DECADES of opposition to a Scottish Parliament vanished last night.

Although the Scottish Secretary pledged ''proper scrutiny and no undue haste'' in piloting the Scotland Bill through Westminster, it became clear the Tories had lost heart for their resistance in the face of Donald Dewar's ''milestone'' blueprint for Home Rule in the next millennium.

They are are now preparing to give the historic Scotland Bill a comfortable ride in the Commons, allowing the whole process to be over and ready for the Royal Assent as soon as the summer or early autumn.

Ministers are close to securing an unprecedented cross-party deal to allow the entire Bill to be taken on the floor of the House - normal with constitutional change - provided there is time given for main amendments. In return the Tories will promise not to use delaying tactics or put up frivolous obstacles.

As the new consensus emerged, Mr Dewar hailed the Bill, widely accepted as faithful to the radical devolution White Paper, as a means of restoring what he called Scotland's democratic deficit.

He took care to warn off the House of Lords, the last bastion of resistance. Reminding peers that the Bill had the clear backing of the people after September's referendum, Mr Dewar said: ''This should make it difficult for peers to argue against the Bill in principle. Difficulties in the Upper House will not impress the people of Scotland.''

Amid new signals from London that Mr Dewar could become First Minister in the Scottish government with Henry McLeish replacing him as Secretary of State, Mr Dewar presented the Bill as ''the basis for new politics in Scotland''.

He quoted from page 1, part 1, which said simply: ''There shall be a Scottish Parliament.''

''I like that,'' Mr Dewar said. ''In well under 300 days we have set in train the biggest change in 300 years of Scottish history.''

The Bill sweeps away almost three centuries of Westminster rule and much of it concentrates on ''reserved'' powers: the responsibilities which London will retain, notably foreign affairs and defence. The Bill does not even mention the word ''sovereignty''.

''Everything that is not reserved comes to Edinburgh,'' said Mr Dewar. ''The people asked us to deliver a Scottish Parliament - that is exactly what we will do. And that's a promise.''

Although the Bill refers to the First Minister of a Scottish Executive and the Presiding Officer of the Parliament, Mr Dewar accepted that MSPs could use their own preferred terms such as Prime Minister and Speaker if they decided to do so.

Mr McLeish, Scottish devolution Minister, promised the pace would not slacken. He announced that a cross-party steering group would meet on January 19 to start work on provisional standing orders for the Parliament which should be up and running by 2000.

It will include himself along with Tory former Solicitor General Paul Cullen; the Liberal Democrats' Scottish leader, Jim Wallace; SNP leader Alex Salmond; and Canon Kenyon Wright from the Constitutional Convention.

Nationalists and Tories still managed some sniping from the sidelines. Mr Salmond told a news conference held in the same Glasgow hotel moments after Mr Dewar stopped speaking that the Nationalists would offer broad support to the Bill but would also table three major amendments.

He said these would strengthen representation of Scotland in the European Union, return broadcasting responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament, and challenge the whole funding basis of the Scottish block so that Edinburgh retained all revenues raised north of the Border and paid London for services provided, such as defence.

Although the SNP welcomed the lack of tub-thumping rhetoric about Westminster sovereignty in the Bill, they were concerned about an apparent ''catch-all,'' giving London the continued right to legislate on all Scottish matters. ''In terms of the spirit of devolution that is an extraordinary clause,'' said Mr Salmond.

However, he conceded: ''This is a historic day for Scotland and we are looking positively at how we can use this Bill to move Scotland forward.''

Mr Michael Ancram, the Tories' constitution spokesman, called it the ''most important piece of legislation affecting the future of Scotland and the UK''. He promised proper scrutiny and constructive criticism from the Tories in the House.

''It is imperative that Unionists

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of all parties strive to ensure that this legislation is watertight, that all its consequences have been properly thought through and that potential tensions and disputes have been mitigated.''

For the Liberal Democrats, Labour's long-time allies in the Home Rule campaign in the past decade, constitution spokesman Menzies Campbell said: ''This is a day for celebration and not criticism.''

The 90-page Bill runs to 40,000 words in 116 clauses and eight schedules. It went on sale yesterday, priced #8. Unlike Mr Dewar's White Paper, which became a bestseller in July, it is written in the technical and legal language of parliamentary draftsmen. ''Unlike White Papers, which use plain language, Bills are never an easy read,'' Mr Dewar said.

The political spotlight now moves from the Bill to the vexed question of where the parliament is to be sited. Mr Dewar and his officials dodged questions about growing speculation that a site opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse is now the front-runner.

A decision is expected to be announced within the first few days of January.