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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Pledge on PR campaign
A round-up of news and speeches from the conference hall and fringe meetings at the Liberal Democrat's conference in Brighton.

PR a 'key goal'

Electoral reform remains a key Liberal Democrat goal, chairman Mark Oaten has reassured delegates at the party's conference.

He said that despite a tactical decision to downplay the issue publicly, party leader Charles Kennedy was pressing for action from the government.

There have been suggestions that in his keynote conference speech, Mr Kennedy is planning to urge Tony Blair to meet a pledge to review PR for Westminster after next year's local elections.

Mr Oaten told a Make Votes Count fringe meeting: "It is critical that we do keep the pressure up on this. You will be encouraged to hear that Charles Kennedy has this in mind.

"It is certainly not the case that we are going to be ignoring this and that it is not important to the party any more.

"What we will be doing is, perhaps, talking less about it in big announcements and things like that, because we recognise that these days health, education and crime are the key issues and people want to hear about those issues from the party."

'Scrap trade department' call

The trade and industry department should be scrapped, Liberal Democrat trade spokesman Vince Cable told delegates.

"Why does it exist? What is it's 5 billion budget actually for? I very seriously question is it actually a useful level of expenditure," he said.

"It would be far more useful to British industry to invest in education, for example adult education, to deal with the scandal of the millions of adults who can't read.

"Much more useful than spending large amounts of money, creating thousands of civil servants trying to offer business advice that they don't need and creating a long paper trail so that businessmen can apply for handouts."

Mr Cable said "rip off Britain" still existed, saying government plans for new competition laws would have little effect.

NI peace warning

The Good Friday peace agreement could collapse because signatories are not living up to their obligation, David Ford, leader of Northern Ireland's Alliance party, warned the Liberal Democrat conference.

He said: "We are probably closer than ever to a collapse of the agreement.

"Tragically, this is not because of the actions of Ian Paisley's DUP, but because of the behaviour of supposedly pro-agreement parties, which have pursued their own agendas."

Mr Ford said "Unionist paramilitaries are clearly targeting innocent Catholics in a campaign of intimidation and abuse which has also included murder.

"Republican paramilitaries have not clearly demonstrated their willingness to permanently move away from violence ... as well as failing to provide full reassurance on decommissioning.

"It sometimes seems that the principal function of democratic politicians is to go to the media and complain about 'the other side' while ignoring the activities of thugs closer to home.

"You don't demonstrate political leadership by refusing to confront difficult truths. It's time they learned that."

Gibraltar solidarity call

Jack Straw's approach to Gibraltar amounts to an "unethical foreign policy", Liberal Democrats have been told.

Gibraltar Liberal Party Dr Joseph Garcia called for support for residents of the Rock.

"Support the principle that the future of Gibraltar can only be decided freely and democratically by the people of Gibraltar," he said.

A motion calling for support for Gibraltar's forthcoming referendum on joint sovereignty and for a deadline to negotiations between the UK and Spain was backed overwhelmingly.

Dr Garcia added: "We know that when New Labour was first elected they advocated an ethical foreign policy and not just in relation to Gibraltar ...That policy is far from ethical.

"What Jack Straw (Foreign Secretary) and the Labour Government are doing to Gibraltar actually runs totally against the fundamental principles and fundamental philosophy that we have as Liberals."

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