Politics: Commons cracks over MPs' heads

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It was a pure coincidence, of course. A lump of masonry detached itself from the ceiling over the government front bench on Wednesday night just after John Prescott had left the chamber.

Some Labour MPs joked that the enormity of the Deputy Prime Minister's plan to nationalise Eurostar had caused the very foundations of the House of Commons to shake.

Westminster officials were more po-faced about the incident, though. They refused to even confirm whether the piece of wooden moulding had even actually crashed on to the minister's seat or not. However, it was confirmed that the chamber was closed to tourists yesterday morning.

The damage was repaired in time for MPs to hear Tony Blair's statement on Bloody Sunday yesterday afternoon, though some MPs who turned up early to reserve their seats were refused entry. Structural engineers were called in to examine the extent of the damage and for a while it was not known whether the afternoon's sitting would go ahead. A Commons official said it was unclear whether the relatively small section of moulding had fallen or was still hanging from the ceiling. Experts were trying to find out whether the building was safe for MPs to use.

Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, said that he had his own theory. There had been "two rumbles" in the chamber the previous night, one when Mr Prescott talked about taking the Channel Tunnel rail link into public ownership and the other when Mr Skinner said the "troops were ready" to re-nationalise the railways. Both were greeted with huge cheers, he said.

The Commons chamber has not been shut since the Second World War, when it was badly damaged by bombing raids and MPs sat for a time in Church House, across the road.