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UK Politics

Lack of order! Bringing the House down

Debates have overstepped the mark before

The aisle that divides the government and opposition MPs in the House of Commons measures 3.96 metres, which is, according to tradition, the length of two swords. Violence has never died out.

Bernadette Devlin and Reggie Maudling

Bernadette Devlin, who at 21 wrested Mid Ulster from the Unionists, witnessed events in Derry on 30 January 1972, when 26 Catholic demonstrators were killed by British soldiers, but she was not called to speak when the massacre was discussed in the Commons the next day. When the Home Secretary, Reggie Maudling, told MPs that the Army had acted in self-defence, Devlin could take no more. She thumped him. Afterwards she said: "I'm sorry I didn't get him by the throat."

Michael Heseltine and the Mace

Passions erupted on 27 May 1976, when the Labour government narrowly succeeded in passing a Bill to nationalise the shipbuilding and aviation industries. Exultant Labour MPs struck up a chorus of "The Red Flag". Tom Swain, a Labour MP from the Derbyshire coalfield, allegedly punched the Tory MP Michael Spicer in the stomach, and Michael Heseltine, a former minister for aviation, seized the ceremonial mace and brandished it above his head.

Ron Brown does a Heseltine

Ron Brown, an Edinburgh Labour MP, was so left wing that he was known as the Member for Afghanistan Central. On 18 April 1988, at the end of a debate on the poll tax, he picked up the Mace and threw it on the ground.

Journalists falling out

On 5 November 1991, when news broke that the media mogul Robert Maxwell had drowned, Michael White, of The Guardian, visited the room occupied by Daily Mirror journalists to ask gleefully: "Have you heard about Bob, Bob, Bob?" The Mirror's political editor, Alastair Campbell, below, promised to punch him if he did not leave the room at once. He didn't, and Campbell did.

The Scotch Whisky reception

George Foulkes, a long-serving Labour MP who is now Baron Foulkes of Cumnock, is a genial soul never known to raise his voice, let alone threaten anyone. But on 19 July 1993, he emerged from a reception hosted by the Scotch Whisky Association in a terrible hurry to get to the division lobby to vote. On the way, he collided with an elderly lady, but carried on, only to be stopped by PC John Williams. Foulkes became so agitated about missing the vote that he punched the officer, for which he was later fined.

The businessman and the copper

What put company director Ian Thomas in a rage was being told by a police officer that he had no right to be in a corridor behind the Speaker's chair, as he emerged from a reception given by Eric Pickles, then the Conservative Party chairman, on 30 March 2009. He gave PC Christopher Leggett a mouthful of abuse and lashed out – he claimed after he had had CS gas sprayed in his face – and gave the officer a bleeding lip. He received a suspended prison sentence.