UK sets out on the road to devolution

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The "landmark" Bill on Scottish and Welsh devolution was published yesterday, paving the way for the two referendums to be held by autumn.

They will be held before the main Bills, establishing the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly, are passed by Parliament. The Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, said devolution was "on the road".

Voters in Scotland will be asked two questions: whether they agree to a Scottish parliament and, on a second ballot form, whether they believe it should have tax-varying powers.

Ministers have tried to avoid mistakes made a decade ago, when voters were asked to write "yes" or "no" on the ballot forms. This time, to reduce spoiled papers, they will be asked to put a "X" in a box.

Tam Dalyell, an opponent of Scottish devolution, said he would vote "no" and "yes". Ministers will be urging Scots to vote "yes" to both the establishment of a parliament and giving it tax-raising powers.

The Government has ruled out spending taxpayers' money on the campaign for a "yes" vote but the Welsh Office is considering issuing explanatory leaflets to every household and that may be followed in Scotland. Ministers are expecting plain sailing in the Commons on the Referendum Bill, with the backing of an overwhelming majority, but are bracing themselves for trouble later over the Scottish and Welsh Bills, putting the referendums into effect.

Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales, told Labour MPs that they would be in breach of party rules if they openly campaigned against a "yes" vote in the referendum. The Labour leadership will turn a blind eye to Labour MPs who privately oppose the plans, but MPs who openly campaign against them could face disciplinary action, including the removal of the whip. "The Labour Party has a very clear position on this matter, endorsed by a ballot of individual members, endorsed by Labour Party conference, included in the manifesto, and endorsed by the public.

"It is a matter of government policy and I expect all Members of Parliament in Wales to recognise our determination to create a Welsh assembly. I do not believe it is appropriate for any Labour Member of Parliament who took any course of action which would include associating with others in opposition to our campaign or to be campaigning on their own behalf against our proposals," said Mr Davies.

Voters in Wales will have a single ballot paper, asking them whether they agree that there should be a Welsh assembly, or not. As it is not proposed to give it tax-raising powers, there will be no second-ballot question.

The six-clause Referendum Bill will be followed by a white paper setting out detailed plans for the Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly. It provides for up to pounds 25m to be spent on the Scottish parliament in start- up costs and pounds 15m on a Welsh assembly.

Scottish ministers also warned the Tories not to use their in-built majority in the House of Lords to block the Bills, to frustrate the will of the House of Commons.

The SNP leader, Alex Salmond, called for a proper consultative referendum, including the independence option, which the Government rejected. "Labour in government risk showing the same arrogance and contempt for Scottish opinion as the Tories. This is an unfortunate retreat from the principled position adopted by Donald Dewar when he addressed the STUC conference in Dundee just after the 1992 election, when he publicly supported a multi- option referendum," said Mr Salmond.

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