A last-minute campaign to secure backing for the much criticised legislation paid off when 316 lawmakers voted in favour, while 311 voted against. A defeat would have been Blair's first in Parliament since taking office in 1997.

The victory offered Blair a brief reprieve during one of the tensest weeks of his leadership.

On Wednesday, a senior judge is due to publish a report into the death of a weapons adviser caught up in a controversy over the government's justification of the war in Iraq.

Labour lawmakers cheered loudly as the result was announced.

Tuesday's vote meant the bill passed its second reading, which is an agreement on its basic principles. It next goes before a committee of lawmakers who consider the legislation in detail and suggest possible changes before submitting it to a third reading in the Commons.

If approved at that stage, the bill moves to the House of Lords, which can delay or amend the legislation but not block it. The proposal becomes law after winning the backing of both houses and receiving royal assent.

Tripling tuition fees is a core part of Blair's push to overhaul the financing of public services in Britain and funnel more funds into cash-strapped universities facing greater global competition.