Deepcut, Pre-Budget Report and others

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The Independent Online

Forces need a representative body to prevent future Deepcuts

Forces need a representative body to prevent future Deepcuts

Sir: Bruce George is an MP I have the greatest respect for. But I am disturbed by the quotation, in your article on the "Parents of the Deepcut victims" (2 December). Mr George is quoted as saying: "This is probably consuming more time, at a time when there are many, many, many, many very serious issues that the committee should be addressing." Surely there can be no issue as serious as the suspicious deaths of so many young people undergoing training for the armed services, coupled with the leaked report which alleges serious sexual, physical and mental assaults at this establishment.

I share the parents' concerns that the officers in command at this base, at the time the recruits died and all the other abuses are alleged to have taken place, must be called to give evidence. They have to be held responsible for the lack of discipline shown by their instructing staff and officers.

I also believe, as a former national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, that a representative body, with similar restrictions as are placed on the Police Federation, would give the recruits and all armed service personnel a body to take their complaints to, in the sure knowledge that they would act on their behalf.

Having a son in the armed services, who suffered physical bullying, I have no confidence whatsoever in the armed services' procedure for bullying. The armed services cannot be allowed to continue to run training camps as if they are still in the 18th century.

Northam, Devon

Nothing fair about Brown's NI rip-off

Sir: As part of the pre-Budget statement the Government has announced a clampdown on those who do not pay their "fair share" of tax and National Insurance.

In fact the dodges being blocked do not avoid tax; the examples given are all ways for high earners to avoid National Insurance payments (mainly for City workers on their bonuses). What is a "fair" amount of National Insurance?

For those of us who earn less than (roughly) £30,000 a year, national insurance is arguably fair; we pay a percentage of our income, and this entitles us to benefits (on retirement or unemployment) also based on a percentage of our income. Unfortunately above this level the benefits are capped but the payments are not; the link is broken, so as your income goes up you pay more National Insurance, but do not get any more benefits.

The Government could reclassify these payments as income tax, but it doesn't want to admit that higher-rate tax is actually over 50 per cent. Instead it keeps referring to "insurance", implying falsely that you get something in return. If a private company charged some of its customers more money without giving them more in return, would New Labour describe it as "fair"? Or would they use some of their other buzzwords instead - "mis-selling"; "discrimination"; "rip-off Britain"?

Tax avoidance used to be a matter of legality. New Labour is trying to make it a matter of "fairness", but fairness cuts both ways. Fair and honest taxpayers deserve a fair and honest tax system from a fair and honest government.

Senior Lecturer in Tax Law
Bournemouth University

Sir: Gordon Brown is an illusionist. His most successful magic trick has been to spend money and to make you believe that you are not paying for it.

Taxation has been postponed until the future-taxing of dividends received by pension funds will hit you when you retire, increased stamp duty when you buy a house, and higher inheritance tax when you or a relative dies. These stealth taxes are gradually affecting more and more people, who are realising just how Gordon works his magic. In addition there is the Private Finance Initiative, which miraculously promises free hospitals and schools. These are not free - they have to be paid for in the future.

The economic miracle is also an illusion. Home owners feel wealthier because their houses have risen astronomically thanks to historically low interest rates. They have spent more, taking out loans secured on their houses, and this coupled with increased government spending has pushed economic growth forward. If house prices stop rising this could all very quickly unravel.

However, Gordon is running out of tricks. Now he is having to borrow money up front. How long will it be before he has to tax us up front too?

We need some real prudence in the running of our economy - wiser and sustainable public spending and more honesty about who is paying for it.

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Sir: As usual the headlines after a Budget statement ask, "What has it done for us?" Yet for years people have cried out for investment in our futures. This year we have just that.

SureStart is a real gem for helping young families; now the whole country shall have it. Scandinavia manages to help working parents properly, now so shall we. Schools increasingly play a stronger role in local communities. Older people are getting better directed support than ever. Alternative fuels, new energy sources and scientific innovation are being backed. I don't benefit directly by one penny from all that, but I am delighted that others do, and we all gain.

It is being paid for by more people working and less debt repayments than when the Government took office. We should certainly ask what our country is doing for us all, and be proud of the answer.

Wymondham, Norfolk

Sir: Two days, two official announcements. First, rail fares are to increase by an average of at least 4 per cent. Second, petrol duty rises are to be frozen by the Chancellor yet again. Since 1997, the real cost of motoring continues to fall, whereas the price of public transport continues to rise. When did it become government policy to use fiscal incentives to encourage car use?

Frome, Somerset

Blunkett and marriage

Sir: It is no surprise that the ignobler parts of the British press have reacted to the Blunkett affair in their accustomed sanctimonious way. What calls for comment is that serious correspondents, along with the Prime Minister, are seeing this as essentially a private matter.

The peccadillos of Bill Clinton and even the hypocrisy of John Major could be overlooked as of no real public concern; but here we have Mr Blunkett, who is responsible for legislation on parenthood and marriage, trying to establish in court the paternity rights of a marital interloper against the wishes of the contracted couple involved.

I shall not pass judgement. Perhaps the Home Secretary is right. Perhaps the institution of marriage needs to be rethought, just as Mr Blunkett has rethought the basis of the British Constitution in the Civil Contingencies Act. However he can hardly expect the public to view an innovation of this sort as a private matter.

The focus of attention ought to be on Mr Blunkett's bringing of the court case. The alleged irregularity over the nanny's visa is a triviality in comparison.


Sir: I have been living in Italy for most of the last nine years. If a minister there failed to bestow small favours on his friends and relations, he would be regarded with the deepest suspicion as a man not to be trusted to do the right thing.

There are many reasons for criticising David Blunkett, but I can't think of a more trivial one than this. Is it the best the opposition can do? How feeble!

St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

Equal parents

Sir: I am utterly mystified as to how Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (22 November) and your correspondent (29 November) manage to interpret the demands of Fathers 4 Justice as being misogynistic. Feminism has brought women equality of status and opportunity in every other sphere of life, so why not also in parenting?

Women have exerted a stranglehold over the discussion of these issues for decades now, while the other 50 per cent of the parenting population has been denigrated and sidelined to the point where any challenge to the presumption that Mother Knows Best meets with howls of indignation and knee-jerk alarmism. The myth of male violence is so pervasive that many people - some men included - cannot help but see these fathers as intimidating, simply because they are no longer supine. And yet their discourse and their actions are far more moderate than those which won women the vote.

The campaign staged by Fathers 4 Justice impresses with its flair and ingenuity, but much more fascinating are the responses it provokes and the profoundly internalised prejudices it has exposed.

Newport, Gwent

Fanciful cures

Sir: Johann Hari is right ("How can intelligent people use alternative medicine?", 3 December). It is the explanations of how these treatments work that are so wonderfully fanciful.

On a visit to a Jesuit priest in Kathmandu some years ago who was treating young people with heroin addiction with auricular acupuncture he explained to me: "If you look at the ear it depicts the human embryo, upside down - as it is in the womb. If you are a migraine sufferer you therefore stick the needles in the top of the ear equivalent to where the brain is situated. If you suffer from gout in the big toe you stick them in the lobe, where the feet are."

Five years later a young ex-heroin user came into my surgery in Wiltshire having been into rehab in Bristol. When I asked him what treatment he had received, he told me, auricular acupuncture. When I asked him how it worked he explained to me: "If you look at the ear it depicts the human embryo...." Wonderful how these things catch on.

Marlborough, Wiltshire

Sir: My cat had arthritis so badly that he could not put his paw to the ground. Veterinary treatment did not help. After I gave him a homeopathic remedy he could walk and run easily. On any hint of pain I repeated the remedy. The cat had no more trouble. The same cat benefited hugely from a remedy for kidney failure. Placebo effect, Mr Hari? Or just a very gullible cat.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Peaceful old age  

Sir: If Ian Paisley is able to help bring a peaceful and lasting solution to Northern Ireland after all the past vehemence, this, surely, is living proof of the maturing wisdom of time and age. Let us hope that this knowledge will temper the disgraceful way in which many of own elderly are treated, and the crass ageism of our prevailing culture.

London SW6

Official intrusion

Sir: John Lewis (letter, 27 November) is not alone in suffering intrusive questioning by HM Customs on boarding the shuttle terminal at Calais. I was recently asked both how long I had been abroad and how much I had paid for my ticket on Le Shuttle. Could a Customs spokesman or the minister responsible explain the relevance of this line of questioning? I was not asked about tobacco, alcohol or any other goods I might have been carrying.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Too early

Sir: If, as you report ("Shaken or stirred, vodka raises British spirits", 2 December), potato vodka was popular in the Middle Ages, does this mean the Russians had found their way to America long before Christopher Columbus?

New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Any other name

Sir: Mr Bratman could be wrong about unusual names being a burden (letter, 1 December). My sister was christened Gipsy. She loves it and would not be called anything else. Our aunt and our mother - twins - were called Alpha and Beta. Their sister is April, because she was born on 1 April. They are all proud of their names. Different names do not always attract trouble and can add to their owners' character. Besides, they are probably more easily remembered than the commoner ones.


Biblical mystery

Sir: I would like to point out to Miranda Sawyer ("Guilty Pleasures", 29 November) that a play performed in church by adults with Jesus on a cross, Mary Magdelene and Roman soldiers in it is very unlikely to be a nativity play, but will have been a passion or mystery play, examples of which have been around in England since the Middle Ages. When Ms Sawyer comes across the occasional Christmas card which depicts a stable, a manger with Baby Jesus in it, Mary and Joseph and various other figures: that is a nativity scene.