2. What recent progress he has made on changes to the arrangements for no win, no fee agreements. (121178)
The Government have made it a priority to reform the costs of civil litigation and, in particular, the no win, no fee conditional fee agreements. A package of major reforms is being implemented in April 2013, under the provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. I would also refer my hon. Friend to two written ministerial statements, dated 24 May and 17 July.
I warmly welcome the Minister to her new role. Will she give the House an estimate of the cost of the current no win, no fee arrangements to the NHS, and of the savings that might consequently be achieved by the changes?
Defendants such as the NHS were required to pay inflated success fees under the old regime, as well as after-the-event insurance premiums. In 2010-11, the NHS Litigation Authority paid £200 million to claimant lawyers. Under the new reforms, those costs will be reduced, allowing more money to be spent on patient care.
I, too, warmly congratulate the hon. Lady on her new job. I am sure that she will be an absolute star. May I urge her, however, to think carefully about no win, no fee agreements? Last week, scurrilous and despicable low-lifes in France invaded the privacy of a young woman who is able to take legal action because she is very wealthy, but many people in this country, including the Dowler family, would never have been able to take legal action in a privacy case had it not been for no win, no fee arrangements. Can we please, please ensure that we do not chuck the baby out with the bath water?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but we firmly believe that, while meritorious claims will continue to be made, unnecessary and avoidable claims have to be deterred. Legal aid will, of course, be available for those who need it most, and for the most serious cases, under the exceptional funding rules.