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Lords debate airline liquids ban

Exploding Marmite threat revealed

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Who remembers the deadly liquid bomb airliner plot? Most of you, we're guessing, as there are still a lot of fairly mindless restrictions on taking liquids aboard planes - no matter that the plot was actually rather far-fetched.

But fear not, UK readers, as your unelected representatives are alert to your interests. Yesterday saw the liquid ban debated in the House of Lords, as ordinary legislative nobles grilled government mouthpiece Baron Bassam of Brighton. The good Baron, raised to the peerage from among the common herd after more than a decade's trusty service on Brighton council, didn't seem to have been furnished with a very comprehensive brief. Here are a few of the pearls he offered:

"We continuously monitor the effectiveness of, in particular, the liquid security measures..."

How, one might ask? But hold on:

"The fact that there has not been a serious incident involving liquid explosives indicates, I would have thought, that the measures that we have put in place so far have been very effective."

Ah, that's how. On which basis the measures against asteroid strike, alien invasion and unexplained nationwide floods of deadly boiling custard have also been remarkably effective.

At times, the debate seemed to verge on the whimsical.

"We should not complain too loudly," said the Baron. "I always celebrate the fact that there is effective security at airports... A friend of mine had two jars of Marmite confiscated, which I thought was a bit tough at the time, but these are the things that we have to put up with."

The only possible reading of this is that, now that the Baron has been briefed in by security experts, he no longer considers the Marmite seizure unjustified. The implications of this are literally breathtaking.

Yes, that's right: the government have warning of a fiendish terrorist plot to destroy airliners using EXPLODING MARMITE. (Aiee!)

And that's not all. Consider this question by the Baron of Battersea:

"My Lords, when these measures were first introduced, there was a complete prohibition on taking tubes of toothpaste or any liquids. This was subsequently changed. Why?"

The response from the troubled Brightonian insta-noble was very much in accordance with the traditions of upper-house debate. "My Lords," quoth he, "I can only assume that it was because the level of threat from a tube of toothpaste was considered rather less than that from a bottle of liquid."

Fortunately Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall was there to cut through the muddle and get to the root of the issue.

"Does my noble friend agree," she inquired, "that one of the best ways of avoiding the problems of security at airports is not to fly at all? Perhaps his department might discourage people from flying rather than encouraging them to get round the security problems."

Baron Bassam fell back on the oh-shut-up-you-old-fool gambit, saying: "I know that my noble friend has a particular thing about flying and I entirely respect her point of view. However, I think that we would all recognise that aviation plays an important part in the life of our country."

But the wily second Baron Elton - one of that rather unique class of only-in-Blighty legislators, the elected hereditary peers* - delivered a telling blow, with a question many of us have wanted to ask at airports. "What damage can be done by 105 millilitres of liquid that cannot be done by 100 millilitres of liquid?" he snapped, testily.

This completely floored Baron Bassam. "My briefing does not extend to that," muttered the confused government toff. "I suspect that this is based on science."

Ah, science. That's all right then. ®

*Note for non-UK readers: Elected hereditary peers are a real thing. One is born a lord, and then elected by one's fellow hereditary toffs to a seat in the upper house of Parliament. It was, like most of the British constitution, supposed to be a temporary stopgap measure.

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