The act arose from my report Constructing the Team which was published 10 years ago this July. Legislation to deal with payment and dispute resolution issues was a significant recommendation of the report. That tended to receive the most attention, although the vast majority of my proposals did not involve legislation. Most of them have been implemented in one way or another. Very few were rejected. I was reluctant to recommend legislation because it would have been difficult for the Conservative government to implement. However, I felt that the law or arbitration provided too slow a remedy for the difficulties that all sections of the supply side experienced, and that market forces must be subject to modest regulation in order to allow a fairer balance of financial power throughout the process.
It took the Tory government two years to pass the act, and it was narrower than I had recommended. It was a compromise, and there were periods when it seemed doubtful whether there would be an act at all. It was the skilled diplomacy in Cabinet committee of Tony Newton, the Leader of the House of Commons, and the persistent advocacy of Robert Jones, the construction minister, that led to the resolution of conflicting views within the government and the industry, and produced an act of parliament. There were still many detailed problems to iron out and it required another two years' discussion and drafting before the act took effect on 1 May 1998, under a Labour government, with strong leadership from the then construction minister, Nicholas Raynsford.
It has now been in operation for six years, and it has, as several of Building's legal columnists have written, worked very well. The courts, led by Mr Justice Dyson's seminal judgment in Macob vs Morrison – the first judicial pronouncement on the enforcement of an adjudicator's decision – have resolutely backed the intentions of parliament, even though they felt uneasy with the implications of speedy adjudication. When some people began complaining about it in 1999 or 2000 and started calling for a review, I did not agree with them, and told ministers so when they asked me.
There is now a case for looking at it again, and seeing if there are aspects that need changing in the light of experience and some recent court judgments. In April, the government asked me to chair a committee. I must stress that this is not Latham Mark II. When I was involved with Constructing the Team, I worked on it seven days a week for 10 months, giving up my other construction jobs to do so. In undertaking this new review, my role will be different. I am – very properly – unpaid, and my day jobs, as deputy chairman of Willmott Dixon, chairman of the Construction Industry Training Board–Construction Skills and chairman, president or deputy chairman of 11 other companies or organisations, will continue at their usual hectic pace.
The detailed work for this review, which was set up by the government and is serviced by the DTI, will be done by two working groups, not by me.
They will report to the main committee, which I chair, and we will all need to proceed on the basis of consensus. The mechanism for any changes in the act will need to come through a regulatory order, and such orders require widespread consultation and consensus. If the intention had been to have a Latham Mark II review done solely by me, I could not have accepted such a commission. But it was not. I hope I shall be able to make some useful contributions to the work of the committee.
The review will be very much on an open basis. The working groups are widely representative of clients and the supply side. They will see all evidence submitted to the review. They can draw upon practical experience and expert legal advice. Oh, and they are required to report by the end of July, with the whole operation completed by March next year.
Here we go!