Straw calls for cautious reform

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Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, warned his party yesterday that it must achieve constitutional change by consent, with care and over time.

In an otherwise bullish speech, Mr Straw said the Government's "milk- and-water" changes to the appointment system for NHS and other quangos "amount to a plea of guilty that the Conservatives have indeed abused and corrupted the system of public appointments for wholly partisan ends".

Labour believed it had popular support to change the distribution of power. But it had to take into account the growing sense of physical and economic insecurity stimulated by government incompetence.

Proposals to give people more control over their lives and to reduce "this coruscating sense of insecurity" had to be delivered by a process of change that gave people confidence - by "evolution, not revolution".

He said: "It is far better that five well-founded changes are made with the full consent of the British people and take root, than 10 changes are pushed through without proper thought" - a reference to the party's priorities being the package of devolution for Scotland, Wales and the English regions, reform of the House of Lords, a Freedom of Information Act, incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, and a referendum on voting systems.

Labour had to ensure "that we do not raise expectations beyond the point at which they can be fulfilled". That was why he was determined that "all the proposals we make have the widest consensus behind them, the greatest measure of agreement".