Parliament: The Sketch - Plenty of words but no cure for world's untreatables

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The Independent Online
HOME SECRETARY's questions began in a rather philosophical vein, with a brief consideration of the exact meaning of the word "untreatable", a term whose vexatious ambiguities have apparently resulted in psychiatrists declining to certify dangerous lunatics, even if they happen to be brandishing machetes when their discharge interview is conducted. Mr Straw recently expressed some exasperation about the psychiatric profession's semantic nicety in this matter, but he has been talking to practitioners recently and has calmed down somewhat. This isn't a climbdown, you understand - the concept of "untreatable", he told the House yesterday, was "fundamentally antithetical to the whole philosophy of Western science".

Such bold assertions generally pass unquibbled in the House of Commons. There's a broad cross-party consensus that violent maniacs should be prevented from exercising their deranged ambitions on primary school children and pensioners. Mr Straw expressed guarded optimism that some broader definition might be arrived at, which would allow the Government to bang up those who haven't yet committed a crime, but almost certainly will. Untreatable? Certainly not, if nothing better is available we can send them all to Parkhurst and treat them atrociously.

We were soon on to more mundane matters of crime prevention. Andrew Reed, the Labour member for Loughborough, rose to ask a question about car crime, addingthat he had contributed to the victim statistics himself on no fewer than five occasions in the past four years. Paul Boateng announced that the Government was consulting manufacturers on the improved design of car quarter lights and pointed out that second-hand cars were peculiarly vulnerable to break-ins. Perhaps this might account for his honourable friend's difficulties? "Ask him for a loan!" shouted a helpful Labour backbencher. Alternatively Mr Reed could emulate his colleague Gareth Thomas, who announced, in the course of a question about early retirement due to sickness, that he'd been out on the beat with Pinner bobbies last Friday evening. It seemed a dubious way of bolstering the police presence, but perhaps the citizens of Harrow West sleep easier in their beds.

Even if Mr Thomas was on the mean streets of Pinner with observer status only, he could hardly achieve less than his counterparts in the Kosovo Verification Mission, whose courage in monitoring the Holbrooke package has just been rewarded with another audacious and shameless slaughter. Robin Cook, who made stern and threatening noises at the time of the last outrages, turned up to make a statement on the latest atrocity. He could barely be accused of being long-winded but he could have been more concise still and said as much - "Absolutely deplorable. We've achieved nothing and, quite frankly, we're not likely to". He put it differently, naturally, with mutterings about war planes on 96-hour standby and formulaic assurances that British troops stood ready to do what was necessary. But it was a sign of his candid powerlessness in this matter that he was congratulated for his tone both by Tam Dalyell and Tony Benn, both hawks for the cause of non-intervention. Occasionally his remarks were palpably absurd, as when he insisted that there would be no escalation of British military intervention "without knowing that both sides are committed to an outcome". Both sides already are, of course - it just happens to be an utterly incompatible outcome for each party. Both sides might be described as psychopathic in their determination to achieve their ends, deaf to threats or reason, thirsty for more blood. Untreatable, in short, and thus free to go on their way unhindered.