No gunpowder but plenty of plot

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The Independent Online
There were amazing scenes in the House of Commons yesterday when the Home Secretary, a Mr Michael Howard, claimed that he had absolutely no responsibility for the so-called Gunpowder Plot, in which Guy Fawkes, a Roman Catholic dissident, together with several other of his fundamentalist terrorist brethren, had nearly succeeded in blowing up the Houses of Parliament. Yesterday's debate sought to establish who was to blame for the near-debacle, and all eyes were on Mr Howard as he rose to defend himself.

"I proudly maintain," said Michael Howard Esquire, as he faced his critics, "that in this, as in many other thing - nay, in all other things - I am totally blameless. It has always been my policy to safeguard the process of democracy. To protect the throne. To fight for the security of the nation. And to torture anyone who might be a danger to the English."

Amid cries of "Shame!", "Nonsense!", and "All right, Mr Smarty Pants Esquire, who is to blame, pray?" Mr Howard's voice was heard shouting above the hubbub.

"I tell you, torture works! Torture works! Torture does work! All ye liberal backsliders and ye lily-livered do-gooders, who would fain let the streets of London run free with miscreants and assassins, listen to this! When a man is tortured so far that he cannot walk nor even rise again, or when he is even dead, then I say unto you: this man will not re-offend! This is the language they understand! Do you think Guy Fawkes will be back on the streets hawking his bombs and explosives again? I think not. You see, hanging, drawing and quartering works!"

An Opposition member suggested that Mr Howard might consider the notion of torturing or hanging, drawing and quartering people before they actually committed any crimes, so that the public could be 100 per cent safe.

"Oh, ye may laugh, sirrah," retorted Howard hotly, "but this is a notion at which we are looking very nearly, and I am in high hopes of opening several establishments where young miscreants may receive a short, sharp shock."

Upon a member inquiring what kind of short, sharp shock, the Home Secretary said it was the kind that was administered by a large axe to the back of the neck. There was much cheering and laughing at this.

"To return to the subject of the motion," said another member, "can the Home Secretary explain how these men came to be in the vaults beneath the Chamber, and who, in the last resort was responsible?"

"I, sir, am responsible for the safe arrest of the men," said Mr Howard, "and for the security arrangements that prevented the disaster. For any shortcomings, I am not responsible."

Amid cries of "Then who is, Old Four-Eyes?", Mr Howard went on:

"As you well know, I have dismissed the head of the Government Torture Service, Mr Lewis, and I consider him responsible for all shortcomings. He should have elicited all this information by torture long before 5 November. Ye buck stoppeth with him."

The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that Mr Lewis had repeatedly complained that he was not allowed to continue his normal operations when Mr Howard interrupted at every turn.

"Indeed," he went on, "Mr Lewis has informed us that the Home Secretary was wont to enter the torture sessions unbidden and take a hand with the rack and thumbscrew personally, breaking a bone here, stretching a sinew there. What has he to tell us on this subject? How can he maintain that he never interfered with operations when it was as clear as the blue on a blackbird's egg that he has persistently meddled with the day-to- day running of the torture service? Was it not time for him to resign?"

"Never!" cried Mr Howard. "I am not a resigning man! It was Mr Lewis's fault! It was Mr Fawkes's fault! It was the fault of the King! But never mine!"

Upon someone inquiring how it could be the King's fault, Mr Howard said that Parliament was royal property, and ultimately the responsibility was the monarch's. Maybe God was to blame. Or perhaps the French, with their wicked papist ways. But not him.

"Perhaps we could ask for Mr Lewis himself to appear before the House to explain the way he hath seen things, and to chronicle his part in the events," said the Leader of the Opposition.

"That will not be possible," said Mr Howard, explaining that after his dismissal as head of the Government Torture Service, Mr Lewis had been routinely arrested and tortured in his turn, and was now in no state to testify. He had, however, luckily confessed to blame for the Gunpowder Plot before expiring, and Mr Howard now considered the matter closed.