British PM accused of turning parliament into ‘bazaar’

June 12th, 2008 - 8:02 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, June 12 (IANS) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was accused of turning the House of Commons into a “grubby bazaar” after charges of bribery marred a narrow victory in voting over a bill that will allow police to hold terrorist suspects for 42 days without charge. Extraordinary accusations of bribery overshadowed the government’s razor-thin victory margin of nine, achieved only when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from the province of Northern Ireland voted for the bill Wednesday night.

With 315 MPs voting for the bill and 306 against, Diane Abbott, a rebel MP from the ruling Labour Party, accused the government of “trading ancient civil liberties in a grubby bazaar”.

Brown’s bid to extend the pre-charge detention period for terror suspects from 28 to 42 days has caused a huge political controversy in Britain - and with the bill now set to be scrutinised by legal experts in the House of Lords, it is by no means a settled issue.

Critics claim it is an unnecessary, arbitrary and populist measure that compromises the civil liberties of all Britons, particularly Muslims.

The government, backed by police, says the extra two weeks are needed to secure conviction of suspected terrorists.

The vote on a day of high drama was marred by claims the government offered a range of sweeteners, including promises on backbenchers’ pet projects.

These included completely unrelated demands such as compensation for injured miners, increases in rail investment, the accountability of intelligence services and the lifting of European Union sanctions on Cuba, newspapers reported.

Abbott was among 36 Labour MPs who joined the opposition Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats in voting against the bill.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Brown had demonstrated political courage by standing on an issue of national security even if it endangered his premiership.

But the pro-Labour Guardian newspaper warned, “Gordon Brown’s reliance on the DUP last night revived memories of the dying days of John Major’s government when the former Tory prime minister often had to rely on support from…Ulster Unionists, then the biggest party in Northern Ireland.”

In spite of the victory, analysts said the bill is set to be returned by the House of Lords - the unelected upper chamber of parliament.

“Everyone knows that the proposal will not become law,” said Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

“It will be blocked in the Lords, the Human Rights Commission will challenge it in court, and the European Court of Human Rights will declare it illegal,” he added.

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