Anthrax hoax sparks Commons alert

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A man who threw white powder in the public lobby at the House of Commons and claimed it was anthrax triggered a security scare last night..

A security cordon was thrown around the Commons and a man was arrested after shouting "You could all be dead, you could all be dead."

Ministers were stopped from leaving the Commons in a security lock-down that lasted around 50 minutes until the all-clear was given by security experts.

The Chief Whip, Jacqui Smith, was left standing at the members' entrance talking to fellow Labour MPs after the main gates of the Commons were shut. Her car was stopped from leaving the Palace yard as the incident was investigated.

The doors to the Commons chamber was shut off and the central lobby, where the powder was throwndown on tiles in front of the MPs' post office, was closed off. Tory MP Ben Wallace, an eye witness, said: "There was white powder thrown across the lobby. The police wore a chemical mask and uniforms."

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, continued speaking in the chamber during the security alert.

Security was stepped up last year at the Commons after Tony Blair was struck by purple powder thrown by protesters from Fathers4Justice while standing at the despatch box. A security screen was subsequently installed in the chamber.

Armed guards were introduced in the Commons for the first time after intelligence experts revised the threat assessment to the House in the light of attempted terrorist attacks in Britain after the 9/11 attacks. Concrete barriers were installed outside the House to stop car bombers and more measures were taken to stop Big Ben being climbed after protesters scaled the fences.

Nigel Griffiths, the deputy Leader of the House, said the man was protesting at a legal decision in the Lords.