Blair promises to undo 'quango state'

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The Independent Online
SWEEPING constitutional change to alter the style of government and undo the 'quango state' was promised yesterday by Tony Blair, the Labour Party's home affairs spokesman, who is expected to become its leader.

In a speech which pledged immediate action to scrap the right of hereditary peers to legislate, Mr Blair also promised a Bill of Rights and a Freedom of Information Act, adding: 'I personally would see to it that the highest standards of government were maintained.'

Speaking in Cardiff, he tackled the charge that constitutional change concerns only the chattering classes and not ordinary voters by insisting that 'democratic renewal is not a subject elevated from the daily experiences of British citizens'.

'People care that vast amounts of their money is being swallowed up by quangos, to be spent on projects they know nothing about, by Tories they have never voted for, without any power to get rid of them.'

Labour would ensure decisions were taken by democratic bodies, with a Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly created in the first year, with English regional assemblies established where they were sought.

Arguing that the UK needed 'not just a new government, but a new way of government', Mr Blair said that that should be based on the principle that 'people affected by a policy are best placed to take decisions about that policy'.

Amid estimates that there are now 70,000 'quangocrats' against 25,000 local councillors, Mr Blair said there was now a 'dangerous cynicism' about politics. 'Ordinary people no longer believe they can, by voting, achieve meaningful change. They believe their views are largely irrelevant to policy-making. In other words, the Tories have destroyed the very basis of democracy: civic hope and belief.'

The House of Lords would be reformed by allowing only 'peers of first creation' to legislate, as an immediate step towards an elected second chamber - although in interviews yesterday Mr Blair made no promise on the timetable for achieving an elected body. The hereditary principle, however, was 'without merit' and it was 'extraordinary that we have major decisions in this country taken by people who have no real connection with the political process at all'.

Judges, Mr Blair said, should be appointed by 'a proper commission' rather than 'a puff of smoke from the Lord Chancellor's department'. And he said he would honour John Smith's promise of a referendum on electoral reform, while making clear his personal opposition to proportional representation.