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Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 21:34 GMT


UK Politics

Jenkins attacks 'know-nothings'

Comments come as Labour and the Lib Dems extend co-operation

By BBC News Online's Nyta Mann

Lord Jenkins has issued stinging criticism of political reaction to the Jenkins Commission report on electoral reform for Westminster, published last year.

Lord Jenkins says most MPs who debated the report adopted what the Liberal Democrat peer described as a "know-nothing, do-nothing, think-nothing" approach - adding that the Home Secretary Jack Straw failed to take the report seriously.

Speaking exclusively to BBC News Online in his first in-depth interview since the publication of the Jenkins Report, Lord Jenkins also gives the clearest indication yet that the Lib Dems will accept Labour breaking its promise to hold a referendum on PR in this parliament.

"Between a referendum shortly before the election and one shortly after it, I'm not sure I have a tremendously strong view," he says. "It would not be a betrayal if they don't have it until after the next election."


[ image: JacK Straw is accused of not taking the Jenkins Report seriously]
JacK Straw is accused of not taking the Jenkins Report seriously
His remarks came as Paddy Ashdown and other senior Lib Dems joined Labour ministers - including Mr Straw - agreed at a Downing Street meeting of the two parties' joint Cabinet committee on Thursday to extend their mutual co-operation.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead chaired the Independent Commission on the Voting System, set up by the government at the end of 1997.

Tony Blair asked the commission to recommend an alternative, proportional (PR) system of election for Westminster. The Jenkins Commission's final recommendation was published last October.

Lord Jenkins tells BBC News Online he believes the prime minister is now converted to electoral reform: "My own view is that the report did push him over an intellectual, and maybe an emotional divide."

Asked if he expects Mr Blair to back PR in the referendum, Lord Jenkins says: "Yes, I think he will."

The Lib Dem peer also warns that "there is a danger of the vast Labour majority in the House of Commons being too drilled, and too discouraged to take independent attitudes."

MPs "are not independent enough, and by not being independent enough they tend to discredit the House of Commons".

Lord Jenkins also says the number of MPs at Westminster should be cut by a around third, from 659 to 450.



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