Extradition rights, Rover and others

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Procedure for extradition to US denies Britons a fair hearing

Procedure for extradition to US denies Britons a fair hearing

Sir: On 18 April the extradition hearing for Babar Ahmad will resume. The United States is seeking his extradition for alleged support for terrorism. Although Babar is a UK citizen, no court in this country will hear the supposed evidence against him or be able to judge his innocence or guilt. Instead, under an extradition Act that has never received proper parliamentary scrutiny, Babar is facing extradition to the United States to face charges that will never be heard in this country.

We are scholars in the fields of human rights and the politics of race and discrimination. We believe that the Extradition Act 2003 is a serious attack on human rights and threatens to further damage community relations in this country. Without the requirement to present a case before requesting extradition, the US is able to accuse UK citizens and residents of all manner of heinous crimes without ever producing evidence. Such allegations may be based on supposed information extracted through torture at Guantanamo Bay or other illegal prisons.

Babar Ahmad is a prominent activist in the anti-war movement. He has been detained, yet he faces no charges in this country. The Extradition Act deprives the people of this country of the protection of a proper trial if they are deemed to be enemies of the United States. It is an agreement that is designed to be abused, and it can only add to the sense of vulnerability felt by Muslims, minorities and political activists at this time. The Extradition Act must be repealed, or we have lost the right to a fair hearing.



Ominous warning from Rover's fall

Sir: Nick Hancock must be living in a dream-world if he thinks that the promise of 25,000 "new" Tesco jobs is adequate compensation for the loss of those hugely important 6,000 manufacturing jobs at MG Rover (letter, 15 April).

It's high time that the myth that supermarkets can create new jobs is laid to rest for once and for all. At best, these shopping giants respond to changes in the overall retail environment - opening new stores when demand is high, shutting them down if consumer spending slows. At worst, they simply steal jobs from their competitors, sometimes from other large supermarkets, more often from small retailers in the high street.

Perhaps more important is the continuing overall trend in moving from manufacturing to service employment in Britain. Those 6,000 manufacturing jobs we've just lost (much nearer 25,000 when the knock-on effects are considered) were part of the tail end of a couple of hundred years of industrial development, a cycle which is now almost exhausted.

Britain has shed a million manufacturing jobs in the last ten years, and these just cannot be adequately replaced, long-term, by supermarkets, outlet villages and call-centres. At the moment we are maintaining our high standards of living here, and in the western hemisphere generally, because the developing world needs the other services we provide, principally finance and technology. But we're living on borrowed time. Before long they will take on these roles for themselves too, and why shouldn't they? When this happens, we must expect a serious and rapid decline in incomes and living standards in Britain, and no amount of Tesco-ising will make it better.



Council tax is bad for communities

Sir: George Green (letter, 7 April) argues against local income tax and in favour of property taxes. Call me a Liberal Democrat, but I take exception to the mean-spirited envy and spite of his reference to "the property rich but cash poor" sitting "smugly consuming local services in their large homes".

We moved into our house 23 years ago in the first wave of newcomers who had the resources to shore up the crumbling Georgian terraces that Bath City Council had proposed demolishing in the 1960s. The area had a very stable but mainly ageing population, many born in the houses they were living in. They were most definitely not "smug" as they struggled to meet rising prices on meagre pensions.

Although changes have been diluting it over the years, there is still an almost palpable sense of community here. Neighbours do look out for each other, take in parcels and children, run errands for the sick. Why should elderly residents be forced out simply because astronomical property prices have pushed up council taxes to unaffordable levels? Houses are not just machines for printing money. In the best neighbourhoods they are first and foremost homes to live in and decent governments aren't wreckers.



Sir: Since there is no realistic possibility that the Lib Dems would be able to put their unique policies into practice, they are not subject to the same critical scrutiny as Labour's or the Tories'. They are allowed to get away with the dangerous nonsense of additional income tax to replace the council tax.

This would leave the UK alone among leading economies without any recurring tax on assets, thereby enhancing the attractiveness of residential property as an investment - as if this were needed in a market where first-time buyers already struggle to house themselves - increase government borrowing massively in the short-term owing to the lag (of up to two years) in collecting tax from people not on PAYE, add massively to tax collection costs and lead to leakage of tax revenues: if derived only from income and consumption, they are by definition variable with the economic cycle.

The council tax may not be perfect and has iniquities, but a local income tax would have a disastrous impact on the economy.



Sir: What a shameful and depressing scenario, where the key election issue seems to be the council tax that an individual will pay. Larger issues such as our place in the enlarged EU, the single currency and our misguided military adventures are of little concern to our self-centred, parochial and jingoistic politicians and voters.

This goes hand-in-hand with your report that the number of UK undergraduates spending part of their degree studying in another European country "has plummeted", and that the study of foreign language A-levels is in "chronic decline". We are showing ourselves to be a nation of ignorant little-island bigots.



Where will we find a perfect prince?

Sir: During the accident-prone run-up to the royal wedding there seemed to be considerable debate on the inadequacies of the Prince of Wales. In the aftermath perhaps it is worth taking time to reflect more broadly on what kind of heir to the throne we would really like.

Would it not be wonderful if we had a Prince of Wales who reflected the constitutional continuity symbolised by the Royal Family by having a genuine interest in stewardship; in the importance of what we pass on to future generations, both the urban legacy of our townscapes and the rural legacy of our landscapes? If we had a pioneering heir to the throne, bold enough to experiment on his own estates to prove the long-term benefits of organic farming to both rural economies and wildlife diversity?

Finally, what would we give for a Prince with a unifying outlook, who expressed a genuine interest in all faiths and was prepared to make a long term contribution to multicultural Britain by, say, providing opportunities for young entrepreneurs of whatever background?

But where on earth would we find someone like that?



How Gladstone lost the poll on tax cuts

Sir: I have enjoyed the coverage of the Great British Elections, but the suggestion that the 1874 election was won by Disraeli and the Conservatives because of "promises about tax cuts" (16 April) could not be further from the truth. It was the Liberals who offered tax cuts to an electorate worn out by Gladstone's moral fervour, but these plans were not popular. Indeed Chamberlain described them as "the meanest public document that has ever in like circumstances proceeded from a statesman of the first rank".

The reality of 1874 is that the Liberals lost the election. The Liberal reforms of 1864-1874 had alienated many of the party's traditional supporters and the electorate wanted a quieter life. Yes, the Conservatives were better organised but essentially Disraeli won because he wasn't Gladstone.



Police intervention in election campaign

Sir: The latest of several media interviews in the last month with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, demonstrates again his propensity to wade into party politics in the midst of an election campaign in support of some of the most controversial policies of the governing party, this time to favour identity cards.

How convenient for the Labour Party, when trust in its political leadership is apparently rather low, to have someone supposed to be above politics arguing its case. UK constitutional convention is clear on this point: when an election is on, public servants stay out of it. Diplomats do not converse with the media about controversial aspects of foreign policy, nor the top brass about military policy.

Sir Ian's duty is to put up (for Parliament) or shut up. The responsibility of his current political masters is to ensure that he is clear about that choice. A task for the incoming parliament is to consider the circumstances under which Sir Ian has been so active in the media at this time, whether it be by his or by others' volition.



Green idea whose time has come

Sir: I thank Johann Hari (Opinion, 13 April) for highlighting the commitment of the Green Party to avoiding dangerous climate change with "Contraction and Convergence" (C&C). The Greens understand better than most that C&C is simple to understand and necessary, but not easy to do.

However, the name of "Contraction and Convergence" that Mr Hari seems to dislike, is not the fault of the Greens. The fault - if it is one - is mine. And while after 58 years I do not belong to any political party, I do prefer (perhaps like the Greens) that what is in the tin is also written on the label.

Candid or boring, the Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru, Respect and the Conservatives now also support C&C, along with around 180 MPs mostly from the Labour Party. The Church of England and numerous other institutions do including the Corporation of London and the Greater London Authority. The list goes on. It is also Africa's proposal to the climate negotiations.

The empty chair, strangely, is Mr Blair's. But his chair at the G8 will undoubtedly be filled by the C&C idea (with or without him). Climate change and Africa are his agenda and parliamentary candidates from all parties in this UK election are now pledging on-line to advocate the Government's adoption of C&C after the election and before the G8.



Atheist youth work

Sir: Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society is right to complain about taxpayers' money going to Christian youth work (letter, 15 April). The NSS is constantly telling us that atheists are just as moral as Christians, therefore throughout the country there must be thousands of groups within the atheist voluntary sector, selflessly serving their local communities. They must be allowed to bid for money too.



Father's prerogative

Sir: I was surprised at the scorn heaped upon the first-time father Charles Kennedy. I wonder how many of us could provide cogent, witty answers to questions on the details of fiscal policy within a couple of days of the birth of a first child; I doubt very much whether I or even my sharp-minded and very well informed husband could have done so. If Simon Carr (Sketch, 15 April) thinks it is the woman's prerogative to be exhausted after a birth, he must not accord much priority to the role of a husband or father.



Single and idle

Sir: How right Andrew Schofield is (letter, 14 April) about the mantra "hard-working families". Having previously thought my working life fairly productive, I now discover that my single status proves me to have spent 25 years in total indolence. In fact, given that I've always worked in the public service and so can be dispensed with instantly with only benefit to the economy, I must always have been a freeloader of epic proportions. Given this, it would be hardly surprising if I could not be bothered to drag myself from my pit of sybaritic excess to a polling station.




Sir: Your report on the increased ability of 16-year olds over those under 10 to identify the kestrel from its picture suggested that the existence of Kestrel Lager might be the cause. When I was in secondary school, Barry Hines' excellent book A Kestrel for a Knave was compulsory reading for all, along with a viewing of Ken Loach's excellent film adaptation. Is it too much to hope that this is still the case in schools today, and that it lies behind the improved kestrel-recognition skills?



Confused identity

Sir: When the Labour Party sent me a begging letter in the fond belief that I had two halfpennies to rub together, there was good news and bad. The good news was the amazing improvement in postal services over which Labour has presided - their letter dated 17 April was delivered on 15 April. Bad news though from the party that would force ID cards on us: it was addressed to the wrong postcode to a "Mr M R Nathon".