List of incidents of grave disorder in the British House of Commons

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In the event of grave disorder breaking out in the British House of Commons, the Speaker has the power to suspend or to adjourn the sitting. The power derives from a resolution made on 17 February 1902,[1] and which was made Standing Order of the House on 1 December 1902,[2] and which states in its current form:[3]

The following table lists all the occasions on which this Standing Order has been utilised.

Date Occasion References
22 May 1905 The Liberal Party leader Henry Campbell Bannerman led an adjournment debate on colonial preference, demanding a statement from the Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. However the Government chose Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alfred Lyttelton, to reply. Liberal MPs, considering that Lyttelton did not have sufficient authority, refused to allow him to speak and demanded that the Prime Minister state Government policy. The Speaker adjourned the sitting. CJ [1905] 202; Hansard 4ser vol 146 cols 1053-72
24 July 1911 Feelings were running high as Prime Minister H. H. Asquith had just announced that King George V would create peers to ensure passage of the Parliament Bill, and had been all but shouted down. When the House moved to begin debate on amendments proposed by the House of Lords, the Government moved that the sitting be adjourned because the House had refused to hear any debate. F. E. Smith, from the Opposition front bench, sought to oppose the motion but was denied a hearing by Government MPs who blamed him for leading the previous disruption.[4] The Speaker adjourned the sitting. CJ [1911] 351; Hansard HC 5ser vol 28 cols 1482-4.
13 November 1912 Two days before, the Government had been defeated in a vote on the financial aspects of home rule for Ireland. The Government put down a motion to reverse the defeat. When Attorney General Rufus Isaacs rose to speak in the debate, Opposition members refused to hear him and demanded an adjournment. After eight minutes the Speaker suspended the sitting for an hour. When the sitting resumed, the disruption did likewise and the Speaker then adjourned the sitting. CJ [1912-13] 409; Hansard HC 5ser vol 43 cols 2053-4.
22 November 1920 Sir William Davison asked a private notice question to Prime Minister David Lloyd George to express support for British troops in Ireland and call for laws to allow people found with unlicensed arms and ammunition to be shot. Irish Nationalist MP Joseph Devlin then raised the Croke Park massacre the previous day, causing uproar. Devlin continued to try to put his question and was assaulted by Conservative MP John Elsdale Molson who pulled him over the bench; one Government MP was heard calling "Kill him!".[5] The Speaker suspended the sitting for 15 minutes; when it resumed, Molson apologised and Devlin was able to ask his questions and to get an answer. CJ [1920] 436; Hansard HC 5ser vol 135 cols 38-9.
11 April 1923 On the previous day, the Government had been defeated in a Supply Day debate on the Civil Service estimates, over the employment of ex-servicemen. The Government put down a motion to approve the Civil Service estimate without explaining what they intended to do about ex-servicemen. Labour MPs refused to let the debate proceed without a Government pledge to change policy on ex-servicemen. The Speaker announced he was suspended the sitting; a fight then broke out on the floor of the House, when Labour MP Robert Murray was hit on the back of the head and retaliated against Walter Guinness who was standing nearest; while the two were separated, other MPs became involved in scuffles.[6] The sitting was suspended for an hour and 13 minutes, and when it resumed, the sitting was immediately adjourned. CJ [1923] 88; Hansard HC 5ser vol 162 cols 1243-66.
9 May 1924 At the end of a Friday debate on a Private member's bill introduced by George Buchanan on Scottish home rule, the Speaker refused to let the Bill's supporters move the closure of the debate, allowing opponents to talk until time ran out and the Bill fell. Several of the Bill's supporters, including Buchanan, David Kirkwood, Neil Maclean and James Myles Hogge protested at the Speaker's actions and refused to let the House proceed to the next business. The Speaker adjourned the sitting for the day. CJ [1924] 178; Hansard HC 5ser vol 173 cols 870-4.
25 June 1926 Conservative MP Oliver Locker-Lampson secured a Friday adjournment debate on the use of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement by the Soviet Union to promote communist propaganda in Britain. At the end of the debate, Labour MP Thomas Isaac Mardy Jones raised a point of order complaining that no miner MP had been called to speak, despite the debate centring on Soviet contributions to help miners in their dispute which had led to the general strike. Other mining MPs took up the same complaint and it was impossible to resume the debate. The Speaker adjourned the sitting for the day. CJ [1926] 232; Hansard HC 5ser vol 197 cols 777-8.
16 November 1927 The Opposition had put down a motion of censure on the Government for failing to deal adequately with the problems of the coal industry. Leader of the Opposition Ramsay MacDonald opened the debate, but the Government chose President of the Board of Trade Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister to speak. Labour MPs refused to allow Cunliffe-Lister to speak, demanding that the Prime Minister should speak for the Government. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 58 minutes. When it resumed, Cunliffe-Lister attempted to speak but was still denied a hearing by Labour MPs; after seven minutes the Speaker adjourned the sitting. CJ [1927] 329; Hansard HC 5ser vol 210 cols 1067-84.
2 July 1931 John McGovern was called to put his question to the Secretary of State for Scotland William Adamson concerning arrests of lay preachers in Glasgow. He continued to ask supplementary questions demanding the release of the preachers, and the Speaker directed him to resume his seat. McGovern refused and was 'named' for his defiance of the Speaker; a motion to suspend him from the service of the House was carried. McGovern refused to leave and the Serjeant-at-Arms was ordered to remove him by force. Labour MPs James Maxton, John Beckett and John Kinley came to McGovern's help in resisting the Serjeant-at-Arms and his assistants, causing a mass brawl.[7] The Speaker suspended the sitting for 19 minutes while the struggle went on. CJ [1931] 333; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 254 cols 1465-71.
22 July 1936[8] A debate on the Unemployment Assistance Regulations had begun at 3:59 pm. After 26 hours of debate, Sir John Simon was winding up for the Government and appeared to refer to "stinginess" in some local councils, including Glasgow. Glaswegian MP George Buchanan protested and denounced Simon as a liar, refusing to withdraw his remark. The Speaker 'named' him for an unparliamentary remark and a motion was proposed to suspend him. Fellow Glasgow MP Campbell Stephen then objected and refused to sit down. The Speaker then suspended the sitting for fifteen minutes; when it resumed, Buchanan, Stephen and a third Glasgow MP John McGovern were all suspended from the service of the House for disruption. CJ [1935-36] 341; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 315 cols 835-48.
1 November 1956 Military action against Egypt over the Suez Canal had just begun and the Minister of Defence, Antony Head, came to make a statement. As supplementary questions were asked, a dispute arose over what subjects would be in order in an Opposition debate which was to follow, and Labour MPs disputed the Speaker's interpretation. The Speaker suspended the sitting for half an hour. When the sitting resumed, supplementary questions on the statement continued. CJ [1955-56] 428; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 558 cols 1619-30.
8 February 1961[9] The Government introduced a resolution to increase the amount of National Insurance paid in contributions to the National Health Service. The Labour opposition had previously held a full day's debate on this and other changes (which it objected to). There was a bad-tempered debate in which many Labour MPs sought to speak; with several remaining but at 00:30 AM, the Deputy Speaker called Financial Secretary to the Treasury Sir Edward Boyle to sum up. Labour MPs protested that there were further points to be made but the Deputy Speaker refused to allow the debate to be prolonged. With Boyle unable to speak, Government Chief Whip Martin Redmayne then moved the closure. Labour refused to name tellers so that the closure and the main motion were agreed without a vote. Labour deputy leader George Brown continued to dispute the Deputy Speaker's actions, accusing him of arranging a private deal with the Government Chief Whip. The Deputy Speaker adjourned the sitting. CJ [1960-61] 98; Hansard HC 5ser vol 634 cols 574-92.
6 December 1961 During Committee stage debate of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, the Deputy Speaker Sir Gordon Touche made a mistake announcing the result of a vote. A dispute then arose over the selection of amendments for debate. The Deputy Speaker suspended the sitting for half an hour. On resumption, dispute over amendments continued and eventually a motion to end debate was carried without any further progress being made. CJ [1961-62] 55; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 650 cols 1455-1500.
23 July 1970 During a statement by Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Anthony Barber on negotiations with the European Communities, a member of the public in the gallery threw two canisters of CS gas into the chamber. Many MPs were overcome and Tom Swain had to be taken to hospital, along with two members of the House of Commons staff.[10] The sitting was suspended for an hour and 55 minutes to allow the gas to clear. CJ [1970-71] 68; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 804 col 785.
25 January 1971 During debate on a motion to guillotine debate on the Industrial Relations Bill, Secretary of State for Employment Robert Carr was barracked by Labour MPs (particularly Charles Loughlin and Alex Eadie) who then raised points of order to disrupt debate, and a group of Labour MPs gathered on the floor of the House in an attempt to halt the debate.[11] The Speaker suspended the sitting for 15 minutes; when it resumed a motion to extend debate was carried and debate on amendments to the guillotine motion began. CJ [1970-71] 216; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 810 cols 156-60.
20 January 1972 On the day that unemployment statistics exceeded one million for the first time since the Second World War, Labour MPs barracked Prime Minister Edward Heath from the start of Prime Minister's Questions shouting "Heath out!" and prevented any questions being asked or answered. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 11 minutes, until the scheduled end of the question session.[12] CJ [1971-72] 109; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 829 cols 660-1.
4 March 1975 Opposition spokesman on Industry Michael Heseltine raised a point of order about the timing of a debate on a motion to give subsidies to motorcycle manufacturer Norton Villiers Triumph. The reply from Secretary of State for Industry Tony Benn appeared to contradict assurances given by Leader of the House of Commons Edward Short the previous night. Opposition MPs raised points of order accusing the Government of lying about the financial condition of the company. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 20 minutes. Angry confrontation continued and Nigel Lawson was seen to hit junior Minister Clinton Davis with his House of Commons Order Paper.[13] On resuming the Leader of the House made a statement explaining the confusion. CJ [1974-75] 259; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 887 cols 1270-76.
27 May 1976 The Speaker had accepted a suggestion by Conservative MP Robin Maxwell-Hyslop that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill was hybrid. The Government moved a motion to reverse the ruling; after a debate the Government won by 1 vote when Tom Pendry, who was supposed to be paired and absent, voted anyway. Opposition Industry Secretary Michael Heseltine removed the House of Commons mace from its place on the table and advanced towards the Government front bench.[14] The Speaker suspended the sitting for 20 minutes; when it resumed, the House immediately adjourned. CJ [1975-76] 360; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 912 cols 767-8.
6 July 1978 During points of order about debates on the Scotland Bill, members of the public threw manure into the chamber from the gallery. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 20 minutes to allow it to be cleaned.[15] CJ [1977-78] 438; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 953, cols 675-6.
13 November 1980 Points of order were being raised about a Government announcement of increased rents for council houses when the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod arrived from the House of Lords to summon MPs to the ceremony of prorogation (end) of the session. Labour MPs refused to allow him in, demanding more detail from the Government on rents. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 11 minutes. On resuming, Labour MPs continued to press for more details from the Government. After a further suspension of 15 minutes, the Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Heseltine made a longer statement.[16] CJ [1979-80] 851; Hansard, HC 5ser vol 992 cols 763-70.
16 November 1981 Ulster Unionist MP Rev Robert Bradford had been murdered two days before and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Humphrey Atkins made a statement on security. His statement was disrupted by members of the Democratic Unionist Party from the Members' Gallery. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 10 minutes. On resuming, all three MPs were 'named' and suspended from the service of the House; the sitting was suspended for a further 10 minutes so that they could be removed by force.[17] CJ [1981-82] 27; Hansard, HC 6ser vol 13 cols 23-5.
21 November 1984 The Secretary of State for Social Services Norman Fowler attempted to make a statement on the Government's decision to withdraw some welfare benefits from the families of strikers. Labour MPs disrupted the statement to protest at the decision. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 10 minutes. On resuming, Labour MPs stood in front of the table of the House and refused to take their seats. The Speaker then adjourned the sitting.[18] CJ [1984-85] 41; Hansard, HC 6ser vol 68 cols 385-6.
17 January 1985 After questions to the Leader of the House of Commons John Biffen about future business, Labour MPs continued to raise points of order demanding a debate on the National Union of Miners strike. A private member's bill was presented but the House was prevented from moving to its scheduled business. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 20 minutes; when it resumed, the scheduled business began.[19] CJ [1984-85] 163; Hansard, HC 6ser vol 71 cols 520-6.
15 March 1988 During the 1988 budget statement of Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, Labour MP Dave Nellist led a group who attempted to intervene and disrupt the sitting; he refused to resume his seat.[20] The Speaker suspended the sitting for 10 minutes. On resuming the budget speech continued. CJ [1987-88] 383; Hansard, HC 6ser vol 129 cols 1012-3.
13 March 1990[21] After an all night sitting on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, Labour MPs attempted to prolong proceedings in the hope that the House would keep sitting beyond 2:30 PM so that the next day's sitting would be cancelled. When Conservative MP Emma Nicholson was unable to hold her half hour adjournment debate, the Speaker adjourned the sitting.[22] CJ [1989-90] 247; Hansard, HC 6ser vol 169 cols 461-2.
3 July 1990 The Secretary of State for Health Kenneth Clarke used a rare but established procedure to make a statement about NHS trusts after the end of question time. Labour MPs objected that the procedure used deprived them of the ability to scrutinise the details of the statement and therefore of the ability properly to question the Secretary of State; the time for the statement was also taken out of a Labour initiated debate. After a series of points of order were raised, disrupting the questioning, the Speaker suspended the sitting for 10 minutes. On its resumption the Speaker announced that the statement would be made in full on the following day.[23] CJ [1989-90] 513; Hansard, HC 6ser vol 175 cols 859-67.
17 December 1992 During general debates held before the Christmas adjournment, Scottish Labour MPs raised points of order demanding a Government statement on the announcement that eight NHS hospitals in Scotland were to become NHS trusts. When Conservative MP Richard Ottaway was unable to hold his debate, the Speaker suspended the sitting for 8 minutes. On resuming, MPs continued to demand a statement and prevent the debate taking place. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 2 hours 40 minutes, resuming only to allow Royal Assent to be signified to three new Acts of Parliament and then to adjourn for the Christmas recess.[24] CJ [1992-93] 332; Hansard, HC 6ser vol 216 cols 579-88.
4 February 2004 During a debate on the Hutton Inquiry report, members of the public in the gallery persistently interjected. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 12 minutes to allow the gallery to be cleared.[25] Not identified in the Commons Journal explicitly as an exercise of powers under Standing Order 46. Hansard, HC 6ser vol col 771.
19 May 2004 During Prime Minister's Questions, Tony Blair was hit by some purple flour thrown from the gallery by a member of the group Fathers 4 Justice.[26] The Speaker suspended the sitting for 1 hour 12 minutes. Not identified in the Commons Journal explicitly as an exercise of powers under Standing Order 46. Hansard, HC 6ser vol 421 cols 974-5. Video
15 September 2004 During debate on the Hunting Bill, members of the public opposed to the Bill entered the chamber of the House of Commons. The Deputy Speaker suspended the sitting for 19 minutes.[27] Not identified in the Commons Journal explicitly as an exercise of powers under Standing Order 46. Hansard, HC 6ser vol 424 col 1337. Video

References[edit]

  1. ^ House of Commons Journal [1902] 67.
  2. ^ House of Commons Journal [1902] 501.
  3. ^ House of Commons Standing Orders - Public Business, April 2010.
  4. ^ "The Scene In The House. An Impression by a 'Stranger'.", The Times, 25 July 1911, p. 8.
  5. ^ "Parliament", The Times, 23 November 1920, p. 17.
  6. ^ Parliament, "The Times", 12 April 1923, p. 7.
  7. ^ "Parliament", The Times, 3 July 1931, p. 9.
  8. ^ It was 23 July 1936 in the outside world but by House of Commons convention the date on which the sitting began is given.
  9. ^ It was just past midnight on 9 February 1961 in the outside world.
  10. ^ Hugh Noyes, "CS gas thrown in Commons to cry of 'Belfast'", The Times, 24 July 1970, p. 1.
  11. ^ David Wood, "Commons suspended after unprecedented demonstration against guillotine motion", The Times, 26 January 1971, p. 1. Tony Benn, "Office Without Power: Diaries 1968-72" (Hutchinson, 1988), p. 327, makes it clear the disruption was pre-planned.
  12. ^ David Wood, "Commons sitting suspended in uproar after clash over million unemployed", The Times, 21 January 1972, p. 1.
  13. ^ Hugh Noyes, "Tory MP hits junior minister with paper", The Times, 5 March 1975, p. 1.
  14. ^ David Wood, "Commons is suspended in uproar after one-vote win", The Times, 28 May 1976, p. 1.
  15. ^ Fred Emery, "Dung hurled at MPs in Ulster protest", The Times, 7 July 1978, p. 1.
  16. ^ Hugh Noyes, "Heseltine climbdown on rent rises after Commons uproar", The Times, 14 November 1980, p. 1.
  17. ^ Philip Webster and Hugh Noyes, "Paisley vows to make Ulster ungovernable after Commons uproar", The Times, 17 November 1981, p. 1.
  18. ^ Julian Haviland, "Commons adjourns in chaos over miners' benefits", The Times, 22 November 1984, p. 1.
  19. ^ Julian Haviland, Anthony Bevins, "Left angers Kinnock by pit debate demand", The Times, 18 January 1985, p. 1.
  20. ^ Robin Oakley, "Labour fury halts speech", The Times, 16 March 1988.
  21. ^ 14 March 1990 in the outside world.
  22. ^ Michael White, "The Day in Politics: More of a cock-up than a conspiracy", The Guardian, 15 March 1990, p. 6.
  23. ^ Michael White, "Commons erupts over health statement 'fix'", The Guardian, 4 July 1990, p. 20.
  24. ^ Nikki Knewstub, "Scots MPs wreck the last sitting", The Guardian, 18 December 1992, p. 6.
  25. ^ Jason Beattie, "Protesters force House to suspend debate", Scotsman, 5 February 2004, p. 10.
  26. ^ Benedict Brogan, George Jones, Sarah Womack, "For a moment it seemed that fears of a terrorist attack had come true", The Daily Telegraph, 20 May 2004, p. 4.
  27. ^ Patrick Wintour, Peter Hetherington, "Invasion of the Commons: Five protestors storm the chamber", The Guardian, 16 September 2004, p. 1.