Kennedy names poll on PR as price of Blair deal

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Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday warned Tony Blair that co-operation between their parties could end if there was no new Labour commitment to hold a referendum on proportional representation.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday warned Tony Blair that co-operation between their parties could end if there was no new Labour commitment to hold a referendum on proportional representation.

The first meeting of the joint Labour and Liberal Democrat consultative committee since Mr Kennedy became leader takes place today.

In a toughening of predecessor Paddy Ashdown's stance, Mr Kennedy ruled out for the moment extending co-operation outside key areas such as the constitution, House of Lords reform and freedom of information.

He told BBC1's On the Record: "If Labour are not able to reconfirm, as it were, a commitment to a referendum on proportional representation for Westminster, I certainly don't see any future prospect for further constitutional co-operation between our parties."

Mr Kennedy said he expected today's meeting to be an "honest, friendly, frank appraisal of where we've got to and where we go from here".

The Liberal Democrat leader was asked if he would, like Mr Ashdown, look to extend co-operation between the parties "as far as possible". He replied: "No."

He added: "I don't think at this stage in the parliament... that there's an appetite either amongst the majority of Lib Dem MPs, or indeed amongst the majority of our activists and MPs, to see us extending into great further areas." However, he insisted: "If we can maintain a constitutional, worthwhile dialogue with the Government, I think that we owe it to our supporters and our voters to try and influence the Government in a more positive way."

A collapse of the arrangement today if Mr Blair does not give ground on the items on the agenda - freedom of information, House of Lords reform and improving European institutions - was unlikely, Mr Kennedy said.

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