MP suspended over Heathrow mace protest

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Indy Politics

A Labour MP was today suspended from the Commons for five days after he picked up the mace during heated exchanges on the Government's decision to go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) reacted increasingly angrily to Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon's comments on the third runway.

He marched from the back benches down the steps before picking up the mace and placing it on an empty Labour front bench.

Mr McDonnell shouted: "It's a disgrace to the democracy of this country!", before leaving the chamber.

Deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst ordered his five-day suspension.

The mace is the symbol of the authority of the House and during sittings is placed on the table next to the despatch box in front of the Speaker.

The incident happened during questions to Mr Hoon from backbenchers following his statement.

Mr McDonnell had made an emotional plea for a vote on the issue.

He said: "The decision today for my constituents was an absolute disgrace. The commitments that have been given in terms of conditions attached are spin.

"They're as worthless as the commitment that there will be no third runway.

"It is a betrayal of future generations in terms of the environment, it's a betrayal of my constituents who will lose their homes, their schools, their cemeteries, their churches..."

His voice broke as he went on: "And it's a betrayal of this House and democracy not to have a vote in this House.

"We're not asking for every infrastructure project, we're asking for the most significant one in a generation to be brought to this House with a vote.

"Will there be a vote and why not?"

Mr Hoon replied: "I've made clear the position of the House in relation to these matters

"It is a long-standing position that the House does not vote on quasi-judicial planning matters but nevertheless I entirely understand that you put your case with your customary passion on behalf of your constituents.

"But this is an issue for the country."

Mr McDonnell, whose constituency includes Heathrow, shouted from the benches: "This is the country!"

Mr Hoon continued: "Heathrow is a national airport serving the whole of the country and necessarily..."

Mr McDonnell started making his way down towards the front benches.

"... when judgments have to be made about the interests of the country, those decisions have to be made however difficult they are."

The Deputy Speaker called for order as Mr McDonnell picked up the mace and lifted it in the air before placing it on the Labour front bench.

As MPs from all sides of the House shouted, Sir Alan said: "Order! The honourable member must withdraw..."

He went on: "I name the honourable member for Hayes and Harlington."

After Mr McDonnell had left the chamber, Sir Alan called for a vote on whether he should be suspended from the Commons.

While many MPs said "aye", there shouts of "No!" from the opposition benches.

A division was called but halted shortly afterwards and the five-day suspension was announced by Sir Alan.