Gambling debate, A vote for Bin Laden's friend and others

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Gambling debate should focus on high-prize machines

Gambling debate should focus on high-prize machines

Sir: The debate about gambling is focusing on the wrong issue, namely so-called "super-casinos" ("Labour MPs vent their anger at gambling", 2 November).

The debate should be about the kind of gambling which would become legal in the UK for the first time, namely gambling on machines with a prize of £500 or more. The Bill will enable this type of gambling to take place in new small casinos (maximum 80 machines), new large casinos (150 machines) as well new regional "super-casinos" (1,250 machines). All these casinos will be additional to, and larger than the present 120 or so casinos, which will also have more big-prize machines. Such machines will also be located, in small numbers, in other venues such as bingo clubs and betting shops. These machines tend to exacerbate problem gambling as they offer continuous, rapid-action gambling and attractively high prizes in locations where people are likely to gamble on impulse.

It is tempting, from a problem gambling point of view, to argue that we should simply continue to ban all such machines. The main arguments against such a policy are that it is possible, with appropriate public education, to neutralise the risks of any increase in problem gambling; that the vast majority of people who gamble do so without any ill effects and it is wrong for government to prevent adults from spending their own time and money on leisure pursuits of their own choosing; that UK citizens can already play unlimited-prize machines on unregulated foreign sites via the internet; and that if high-prize machines are wholly or mainly located in large casinos where people will not be tempted simply to drop in, it is possible, without increasing the prevalence of problem gambling, to harness the legalisation of such casinos to the delivery of modest but significant economic benefits to the relatively disadvantaged.

I do not say that these arguments either are or are not strong enough to justify liberalising the laws relating to machine gambling. I personally support liberalisation mainly on grounds of freedom of choice and because I believe it will lead to more resources being spent on services for problem gamblers. At all events this is where the focus of the debate should be.

Director, Centre for the Study of Gambling
University of Salford

A vote for the best friend of Bin Laden

Sir: Matthew Hoffman has now written two of the oddest articles to appear in your newspaper. In suspending his conscience on all matters except the illusory prospect of a victory in the war on terror, he is casting his vote on a false premise ("I'm a lifelong Democrat, but I'm voting for George Bush", 2 November).

If he feels a Bush vote will ensure nation-building continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, then can I ask by what benchmark he is measuring current progress? Could Kerry's efforts conceivably be any worse?

Perhaps my alternative bias is just as pronounced, but surely the logical response to Bin Laden's election intervention would be to assume that he was hoping for a Bush victory. If his aim is to provoke the "Islamic masses" into holy war against the infidel West, then Bush's enthusiastic al-Qaida recruiting sergeant impression must make him a happy agitator indeed.

Wallsend, Tyne & Wear

Sir: If you think that the election in the US has been divisive, wait till Blair calls one in the UK. The old "Europe or US" faultlines will be further widened by the ideological wedge that the neo-cons have driven into the debate. And worse, for the Labour party, we have a neo-con sympathiser as leader, so the debate will simultaneously take place within the nation and within the governing party.

Appley Bridge, Lancashire

Sir: Patrick Reynolds (Letters, 2 November), apparently displaying the level of wit common to your newspaper's British correspondents on the US elections, states that he has read no reports of independent observer delegations. Perhaps Mr Reynolds should read more.

As has been reported often in recent months, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, one of the world's leading electoral observation institutions, will have observers at the polls.

Washington DC

Sir: After the last fiasco, surely US elections should be monitored and overseen by India, a country that recently showed it could run a smooth and fair election despite being hugely populous and diverse.

Chichester, West Sussex

Killer heatwaves

Sir: Perhaps the news that global warming is going to kill lots of old people ("Killer heatwaves to blight developed world", 1 November) is welcome. Perhaps if Mr Blair keeps doing nothing about climate change it might solve the pensions crisis for him. Alternatively, he might take a leaf from the Green Party's book and tackle both crises in one go, with fewer casualties and rather less collateral damage.

We need eco-taxes to address climate change, in the context of overall tax reform to redistribute wealth and fund a decent non-means-tested state pension for everyone. Climate change is a threat to our economy. Invest now in stopping it, and we protect our economy so that it can support a higher proportion of retired people.

Behind the Green Party's "Real Progress" slogan is the idea that a better use of technology would not only solve the climate crisis, but leave society doing less work. Let's have fewer crises and more progress, Mr Blair.

Green Party spokesperson on climate change
London N19

Sir: As a scientist and member of the Green Party I would like take issue with implications made by Tom MacFarlane (letter, 25 October) that the Green Party should follow science "above all else" and that the scientifically optimal site for wind turbines is on "natural beauty spots".

Science is a vital means of collecting, ordering and assessing information, but it is only a means to an end. We must balance requirements for electricity with requirements for places of natural beauty and for preservation of bio-diversity. Fortunately, science tells us there is no great conflict: there are plenty of sites where we can extract wind energy without damaging natural beauty spots and sites of special scientific interest.

Natural beauty spots are only optimal in a short-term, profit-motivated perspective which has nothing to do with either science or the Green Party.


Gay bishops

Sir: The Windsor Report contains a scholarly and nuanced reflection on the nature of communion within the Church, and concludes that the Episcopal Church in the US erred in that it decided to ordain someone as bishop without due regard to the maintenance of the bonds of unity.

The process by which this decision was made was thus different from that by which, say, women were ordained as bishop, and therefore the American church knowingly departed from established practice. The Lambeth Commission which produced the report was not mandated to offer judgement on sexuality issues.

Peter Smith (letter, 26 October) is right to worry about the use of scripture, in particular Paul, in theological debate, but the Windsor Report draws heavily, and fruitfully, on Paul's struggles to maintain unity in the church and so offers a model of biblical interpretation.

Even so, many will miss the detail and read Windsor as a rejection of gay and lesbian people; in fact it calls for continuing dialogue.


Darfur catastrophe

Sir: In using MSF statements to make his case against claims by Lord Alton and others that genocide is taking place in Darfur, Simon Williams paints a selective and distorted picture of MSF's account (letter, 26 October).

In particular, he overlooks MSF's denunciation of the massive campaign of violence directed at civilians in Darfur led by pro-government "Janjaweed" militia and Sudanese army units. Epidemiological evidence from four MSF surveys in West Darfur published in this month's Lancet illustrate a "demographic catastrophe", exceptional because of the overwhelming contribution of violence to mortality.

While MSF has not characterised this violence as genocide, the magnitude of the crimes against civilians committed in Darfur is not in doubt. Continued discussion over the question of genocide is being used to manipulate, rather than improve, the situation.

Whether it is to hide responsibility for what has happened, as is the case for Khartoum, or to score political points, as is the case for Washington, it is unacceptable to use human disaster in such a way.

International President
Médecins Sans Frontières

Lost grandchildren

Sir: Like Nicki Household (letter, 18 October) I was divorced in the early 1980s. My wife and I agreed that though we could not live together our children should not suffer as a result of our divorce.

Over the next 15 years our children spent time in both of the houses that we continued to run. We agreed that as far as possible the children's time should be shared equally between our two establishments and the children enjoyed the fact that they had two homes and were able to establish a base in both.

I am now a victim as a grandparent whose son was forced to resort to law after his ex-partner disappeared from the family home with their two-year-old daughter six years ago. Since then she has flouted a series of court orders, not to move without notifying the court and to allow the minimal amount of time for my son and me to see my granddaughter. Two years ago my ex-wife died grieving that she had not seen her only granddaughter for three years. A few months ago the judge, unlike Solomon, washed his hands on the best interests of my granddaughter, stating that he was powerless to prevent the abuse of the child by the mother.

The Government needs to act now to ensure that equal and shared parenting is established and that people who obstruct contact should have sanctions applied, as they are in more enlightened countries.
Name and address supplied

Help for Uganda

Sir: It is wrong to suggest that the UK has forgotten the conflict in northern Uganda (letter, 1 November). This country has contributed significantly to reduce the suffering, providing over £15m of humanitarian assistance since December 2002. This has helped to purchase medical supplies, food, water and sanitation in camps for displaced people. We also finance night shelters for children through Unicef and Save the Children.

We've also been working to support efforts to build a sustainable peace, recognising that a purely military response will not bring the conflict to an end. To date the UK has spent £1.7m on conflict resolution efforts, including funding Mega FM, a radio station with programmes emphasising peace and reconciliation, and support to mediation efforts of local religious and traditional leaders.

Secretary of State for International Development, London SW1

In defence of aunts

Sir: Here we go again. I look to see which are the ten best tights and stockings and find "keep the rest of your outfit plain or you'll be mistaken for your maiden aunt" (Review, 28 October). Who is this mythical creature? The implication is that she is frumpy, with no sense of fashion. I have yet to meet this stereotype amongst fellow maiden aunts. Many nephews, nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces are lucky (and I hope grateful) for the benefits that come to them from maiden aunts.

Thurlstone, Sheffield

Poll postponed

Sir: Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 1 November) is not quite right in stating that once the general election starting gun has been fired it can never be recalled. Under the terms of the Representation of the People Act 1985 should the monarch die (a demise of the Crown) during a general election campaign then the poll will be postponed for two weeks. It could make all the difference in a tight campaign.

Handsworth, Birmingham

Image problem

Sir: I really want to believe Charlotte Cripps ("A window into the 21st Century", Review, 1 November) that photography is finally to be taken seriously as an art form. My experience is that it still has some way to go. While photography has always appealed because it is so accessible, that is also the quality that makes it such a difficult art form to sell. The public's attitude is often to ask why they should pay hundreds of pounds for a print when they can get an enlargement in Snappy Snaps for £10.


Friendly island

Sir: Recent correspondence regarding the Welsh language reminds me of an experience some years ago in Malta. When travelling on the public buses we discovered that local people often switched from speaking Maltese to English and included us in their conversation. This simple, friendly gesture left a lasting impression and a desire to revisit the island.

Broadstairs, Kent

Shocking language

Sir: I was shocked by the Earl of Rochester's verse ("Lewd, rude and reprinted", 1 November). I had not realised that the incorrect form of the objective pronoun referring to an individual had crept into the language so early.

Professor FRANK FAHY
King's Somborne, Hampshire