Gordon Brown survived last night’s key Commons vote on terror laws amid claims of a £200 million bribe to win the support of Northern Ireland MPs.
Last night’s rebellion by 36 Labour backbenchers would usually have been enough to wipe out Mr Brown’s majority.
However, the Prime Minister was saved after the nine Democratic Unionist Party MPs in the Commons chose to back the proposals.
The result was a personal success for Redditch MP Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who won over some Labour sceptics when she addressed the Parliamentary Party last week.
Downing Street denied reports that the DUP had been promised that Northern Ireland would not be forced to pay £200 million in water rates, which was due to go to the Treasury. It was also reported that Mr Brown had agreed to backdate civil servant pay in the province.
A Government amendment to the Terror Bill, which allows police to hold terror suspects for up to 42 days without charge in exceptional circumstances, was passed by 315 votes to 306, a majority of nine.
Ms Smith led the debate in the Commons, telling MPs the terrorist threat was “real and serious”.
She said: “First, the threat is unprecedented in scale. Some 65 terrorists have been convicted in our courts since the start of 2007, and there are more than 200 groupings and 200 individuals of concern to agencies in the UK today.
“Secondly, the threat is more ruthless than any we have faced before.”
But she faced a barrage of interventions from critics, including Black Country MP David Winnick (Lab Walsall North). He told her: “I must say that I am by no means persuaded that there is any justification for what is being proposed.”
The Government will now face a major battle to get the proposals through the House of Lords, and may be forced to invoke the Parliament Act, which allows the Commons to ignore objections from Peers. Gordon Brown will hold a press conference in Downing Street today, where he is expected to accuse the Conservatives of behaving irresponsibly.
But he will face questions about the price he paid to win support for the controversial laws.Despite Downing Street’s insistence that no deals had been made, one Labour MP was thought to have won a pledge of compensation for 5,000 former miners suffering from lung disease.
Jon Trickett, leader of the miners’ campaign, announced he was switching sides to back the terror laws.
Another Labour MP, Mohammad Sarwar, won a pledge that the Government would consider compensation for those detained under the powers who were not later charged.
Sweeteners offered to other MPs were said to include a promise to water down support for American sanctions against Cuba, and a promise to classify knee injuries as an industrial injury, allowing people to claim compensation.
David Davis, the Conservative shadow Home Secretary, claimed: “Amidst widespread reports of vote-buying, the Government did not have the Labour support to win - leaving its Parliamentary authority in tatters.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “Gordon Brown’s attempt to look tough by introducing 42 day detention without charge has ended with him scraping a hollow victory thanks to begging and political bribery.”
There were angry scenes when the result of the vote was announced, as the Speaker ordered Conservative MPs to stop barracking the Democratic Unionists, who they blamed for the Government’s victory.
The Government went on to win a second vote, effectively confirming the 42-day decision, by 315 to 294 - a majority of 21.
Ministers reached out to independent MP Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest) in the run-up to the vote, summoning him for two private meetings with the Home Secretary in an effort to win his support. However, he last note voted against the 42-days proposal.
Midland Labour MPs who joined Tory and Lib Dem MPs to vote against the Government included Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield); Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme); Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central); Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath); Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak) and David Winnick (Walsall North). Independent MPs Clare Short (Ladywood) and Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest) also voted against the proposals.