Saturday, 18 October 2008

My week - Tuesday

Tuesday: Started with another session of the Banks and Building Societies Dormant Accounts Bill, which I'd agreed to do on condition I was allowed out at 12 to meet 45 pupils from a Polish school in Bristol. Then it turned out I wasn't. Then I was. Then I wasn't. Got to meet them eventually. They're all fairly recent arrivals in the UK, and attend regular local schools as well as their weekend Polish lessons.

Rushed off from that for another spell of PPS-ing in Westminster Hall, in a very well-attended debate on Sri Lanka. 15 MPs turned up, which for a 30 minute debate is pretty impressive (actually, pretty good going for any debate!), and so many Tamils that they had to create an overspill area for those who couldn't get into the Grand Committee Room.

Stayed on after that to make a few interventions in a slightly bizarre debate on Cosmetics Testing on Animals, called by Oliver Letwin. He basically said he'd chosen the title of the debate because a ban has already been agreed, so wasn't going to talk about that, and then launched into something of a philosophical treatise on where the ethical boundaries lie. When is human life or happiness important enough to warrant the suffering of animals? Are some animals more deserving of protection than others? To give a flavour... "Philosophers call it the sorites paradox. For example, when is a pile a pile? One stone probably does not amount to a pile, but 50 certainly do. However, where does one hit the pile? Is it at two, three or four? That is a feature of one of the most difficult issues that we face as human beings." Indeed.

All of this somewhat bewildered the DBERR Whip who'd been designated to reply on behalf of the Government. Cosmetics is DBERR's business, I assume because it's a commercial thing, bringing in a ban on the production and marketing of products tested on animals. But animal testing in general is a Home Office responsibility, as they issue the licences, and animal welfare is Defra's call. Sensibly she chose to stick to her script, and gave a good account of what the Government has done to ensure a ban on cosmetics testing. I hope household products are next.

Rest of the day taken up with a meeting of the APPG on Credit Unions to talk about our response to new legislation, then into the Chamber for the start of the Banking Bill Second Reading debate. I really wanted to stay to make some interventions on John Redwood, but he wasn't called till gone 8pm, which would have meant sitting through nearly 4 hours of it, including Vince Cable. Decided after an hour or so that I was better off in the office instead.

Interesting to watch the change in George Osbourne's demeanour. It would be wrong to say the cockiness has entirely gone - it's in his DNA I fear - but he's definitely rattled and not quite sure what he should be doing or saying. How can the Tories call for tougher regulation when they've spent the past decade criticising us for being over-fond of regulation and putting burdens on business? How can they argue for a greater role for the Government and regulators in telling banks and customers what they can/ can't lend and borrow, when they're so vocal in their opposition to the 'nanny state'? Which is why I could have had some fun with John Redwood. Banking Bill surprisingly finished early, so home before 10pm.

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