Asylum quotas, global warming and others

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Howard's cynical quotas deserve humiliation at the polls

Howard's cynical quotas deserve humiliation at the polls

Sir: Michael Howard, as a lawyer and a former Home Secretary, knows full well that there would be no chance of his asylum quota proposals ever being implemented, even if he had any chance of winning the election.

It's not just that he would have to withdraw from the 1951 Convention and repeal the Human Rights Act - he would also have to find a way of rolling back forty years of British case law. Unreasonable and arbitrary decisions from the executive can be challenged through judicial review. What could be more arbitrary than granting asylum to the person at number 999 on the list, but sending back the person at number 1,000, whilst acknowledging that both have an equally well founded fear of persecution? No British court would allow this to happen, and rightly so.

Howard's ancestry has nothing to do with it. He's quite entitled to want to change a system from which he has benefited - if politicians never did this, nothing would ever change. But it is a deeply cynical move from a deeply cynical politician. William Hague found to his cost that chasing BNP votes precludes making progress in the middle ground. It would be a great shame if general disenchantment with the Government spares Howard from the electoral humiliation he deserves.

London W12

Sir: Were the Holocaust to happen now, Mr Howard has made clear how many people he would offer refuge from the regime that genocidally killed more than 7 million Jews, Roma, Sinti, people with disabilities, gay men and Jehovah's Witnesses: "Around 20,000 a year".

As a Jew, it beggars my belief that any of my co-religionists, much less the leader of a political party, could wish to lead a government that would deny succour to those fleeing tyranny because a quota had been exceeded. And it horrifies me that the Labour government's response is to condemn not the immorality but the practicalities of the proposal.

Has Mr Howard forgotten the passengers of the St Louis, who saw the shores of America and Cuba, but were refused entry because of quotas, forced to return to Europe, and mostly perished in the Holocaust? In their name, and the name of all refugees, I condemn this policy as a hillul hashem (a desecration), and urge those of all faiths and none to fight it.

London NW3

Sir: I wish politicians and others would be more honest. What they do not want is poor immigrants; rich ones are perfectly acceptable.

I wonder how long it will before one of them suggests applying a quota trading scheme for immigration as for carbon-dioxide emissions. People leaving the country could sell their place to someone who wanted to come here, at a price determined by free-market forces.

Lytham, Lancashire

Time is short to avert global catastrophe

Sir: The global catastrophe predicted on your front page (24 January) is far worse than you state since there is no recognition from George W Bush and the energy interests bankrolling him that the problem exists, let alone any likelihood in the next four years of practical action from the world's largest polluter nation to combat it.

Under these conditions, no US-led initiatives can be expected before 2009 at the earliest, leaving just six years to act.


Sir: The US is the principal world producer of CO 2, with petrol being about eight times cheaper than in the UK. As one US citizen put it on Channel 4 recently: "Now that we own Iraq, I want petrol to be half the price it is now." Unless Blair can stand up to the US, and all the evidence so far shows him to be a poodle, the Americans are set to choke the planet in greenhouse gas.

But it is highly probable that the earth's climate is like a spring-loaded mousetrap. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and there are millions of tons of it in compounds called hydrates in the sea, and stored in the permafrost of the Russian tundra. This will be triggered into the atmosphere by a temperature rise caused by CO 2, thus greatly accelerating global warming and causing an even steeper rise of temperature, thus releasing more methane.

As ice cover melts over vast areas, less of the sun's rays are reflected back, causing more warming.

So that brief "window of time" is now, and it is our only chance.


Sir: I haven't been forced to defend the Government's stance on greenhouse gas targets (report, 19 January) ; I am more than happy to explain the reason.

The UK is unequivocally in favour of setting medium- and long-term strategies, including targets, for tackling climate change. But in order for that target to be credible and stand the test of time it must be based on sound analysis, including the European Commission's own cost-benefit work. This will not be out until February. The position we advocated at the December EU Environment Council meeting was supported without dissent.

The Environment Council emphasised the need to propose medium- and long-term strategies, including targets, at its March meeting when it would have had the time to study the analysis.

The UK's commitment to setting and meeting targets on climate change is not in doubt; we are on track to meet our Kyoto target of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent by 2012 compared with 1990. We are currently consulting on revising our programme to ensure we continue to move towards our more ambitious domestic goal of reducing CO 2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2010. Also, we led the way in the Energy White Paper by setting a domestic goal of putting the UK on a path to reducing carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

Environment Minister, Defra
London SW1

Sir: More Labour mixed messages: "We must cut down on carbon dioxide emissions: look at our lovely new Airbus."


Sir: Having published Saturday's feature concerning Monday 24 January being the most depressing day of the year, how deliciously ironic of The Independent to have as its front page "Countdown to global catastrophe". I think I'll go back to bed now.

Greatstone, Kent

The fight against Aids

Sir: Gordon Brown shows much-needed vision and leadership in the global fight against HIV and Aids and he is right to focus on finding a long-term solution to the pandemic in his proposals announced in The Independent on 13 January.

Delivering treatment to the people who need it now is vitally important, and the Chancellor's stated support for this is of course welcome.

However, if HIV continues to spread at the current rate a further 45 million people will become infected with HIV by the end of the decade. The world is struggling to get treatment to the people who need it in developing countries, and the cost of providing affordable treatment for all will become increasingly unsustainable. A long-term approach is crucial, and Gordon Brown's plan for greater international sharing of information over vaccine research trials and incentives for private-sector investment in research is exactly what is needed.

We urge the Government also to give due attention to microbicides, another potential prevention method which, given increased investment, could be found within the next five years. A fully comprehensive approach, including treatment, vaccines and microbicides is the best way to save lives, in both the short and long term.

Director of Policy and Campaigns
National AIDS Trust
London EC1

Sir: Thank you for the Aids special report with statistics that are difficult to comprehend - 39 million people living with HIV and 3.1 million Aids-related deaths last year. But there was nothing specific about care of the dying, those for whom the vaccine or antiretroviral drugs will come too late. Is it because care of the dying - palliative care - is seen by most donors as wasted money?

If Gordon Brown and the scientists are looking to the production of a vaccine by 2015 and antiretroviral drugs remain unavailable to so many living with Aids, surely there needs to be more of a focus on care for the millions for whom cure will for come too late

Children need more bereavement support, and more support as they care for those who are dying. They surely have the right to know that their mothers and fathers were able to die with the minimum of discomfort and in as much dignity as possible. This is not complicated or particularly expensive care but it has always been a struggle to secure funding for it in the developing world. Now is the time.

Co-founder, Nairobi Hospice, Kenya
London SW11

Hunt celebrates life

Sir: Simon Wilson (letter, 6 January) identifies the deep unconscious connections at the root of hunting. However his further analysis of the motivation for hunting is inadequate. There is no likelihood of a "spectacle of death" - when a kill is made it is rarely made within view of the majority of the followers. The experience is not thrilling but sombre and chastening - "awe inspiring" in the old meaning of those words. It is a necessary outcome of the forces of nature in which we take an integral and active part.

Human development has been founded on an accelerating use of animal and natural resources; yet in our post-modern world we seem less and less able to understand this. Hunting stands as a rebuke to the deracinated and bowdlerised version of our relationship with nature and the animal kingdom, the casual and unthinking use and abuse of animals, nature and our planet. It connects us directly with our responsibilities for participation in life and our actions within nature.

The pleasure in hunting is in following the work of the hounds, the venery, which gives one over to this direct connection with nature. Through the hounds one becomes connected to the quarry, and thus still more deeply into the natural world. That is why drag-hunting is not a substitute for fox-hunting. The unpredictability of the live quarry, the uncertainty of the outcome, the immersion in the living moment in which our own will is made secondary, cannot be recreated by chasing a man-made course.

Fox-hunting is a bizarrely ritualised behavioural form for the management of foxes. But it is not about exterminating an entire pest population; it is about living in an accommodation with the creatures. The hunt is a celebration of life as much as death.

Foxes will still be killed after 18 February - probably in larger numbers if the Scottish experience is anything to go by. All that will change is that freedom of the minority will have been suppressed to appease a sanctimonious, sentimentalised and dishonest view of our relationship with nature.

Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

Christian politics

Sir: George Bush's inauguration has sent commentators into hysteria over the fear that Evangelical Christians will have significant influence in British politics.

From Jesus onwards, the Christian tradition has consistently taught that faith has social and political implications, and cannot be "privatised", despite the fondest desires of the secularist minority. Such politically-engaged Christianity marks the careers of William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa and Desmond Tutu, to name but a few. It reflects the dictum of the Methodist leader Hugh Price Hughes, that "What is morally wrong can never be politically right".

It is ironic that so many of those who are happy to champion tolerance in our society reserve such noticeably intolerant attitudes to Evangelicals.

General Director, Evangelical Alliance, London SE11

Democratic example

Sir: Will our government explain why the system of proportional representation chosen for the Iraq election is not considered "appropriate" to elect members to the "Mother of Parliaments" at Westminster?


Price of drink

Sir: Your leader (22 January) seems to equate "more civilised drinking hours" with the ability to buy alcohol at any hour of day or night. The rise in violent crimes is almost entirely accounted for by the doubling of offences fuelled by alcohol, in a period when its real prices has been falling. The Chancellor should double taxes on drink (which would raise its price by around 60 per cent) and vary it in line with the trend in violent crime. That would generate revenue for handling medical, policing and other costs associated with abuse.


Scottish pride

Sir: Congratulations to The Independent for recognising the contribution of the Scots to civilisation ("So what have the Scots ever really done for us?", 22 January). As a native of Paisley, famous for shawls, thread and marmalade, I would be proud to claim Adam Smith as a fellow townsman. However although we have many claims to fame I think you will find that Adam Smith, regrettably, was born in Kircaldy, on the east coast of Scotland, a town known for linoleum.

Woodford Green, Essex

Alternative remedy

Sir: In reply to Margaret Romney's query about whether WD-40 was used as a drink or spray to treat rheumatism (letter, 21 January), I can confirm that it is used as a spray and then massaged in. At least, that is how a patient of mine gained the best results. I am a physiotherapist and this patient swore that WD-40 gave better pain relief than any conventional medicine. There is only one drawback though - his wife complained about the awful smell when he came to bed.

Dormansland, Surrey