Fathers' rights, cruelty of farming and others

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Sir: There is a very easy way for fathers to gain 100 per cent access to their children (Palace protest, 15 September). It is to make their marriage to their children's mother a high enough priority in their lives to ensure its survival.

Fathers should work harder at keeping their marriages intact

Sir: There is a very easy way for fathers to gain 100 per cent access to their children (Palace protest, 15 September). It is to make their marriage to their children's mother a high enough priority in their lives to ensure its survival.

Men who put their children number one nurture their marriages because they know an intact and functioning marriage with access to mother and father (or partnership for those who lack the courage to marry) is most likely to result in a positive outcome for children.

Men who commit adultery, who pay no attention to their wives as human beings, who lie or engage in other negative behaviour resulting in divorce have placed their own selfish needs above those of their children. These men want to have their cake and eat it too. Extravagant gestures like scaling the walls of Buckingham Palace are nonsense. If you want to ensure access to your children go home and love your wife. Pick up a bunch of roses on the way.

Marriage isn't easy - I know, I've been married for 17 years. One way to make it work is to make your children your number one priority. This is really hard because it means I have to get along with my husband, thus ensuring my kids have access to their dad. Our marriage works because his priories are the same as mine - children first. That is, he makes an effort to get along with me. It works wonders.

Whitestone, NY, USA

Sir: I can honestly report, as a divorced father, that a father in family court today has as much chance of fair treatment as a black man in Alabama in the 1950s.

As a lawyer, licensed in the UK and the US, I didn't believe that it was possible for my profession to operate a system such as this. That naive belief was crushed when I was drawn into family court on a personal level.

Rather than demanding over-the-top security at the Palace the Government should concentrate on the source of the problem. Children need their mums and their dads. Giving parents equal time with their children on divorce or separation unless one of them is unwilling, unable or unfit to be a parent will dramatically improve the system.

Reno, Nevada, USA

Farming is crueller than fox hunting

Sir: Every day in this country, acts of appalling cruelty are being committed. The conditions in which animals destined for our plates are kept, and the environment and manner of their death, are often squalid beyond belief. Battery chickens hardly have room to move and may never see daylight. The foxes which inhabit the English countryside seem to be among the lucky few animals who have escaped becoming part of the human production line.

Foxes have to be eliminated, and fox-hunting has consistently been shown to be the most efficient way of keeping numbers down that ensures instant death once the hounds reach their target (unlike shooting). Whether or not people happen to enjoy it is another matter. Once the function of hunting becomes obsolete, fair people will naturally support a ban. But while it remains functional, as well as the source of livelihood for thousands, there is no reason why it should end.

Just as children in inner cities today often do not know what kind of animal the meat they eat comes from, many people seem to have chosen to forget that while they protest for animal rights, they happily accept the food on their plates.

Peterhouse, Cambridge

Sir: I live in central London. I don't hunt foxes or any other animal of any sort, I don't ride horses, and it is obvious that hunting and killing a fox is cruel. The fox is frightened, chased, and torn to pieces by hounds. But that is not enough to justify banning a group of country folk from this blood sport (reports, 17 and 18 September).

Nature is red in tooth and claw, and hunting is cruel. Banning hunting is banning part of nature. Like all rich westerners, I do not have to hunt. I can squirm at the barbarity of it all while I stroll around the supermarket that sells every conceivable food, all neatly prepared and packaged.

But do I or anyone believe that tribes of bush Africans or Eskimos should be banned from hunting animals? Some probably would say that bush Africans and Eskimos have to hunt to survive, or that hunting is not cruel as long as it is a necessity. Us Brits have moved on. No, we Brits have not moved on. We are just rich. We can afford not to hunt. None of the Brits who want to ban fox hunting are in danger of starving.

If there is nothing wrong with bush Africans and Eskimos hunting, then there is nothing wrong with a bunch of toffs chasing a fox over several miles of countryside with a pack of hounds. Man is an omnivore, we eat meat, and we kill animals for the meat. Hunting is more natural than farming, and farming practices are often far crueller than fox hunting.

London W6

Sir: Canon Chesterman differentiates between killing for food and "killing for fun" (Letters, 17 September). I agree that there is a difference between fox hunting and killing for food, but not in the way claimed by the Canon.

Nobody has to eat meat. Meat eaters choose to do so because they enjoy it, and hence are guilty of killing for fun albeit at second or third hand. Worse, most of the animals consumed are bred for the express purpose of being killed as soon as they are big enough. How immoral is that? In contrast the fox is a wild animal, tolerated or cherished depending how you look at it, and killed by hunting (and other, crueller methods) at a rate compatible with maintaining the population below pest numbers.

Those who follow the hunt have less guilt than those who eat meat for fun, and the huntsman (who supervises the hounds) has less guilt than the slaughterman in an abbatoir.

Silverstone, Northamptonshire

Sir: If the majority of fox hunters were honest enough to admit that the only justification for their activity is their enjoyment of it I for one would have a lot more respect for them. The pest control argument seems to be untenable and to chase an animal to the point of absolute exhaustion and then allow it to be torn to death by a pack of hounds is clearly to inflict cruelty.

The ideal way forward would be not to ban hunting but to persuade those who do it to desist on the grounds that by choosing to inflict cruelty solely for their own pleasure they demean themselves and the rest of the human race. Unfortunately to get this argument accepted by anyone capable of carrying in public a banner proclaiming "We fish, we hunt, we vote, you c**t" is likely to prove a somewhat uphill task.


Sir: As someone who was born in the country, and who has lived there most of my life, I thoroughly resent my views being misrepresented by the "Countryside Alliance". I and many of my country-born friends despise hunting for the cruel, bloodthirsty and unnecessary "sport" it is.

The vast majority of people who hunt own no livestock threatened by foxes: they hunt for fun. The notion that, in the 21st century, "fun" might reside in chasing an animal until it is beyond exhaustion and then allowing dogs to tear it limb from limb is both sad and disgraceful. The lawlessness, violence and selfishness shown by the pro-hunt lobby serves only to underline their unsustainable position.

Bishop's Cleeve, Gloucestershire

Sir: In your reporting of the hunting debate, please remember that not all country dwellers support hunting. I grew up in the countryside, on a farm, and enjoyed many aspects of village life. I was also lucky enough to have horses and ride throughout my childhood. Like many people I grew up with, I do not support hunting and do not feel a ban would remove fundamental benefits of country life. I haven't hear any reports of job losses or a breakdown in village life in Scotland since the ban was introduced there.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Sir: I should like to correct an error in Ben Russell's item "Costumed man wields power in the chamber" (17 September). The Serjeant-at-Arms does not "wear a costume based on the royal court of 1415"; it bears closer affinities to the dress of gentlemen in the 1790s.

In 1415 they would have been wearing tunics, either knee-length or mid-calf depending on the age, status and amount of activity required of the wearer.


Cherishing life

Sir: Virginia Ironside (16 September) rightly laments the plight of unwanted children, arguing on this basis for the necessity of abortion. As an atheist she is unlikely to be swayed by an appeal to the sanctity of life as a ground for cherishing all children, born or unborn, but I wonder if she perceives the ultimate ramifications of her argument.

If a life gains value only by being wanted by other humans, this endangers any person or group of people deemed not to "fit in" or meet the needs of others. The only kind of society in which all classes of human can be guaranteed recognition of their value is one in which life is cherished per se.

A culture in which abortion is routine undermines this, and encourages us to see children (and others) as commodities, which we may choose, or not, to want.

Sandy, Bedfordshire

Radium energy

Sir: Mark Steel gets his physics in a bit of a twist when he states (16 September) that "nuclear energy is a by-product of nuclear weapons", concluding that it is therefore inherently lethal. When Pierre Curie noticed in 1903 that radium (which occurs naturally) gave off heat, he concluded that it must be due to natural transformation of atoms.

He wrote that, if so, "the energy put in play in the transformation of the elements would be extraordinarily great". He and his wife Marie were aware of the risks; when accepting their joint Nobel Prize in 1905, Pierre said "In criminal hands, radium could become very dangerous." He compared it to the work of Nobel himself, the results of whose work on explosives could also be abused. He concluded by saying "I am among those who think with Nobel that humanity will derive more good than bad from new discoveries". Nuclear power has existed since the universe began, and perhaps longer, but it is up to us to decide how to use it.

Great Barton, Bury St Edmunds

Darfur crisis

Sir: The WHO report (14 September) highlights the shocking reality in Darfur. At least 4,000 children are dying every month and with an imminent risk of a cholera epidemic, numbers could be pushed even higher.

Many of the displaced are receiving no health services of any description and those areas aid agencies are reaching are often inaccessible due to insecurity. Whilst I was in Darfur recently at least 20 clinics in the areas Save the Children are working in were unable to operate due to recent security incidents in the locality.

The UN Security Council must urgently endorse a massive expansion of the African Union monitoring force to ensure civilians in Darfur are effectively protected.

Director of International Operations
Save the Children
London EC1

Past marks

The revelation that a mark in the mid-40s would give you a grade A for some A-level examinations this year says a great deal about the value of figures produced by the Government (report, 18 September). Are more students really achieving ? Forty years ago such a mark would have given you the lowest grade required for a pass in any A-level subject. I suppose, in terms of spin, Labour succeeds in raising standards by lowering standards.

Tunstall, Stoke

Faithful few

Sir: Your correspondent Paul Handley omits a major reason why many people no longer go to church (18 September). It is that for the last decade the Church of England has been progressively taken over by conservative Evangelicals who believe that unless you become a "born-again" believer and regard the Bible as the spiritual equivalent of a Delia Smith cook book ("Take a dozen eggs") you are nowhere in the Christian faith. Sensible and educated people who are confronted by this kind of nonsense week after week are bound to vote with their feet.


Pension plans

Sir: The plans to cut teachers' pensions are not new (report, 18 September). I retired from teaching in 1988 with a recurrence of multiple sclerosis. After a long period of living on sick pay, I fortunately received the lump sum, the part pension, invalidity/incapacity benefit and Serps. We moved house, and managed. Last year I became 65 years old. Everything became taxable, and the Serps simply disappeared.

Please warn all teachers not to take medical retirement, or make any financial retirement plans based on expected pension income.

Ingleby Barwick, Stockton on Tees

Brushed aside

Sir: I've been patiently waiting for the final report of the Iraq Survey Group, as the prime minister has consistently advised us all to do, to see whether or not he lied about WMD, but now it is imminent we've apparently all got to put the past aside and concentrate on the new

situation in Iraq. What a swiz!

London N1