LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Gordon Brown won a crucial vote in parliament on Wednesday to extend the time terrorism suspects can be held without charge, bringing some relief to a prime minister whose leadership is under fire.
Parliament voted 315 to 306 in favor of extending the pre-charge detention time limit to 42 days from 28 days. But a revolt by members of the ruling Labour Party slashed the government’s majority of 65 to nine votes.
Defeat for Brown would have seriously damaged his authority at a time when his poll ratings are at an all-time low and some Labour lawmakers are openly questioning his suitability to lead them into the next general election, due by May 2010.
Labour’s poll ratings have plummeted in past months as the public has lost confidence in Brown’s ability to address an economic slowdown and a spike in living costs.
Elections for local councils and a single parliamentary seat in May showed a swing to the opposition Conservative Party that would give them a landslide if repeated at the next election.
Brown argued police needed the additional time, which would only be used for “grave and exceptional terrorist threats”, to ensure Britain’s national security — given the complex nature of terrorism plots.
“Our first duty is the protection of national security. We fail in our duty if we do not take preventative measures,” he told parliament.
Al Qaeda-linked suicide bombers killed 52 people in London in 2005 and security officials say they have foiled several other major plots since then.
A YouGov poll published in The Daily Telegraph showed 69 percent of Britons supported the extension.
Opponents of the move said it was arbitrary, unworkable and an affront to civil liberties.
“What we have is the worst of all worlds: a symbolic assault on liberty which is unnecessary, a change in the law which is counterproductive and a procedure which is unworkable,” said Conservative home affairs spokesman David Davis.
“We do not defend our liberties by sacrificing our liberties,” he said.
Critics said the bill would undermine police attempts to win “hearts and minds” in the fight against terrorism and that most other countries had detention periods shorter than 28 days.
Additional reporting by Clara Ferreira-Marques