Brown warns: Don't block Scots' will

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The Independent Online
Gordon Brown last night warned the House of Lords against any attempt to defy the will of the people by obstructing legislation to bring in a parliament for Scotland.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer told a Glasgow devolution rally: "In the Seventies, the House of Lords put 235 amendments to the devolution plans. Already, in the Referendum Bill, they have voted one proposal down, and put down 158 amendments."

He said there was a parliamentary doctrine that when a Government was implementing a manifesto commitment, the Lords should feel constrained from blocking or voting down constitutional reform.

"The referendum will provide a clear expression of the will of the people of Scotland," Mr Brown said. "The House of Lords, elected by no one, should think again before voting down or delaying devolution plans and frustrating the will of the people."

With the threat of government action to take away hereditary peers' rights to sit and vote in the Lords, some members of the upper House might feel it wise to hold back from outright opposition to the legislation.

But the Government will still face a fight in the Commons over plans to speed up consideration of the legislation by hiving off time-consuming scrutiny of the detail to standing committees of MPs.

With this week's publication of the devolution white papers for Scotland and Wales behind them, Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and Ron Davies, the Secretary of State for Wales, yesterday opened their campaigns for the September referendums.

Mr Dewar told an Edinburgh press conference: "We kept our side of the bargain. The proposals are on the table ... it is for voters to decide on Thursday, 11 September whether they want a powerful new parliament with tax-varying powers or whether they want to stay with the status quo."

In a lively, one-day Commons debate on the Welsh proposals, Mr Davies faced criticism from both sides of the House about the impact of his plans on his future authority.

Opening a debate on the White Paper, A Voice for Wales, Mr Davies said it was time to make a fresh start and break away from the "sleaze and incompetence" that dominated politics under the Tories.

But Michael Ancram, the shadow spokesman, said: "It is simply naive to believe that, were Wales to have an assembly as proposed, that the voice of Wales at Westminster would remain undiminished.

"The main Welsh voice at the centre of power would - to put it bluntly - be castrated. The Secretary of State would be no more than a messenger boy, a voice without power or influence, a broken reed, bleating on the margins of Cabinet government."

Ted Rowlands, the former Labour minister, said he supported the White Paper, but he said the Secretary of State for Wales was being made "something of an economic eunuch".