Protesters force House to suspend debate

THE House of Commons was suspended yesterday and the public were cleared from the gallery after anti-war protesters interrupted a debate on the Hutton Report, in the most serious disruption to the House proceedings for 17 years.

In an orchestrated series of interventions, the demonstrators shouted "whitewash" and "murderer" at Tony Blair as he defended the government’s use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Attendants manhandled the protesters from the gallery but the interruptions became so frequent that the Speaker, Michael Martin, was forced to suspend the House for ten minutes in order for the gallery to be cleared.

In what appeared to be a related incident, a group of protesters dressed as judges were arrested after daubing the gates of Downing Street in white paint.

Mr Blair tried to make light of the demonstrations by joking: "I somehow feel I am not being entirely persuasive in certain quarters."

The protesters were taken to the cells in the House of Commons, pending a decision by the Serjeant at Arms on whether to charge them. A group calling itself Oxford Citizens for the Truth said that they were behind the demonstration.

The House of Commons was last suspended in 1987 when protesters disrupted the debate on the Local Government Bill containing Clause 28 banning the "promotion" of homosexuality in state schools. Co-incidentally, the speakers at the time included Michael Howard, the then environment secretary, and his shadow, Mr Blair.