Thu, Apr 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

British minister survives rare no-confidence vote

AFP , LONDON

British finance minister Gordon Brown, seen as the likely successor to Prime Minister Tony Blair, survived a rare no-confidence motion against him on Tuesday after a marathon debate in parliament.

The motion, tabled by the main opposition Conservative Party, was defeated by 298 to 233 after a heated six-hour debate in the lower House of Commons.

It questioned Brown's handling of a 1997 decision to overhaul pensions taxation by scrapping a so-called dividend tax credit, which his critics argue has adversely affected pension funds.

British pension funds are big shareholders in companies and rely on dividends for part of their revenues.

Though the governing Labor Party's majority in parliament served to ensure that Brown's position was not seriously threatened, the attempt by the Conservatives may re-focus attention on his handling of the pensions issue in the run-up to local and regional elections early next month.

Brown is the heavy favorite to succeed Blair once the latter steps down, which he has promised to do by September.

The no-confidence measure is highly unusual in Britain, where individual ministers are rarely targeted by opposition parties in such a way.

Brown was accused by the Conservative Party finance spokesman George Osborne of blowing "a big hole" in pension funds.

"The Chancellor has from the start acted with stealth, blocked all attempts to get at the truth and now blames everyone but himself for the destruction he has brought to Britain's pensions," he said.

The smaller opposition Liberal Democrats also supported the no-confidence motion, with their finance spokesman Vince Cable saying the government should acknowledge its mistake.

A poll published in an early edition of the Times' showed yesterday that 52 percent of respondents believed that Brown was in some way to blame for the decision, while 21 percent did not blame him.

Populus questioned 1,503 adults by telephone between Friday and Sunday for the survey.

Brown did not apologize, and accused opposition parties of "short-term opportunism."

The no-confidence motion comes ahead of local elections in some councils across England, as well as the Scottish and Welsh regional assemblies.

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