House prices, schools and others

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Taxes, not interest rates, are the best way to slow house prices

Taxes, not interest rates, are the best way to slow house prices

Sir: If we want to get house prices under control without putting up interest rates, we could learn from experiences abroad. In Spain, house prices have risen. But people do not buy and sell with such abandon as they do in Britain because there is a 7 per cent purchase tax when you buy and a 15 per cent tax on profits on sale of all houses. If you buy and sell within the same year the tax rate is the same as you pay on your other income - between 20 per cent and 40 per cent.

In Singapore, they were more radical with more damaging results. They applied a tax on profits on sale that reduced depending on how long you held your property. The aim was to discourage people from buying and selling in less than three years. Singapore actually overdid it and has suffered from a fall in property prices, which we would like to avoid. In the UK, we could have a split rate, with a lower rate of purchase tax for first-time buyers or a higher rate for people buying a second home.

One thing is sure: that to increase interest rates further would be very damaging. High interest rates result in exchange rates,that are unfavourable for our exporters, encourage inflation and are especially unfair to home owners who have bought in the last few years and are faced with bigger and bigger monthly mortgage payments. A change in the fiscal policy to discourage indiscriminate house buying and selling is the answer; and the sooner the Government starts governing the better.

Valencia, Spain

The pupils Clarke's reforms leave out

Sir: The news is full of all the apparently wonderful opportunities our children will be offered in specialists schools. The Government finally realises the "one size fits all" approach is not working. So why are they so determined to close and redesignate so many of our special schools?

My son has moderate learning difficulties and Asperger's syndrome. He attends the Alderman Knight School in Tewkesbury. This school is under threat of closure in two years' time. My son will be one of the fortunate ones who will have left by then. It will be the end of an era of fighting for an education that fits his needs. He spent almost a whole school year out of school because he could not cope in mainstream.

At the age of nine, my son was self-harming and was talking about killing himself. For four years all sharp knives had to be kept hidden after I had found him with a knife at his throat. Even though my son had a statement it took six months before the right place was found at an autistic provision.

My son has settled well and is really happy in his school. Our story is not an unusual one; there are many families who have suffered and many children that have been either excluded from school or who just cannot cope. So why is the Government so determined to put children like my son back into mainstream school? I suspect it is a cheap method of education.

All children deserve an education that fits their needs and abilities and that must include those with special educational needs. Decisions about provision for them will also have an impact on the education of mainstream children.


Sir: The origin of the "house" system, which the Government wants state schools to adopt, is distinctly odd.

Until the English Civil War, aristocrats would send their children to Eton as "commensales", who ate in the college hall with the 70 scholars of Henry VI's foundation of 1442. Most aristocrats sided with Charles I in the Civil War, but Eton was held by Parliament, and the system of commensales died out.

After Charles II was restored in 1660, boys at Eton who were not scholars started to live in boarding houses in the town, originally, and to an extent into the 19th century, kept by women, and came to be called "oppidans"; that is, townsfolk.

"Where do you board?" is still the question asked at Eton if you want to know a boy's house.

Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire

Sir: There is an inherent contradiction between allowing parents to choose what ever school they want with which ever specialism they want where ever they want and the need to get children to walk to school. Unless every village and town in the country is going to have several schools to choose from close at hand, all that the introduction of all this choice will do is put more parents on the road in their 4x4s ferrying their offspring to their chosen school.


War crime in Iraq

Sir: With both the Tories and Labour still supporting the so-called pre-emptive strike of the war against Iraq, it has become vital to spell out the legality of what happened in case we get a repeat.

To stop another world war, the Nuremberg tribunal in 1945 stated that the waging of aggressive war was an international crime. Since the UK was under no threat from Iraq (indeed the WMD issue has been proven subsequently to be just a cover) the leaders of our country fall foul of this test, for which people were actually hanged at the end of the Second World War.

Secondly, there was no UN mandate for war. Old resolutions referring to the Gulf War were quoted out of context to give a legal veneer to use force against Iraq. The UK again acted outside the law.

Thirdly 20,000 civilians were injured and 8,000 killed in Iraq, and there has to be account made of these. Deliberate targeting of civilians occurred, including bombing of Al-Jazeera, bombing of marketplaces in Baghdad and bombing of a restaurant believed to contain some of the Iraqi regime, making no distinction between civilians and combatants. Cluster bombs were used, which can cause civilian injury, but I think the worst offence was the use of depleted uranium weapons knowing that cancers in Basra had risen sharply after the Gulf War.

There are therefore a number of grounds for eventual prosecution of leaders such as Blair and his accomplices.


Sir: Mr Blair speaks of not having the "machinery" to accommodate securely four British detainees who have been held without charge, trial or lawyers for two years in Guantanamo Bay. What sort of machinery does he have in mind? Thumbscrews?


Talking books

Sir: Philip Hensher's admirable, well researched and most enjoyable article "Dishonourable mentions" (Review, 6 July) should perhaps be supplemented by the following views on scholarly indexing expressed by the economist and philosopher Professor G L S Shackle in a short piece, "The Big Flake", written in the late 1970s but only just published as an appendix in my book Economists in Discussion:

"Any book which seeks to present a coherent body of ideas about some aspect of the nature and process of the world needs an index. This serves the reader who wishes to refer to some passage which he is reminded of by what he is currently reading on a later page. It thus serves in a special degree the reviewer who must try to grasp and appraise the book's theme as an organic whole. Without an index (and an ample one) a book cannot converse with its reader, it can only lecture him."

Ideally publishers should therefore allow an author to complete his book in its natural way with his own index rather than one made by a professional indexer which may simply provide a sort of analytical table of contents.

St Edmund's College
University of Cambridge

Just jealous

Sir: Enough of this childishness over 4x4s ("Throwing mud at the monsters of the road", 9 July). Apparently I am dangerous, anti-social and selfish because I'm not a farmer and I drive a Land Rover.

I admit I go shopping in it, I've been to London in it and sometimes I even have the audacity to give my kids a lift to school in it. However, it can easily plough through mud and drive across snow and is wonderfully safe for its occupants. It can also tow a large boat and carry canoes and bikes on the roof and has seating for nine people.

The anti-4x4 brigade can stick to driving their dangerously fast tinny little runabouts at 100 mph down the motorway. They're only jealous because mine's bigger and oh so much better than theirs.

Falmouth, Cornwall

Blow to marriage

Sir: The Independent is pleased with the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Ray Parlour (leading article, 8 July). The establishment of the principle that a divorced spouse (especially one with a four-year marriage) is entitled to a fixed share of their partner's future earnings is significantly different from a continuing obligation to maintain at an appropriate rate an ex-spouse who is looking after young children, as well as those children. This is especially so, where, as in this case, there has been a very substantial capital settlement as well.

This decision will only encourage a regrettable trend for high-earning spouses to conceal and alienate assets. Not every employer has the corinthian values and morals of the Arsenal Football Club when it comes to telling the truth about earnings.

The decision may also discourage marriage. No properly advised man, whether with potentially high earnings or not, should now contemplate marriage. Women will suffer for this ruling, both through an unwillingness of men to marry, and through unenforceable financial settlements on divorce.

Woking, Surrey

Person or parasite

Sir: Ray Pescrose (letter, 9 July) accuses "the majority of society" who are neither devout Catholics nor followers of Peter Singer of an ethical fudge over where existence as a person with rights starts. No: the fudge is his when he conflates parasitism with dependency.

A foetus is literally, physically, parasitic on the body of one person. This condition ends at birth. A born child is indeed dependent on others for some time but his or her care can involve others too. In some cases the child, to safeguard rights we now give them as a person, may be taken - on behalf of society - under care which may even exclude the mother.

The switch from foetus to person is indeed clear and is generally recognised. We celebrate our birthdays as the anniversaries of birth, not of conception or some date in between.

Ludlow, Shropshire

Palace of jazz

Sir: I read Sholto Byrnes' article "The shape of jazz to come" (29 June) with great interest as we are hosting the BBC Jazz Awards. However I was disappointed with his statement that the event is "to be held this year in the somewhat incongruous surroundings of the Hammersmith Palais". Originally christened the Palais de Danse, the Hammersmith Palais was launched in 1919 to introduce Europe to jazz and has a fine (presumably understated) history of hosting live jazz events, performances and awards. "To be held this year in the befitting surroundings of the Hammersmith Palais" would have been more accurate.

Group Event Sales Manager, Barvest Ltd, London SW10

Disordered planets  

Sir: Your science editor's report on the rings of Saturn (9 July) tells us that all gas-giant planets - such as Venus - have rings. Odd that they weren't visible during the recent transit. Or could his computer spellcheck possibly have substituted Venus for Uranus? The latter is a gas giant with rings.

London SWI

Partners in Europe

Sir: Robin Cook is right (Opinion, 9 July). If we go into Europe we are one with our equals, together with whom we can form the future. If, on the other hand, we develop too close a relationship with America we are only a poor relation, with all that that implies. Would it not be a good step forward if, in our relationship with the other countries of the EU, our first question became: what can we do for the others? Any only in second place: what can we get out of it?

Stourbridge, Worcestershire

Innocent magpies

Sir: Tess Nash (letter, 6 July) appears to believe that, with the exception of those that are privileged to nest in her barn, swallows are subject to such depredations by magpies that they have become rare elsewhere. In fact swallows typically nest inside farm buildings and consequently their nests are rarely subject to magpie predation. Any shortage of swallows, or indeed other bird species, is much more likely to be the fault of us humans than of "marauding magpies".

Newcastle upon Tyne

Blairite future

Sir: Following the completion of the Government's Five Year Plans can we look forward to the next phase, "The Great Leap Forward"?

Bridgwater, Somerset