May 2015
  2. Miscellaneous
  3. 0 comments
Conservative candidate

Despite initial predictions of a hung Parliament and weeks of political wrangling, the Conservatives have soared to victory in the election, securing a majority government. With none left who can stand against them, policies which were unthinkable in the days of the coalition government could now come to fruition unopposed.

So what will a Tory government mean for the country in terms of changes to the legal landscape? Here’s a quick look at just some of what the next five years might hold.

Withdrawal from Europe

One of the Conservatives’ election promises was to hold a referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union, and David Cameron has reaffirmed his dedication to this course of action today.

It should go without saying that this could potentially have a huge impact on UK law, with much of the country’s legislation being affected or mandated by EU directives. Things such as the Working Time Regulations, the right to a minimal amount of paid annual leave and much of anti-discrimination law all have their roots in EU directives and decisions.

Should voters express a desire to leave the EU, these laws could be eroded or even scrapped altogether. This seems especially likely given the Conservative promise to scrap regulations they see as “red tape” which is holding businesses back.

Even without a departure from the EU, the Tories have pledged to get rid of the Human Rights Act, the UK’s implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In its place, they say, will be a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, which will stay true to the “basic principles” of human rights, but without all the bits they don’t like.

Under the plans, the European Court of Human Rights would no longer have the final say on human rights issues in the UK, with this power instead being vested in the UK’s Supreme Court. Whether or not it would be legally possible for the UK to do this without having to outright leave the EU is questionable, however.

Less privacy in telecommunications

Despite many sneering at their ineffectiveness as part of the government, one piece of legislation that the Lib Dem side of the coalition did successfully derail was the Draft Communications Data Bill, more widely known by the derisive name of the “Snooper’s Charter”. This would have made it a legal requirement for internet service and mobile phone providers to retain information on users’ communications, such as emails, text messages and phone calls, in case they were required to aid investigations by police and security services.

While the actual content of these communications would not have been stored, the legislation was widely viewed as cutting too far into privacy rights, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg eventually withdrew his support, meaning that the bill could not become law.

However, with a Tory majority in power, Home Secretary Theresa May has promised that security services will be given “the powers that they need” to maintain law and order, stating that the Communications Data Bill will be reintroduced now that the Liberal Democrats cannot stand in their way.

No income tax for minimum wage workers

In the run-up to the election, Labour promised to increase the National Minimum Wage to £8 an hour by 2020. The Conservatives didn’t match this rise, but they promised they would help the wages of low-paid workers stretch further in a different way.

Their plan is to instead increase the personal allowance – the amount that can be earned without having to pay income tax on it – to £12,500, which means that anyone working for 30 hours a week on the minimum wage will pay no income tax at all.

What’s more, they have said that the personal allowance will increase in line with minimum wage rises, making it a legal requirement that a good number of low-paid workers be exempted from income tax.

Despite the benign appearance of this policy, it’s not necessarily all good news. Critics have raised concerns over the effect on government finances. Some also claim that the benefit of a larger personal allowance would at this point be felt more by higher earners than the low-paid, particularly as the threshold for the 40p rate of income tax is to be raised to £50,000 as well.

Legalisation of fox hunting

Back in February 2005, the Hunting Act came into force. This piece of legislation, introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government , outlawed the practice of hunting foxes with dogs, and it has been illegal ever since.

However, David Cameron does not agree with the ban, and stated back in March that he would hold a Parliamentary vote on legalising it again if he won the election.

Claiming that the so-called sport was part of a “rural way of life”, Cameron said: “It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act and the way it was brought in by the last government.”

He went on to promise “a government bill in government time” which would give the opportunity for a new vote on the issue.

It’s likely that the move will meet with significant resistance. Labour has stated that they will defend the legislation to the last, and the League Against Cruel Sports have declared that they would run a cross-party campaign aimed at keeping the ban in place.

A number of Tory MPs also support the ban, so with the slim majority enjoyed by the new government, and the fact that Cameron said that members of his party will be permitted to vote how they please on the issue, it seems unlikely that the legislation will be repealed – but in this new political reality, it’s hard to put much faith in predictions.

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