Dewar overrides guillotine protests

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Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, yesterday warned Tory peers against repeating Conservative attempts in the Commons to block the passage of the referendum Bill for Scottish and Welsh devolution.

Michael Howard, the former home secretary, accused the Government of acting in an "arrogant and dismissive way", but Mr Dewar denied trying to bulldoze the Bill through the Commons and attacked the Tories for "an organised attempt to obstruct" the legislation.

The Government's use of the guillotine led to a second day of angry protests by Tory MPs, but John Major hinted that he was using the row to regroup his shattered forces in Parliament, and rebuild the Opposition. As two of the contenders for the Tory leadership, Mr Howard and William Hague, led the attack in the Commons, the former Prime Minister said on BBC Radio 4"s World at One that a Shadow Cabinet team had been set up to focus the Tory opposition to the referendum.

The group, including Mr Howard, Mr Hague, Michael Heseltine, Annabel Goldie, the chairman of the Scottish Tory Party, and Lord Cranborne, the Shadow Leader of the Lords, was behind many of the 250 Tory amendments which led the Government impose the guillotine before the committee stage had started.

Tory sources said the group had concentrated on tactics for attacking the devolution plans, and was not involved in policy, which would remain unchanged against the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly.

Mr Major made it clear the Tories would keep up their opposition. "On no occasion have the Labour Party actually begun to address the serious problems which emerge from their own legislation. They are now going to have to answer them," he said.

Some of the Tory moves were attacked as "frivolous" by Liberal Democrat Scottish spokesman, Jim Wallace, who backed the Government's use of the guillotine. He cited the amendments to hold the Scottish referendum on St Andrew's Day, or that both referendums should be held on Sundays.

The guillotine and Labour's overwhelming majority in the Commons swept aside Tory attempts to include a wrecking threshold in the Scottish referendum, but the battle will resume today before the Bill goes to the Lords.

Mr Dewar promised a White Paper with a Commons vote before the summer recess, followed by the referendums. The main devolution Bill will be pushed through Parliament if the referendums approve the proposals.

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