Humphrys finds fun in some good answers

DEADLY sins, dogs and plastic bags were among the topics discussed by a distinguished panel of speakers in Golders Green last week

Tan Parsons

DEADLY sins, dogs and plastic bags were among the topics discussed by a distinguished panel of speakers in Golders Green last week.

Oliver Letwin MP, Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein and comedian Mark Maier appeared at the London Jewish Cultural Centre on Wednesday for a debate hosted by broadcaster and presenter John Humphrys.

In front of a packed house at the North End Road venue, the panellists fielded questions from the audience. Mr Humphrys began proceedings by speaking about his role as the presenter of television programme Mastermind.

"I'm loving it," he said. "So often in my career I find myself interviewing politicians and it's refreshing to ask questions of people who actually want to give you an answer."

One of the questions posed to the panel was 'Will a ban on plastic bags save the planet?'.

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Mr Finkelstein said: "The idea of banning plastic bags is based on the notion that 100,000 animals are killed by plastic bags, although we don't know what period this is over. It is an idea pulled from a 15-year-old's essay and there is no evidence for it whatsoever. It's a gigantic waste of time."

Mr Maier said: "I love plastic bags - I have a drawer at home that is so full of them that you can't open it. I have so many that I have to have a bag for my plastic bags, and then another bag for those bags. Gordon Brown recently said he wanted to 'eliminate plastics bags from the streets'. I love the image of him going around and obliterating individual bags."

Another issue that cropped up was the Pope's updated list of the seven deadly sins, announced earlier this month. The panellists were asked if they would make any changes to the list, which includes environmental pollution, genetic manipulation, accumulating excessive wealth, inflicting poverty, drug trafficking and consumption, morally debatable experiments and the violation of fundamental rights of human nature.

Mr Maier said: "Given the Catholic church's own excessive wealth, it might be an idea to add hypocrisy to that list."

Dogs were listed as another possible sin by Mr Finkelstein, who said it tests the boundaries of his libertarianism when he is out walking and people's dogs start barking at doorbells.

Mr Letwin was disappointed by his co-panellist's attitude. "I'm seriously worried about Daniel now I've learned he doesn't like my Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

"My Spaniel is much the best member of my family. Everybody else has a complaint or a grumble but he is always jolly and kindly.

"I don't like the idea of sins - I was often accused of them as a boy and have been as an MP as well. I think it's more important to look at the world in terms of virtues rather than sins, and by far the most important is generosity."