Cricket, previous convictions and others

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Cricket, like business, must avoid complicity with despots

Cricket, like business, must avoid complicity with despots

Sir: The England cricket team's decision to tour Zimbabwe has evidently challenged some individual consciences in the cricketing world, but not its institutions. The decision has apparently been strongly influenced by financial considerations. Since this makes cricket a business as much as a sport, the relevant boards should recognise that they need to adopt principles reflecting their responsibility for human rights such as are increasingly being adopted in the commercial world.

Leading companies today recognise a responsibility for the direct human rights impact of their operations on their stakeholders. They also recognise that they will be accused of complicity in pursuit of profit if they have no explicit policies in support of international standards of human rights and operate in a country where human rights violations are prevalent. Complicity has yet to find a legal definition, but it has a strong moral connotation. If they lack principles on these issues, English cricket, and indeed international cricket, will be seen as complicit in a decision which will give significant moral support to a government almost universally condemned for its human rights violations.

If the visit gives rise to demonstrations which are violently put down by the authorities, complicity will be made visible. Even if the visit is peaceful, there is no escaping moral censure.

Amnesty International UK Business Group
Dorking, Surrey

Limits to disclosure of previous convictions

Sir: In your article about the new law to make previous convictions of any defendant admissible in evidence ("Outcry as Blair says juries will be told of previous convictions", 26 October), you seem to assume that it is automatically to be used. In fact, its use is subject to judicial control, and will only generally be allowed if it comprises important explanatory evidence or if it has substantial probative value.

In these circumstances I would expect it to be unlikely to be used in the trial of, say, a 35-year-old defendant charged with an offence of violence who has one previous conviction for burglary at the age of 18.

In the end, the effect of the new provision will depend upon the sense of fairness of the judiciary. I suggest that they will be unlikely to over do the admission of such evidence.


Sir: It is disappointing to read how out of touch Mr McMahon is with the real world (letter, 30 October). People do not have to break the conditions of an Asbo, and Asbos are only applied as a result of repeated actions against law-abiding people, often aged and/or infirm, whose daily lives have been blighted by the actions of louts and out-of-control teenagers.

It may well be that in the world which Mr McMahon inhabits such activities do not occur and the Home Office research to which he refers was carried out in his locality. For the people of many towns and cities across the UK the availability and the imposition of Asbos has been a godsend and a relief from daily torment. Mr McMahon would do well to visit these places and consult with local people, councillors and the police.

David Blunkett may not get everything right, but this is one topic which he has.


Pay for MPs' staff

Sir: On Wednesday MPs will be voting on their expenses. As secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union parliamentary branch I want to stress that this isn't a matter of MPs lining their own pockets - it's about paying a fair wage to frontline staff.

My colleagues and I are very concerned by the way in which those MPs whose expense claims are low have been applauded. We would like to point out that MPs' staff are not mere perks of the job, but hard-working individuals who ensure that constituents receive a good level of service from their elected representatives.

MPs are now more accessible than ever, and receive far more contact from constituents, and this is the way things should be. Staff based in Westminster and the constituencies are essential in order to support the MP with research, administration and casework. If an MP is a good employer and wishes to fairly remunerate his or her staff, he or she will obviously have to claim more money from the office budget.

In the T&G parliamentary branch we are committed to working to promote the interests of this group of hard-working and talented individuals. That there is now ring-fenced funding for the payment of staff is the result of a long and hard-fought campaign by our members. We urge everyone to bear in mind that those MPs claiming low expenses are quite probably exploiting their staff and/or not doing their job to the best of their ability.

Secretary, T&G
parliamentary branch
South Darenth, Kent

Children's rights

Sir: Without the intervention of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, part one of the Children Bill, which is before the Commons on Tuesday, looks set to create the weakest children's commissioner in Europe.

While children in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have champions to promote and protect their rights, children in England look set to have a commissioner who will narrowly "promote awareness of their views and interests". Ministers will be able to "direct" the English commissioner to undertake an inquiry on any matter of relevance to children. This is a far cry from the "completely independent" commissioner promised by Charles Clarke on the day the Bill was introduced into the Lords.

The President of the European Network of Ombudspeople for Children has said it is unlikely the English commissioner will be able to join that Network, given the post's weak function and compromised independence.

The Secretary of State has before him an historic opportunity to advance children's rights. The Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), a coalition of 225 organisations and individuals committed to the fullest implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, urges him to do the right thing for this country's children.

Children's Rights Alliance for England
London N1

Bin Laden's video

Sir: Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 25 October) seems to think that Islamic fanatics would see a Kerry presidency as a sign of US weakness, but the broader question should be: "Who is Osama bin Laden's candidate for US President?"

George Bush didn't start as Bin Laden's favoured candidate: although he ignored al-Qa'ida in his early months, he made up for this by attacking them and their Afghan protectors soon after 11 September. Then Bush became more helpful to Bin Laden with his invasion of Iraq: troops were diverted from Afghanistan, which allowed the Taliban to regroup; al- Qa'ida, who had been excluded from Iraq, were now free to operate there; and the invasion and its aftermath were a great recruitment tool for them.

What could Bush achieve given four more years?

London W4

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown "dreads what is going to happen in Fallujah" (Opinion, 25 October).

I suspect Tony Blair, at least, would probably now very much like to be able to extricate our troops from Iraq, but he is realistic enough to recognise that, in doing so, he would bring even greater disaster to that country. He would also, no doubt, attract condemnation for leaving Iraq to descend into anarchy.

Harrow, Middlesex

Same-sex couples

Sir: I agree with Carola Towle who says in her column that the Civil Partnerships Bill represents "a great leap forward" (Diversity supplement, 28 October) and am pleased to be able to tell her that the Government has announced the changes to pension rules that have been called for.

The amendments will mean that same-sex couples do indeed have exactly the same legal protection safeguarding the right to pass on survivor pensions as married people do. Contracted-out pension schemes will be required to provide survivor pensions for civil partners from rights built up all the way back to 1988, replicating the current position for widowers. These changes will have important practical applications. Often a pension will be the most valuable asset an individual has, so their ability to pass it on is crucial.

Secretary of State
Department for Work and Pensions

Poll fraud in Florida

Sir: The Democratic candidate wins the Florida election by 20,000 votes. However, the Board of Registration and the Returning Board are both controlled by Republicans and the president is a Republican. The Republican candidate is declared the winner by the authorities, and the president sends in the Army to make sure there is no trouble from the disenfranchised voters. Was this the 2000 election or a prediction of this week's outcome?

Neither. It was 7 November, 1876. The Republican, Rutherford B Hayes, was declared the winner, and the Democrat, Samuel J Tilden, retired to reflect on the corruption of the Florida electoral process. The president was Ulysses S Grant.

Kirkliston, Edinburgh

Sir: I have read no reports about the activities of independent observers overseeing the US presidential election. Is this a serious omission on the part of the United Nations and the Electoral Reform Society? How will the world know that these elections are fair and valid?

Sevenoaks, Kent

Belief in no god

Sir: At last, a definitive statement about atheism (Philip Hensher, 25 October). It is so self-evidently true and liberating that we don't need to test it or probe its influence; and the beliefs of religious people about atheism being a different sort of faith are "offensive and stupid". And to consider atheism as a system of belief is "wrong and offensive".

Well, Philip Hensher seems to be easily offended, much as one might expect of, say, a person of faith whose cherished beliefs are being trampled by columnists. Atheism may not be a "system of belief", but it is an unprovable assertion which can count among its children Darwinism and Soviet communism. Philosophical underpinnings are definitely worth studying; they are the assumptions that many of us don't realise we're making or prefer not to have challenged.

Our children should be given the opportunity to ask the fundamental questions that atheism, and Philip Hensher, cannot answer.

Haslemere, Surrey

Sir: Philip Hensher suggests atheism within the RE syllabus is like having a tooth fairy class within a dentistry course; I suggest it is like having a tiny dentistry class amidst a sea of tooth fairy studies.

London, SW1

Sir: John Clinch (letter, October 30) states: "Atheism is the belief that no god exists". Yet, if he were to consult the OED, he would see that atheism is "disbelief in the existence of a god". How can a disbelief be a belief? No wonder that believers seem to find nothing better to do than kill other believers? Take away "belief", and you find your intellect free at last to live your life in an intelligent fashion.

Denham, Buckinghamshire

Asperger syndrome

Sir: I write following your article on 29 October "Teenager gets life for murder of 10-year-old girl at party".

People with autism, including Asperger syndrome, undoubtedly have difficulties relating to the world around them. There is no link between autism, including Asperger syndrome, and criminal offending.

There is, however, concern that people with Asperger syndrome may themselves be more vulnerable to criminal acts against them. There are an estimated 535,000 people with autism in the UK, of whom about 214,000 have a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.

The National Autistic Society
London EC1

Minority sports

Sir: I can broaden The Independent's minority sports coverage and report to Kevin Cummins (letter, 30 October) from St Jean de Luz that October's 14th World Cesta Punta Championships - the fastest version of Basque pelota - saw Goicoetxea and Embil of Spain thrash Baronio and Irastorza of France by 35 points to 18. Exciting stuff! The ball pistol-cracked off walls at around 200 km/h, but a close contest lost impetus when an injured Trastorza was replaced by a substitute.

Buriton, Hampshire

Women at the Slade

Sir: If Karen Wright (Review, 22 October) believes the Slade in the early 1950s was a "famously misogynist institution" I must have missed something, for in my experience it was a most welcoming and enlightened place, full of people proud and happy to be there and to study under the benign professorship of William Coldstream. And the recognition of Paula Rego's talent at age 19 with the "summer comp" prize doesn't sound like misogyny, does it?

Cusop, Hertfordshire

Bird brains

Sir: If Professor Lionel March (letter, 30 October) is correct in his assertion that Flores woman must have been very bright because her brain relative to body size was larger than ours, then birds would be building rockets, not nests.

Newcastle upon Tyne