Parliament: The Sketch: Will Tony Benn find himself in one of Straw's gulags?

JACK STRAW did not quite suspend habeas corpus but he made several dramatic strides in that direction to enhance his authoritarian reputation as a "tough" home secretary. Tory home secretaries talked tough but Mr Straw acts tough and yesterday he became the first one in living memory to propose measures to incarcerate people who have not actually been convicted by any court.

Even the last home secretary, Michael Howard, when chasing the whim of popular opinion, never had the courage to be so breathtakingly illiberal. There would have been a time when withdrawal of the liberty of the subject would have caused a riot in the House of Commons but Mr Straw knows he has that great Labour asset of public opinion firmly on his side.

Sex offenders are good scapegoats for society's ills and few MPs were going to give him much trouble when he announced proposals to detain people with "severe personality disorders", regardless of whether they had been convicted of any offence. Mr Straw proposed new legal powers for "indeterminate but reviewable detention of dangerously personality-disordered individuals" where it could be established that the individual had a recognised severe personality disorder and was a grave risk to the public. He did not set out precisely what such a disorder was but most MPs assumed it was to do with sexual offences.

But, knowing the extent to which this government will go to snuff out opposition from within its ranks, there was no guarantee that Ken Livingstone, Rhodri Morgan and their fellow travellers may not yet be restrained from the London mayoralty and the Welsh Assembly under these proposals. The Tory shadow spokesman, Sir Norman Fowler, broadly welcomed the proposals and joined in the general scapegoating, with talk of the need to protect the "safety of the public and children". But there was a hint of unease in some quarters, with a few brave souls on both sides prepared to break cover.

Tony Benn (Lab, Chesterfield) was in a state of genuine outrage. He was so unable to contain his fury that, although the Speaker had called Gerry Bermingham, he belted out his question without realising that Miss Boothroyd had not called him. He reminded the Home Secretary of the adverse consequences of internment 30 years ago in Northern Ireland and drew attention to the horrors of mental- health treatment and punishment in the former Soviet Union.

Gwynneth Dunwoody (Lab, Crewe and Nantwich), not normally known for wishy- washy liberal views, sounded a note of caution by referring to the "abuse of human rights" by such incarceration. Even Brian Mawhinney (Con, North West Cambridgeshire), the ultimate prince of Tory darkness, while welcoming the proposals, nevertheless sounded a note of caution. "Depriving people of their liberty is an important and serious step."

And where were the Liberal Democrats in all this? One might have expected the inheritors of the traditions of the liberty of the subject handed down by Gladstone, Lloyd George and Grimond at least to have made some effort to put up resistance to the Government but Simon Hughes (North Southwark & Bermondsey) made little effort beyond a bland reference to the duty of the state in protecting individual liberty.

It was all a far cry from the permissive society presided over by Mr Straw's illustrious Labour predecessor, Lord Jenkins, when he was home secretary in the 1960s and 70s. Mr Straw seemed to draw his inspiration from Lord Liverpool's government of the early nineteenth century, whose repressive measures guaranteed uninterrupted power for 15 years.

Thomas Sutcliffe is away

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us