Armed forces, Belmarsh and others

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Scottish regiments must surrender to the forces of change

Scottish regiments must surrender to the forces of change

Sir: Since the late 1950s, 66 cavalry and infantry regiments of the British Army have been amalgamated/disbanded, and of these 44 disappeared under a Conservative government and 22 under Labour; Mr Ancram is therefore being more than a touch hypocritical talking about "dark days" for our historic regiments (report, 17 December)!

Among the first regiments to go, in the late Fifties, were those of my native county, the Royal Leicestershire (17th of Foot) and my adopted county, the Royal Lincolnshires (10th of Foot); both had histories longer than that of the Black Watch, and just as distinguished; both had fought in the Fifties in Malaya and Korea, where they had lost more men than the Black Watch in Iraq, but none of this saved them from being absorbed into one of the first (Tory-created) "super regiments", the Royal Anglians. Today there is no mention of either county in the Anglians' title. The Black Watch should count themselves fortunate that they had a further 40-odd years of existence than the Leicesters, Lincolns and many other famous regiments, and that their title will still be used for a battalion of the new Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Unfortunately times change, and if the Army's chief of staff thinks that this reorganisation is necessary to create a more efficient army for the challenges it is likely to meet in the 21st century then we should be prepared to accept that he knows his job; let us also remember that however fondly the Scots regard the Black Watch, this does not seem to have translated into recruitment.

Incidentally, was I the only one amused by the sight of the Scottish nationalists getting so het up about the fate of a regiment formed by an English king to fight, kill and subdue other Scots?


Belmarsh: a clash of human rights

Sir: As a solicitor who handles cases involving the Human Rights Act and discrimination legislation on a daily basis, I have been troubled by the detention without charge of the 11 foreign terror suspects. However, I do not welcome without reservation the implications of the Law Lords' ruling.

Holding people without charge is obviously unsatisfactory, but I have not yet heard any of the opponents of the Government's policy offer an explanation of how you deal with one of the major problems which that policy was designed to overcome. The problem is this: when the authorities hold evidence implicating a suspect which is from a prized source, such as a mole within al-Qa'ida, how do you hold a fair trial without compromising that source and losing future intelligence which could avert an atrocity?

So far as I can see there is no possibility of a fair trial in that situation. While I understand that those accused have human rights, so does the public at large. It would be a much darker day for human rights if hundreds or thousands of children were orphaned in a terrorist atrocity carried out by an individual released because of this problem than it is to continue to hold the small number that the authorities deem a threat.

Burwell, Cambridgeshire

Sir: What nonsense that the detainees in Belmarsh cannot be put on trial because evidence given by the prosecution might impair our security. Even when this country was in far greater danger during the Second World War, enemy spies were tried in camera. More recently in Northern Ireland, evidence to the Diplock courts was given by police and MI5 agents from behind a screen, so that they could not be seen by the rest of the court.

Felixstowe, Suffolk

Blunkett's resignation

Sir: When I discussed with the entrance clearance officer at the British High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, his refusal to give my step-daughter a student visa to enable her to study in the UK and for which she had unconditional acceptance, he said, "She only wants to see her mother." His written reasons were that she wasn't a serious student and might run away.

It took a year of going through the courts to reverse the decision. The Home Office took from 15 November 2002 to 5 June 2003 to transmit her papers from London to the appeal authority in Leicester.

The resignation of the Home Secretary stems largely from his determination not to be separated from the boy he believes to be his son. I wonder whether, as the minister responsible for immigration, he was aware of cases such as that of our daughter and of how many other families are distressed.


Sir: It seems to have become fashionable for Mr Blunkett's apologists to refer to this squalid affair as "a Greek tragedy". Not so. The essential feature of a Greek tragedy was a good man destroyed by the excessive application of his best quality. Oedipus, for example, was a noble and honest man, always seeking the truth - and, in the end, that search led him to his own destruction. Whereas the overdue resignation of a political figure with an over-active libido and a selective memory - is just that. Pathetic maybe, but certainly not tragic.

Basingstoke, Hampshire

Sir: Is this the first time a cabinet minister has resigned to spend more time with someone else's family?


Boys who won't read

Sir: Many parents and school governors will have experience of schools expressing concern about reading standards ("Lacklustre teaching blamed for pupils' poor reading skills", 15 December). It is a huge problem for schools, and many could do better.

However the scale of the challenge for schools has increased as reading has become more marginalised than ever, particularly in the case of boys. Without reading for pleasure children will not want to read nor will they learn about language.

All-day television, games consoles, reliance on the net: these have had an adverse effect on general reading by children, because they are less demanding and easy to access. Some schools spend little on books and thousands on computers, but that is because government has emphasised computers in the funding available to schools.

As for the boys, what could interest them? At present my 12-year-old grabs The Independent for the back page. I hope he will find his way into the inner regions - it's a start.


Counting the dead

Sir: If one thing is clear from John Rentoul's article on the death toll in Iraq (10 December) it's that we still do not know how many civilians have been killed since the start of the second Iraq war.

But we should do. The "rules of war" - the Geneva Conventions and other treaties - state that all military operations must be carried out with "proportionate use of force", avoiding civilian casualties wherever possible. Without keeping a full record of all civilian deaths and injuries, it is impossible to assess whether the multinational forces in Iraq are meeting this responsibility and protecting the right to life wherever possible.

British forces should take the lead and put in place measures for monitoring all civilian casualties in Iraq. Media discussion and consequent popular pressure are important, but responsibility must lie with coalition governments.

Director, Amnesty International UK
London EC1

Surgery by nurses

Sir: Yes, of course we need to recruit nurses into surgery ("NHS revolution", 6 December); there is a pool of untapped talent which we badly need, but they must be properly trained, both medically and surgically.

I know of several nurses who have converted to surgery and who now give an excellent service as consultants. This is far more satisfactory than the Mickey Mouse training scheme proposed, which would produce surgical technicians, on a treadmill of one or two procedures whose results they would never see. The practice of surgery requires not only high-grade cutting but also the ability to assess patients in the clinic, to develop a rapport with them and to discuss the pros and cons of operations. Surgeons also need to follow patients after surgery to audit their results.

Anyone who has been through surgical training knows about the horrendous complications which can arise from seemingly innocuous "routine" cases. If we entrust these patients to technicians who are not adequately trained, then those rare disasters will become much more common. We already have enough trouble with litigation and its attendant trauma without inflicting it on nurse technicians. The scheme proposed is not only crazy but dangerous. If we allow this to go ahead, then we will get what we deserve and that is a third-rate service.

Anslow, Staffordshire

Sir: Many nurse practitioners are already involved in the investigation and treatment of surgical patients. All four surgical colleges in Great Britain and Ireland are very involved in discussing this issue but, certainly, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh fully accepts the need for all healthcare practitioners to work in defined clinical teams using the expertise which they have derived by supervised training. We share the views of our sister college in England that it is perfectly reasonable to skill other people in the team to do work which traditionally was done by junior trainee doctors.

On the other hand, there are concerns that training nurse practitioners may reduce the opportunities to train the surgeons of the future. There is also concern that the initial proposals suggest that nurse practitioners could be responsible for the total management of patients. I suspect that most members of the public would not welcome such a development but might well be very happy for properly trained nurse practitioners to be involved in their care under appropriate supervision.

We believe it is possible to find the correct balance between the provision of surgical care by trained nurse practitioners, the maintenance of standards of training for our surgical trainees and the provision of high quality patient care. However, it is essential that the way forward includes full and frank public debate and the involvement of the press is to be welcomed.

Royal College of Surgeons

Word of warning

Sir: Standards of literacy isn't what they was! What a pity the writer of your leading article "Schools still fail to understand why reading matters" (15 December) wasn't taught the correct running order and placement of adverbs and adjectives. If he or she had been, The Independent wouldn't have committed to print such a gross grammatical anomaly as "Many of them are not well trained enough in teaching".


Faith in government

Sir: Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Mental Incapacity Bill, one question the Government needs to answer is why the only religious body it apparently chose to consult on this issue was the Roman Catholic Church. Would it not have been fairer and more courteous to have invited representatives of other churches and faiths to express their views? The impression given is that the Roman Church has, once again, been accorded a degree of respect which is disproportionate to its position in a country where it is, after all, simply one church among many.


Iron bridges

Sir: Like me, your reporter appears to have been misled by his teachers into believing that the great iron bridge over the River Severn was the "world's first cast-iron bridge" ("Higher, longer, wider", 15 December). It wasn't. Some 10 years its senior was a bridge built over a canal at Kirklees Park in Yorkshire's Calder Valley. Earlier still were bridges carrying the Great North Road over the River Ure at Boroughbridge, also in Yorkshire. These survived till the mid-20th century. Even earlier still, I'm told, there were iron bridges in France.

Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

Cheating at cards

Sir: D J Stapley (letter, 16 December) is unduly pessimistic about the likely cost of fake identity cards. Five shillings at 1952 prices works out at nearly £5 at today's prices. Given the way that the distribution system for illegal drugs has got so much more efficient over recent years, I think those clever people in organised crime ought to be able to manage cards at £5 apiece. It's a pity that we will also have to bear the cost of the real ones, where criminal waste will somehow not be a criminal matter...


Batman and robbing

Sir: One must query the "Englishness" of Professor Buisseret (letter, 16 December), who rejects the baseball bat in favour of the cricket bat as a weapon against burglars. If he knew of what he speaks, he would be aware that on taking up a cricket bat the first instinct of any proper Englishman is to play straight, with the leading elbow pointed vertically upwards. From this position it would only be possible to belabour a burglar round his shins. I will rely on my transatlantic slogger and leave Monsieur B to his willowy leg glance.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent