Yesterday in Parliament
I made the time to watch quite a lot of the debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the Commons, since it's not very often that Parliament debates these kind of moral issues.
There were some good speeches, including one or two from people who took a different view from my own. But generally the standard was very poor.
Let's start with Sir Gerald Kaufman, speaking in the debate on hybrid embryos. Sir Gerald was Harold Wilson's spinmeister and is an expert on films and musicals. But clearly no moral philosopher. He chose to deploy the 'thin end of the wedge' argument. But virtually anything can be characterised as 'the thin end of the wedge'. My only acknowledgement of my birthday this year was to eat a smoked salmon sandwich. Had Sir Gerald been there he would no doubt have said: "This is the thin end of the wedge! Soon you'll be ordering crates of Beluga caviar from Fortnum and Mason!"
But I wouldn't. I don't particularly like caviar and, even if I did, I couldn't afford it. It's an argument that is both bogus and desperate.
In both the embryology and abortion debates I was struck by the fact that many of those MPs who expressed deep concern for both microscopic collections of cells and foetuses in the womb had voted for the invasion of Iraq and the consequent slaughter and maiming of thousands of children, including babies and pregnant mothers. Some of them even had the nerve, in the context of finding cures for diseases, to use the 'end doesn't justify the means' argument. But for them it clearly did when waging an illegal war.
This Bill was hijacked by the anti-abortion lobby and reducing the time limit for abortions should never have been part of the debate. It would have been perfectly proper to hold a separate debate on that issue and that would have given more time for detailed consideration of the issues. As the votes turned out, the anti-abortionists rather shot themselves in the foot because it will now be difficult for them to return to the issue in the near future.
In the abortion debate, that old chestnut about murdering potential geniuses cropped up but with a new twist when one Tory MP claimed we might be wiping out potential members of the English cricket team. That gives a whole new meaning to 'Lie back and think of England.'
It's a strange argument when you consider how much human DNA is wasted each year, both by natural processes and human means. Logically, one would need to make both masturbation and contraception illegal. But let's not put ideas into the fundamentalists' heads.
The debate on whether IVF treatment should be conditional on the existence of both a mother and father produced contributions from the Knights of the Shires and others that were beyond parody.
The views of the man in The Dog and Duck in Staffordshire were cited as the benchmark of what is 'normal' and 'natural'. Sir Patrick Cormack, for it was he, implied that lesbian mothers were an aberration confined to Islington and unknown in the rolling acres of Staffordshire.
No doubt he might concede, if pressed on the point, that Staffordshire has its share of tweedy ladies who live together purely for companionship. But you would never find them wielding a turkey baster for a purpose for which it was never intended nor allowing the presence of a surrogate sprog to interfere with their organisation of the annual Conservative Party Garden party.
One of the amendments proposed the need for either a father or another male role model. It was never explained who this other role model might be.
One Lib Dem MP asked if David Beckham might fulfil this role, though not presumably in person because he's a busy man. But I suppose you could stick some posters of Becks on little Tara or Tarquin's bedroom wall and hope for the best.
Some lesbian couples have gay men as close friends. Would Duncan Smith and his chums accept them as suitable male role models? I rather doubt it.
It was during this debate that a fearsome, female, Democratic Unionist MP reared up and asserted the literal truth of woman having been created from Adam's rib. She became enraged when Members on the opposite benches laughed at this. They were certainly braver men than me. For this woman seemed to have been created from the rib of a Brontosaurus. Or perhaps from one of Ian Paisley's spare ribs, but that's much the same thing.
"Do Christians have no human rights?" she bellowed. Sadly for her, neither the Human Rights Act nor the European Convention mention any right not to be laughed at.
The only other overtly Biblical reference came from the Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is both gay and a former Church of England priest. His claim to fame is that he was the first MP to appear on the Gaydar website in his Y-fronts. So it wasn't entirely surprising that the quotation he flung at the Tory benches was "Judge not lest ye be judged!"
The camera cut away to Sir Patrick Cormack, sitting glowering and smouldering like a pocket Mount Etna. For a moment, I thought we would witness the first case of spontaneous combustion in the House of Commons.