LONDON: In a humiliating climb-down, which will further undermine Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s sagging political authority, the government on Tuesday was forced to abandon controversial plans to extend the period for which alleged terror suspects can be held in police custody without charge from the existing 28 to 42 days.
This followed a cross-party revolt in the House of Lords, where 24 Labour peers, including at least two former Ministers, joined the opposition parties to defeat the move by a whopping 191 votes — one of the biggest defeats for a government bill in many years.
Within hours, the government announced it was dropping the plan for now though Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said it would be brought forward as part of a separate legislation in the event of a national emergency.
Even as the opposition mocked the idea, Ms. Smith accused critics of ignoring the “terrorist threat” to score cheap popularity.
“I deeply regret that some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision. Let no one kid themselves that this issue can go away,” she told the Commons.
This is the second time the government has been defeated on the issue. In 2005, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s bid to extend the detention period to 90 days was defeated in the Commons with a majority of his own party parliamentarians voting against it.
Mr. Brown revived the idea and though detention period was reduced there were still few takers.
Despite widespread opposition both inside and outside Parliament, Mr. Brown pushed the proposal through the Commons in June with the support of smaller parties even as a large number of his own MPs voted against it.
The defeat in the Lords completed Mr. Brown’s isolation on this contentious issue.