CAP needs reform, Road pricing and others

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CAP needs reform, but our farmers still need fair markets

CAP needs reform, but our farmers still need fair markets

Sir: Of course, the Common Agricultural Policy needs further reform. But Andreas Whittam Smith ("Let every country subsidise its own farmers", 13 June) is wrong to call for complete abolition of the CAP.

Member states already have discretion to apply or not to apply some parts of the CAP where there is no risk of distorting the market. And several policies have a shared responsibility with part paid for by the member states and part by the EU budget. The biggest item in the EU agricultural budget is now the direct payments to farmers which have replaced high price supports. These could be paid for partly or even mainly by each country.

But we need rules to prevent unfair competition. Given President Chirac's attachment to French farmers (his political career began as French Minister of Agriculture), do we want subsidised French exports unfairly competing with our own farmers? A single market for agricultural produce is just as economically desirable as one for other goods and services. That needs common external protection, free movement within the EU and no distortion of the market. A framework CAP is needed for that. But it can and should be run with lower protection and less subsidy.



Sir: Peter Mandelson says that "it is surely wrong to ask the poorer new-accession states to pay for any part of the rebate" ("Mandelson says Britain must abandon Thatcher's hardline stance on rebate", 14 June). But why is it wrong? The new members joined the European Union knowing what the rules and conditions were, and willingly accepted them.

Even more disturbing is the call from Andreas Whittam Smith for subsidies to farmers from the Common Agricultural Policy to be phased out and be replaced by each country supporting its own farmers. Why should farmers be treated differently from miners or shoe manufacturers? Imagine France subsidising the production of pencils, for example, thus making it difficult for Britain to export pencils to France. Forcing taxpayers to give money to pencil factories or to farmers, whether the route is direct from central government or via Brussels is economic madness.



Road pricing puts our liberties at risk

Sir: The Government's proposal on road pricing is unacceptable in respect of civil liberties, and will also cause major economic disruption.

The UK has no written constitution to protect the civil liberties of the subject. There are already a proliferation of CCTV cameras that horrify those in more mature democracies. There is a proposal for ID cards that would fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and state, entailing address registration and random police checks contrary to British tradition.

Now the Government seeks to introduce a system which will detect citizens' movements in their cars at all times. The people of this country seem to be blissfully unaware how unwise it is to trust governments with such power. What instruments of social control we are storing up for any future tyranny!

Meanwhile, in respect of economics, there would be huge redistributions of income across the UK as a result of such a scheme. Notably, the congested South-east will pay a much higher proportion of the tolls than the outlying areas of the UK, leading to even greater costs of living in the South-east, and transfers between regions equivalent to several per cent of GDP.

There will be major disruptions of businesses whose workers would suddenly resign on account of impossibly high costs of travel, or demand inflationary wage rises. House prices in areas most afflicted by high tolls will fall sharply while those with low tolls will rise, thus redistributing wealth in an unforeseen manner.

Finally, there will be adverse effects on the environment, since low petrol costs will encourage use of inefficient large vehicles in uncongested areas, admittedly partly offset by less pollution from traffic jams. Furthermore, and paradoxically, there could be a direct disincentive for public authorities to invest in roads that could alleviate congestion, as they would reduce government revenue.

The scheme is wholly undesirable.



Sir: The Government want to microchip all the vehicles in the country and track their movements via satellite - apparently for the purpose of charging for road usage. All the mobile phone users are already tracked via their phones as are the movements of all users of Ken Livingstone's Oyster card using public transport in London.

A propos the proposals for the introduction of ID cards, may I respectfully suggest bypassing this unnecessary bureaucratic nightmare and instead micro-chipping all the population? Just think of the benefits! No problems with identity theft. No scope for fraud (save for some extreme surgery cases of course). Illegal immigrants instantly identified! Isn't it worth giving up a little of your privacy to feel that much more secure?

And there will be of course immense practical benefits as well. No more credit card fraud - whenever you shop using credit card, your chip (inserted, say, under the skin at the back of your neck) could be swiftly scanned - painless and totally secure!

And if you had an accident the emergency services (equipped with a similar scanner) would immediately know your blood group as well as all your medical history. And of course the cost of this would be relatively small given that the technology already exists (we do this now to our pets).

I am sure for every bleeding-heart liberal shouting "Orwell!" there will be thousands who will see the obvious benefits. Why, I have practically convinced myself!



Sir: Alistair Darling has not thought through the matter of road pricing. The time is now to strike at the crowds of walkers blocking our pavements, by the compulsory attachment of a pedometer to those using certain main streets (Oxford Street, Princes Street).

This could be brought in for hill-walkers who so contribute to soil erosion, perhaps on a voluntary basis at first. All charges could be per kilometre, thus bringing non-motorised travel within the overall reach of the government.



Mugabe's sinister Chinese connection

Sir: Bruce Anderson's remarks about Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe (Opinion, 13 June) are accurate but incomplete. What Bruce Anderson does not say - neither does Tony Blair or Jack Straw - is that Mugabe's destruction of his country is aided and abetted by the Chinese.

In the light of the West's failure, as Mugabe sees it, to assist him in his land reform programme, combined with the EU's targeted sanctions against the top leadership of Zanu PF, Mugabe has turned to China for assistance. Mugabe's "Look East" policy has resulted in thousands of cheap Chinese goods being dumped in the country. Chinese shops now dominate the streets of Harare and the other cities and towns. The result is the almost total destruction of the local manufacturing industry. Indeed many people believe that the present destruction of the once-thriving street markets is at the behest of Mugabe's Chinese friends.

More sinister is the provision of Chinese aircraft and weapons used by the police and army against the people. The presence of Chinese fighter planes roaring in the skies above the destruction and burning of indigenous people's homes and livelihoods should surely be a cause for concern to the West. And that is not the only consideration. Mugabe is being assisted by Chinese technology to further repress the media in Zimbabwe, jamming the only independent shortwave radio station broadcasting to Zimbabwe and blocking internet use. Mugabe's intention is clearly to silence his own people and stop the truth getting out. In this he is being ably assisted by the Chinese.

Even if the West can afford to ignore the massive human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, can they afford to ignore the Chinese involvement?



Hire purchase, the Sixties credit card

Sir: Johann Hari could not be more wrong in saying that before the advent of credit cards "a whole class of people was cut off from buying consumer goods because of a lack of initial capital" (Opinion, 10 June).

Throughout the Fifties and Sixties people were buying washing machines, televisions, furniture, central heating, to say nothing of cars, as if there were no tomorrow, and these things were mainly paid for by a hire purchase. Retailers advertised their HP terms along with the cash price of the goods.

When I bought my first house in 1966 I had four or five HP agreements running, for domestic appliances and furniture, as well as my mortgage. A woman from social services who came round to check on my fitness to adopt a child was quite worried by the extent of my debts. I was able to convince her that they were all under control.

If Mr Hari's grandparents spent years saving to buy their first television it was probably because they were canny enough to realise that this would be cheaper than buying on HP.



Schools as childcare for the workers

Sir: You are right to be concerned that Ruth Kelly's "longer days" initiative should not be "another excuse for parents to spend less time with their children" (leader 13 June) but I fear it is worse than that.

The introduction of mass education in 1870 had more to do with the "peremptory demands of the labour market" than the cause of education for all. The demand for the education of the masses had been made for decades before 1870, but it was only when technological developments in factories made the presence of children disruptive to production (they were compared to "young ostriches running amok in manufactories") that universal schooling was seen as a solution to what to do with the kids when the parents were at work.

It is ironic that this government, so keen to attack the forces of conservatism in education, should adopt the same approach as their Victorian predecessors.



Sir: The proposed introduction of longer school hours, or "Kelly hours", has arisen out of the imbalance between the school and working day. But rather than simply extend school hours, shouldn't the working world be making some compromises to accommodate the school day?

Business attitudes, working practices and the supporting technology are evolving to introduce more flexible working. Surely this could be worked around the school day where needs be?

Flexible working offers a win-win for businesses. By offering flexible working to staff businesses have access to a wider skills pool, and are better equipped to attract and retain staff. So what's stopping us? High-calibre candidates are becoming an increasingly rare commodity for employers.



Sir: I was horrified by the prejudiced tirade from the usually excellent Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (13 June). Sure, the children of those on a low income are routinely denied access to technology, books and perhaps even a healthy diet as a consequence of material wealth. But I was appalled by the rant against low-income parents: "a volatile bundle of ignorance, desperation and ineptitude", whose children are "victims of random cruelty".

Whilst I agree that the new "Kelly hours" might well offer children from low-income families access to technology and books, to suggest that this extra school time is the only space in which they can spend time with "adults who can guide them through life and inspire them" is offensive. It is an insult to assume that those on low incomes make bad parents.



Jackson's acquittal

Sir: "Legal abuse" should now be made a criminal offence, with a minimum punishment of "no fee" - and the public "naming and shaming" of offenders.



Fruit by sea

Sir: David Thompson (letter, 13 June) needn't feel too despondent about the environmental implications of his fruit purchases, even though the only European fruit he was able to buy were Spanish oranges. Contrary to popular belief over 95 per cent of international trade is still transported by sea, with the remaining 5 per cent shared by road, rail, air and pipeline; so the chances are that the fruit that originated in New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil probably arrived in the UK aboard refrigerated container ships.



Armani man of mystery

Sir: Obviously the Armani man that Rufus Isaacs encountered in Gerrards Cross (letter, 14 June) is the one that I encountered near the Prudential Building in Holborn, who asked me for directions not only once but a week later. The second time my answer of "You haven't got there then", followed by the observation that the garments had changed colour since we last met, was greeted by very flowery Italian invective and equally dramatic hand signals! Did he ever reach Heathrow, I wonder.



Licensed hatred

Sir: The purported aim of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill is to protect people from incitement to hatred against them for reasons of their faith. If the Government is serious in its intent then presumably the 1701 Act of Settlement, banning the monarch from marrying a "papist", will be repealed; or is the institutional hatred of Catholics still OK?



Unhealthy sticker

Sir: On whose authority, from which budget and for what health-related reason has a car sticker been produced which announces "NHS backs the Bid - London 2012"?