Compulsive gambling, Hunt protests and others

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Finally, a chance to cut down compulsive gambling

Finally, a chance to cut down compulsive gambling

Sir: Under the heading "Gambling Bill 'threatens children' " (10 September), you report Mark Griffiths as claiming that allowing children to play on very low stakes machines is significantly dangerous. He also claims that the Government's proposed new gambling law will lead to at least a doubling of the number of problem gamblers in the UK. There is no good reason to believe either claim.

It has been legal for some hundred years for children to play very low stakes machines. There is no evidence that problem gambling rates, either for children or adults, are higher than elsewhere in the world.

As regards a likely increase in the number of problem gamblers, the evidence from New Zealand, South Africa and some jurisdictions in North America strongly suggests that introduction of new forms of gambling does not increase the incidence of problem gambling, including high-prize casino gambling, provided that high-prize machines are located inconveniently in relation to where people live and work, so as to minimise the temptation to gamble on impulse, and liberalisation is accompanied by a vigorous programme to make people aware of the risks of problem gambling. The Government's proposed new law is expected to meet both these conditions.

The real issues regarding problem gambling in this country are lack of capacity for enforcing the laws relating to underage and illegal gambling, adequate resources for public education and treatment in respect of compulsive gambling and effective regulation of gambling via computers, televisions and mobile phones.

The new law will establish a Gambling Commission which for the first time in the UK will have the responsibility and capacity to address all of them. It would be a pity, from the point of view of problem gambling, if the new law were to founder because of misunderstandings.

PETER COLLINS
Professor of Public Policy Studies and Director, Centre for the Study of Gambling, University of Salford

Sir: Mark Griffiths' claim that the Government is introducing a Bill that will double the number of gambling addicts is absurd. The Gambling Bill is a wide-ranging modernisation of legislation that dates back as far as 1710. Without it many new forms of gambling, such as internet casinos and roulette machines in bookmakers, would go unregulated.

It also brings in vital new protections for children, including the removal of over 6,000 fruit machines from minicab offices and takeaways and compulsory age-checking software on internet gambling sites.

Gambling is booming and technology is outpacing the law. The real risk of a rise in gambling addiction is not if we introduce a Bill, but if we don't.

TESSA JOWELL
Secretary of State
Department for Culture Media and Sport
London SW1

Howling mob in Parliament Square

Sir: I was amazed at the pomposity and ignorance shown on Wednesday by the mob in Parliament square. The sheer arrogance that they were right, that they talk for all of the people living in the countryside, MPs are total fools and townsfolk and city dwellers should stay out of their affairs.

A frequent comment was that the hunting ban was an affront to democracy. They were utterly wrong; this was democracy at work against a mob. The current government has been elected with a clear manifesto pledge on fox hunting. This has been brought to the House of Commons and a free vote. This is democracy. A howling mob demanding their own way, being able to pick and choose the laws they approve of is not democracy and should never be accepted as such.

NEIL WOODS
Amble, Northumberland

Sir: People who make a habit of cruelly abusing animals for fun clearly can't be expected to behave responsibly or sensibly. Breaking into the Commons chamber risked lives if security men over-reacted to what might have been imagined to be a terrorist attack, and will certainly reduce the contact that the rest of us will be able to have with our MPs.

The childish self-dramatisation and self-pity of the hunting protesters is a symptom of their wider attitude that while laws passed by a democratically elected Parliament apply to "little people", they shouldn't affect pillars of the Establishment such as themselves.

CHRISTOPHER CLAYTON
Waverton, Cheshire

Sir: I can't say I've read in detail every article or letter in The Independent on the subject of the ban on fox hunting but I don't recall any reference to what fox hunting does to human beings, as distinct from foxes.

As I understand it (and I have had 19 years' experience as a rural parson in fox-hunting country) the practice of killing a creature for fun is morally wrong. Killing for food is one thing. Killing for fun is something else, and make no mistake, fox hunting is about having fun.

It's not about controlling the fox population. Hunt supporters go to great lengths to make sure there is a good supply of healthy cubs by such practices as leaving food at the mouth of earths during the breeding season.

No, fox hunting is about having fun, and killing a creature, any creature, for fun is wrong in that it erodes our moral sensibilities. It dehumanises those who engage in the practice. Fox hunting is a grown-up equivalent of the childish practice of pulling wings off flies. It is basically and fundamentally wrong. End of argument.

Canon TONY CHESTERMAN
Lesbury, Northumberland

Sir: Congratulations to you for publishing a list of the pros and cons of the hunting debate (16 September), but there is one issue that neither side has listed. It's a sad fact that of an average litter of four fox cubs, three die within a year of birth, and three times in my life I have seen examples of this.

Each time was in the autumn or winter and each time the unfortunate half-grown fox was emaciated, diseased and in considerable distress. In this condition they could take weeks or even months to die. This isn't unusual, for predators often have a long and lingering death, but their prey have a relatively quick one.

Fox hunters, despite their claims for pest control, usually catch only the weaker ones, whilst the fitter and stronger foxes are over the hill and far away at the first toot of the huntsman's horn. Were the sport banned there might well be an unseen increase in the suffering of foxes, and an increase in mange and other diseases that the weaker foxes carry.

It is the weaker, more desperate foxes that attack new-born lambs, pick up carrion and raid dustbins, and the stronger ones that live on rabbits, moles, rats, and mice. If hunting were to continue we would have a far better quality of foxes in our countryside.

TOM JEANES
North Curry, Somerset

Sir: Fox hunting is being banned because of violence to an animal. Where does that leave football then, where humans are beaten, stabbed and killed before, at or after matches? We in the countryside want football banned as a matter of urgency.

NORMA SMITH
Ottringham, East Riding of Yorkshire

Dangers of salt

Sir: There is an overwhelming body of evidence showing that increased salt intake causes hypertension and one cannot help feeling that the pro-salt lobby is using tactics that have so successfully been used in the past by the pro-tobacco lobby to cloud the issues and confuse the public ("Supermarkets defy ministers over safer food", 13 September).

The Government does not need to dictate to us what to eat but it should aid us in making our choices and surely the first step is to make food manufacturers clearly label the salt content of their products. At the moment it is only the sodium content that is given and this needs to be multiplied by 2.5 to give the true salt content.

No one wants to spend their time in supermarkets doing these tiresome calculations. Until the salt content is given in full people will continue to find it difficult to monitor their salt intake and the large food manufactures will continue to have it their way.

Dr MARC TISCHKOWITZ
London N7

Green revolution

Sir: Tony Blair adopts a commanding posture, hand raised above an array of photovoltaic (PV) panels, to usher in the "green industrial revolution" (report, 15 September).

It is an ironic image since, for a householder, PVs are uneconomic, offering a payback time of 40 -50 years at current feed-in tarrifs. By contrast, the PV production plants in Germany cannot meet demand and PVs have to be imported, for example, from Wales.

This is because of the revised Renewable Energy Act 2004 which pays small domestic suppliers to the grid around 50 eurocents per kilowatt hour. This makes PVs a profitable proposition. At the same time there is huge investment in industrial-scale PV plants such as one near Regensburg with a peak output of nearly 4,000 megawatts.

If the UK were to follow suit it would indeed herald a green industrial revolution with a PV industry racing to meet demand. This kind of initiative would match deeds to the rhetoric.

PETER F SMITH
Special Professor in Sustainable Energy, University of Nottingham

Sir: Niall Ferguson ("The answer is not blowin' in the wind", 15 September) tells us that wind turbines save "not one whit" of carbon dioxide emission, because for every wind turbine, power station capacity somewhere has to be kept on standby in case the wind drops.

I am not an expert in power station practice, but school physics tells me that there has to be something seriously wrong with this statement, which I hear at many a dinner table.

If the power stations are producing as much CO 2 when idling as they do under full load, then they are burning as much fuel. Where is the energy in the fuel going, that would otherwise be leaving down the wires? To lose this energy must require extra cooling capacity. So if Mr Ferguson is right, for every wind turbine we build, we have to provide equivalent extra cooling towers in a power station somewhere! I don't believe this can be the case.

I would be interested to know the subject of Mr Ferguson's Senior Research Fellowship at Jesus.

CHRIS WALLIS
Littlewindsor, Dorset

Sir: Combating climate change will require a change in the rich world's attitudes to progress. In our consumer culture, progress has come to mean "more" - more cars, more air travel, more production and consumption of more things, with more people owning and using more of them, more often. We now know that much of this consumption needs more energy, which uses more fossil fuel, which emits more CO 2 - which causes more climate change.

We can boost energy efficiency. But only when we accept the idea of sufficiency - that most of us have enough - will we start to make the radical changes in our lives and economy that are required to slow climate change.

It's easy for me to say this - I'm not elected. But will the Prime Minister have the courage to put rhetoric into action when Britain assumes presidency of G8 next year? The world's poor, and the planet, need him to.

ANDY ATKINS
Advocacy Director, Tearfund
Teddington, Middlesex

Family worries

Sir: I was astonished to read that Tony Blair almost quit his job earlier in the year "because of family pressures". Are we supposed to feel sympathy for the poor man? The leader of our country should be someone who puts the wellbeing of his country before anything else, including his family. The lowest-ranking soldier is expected to give his life for his country if necessary, regardless of family concerns. I wonder what Osama Bin Laden thinks of this story; he must be laughing his head off.

RICHARD GRAHAM
High Peak, Derbyshire

Iraq war crimes

Sir: In the light of Kofi Annan's statement that the war in Iraq is illegal, it is now incumbent upon our Prime Minister to resign immediately and find himself a defence lawyer. Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes. He should be tried for the deaths of over 15,000 iraqi civilians, over 1,000 American troops and at least 100 British troops. Where does Kofi Annan's statement leave our troops in Iraq legally?

GRAHAM GAVIN
Rotherham, South Yorkshire

Bottom of the list

Sir: I was interested to read the report of Meg Munn's Bill to list candidates in random order on the ballot paper (Simon Carr, 15 September). Can there be an alphabetical bias in the selection of leaders? We have Blair and Brown. The US has Bush and Italy has Berlusconi. Moving down the alphabet you find Chirac and Helen Clark. Recent former leaders include Bush (again) Clinton and Chrétien. I fear I would stand little chance of being elected, condemned to the bottom of the ballot paper.

DAVID WALKER
Sittingbourne, Kent

Fabulous caterpillar

Sir: It is exciting indeed to see the caterpillar of a death's head hawkmoth in this country (report, 15 September). In August last year a neighbour asked if I could identify a very large caterpillar. It had been found in her garden feeding on potato leaves and she had been frightened by not only by its size but by the strange cry it made. This was the first specimen of this fabulous caterpillar that I had seen in over fifty years of being interested in hawk moths.

ALAN ASHPOOL
Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset

Lost county

Sir: Lincoln is not the only problem of location in my home county. When the title "Humberside" was axed, returning the former North Humberside to Yorkshire, the "regional" people were so vexed that they insisted on retaining the word "Humber" somewhere, so the EU voting region refers to Yorkshire and the Humber, consigning Scunthorpe, Grimsby, and the rest of what is in fact north Lincolnshire to the deep.

ERIC RICHARDS
Riccall, North Yorkshire

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