Sir Philip Holland: Conservative politician who conducted a relentless campaign against quangos

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Philip Holland had the ability to go rather further in his political career than he did, but he was perhaps too cynical about careerist colleagues to parade himself. A promising front-bench performer when Secretary of the Conservative backbench Employment Committee from 1967-70, he was not rewarded with office when the Conservatives returned to government in 1970. Instead he became of those influential backbench MPs, well-known to observers of the political game, who carry more weight in the House than they do with the public.

He welcomed Mrs Thatcher in 1975 for her "warmth of personality, intellectual ability and downright common sense" and devoted his time to persuading her and others that Britain was afflicted with a new disease, quangos, which he regarded as "outriders of the corporate state". He argued that they were a vehicle for political patronage, unaccountable, costly and not particularly competent. The Quango Explosion, co-authored by Michael Fallon (1978), and Quango Quango Quango a year later, caught Thatcher's attention and in January 1980 she pledged her government to axe some £11.5m in quangos. The Cabinet Office was forced to produce an annual register of non-departmental public bodies.

By then Holland had been appointed chairman of the Committee of Selection 1979-84, which had the important task of picking the MPs who would serve on the new departmental select committees, and he served also on the Liaison Committee 1979-84. However, his efforts in 1980 to establish a select committee to cull quangos came to nothing and in a further publication, Quango Death List, later in the year, he urged the Government to be rid of them more swiftly. In return Thatcher promised to abolish another 436, but to his horror, he found that while some were indeed being despatched, others were being created. In 1981 in The Governance of Quangos, Holland called for a further cull of the 2,500 which remained, and he continued his crusade in Quelling the Quango (1982).

Knighted for his services in 1983, Holland could reflect ruefully that his crusade had at best been only a partial success. His final years in the Commons saw him appointed to serve on the Chairmen's Panel, but even after he left the Commons in 1987, he continued to monitor the continued proliferation of quangos, this despite the Treasury's insistence that their continued usefulness should be reviewed every five years. His last publication on the subject, The Hunting of the Quango, appeared in 1994.

Philip Welsby Holland was born in Middlewich, Cheshire, the son of John Holland, a solicitor, and Lilian Walmsley. He was educated at Sir John Deane's grammar school in Northwich and in 1936 joined the RAF. Posted to the Middle East in 1938, he served there until 1942, and returned to Britain to be commissioned in the Electrical Engineering Branch. He subsequently took a London University external degree. Demobilised in 1946, he spent a year as a factory manager for Jantzen and another as information officer for management research groups before becoming a manufacturer's agent for engineering and refractory products (1949-60).

Holland was a founder memberof the Conservative Commonwealth Council in 1953 and he fought andlost his first parliamentary election at Birmingham Yardley in May 1955. In the same year he won a seat onthe Kensington borough council. Inthe Conservative landslide of 1959,he took the highly marginal seat of Acton and he became a keen advocate of constituency causes, managing to save the North London line from the Beeching axe.

In 1961 he became PPS to John Boyd-Carpenter, the Minister for Pensions, and at his behest trailed ideas for pensions reform. Boyd-Carpenter became Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Holland went with him. His appointment did not prevent him from becoming a staunch advocate of Polaris, although he also took the view that there was no longer any need for a surface fleet. He remained loyal to Macmillan throughout the Profumo crisis and was outspoken in his support.

It was probably inevitable that he would lose Acton in the 1964 election and he was forced to return to industry, taking on the post of personnel manager with the Ultra Electronics Group 1964-68. From 1969 until 1981 he acted as personnel consultant to Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd. However, he was keen to return to the Commons and was selected to fight Carlton in the 1966 general election. In marked contrast to Acton, it was safe Conservative territory and he was returned with comfortable majorities at three subsequent elections and in 1983 won the Gedling seat that had replaced it. He stood down in 1987. He served as president of the Conservative Trade Union National Advisory Committee 1972-74. Earlier in that Parliament he had acted as PPS to Fred Corfield (1970-71) and then to Michael Noble, the Minister of Trade, in 1972.

After standing down from the Commons at the 1987 election, he co-authored the A-Z Guide to Parliament and wrote Lobby Fodder? (1988). In retirement he served as rector's warden at St Margaret's Westminster (1990-95) and wrote a history of the church, which was published in 1993.

Philip Welsby Holland, politician and personnel consultant: born Northwich 14 March 1917; MP for Acton 1959–64, Carlton 1966–83, Gedling 1983–87; Kt 1983; married 1943 Josephine Hudson (died 1999; one son); died London 2 June 2011.