Labour MPs score a hat trick with Napoleonic tactics

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The Independent Online
A WAR of attrition was mounted in the Commons last night by Labour MPs armed with an opera hat. The collapsible black hat, of the sort made famous by Frankie Vaughan, was tossed across the benches as MPs made points of order to slow down government business.

With tempers rising, Michael Morris, the deputy Speaker, read out a ruling from 1977 that an MP should be covered to make a point of order during a division.

'Covered means a hat,' he said.

The Labour MPs insisted that Bernard Weatherill, when he was Speaker, had accepted that a Commons order paper would suffice as a hat.

Mr Morris said an order paper was not a hat, but other forms of headgear could be allowed, including a knotted hankerchief, like those worn on Blackpool beaches in the 1950s.

Then Michael Connarty, MP for Falkirk East, folded a newspaper into a Napoleonic paper hat to make a point of order. Harry Barnes, MP for Derbyshire North East, sported a blue flat cap to speak during a vote, while Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover, shouted: 'Where's your onions, Harry?'

The Commons spent nearly four hours debating orders which would normally have gone through in as many minutes. Mr Morris suspended the normal voting system of marching through the lobbies and allowed MPs to vote by standing in their benches.

As that led to more confusion, Mr Morris countermanded his earlier ruling, and informed MPs handkerchiefs were not acceptable as hats because they were instantly available to all members.

But behind the farcical hat games, Labour MPs were deadly serious. Their immediate objective was to force the Government to end the continued debate on the Maastricht treaty at 10pm tonight to allow Scottish MPs to attend the Scottish Labour conference tomorrow.

But they also showed the Government that, with a majority of only 20, they can disrupt its business more effectively than at any time since the Tories came to power in 1979.

Forty-five rebels, page 8