CAP reform, Return to Zimbabwe and others


CAP reform: there is more at stake than luxuries for landed toffs

Sir: The headline "How the CAP helps our poorest farmers" (30 June) was typical of The Independent's metrocentric view of agriculture in the UK. Mocking the payments made to various wealthy land-owning toffs only reinforces the misguided view that this money gets popped straight into their wallets and gets spent on speedboats, shooting, and fast cars.

All farmers in this country rely upon a huge network of support industries supplying machinery, agronomic advice, marketing of produce, or in my case, the supply of fertiliser to these businesses. To identify the landed gentry as the only beneficiaries merely reduces the whole situation to a simplistic dinner-party argument for the chattering classes. Next time you're all up here in Norfolk for the weekend, look up from your double espresso and croissant breakfast and take a hard look at all the locals earning their living from agriculture and consider what will happen to them if the subsidies cease.



Sir: Your coverage of the effects of the CAP is less than complete. In the discussion of the Corn Laws more than 150 years ago it was pointed out that protective policies benefited landlords rather than farmers and certainly did not help consumers. The same must be true today. The British consumer may well lose more than the African producer. It is in the direct financial interest of the average voter to end the CAP. President Chirac has pointed out that the US subsidises its farmers. If we can buy food paid for by US taxpayers that seems to me a good thing.

I can think of one argument for subsidising local food production. That is that fuel is "too cheap" and we should therefore try to reduce food miles below those delivered by market forces. But I do not hear farmers arguing for general increases in the price of oil.



Sir: As third-generation tenant farmers we have seen the producer price of wheat for bread-making halve over the past 10 years. This is only sustainable because of the support to farm incomes received through CAP subsidies. It must be obvious therefore that a subsidy to the producer is also a subsidy to the consumer.

The large amounts paid to the landed gentry featured are light years away from the reality of the situation on the huge majority of small family farms in the UK – one of the reasons why my family is shortly to join the ever-increasing number of farmers leaving these shores for good.



Better to starve than return to Zimbabwe

Sir: We Zimbabwean detainees are undertaking a hunger strike to protest against oppression wherever it happens throughout the world, but especially for our fellow countrymen currently being detained in various detention centres throughout the United Kingdom.

We have fled from Zimbabwe because we were persecuted by our own government and many of us have endured dreadful ordeals, pain and mental and physical torture. We came to the United Kingdom seeking help and freedom from our suffering.

Instead of this we have been incarcerated and been made to feel like criminals. Our greatest fear is that we will be returned to our country, where the situation has deteriorated gravely and where we will face the worst kind of oppression imaginable because we have dared to flee and seek help here.

Attempts of forcible removal by the authorities here are evidenced by our damaged limbs and bruises as well as the scars on our wrists from the handcuffs when force was used in efforts to make us board planes against our will. Most of us now bear these wounds inflicted on us right here in the United Kingdom.

We have now vowed to forgo all food until our voice is heard with compassion and understanding. It would be better for us to starve to death than be removed back to Zimbabwe, where there will be no mercy for us.

We ask the Home Office to release us from detention and to grant us asylum so we can become a part of society rather than an excluded group of people who are outcasts wherever we go.



Sir: On your front page of 29 June you name the "asylum crisis" states as Afghanistan, China, the DRC, India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, none of which has Britain geographically as its first country of refuge.

Their combined population exceeds 2.7 billion – any percentage of which could claim violation of human rights. Is it practicable to admit an unlimited number to this island in the North Sea, without eventually risking a breakdown of our own "human rights" culture? What would happen then?

The appropriate future policy must be international partnership to establish and fund decently administered temporary refuges around the world, for emergency escape from direct threats to life and limb; and to improve the human rights situation in all the oppressed regions. We should "make asylum history".



Sir: Behind the terrible suffering caused by government policies in Zimbabwe ("Zimbabwe's secret famine", 27 June), an even greater tragedy is unfolding across southern Africa. Leading climate scientists have concluded that a warmer Indian ocean is worsening droughts throughout the region and will lead to ever less rainfall and ever greater water evaporation the more we allow the planet to warm.

Rainfall and crop yields have been falling since 1984. This year, there has been virtually no rainfall since mid-January over much of southern Africa, even though the wet season normally lasts until at least March. Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland all face massive crop failure, and more than 14 million people are believed to need food aid soon or risk starvation.

I have no doubt that a democratic government would greatly reduce the suffering in Zimbabwe. Sadly, global warming means that Zimbabwe is unlikely to ever again become southern Africa's bread basket. As we continue to burn more fossil fuels, we bear much of the responsibility for the suffering in this region. We might like to think that we can cope with more decades of climate change in Britain – southern Africa clearly cannot.



Teaching children the skills they need

Sir: I was fascinated by the proposal that we should "set aside time" to teach youngsters such skills as letter-writing ("Teen-agers with GCSEs lack basic skills", 29 June).

In the days when English GCSE was examined by the 100 per cent coursework method, one English faculty included a work-related module. The students wrote letters of application for jobs, constructed their CVs, filled in application forms and wrote covering letters to accompany them and then role-played job interviews. We even had banks of interconnected telephones either side of a wall dividing two classrooms so that we could simulate them telephoning a large company to confirm arrangements for an interview. After the mock interview, they had to give feedback to each other and write an evaluation, stating whether they would have given a candidate the job for which they had been interviewed.

We don't do this any more because we don't have time. But it was a very valuable exercise.

So, fine, let's change the syllabus to accommodate such skills once more, but, please, don't let anyone run away with the idea that it's new, or that it was the fault of teachers that such opportunities were axed. It was a political move.



How many golf balls to the tennis court?

Sir: I was interested to read the letter from Sam Little (29 June) regarding illustrative units. Some friends and I were talking about the very same subject a few weeks ago. We firmly believe that there should be a standardised set of units of measure to illustrate stories in the press.

Some examples seen in the past are: hailstones the size of golf balls; an area the size of Wales/multiples of tennis courts or football pitches; enough wine to fill an olympic swimming pool; a tomato the size of a grown man's hand; as high as multiples of the Empire State Building; enough to fill St Paul's Cathedral.

You can take your pick, but I think that the article about energy consumption from appliances on standby should have used multiples of the "original Wembley stadium" unit to illustrate the volume of CO2 produced.



Bring in a smoking ban without delay

Sir: So the penny has finally dropped, and the Government, faced with the weight of public opinion, is realising that the only way forward is comprehensive smoke-free provision for all workers in England – including all pubs and restaurants, regardless of whether or not they serve food.

Speaking at the BMA Conference, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said: "It is probably only a matter of time before we get into the same position as Scotland and Ireland." Since it is only a matter of time, we urge the Government to look forward and not to delay the decision for a smoke-free England any longer.

Exposure to second-hand smoke in the workplace causes more than 600 deaths each year across the UK, including the death of one hospitality worker per week. More than 17,000 under-five-year-olds are also hospitalised each year as a result of second-hand smoke.

The Government needs to get off the fence and make a decision; people's lives are being lost. There is no reason to delay.



Accept nothing less than STV

Sir, Chris Huhne accuses Jack Straw of tilting at windmills and then branches out into defending an untried, mongrel, theoretically unsound windmill of his own, the laughable "Jenkins system" (Opinion, 28 June).

This proposes using the alternative vote (AV), which under many analyses is less proportional than first-past-the-post, and then using "a small top-up of extra MPs" to redress the balance. Jenkins suggested around 20 per cent of the House should be the second-class top-up variety. Second class because they would be assigned to regions and not constituencies and selected from closed party lists.

This ensures that some of the top-ups would be elected without ever having a vote cast for them while others could be elected after having been defeated in the constituency elections.

The frightening thing about this is that a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, who have historically supported the single transferable vote, should give any credence to Jenkins. The suspicion is that, now we are so close to a breakthrough on electoral reform, the Lib Dems are prepared to accept any type of proportional system to boost their seats in the Commons.



Black and white TV

Sir: Could Big Brother be unintentionally damaging race relations? Nine original housemates remain and two distinct warring factions have evolved. Curiously these "teams" consist of one group of five people who happen to be black and a group of four people who happen to be white.



French royalty

Sir: John Lichfield's piece about the ancient tableware at the British embassy in Paris (28 June) will surely have got him barred from any remaining Bonapartist salons in Paris. On the other hand, Legitimist and Orleanist aristos may have sniggered at his assertion that there has been "no Court of France since 1848". It was not until 2 September 1870 that Empress Eugenie fled from Paris. She was lucky enough to hitch a lift in the carriage of an American dentist. No doubt the rest of the court had to make their own arrangements to escape the advancing Germans and restless Republicans.



Books for the blind

Sir: David Gaunt (letter, 23 June) has raised an issue of great importance to visually impaired people. It is entirely appropriate to welcome guide dogs and their owners to bookshops but, unless they are choosing a present for a sighted friend, their needs will not be met. The three million people in this country who read books in alternative formats (large print, Braille, audio, Moon, etc) look forward to the day when these can be available, or least easily obtained on demand, from their local bookshop.



Turn it off

Sir: Further to your story and the letters regarding the environmental impact of domestic appliances left on standby, much worse must be the effects of domestic appliances, particularly television sets, left on for long periods while no one is using them. I know of neighbours and friends who turn on their TV as soon as they come in, or get up in the morning, and the thing is on until they go to bed. How much CO 2 is produced by this habit?



Entering God's house

Sir: I first encountered an admission charge to a church (letter, 30 June) at Salisbury Cathedral several years ago. I simply announced "Member!" and walked on in. Liverpool's (Anglican) Cathedral has its priorities right: a notice at the entrance (if I recall correctly) first welcomes you, and confirms that admission is free, goes on to invite you to use the space beneficially, and only then suggests that a financial contribution from those who can afford it would be appreciated.



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