(AFP) – Jun 11, 2008
LONDON (AFP) — Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday won a narrow victory in a parliamentary vote over widely-opposed anti-terrorism plans, after last-minute bids to woo rebels.
The knife-edge vote on proposals to increase the maximum pre-charge detention period for suspected extremists from 28 days to 42 was passed by 315 to 306 after intense debate in the lower House of Commons.
Brown is said to have personally intervened with backbench waverers and there was also talk, hotly denied, of a deal with Northern Ireland's largest Protestant party the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lawmakers.
All nine DUP members of parliament voted with the government, ensuring the majority of nine, the BBC reported.
Hours before the vote, which had been seen by some as a confidence issue in the embattled prime minister, Brown told lawmakers the increase was a "matter of necessity" and "the right thing to do" for national security.
Alleged plots were becoming increasingly complex and often international in nature and police needed more time to investigate and question suspects, he said.
The main opposition parties, senior legal figures and human rights groups disagreed, arguing that there was already legislation in place to extend custody time limits by 30 days in the event of a national emergency.
Rights group Liberty accused the government of exaggerating claims of the need for an extension, reviving memories of Britain's use of intelligence to justify invading Iraq alongside the United States in 2003.
The result, even by such a close margin, temporarily takes the heat off Brown, who has been under pressure due to record lows in the opinion polls and crushing defeats in recent local polls and a byelection.
But the government still has to clear the hurdle of the upper House of Lords, where there is strong opposition, before the proposals pass on to the statute books.
Labour whips -- those responsible for ensuring lawmakers toe the party line -- are likely to have to repeat their frantic wooing of rebels that swayed enough of their colleagues not to torpedo the bill and threaten Brown's future.
The exact breakdown of the vote was not immediately available but the government offered a last-minute concession of possible financial compensation for anyone held for 42 days and then released without charge.
Figures of up to 3,000 pounds (3,800 euros, 5,900 dollars) for every day a person is held beyond 28 days, with a maximum of 42,000 pounds, have been mooted, which opponents charged as an admission of the plans illegality.
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