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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Lib-Lab committee disbanded
Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair
Ashdown and Blair forged closer links
The Labour-Liberal Democrat joint committee on constitutional reform has been disbanded by Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy.

With the Liberal Democrats' annual party conference gathering in Bournemouth this weekend, there had been strong speculation the Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) would be dropped.

Liberal Democrats have argued vigorously for the politics in which we believe without surrendering our principles or descending into old-style yah-boo politics

Charles Kennedy
It was set up ahead of Labour's 1997 election victory to discuss devolution in Wales and Scotland, and led to Prime Minister Tony Blair setting up a joint Lib-Lab cabinet committee.

But since then there has been growing disquiet within the Lib Dems at the lack of progress on electoral reform for Westminster.

Meanwhile, the party has announced it is to go ahead with its conference, albeit with an agenda changed in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks on America.

Joint statement

Mr Blair and Mr Kennedy issued a joint statement on Thursday morning on the end of the committee.

The statement said: "We both believe the committee has done useful work and it remains available to resume its work if further constitutional items become ready for discussion.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy says he rejects "yah-boo politics"
"We both remain committed to constructive parliamentary dialogue and will continue to undertake joint work on specific issues where appropriate."

Although officially the move is being called a suspension, it effectively disbands the committee which Mr Kennedy has been far cooler on since he succeeded Paddy (now Lord) Ashdown as Lib Dem leader two years ago.

The two parties held talks about constitutional reform while Labour was in opposition and the committee was set up when Paddy Ashdown was still Lib Dem leader.

Mr Kennedy said that the JCC had done some "extremely worthwhile" work in the past but had no current purpose.

"Our two parties now work in coalition in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly," he said. "That is why the tone of politics is becoming steadily more pluralist."

"Liberal Democrats have argued vigorously for the politics in which we believe without surrendering our principles or descending into old-style yah-boo politics, which simply put people off.

"This is the approach we will adopt as the effective opposition in Westminster."

Lord Razzall, chairman of the party's campaigns committee, insisted the JCC's end would have "no impact" on the party's parliamentary relations with the government.

"In a sense the constructive part of it will become easier because no longer will people from the Tory benches be able to scream at us that we are in bed with them every time we support the government."

The House of Commons chamber
The Lib Dems want equal status with the Tories in the Commons
Mr Blair said the committee had done "useful work" and had shown political parties could work together on areas of mutual interest.

Both parties remained committed to that principle and would continue their co-operation in Scotland and Wales.

PR disquiet

Many Lib Dems are angry over Mr Blair's failure to deliver on his promise to hold a referendum on electoral reform in New Labour's first term.

Conservative shadow cabinet minister Tim Collins said the latest move did not make the Lib Dems a "real opposition party".

"This is simply yet another example of the Liberal Democrats trying to be all things to all people - sometimes Labour's best pals, sometimes embarrassed to be seen in their company," he added.

The Lib Dems also confirmed on Thursday that they had been in talks with the government about receiving equal parliamentary status to the Tories in the Commons.

They argue the current system means Lib Dem MPs lose out on speaking rights, while the Conservatives receive extra money for being the official opposition.

Debate is vital

The party confirmed too that they would go ahead with their party conference, unless military action begins.

They said the US terror attacks made "openness and debate" more vital than ever.

The revised agenda includes a speech from Mr Kennedy on the opening day about the international crisis sparked by the terror attacks.

Debates on world trade and liberalising pornography are also set to be scrapped in the changes.

See also:

18 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Lib Dems move to forge new role
11 Nov 98 | UK Politics
Text of the Lib Lab deal statement
05 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Lib-Lab deal threatened by voting survey
29 Jan 01 | UK Politics
No Lib-Lab pact - Kennedy
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