Pledge on dates for referendums

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The Independent Online
The Bill to pave the way for devolution for Scotland and Wales was given an overwhelming second reading in the Commons last night with a promise that referendums will be held by the end of September.

A White Paper setting out plans for the Welsh assembly and the Scottish parliament will be published "well ahead" of the referendums, Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, told the Commons. Ministers will use the results to limit challenges to the main legislation by Tories, anti- devolution Labour MPs including Tam Dalyell, and the House of Lords. The Tories are expected to table amendments for thresholds to be achieved in the referendum, in the Bill's committee stage, which will be taken on the floor of the House after the Whitsun recess.

Mr Dewar told the Tories they would be accused of "ballot-rigging" if they tried to "revisit" the 40 per cent rule - requiring a "Yes" vote from at least 40 per cent of all eligible voters, on which the 1979 Labour referendums foundered.

Michael Howard, former home secretary, led Tory protests that the people of Wales and Scotland would be asked to vote on devolution before the main legislation to establish the Welsh assembly and the Scottish parliament has been introduced in Parliament.

The chasm between the two front benches over the passage of the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill threatens to continue through the summer as the Tories are expected to campaign for a "No" vote. They came under immediate fire from the Liberal Democrats for being allowed to open the debate for the Opposition, when they had failed to win any seats in Scotland and Wales in the election.

Rejecting the claims that they lacked legitimacy to oppose devolution, Mr Howard said Labour feared the public would turn against devolution if they knew the details before the referendums were held.

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