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Thursday, October 29, 1998 Published at 15:31 GMT

Jenkins delivers PR verdict

Lord Jenkins: Report backs "AV Top-Up"

Radical change that would end the traditional way of electing UK Members of Parliament has been recommended by a government commission.

Hew Edwards: Great weakness in current the way we elect our MP's
A new proportional system should be adopted for Westminster to replace the first-past-the-post system, the Jenkins Commission has declared.

The long-awaited report by the Independent Commission on Electoral Reform - chaired by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Jenkins - backed a mixed system described as the "Alternative Vote-Top Up" (AV Top-Up).

Proprtional Representation Slideshow
Lord Jenkins said the commission's recommendation and the issue of voting reform was "not a question of politicians' fads - the majority or politicians would probably rather leave it alone.

"It's a question in my view of fairness."

Chief Political Correspondent John Sergeant: "Labour will be badly split if this issue comes to the boil"
Under the new system most MPs - 80% to 85% - would continue to be elected on a constituency basis, by the alternative vote system.

The rest would be elected on a corrective top-up basis designed to reflect voters' party preference more accurately.

Electors would get two votes - one for their choice of constituency MP and the other for the top-up MP.

The report suggests that an independent Electoral Commission be established to oversee the referendum - promised by the government - on whether to reform the voting system.

The commission would also oversee an education programme for voters before the referendum.

Micheal Ancram: Seeking cross-party support against electoral reform
Lord Jenkins said: "We think this is a major, fundamental issue, and we think people can be made pretty interested in it."

The report does not suggest when the referendum should take place.

It makes clear the proposed new voting system could not be introduced until the election after next.

Government reaction

Jack Straw: "There needs to be a proper public debate"
Initial government reaction to the report has been non-committal. Home Secretary Jack Straw - himself opposed to electoral reform - said ministers wanted to study it in detail.

He said the government was keen to encourage a wide debate in parliament, political parties and across the country as a whole.

He added that "no decisions have been taken as to the timing of a referendum on this issue" and gave no indication as to whether the government would back the commission's recommendations.

[ image: Blair:
Blair: "Full debate" needed
Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement, saying the report "makes a well-argued and powerful case for the system it recommends".

He added: "The report should be debated fully and properly in parliament and in the country as well as in the Labour Party."

A commons debate on the subject is expected next week.

The prime minister's official spokesman said a referendum in this parliament remained "an option" but insisted there was no urgency to resolve the issue.

Tories pledge anti-reform alliance

The Conservative responded to the report by pledging a cross-party fight against any moves to reform.

[ image: Ancram:
Ancram: "I want this thing to die"
Party chairman Michael Ancram said he would work alongside anti-reform Labour MPs and trade unionists to block the Jenkins proposals.

"There will be a broad coalition of opposition to this - the broader it is the stronger it is," he said.

"I'm sure if it came to a referendum campaign those of us who opposed it would be prepared to work together."

Mr Ancram told a news conference he did not even want the proposals to be put to a referendum, and said: "I would like to see this die now."

Manifesto commitment

Lord Jenkins explains the Commission's findings on Radio 4's The World At One
The commission was established in December last year as part of a Labour manifesto commitment to holding a referendum on electoral reform for the House of Commons.

Its remit was to look at the need for broad proportionality, extending voter choice while maintaining a link between MPs and constituencies.

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