PARLIAMENT: The Sketch - Fine lines and dodgy eyesight make an uncomfortable mixture The fine line between vision and reality in wording of terror bill

OPENING THE debate on the second reading of the Terrorism Bill, Jack Straw confessed that the Government was engaged in a balancing act; on one side lay the chasm of lawlessness, on the other the jagged rocks of the police state. Down the middle went Mr Straw, long pole wavering in the breeze.

As with any balancing act there was a certain amount of wobbling going on. In a newspaper article published yesterday morning, the Home Secretary assured his readers there was no problem with the Government's requirement that the courts distinguish between "serious violence" and "violence".

Some might think that deciding which was which was a rather subjective judgement but Mr Straw was confident the Bill "distinguishes more clearly than ever before" the circumstances in which anti- terrorist legislation would apply.

In the House though, where he knew he would have to brace himself for destabilising gusts from both sides, he seemed less confident. It was a "fine line", he conceded and, though he did not add this, fine lines are not conventionally associated with easy public consensus.

Presumably it is a very clear fine line. You need to do a bit of careful work with a magnifying glass to discern exactly where the line runs and then everything's dandy. Mild violence, modest violence, a broad band of middling violence and then, bang, we're into serious violence and it's time to call the Anti- Terrorist Squad.

What separates Mr Straw from his opponents on this matter is his grand confidence in the powers of magistrates and law enforcement agencies to make such distinctions. He is serenely confident the powers won't be abused, that the world will proceed in a benign and sagacious manner.

But there were worrying signs yesterday that clarity of mind on this matter is not that easily arrived at. The Conservatives certainly know where they stand - so firmly behind the Home Secretary in the battle against anarchy and disorder that they hope to make him look half-hearted, even though he's introducing the Bill. But they have their wobbles too.

When Mr Straw expressed the view that without the Prevention of Terrorism Act casualties over the years would have been much greater John Greenway, sitting on the Opposition front bench, shook his head sorrowfully. Then, noticing that Andrew Mackay, sitting next to him, was vigorously nodding in agreement, he seamlessly converted the motion into matching wag of approval.

After a sceptical intervention from Douglas Hogg, Mr Straw tried to clarify matters with another adjective. The courts would be quite capable of distinguishing "heinous crime" from the ordinary kind. This did not placate his Labour critics, Jeremy Corbyn and Kevin McNamara. "Is there a cash value put upon it?" the former asked.

"We have to legislate with words because that is all we have," replied Mr Straw, a little plaintively. But his colleagues continued to show an old-fashioned desire to know exactly what the words meant before they would sign on the dotted line.

Down in Committee Room 15 Gordon Brown was being personally terrorised by Michael Fallon, having been called before the Treasury Select Committee to answer questions about the Pre-Budget report. Mr Fallon wanted the Chancellor to acknowledge a statistic that suggested tax had risen over the course of the Government. Mr Brown was equally determined to ignore it.

This he did by clinging to Table B7, a useful statistical matrix that had clearly been carefully drafted to exclude the embarrassing figure. Was the statistic there or not?

For Mr Fallon it was as plain as print. He had the page in his hand.

For Mr Brown, referring to an identical sheet of paper, it was equally clear - it was not in the table. I can only assume that a very fine line was all that lay between these incompatible visions of the same document.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable