Immigrants are scapegoated by press, public and politicians
Sir: As a director of a small NGO dealing with migration, and as a city councillor, I am disappointed but not surprised that immigration is set to feature as a general election issue.
MPs will know through their surgeries that asylum seekers and immigrants (the two groups are lumped together because most people have no idea of the difference) have become the scapegoats for many individuals who can't get services they believe they are entitled to. Dissatisfied residents blame these groups for failure to obtain anything from adequate housing to health care. They usually quote a range of totally false assertions about how their chosen scapegoats get free this and free that.
When I challenge this, I find that the basis for these misconceptions is that they saw it in the papers; almost always the usual rags that we all know carry this sort of garbage.
For some time now I have used cuttings from these papers as examples of stereotyping when I am delivering training. An analysis of these papers clearly shows a sustained campaign of half-truths, misinformation and downright lies. This poisonous drip, drip has had a real effect on the public.
The real tragedy is that the politicians know the truth about the absolute necessity for immigration to fill many of the skills shortages. They know that refugees escaping from conflict are often confused in the minds of the public with so called "economic migrants". They could have explained all this. They could have funded campaigns to counter the gutter press claims. But most have done nothing.
Those who will suffer as a result of this political cowardice are ordinary decent human beings who just want to get a job, look after their families and live in peace. The vast majority of refugees and immigrants are ordinary, decent human beings.
City Councillor, Sheffield (Lib Dem)
Director, European Network for Integration & Development
Sir: Why do you conflate the indisputable economic benefits of admitting migrant workers with an effective open-door policy on asylum ("It is time that we dismantled the dangerous myth of Fortress Europe", 7 February)?
Without the presence of cheap labour from overseas willing to take on jobs which indigenous workers shun, many firms in London and the South-east in particular would be unable to staff their businesses.
But to argue that we should therefore admit anyone who seeks entry - with no apparent consideration for the already substantial strain on the housing and transport infrastructures - risks provoking a political backlash which will stifle the very flow of migrants which has enriched this country, many businesses and the migrants themselves.
London Chamber of Commerce
Bikes, walkers and cars claim right of way
Sir: It's heartening to see the National Cycle Strategy Board calling for more funding for cycling ("Straying from the path: Britain falls behind Europe in the cycling stakes", 7 February). But the problem isn't really a lack of funds, but a lack of informed political leadership. The Government makes money available, but it is spent ineffectively by local authorities, which frequently put in gold-plated facilities in locations with little demand. The Government then withdraws the funds, leading to an unproductive stalemate.
If we want to see a significant transfer to cycling, we have to put in cycle lanes on main roads, to let adults cycle to work, and make the back streets safe for children to cycle to school. There mustn't be gaps in the network when there "isn't enough space". Oxfordshire, for instance, refuses to install a cycle lane at a crucial location because a bridge is 20cm too narrow. If we want cycling to be a priority, then we must stop tolerating such nonsense, and insist that solutions are found. This might mean slightly less room, or a reduced speed limit for buses and cars, but in moderation this ought to be acceptable.
Sustrans, the charity encouraging cycling, walking and public transport, has done a huge job in promoting leisure routes away from the traffic. But the real battle is in providing facilities on the main roads in our town centres; it's here that the Government should be insisting on tough choices being made.
Cyclox (Cycle Campaign for Oxford)
Sir: I have no sympathy for "speed criminal" John Walsh (Motoring, 1 February), about to lose his licence because he's been caught speeding four times. At least he's not about to lose his life, or lose his licence because of a near-fatal head injury, as I did when I was knocked off my bicycle. And not for one year, but three, followed by an extended driving test, all because of a driver's failure to observe the finer points of his duty of care.
If Mr Walsh is so worried about very slowly trudging through life for a year and the endless queuing for buses, he could always get on a bicycle. Travelling through London will be much quicker than by bus and probably just as quick as by car. He might also begin to appreciate just how intimidating speeds above 30mph are for vulnerable road users.
Sir: As I work with people whose lives have been destroyed by being knocked down by careless drivers and as a close relation was killed in the same way at the age of 18, I never really read through moaning articles from those who have been slightly inconvenienced by zealous or even by over-zealous traffic police.
On a brighter note, I would like John Walsh to know that buses are wonderful. You get to your destination almost as fast as by traffic jam, with the added benefit of exercise from the bit you have to walk. You can make a game of getting to know bizarre, convoluted bus routes and how to chop and change depending on how much time you have. You get to see parts that you never knew existed.
He may even strike up conversations with interesting people, including other punished drivers like himself. After such an exciting year, he'll sell his car and be done with it.
Sir: Barrie Clement (" 'Museum Alley' will allow cars and pedestrians to live together", 1 February) says that pedestrians "are to be given the right to walk [on roads] where they want, when they want". Pedestrians have had that right for centuries; it has been curtailed not by legislation but by motorists' belief that they take precedence over non-motorised highway users.
The "kerb-drill" we were taught has made us think we can drive oblivious to pedestrians, whose place is to stand obsequiously at the kerb nervously eyeing the traffic, scurrying furtively across like small prey when a gap occurs; and that it is a sin against creation for a walker to impede a motorist. It is to be hoped that the Exhibition Road experiment will go some way to correcting this.
We doubt it will, though. Our trunk roads are crossed on the level at hundreds of locations by lesser highways such as footpaths and bridleways, whose users are "protected" by "Pedestrians Crossing" signs. These make not the slightest impression on traffic speeds. Hope for improvement glimmered in 2000 when the Highways Agency promised £250m for a programme of safer crossing-points. Then in 2004 they withdrew it; unfortunate, when 14 pedestrians die on our roads each week.
Director of Campaigns
The Ramblers' Association
Health of the disabled
Sir: My severely learning disabled son of 53 years has no speech and the ability level of a pre-school child. I have been aware for many years that it requires more determination to have his ailments diagnosed and treated than has ever been the case for his non-handicapped brother and sister.
I am pleased to see the support given to the Disability Rights Commission's research by the President of the Royal College of Physicians and other medical and nursing professionals (letter, 2 February). I notice, however, that the dental profession is not among the signatories. There are special difficulties in giving dental treatment to people with a learning disability and dentists and nurses practising in this field successfully are most valuable. The dental needs of people with LD are certainly not less than those of the general population but experience shows that these needs are often neglected.
People with LD, who are likely to have complex health needs, should have the equivalent of the "well woman" and "well man" annual checks that are available to the elderly population. Our local mental health/LD NHS trust takes the view that "routine annual checks are not required".
Sir: Professor Knox's research (report, 17 January) is not alone in finding increased childhood cancer near pollution sites. Similar findings were reported in France last year in relation to children's proximity to petrol stations. A recent Europe-wide study shows that for some cancers, incidence in adolescents is about twice that of 50 years ago, increasing at 1.5 per cent per year. Given that our genetic make-up does not change on this timescale, we may suspect that environmental factors play a part in this increase.
For childhood leukaemia, it is already known that for many cases, pre-leukaemic damage occurs in utero. In reply to Ken Campbell's letter (26 January), childhood leukaemia is clearly multi-causal and contributory factors may conspire to provide apparently conflicting evidence to support any one suspected cause.
Last September, the largest childhood leukaemia charity, Children with Leukaemia, sponsored the first international conference to examine the causes and mechanisms of childhood leukaemia, including infections, background ionising radiation, exposure at night to street and indoor lighting, electric and magnetic fields, as well as pollution in air, water and food (see www.leukaemiaconference.org). Along with air pollution, one of the possible causal factors in childhood leukaemia that the conference debated most extensively was light.
Exposure to light at night inhibits the nocturnal production in the pineal gland of the natural anti-cancer agent melatonin. Society today is exposed to far more light at night compared with 50 years ago and this may help explain the increased incidence of childhood cancer over this period. In the continuing absence of identification of a major childhood leukaemia virus, circumstantial evidence claiming to support a viral aetiology remains speculative, and could be explained in other ways.
Professor of Human Radiation Effects
University of Bristol
House of secrets
Sir: It is curious that Simon Carr (The Sketch, 26 January) refers to me, and the other MEPs giving evidence to the House of Commons Scrutiny Committee last week, as "functionaries".
He also mentions the question of EU legislation being discussed in public, but he is less than clear about the current situation. May I recap?
The European Parliament meets and deliberates in public. Under the terms of the new EU constitution, the EU Council of Ministers will also meet and deliberate on legislation in public. Yet the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee almost always sits in secret!
But this is a decision which they can choose to reverse at any moment. Will those MPs who criticise alleged lack of transparency in EU institutions be the first to put their own House in order?
RICHARD CORBETT MEP
(Lab, Yorkshire & the Humber)
Out of step
Sir: In the article "Target Iran" (5 February) you quote Condoleezza Rice as saying "Iranian behaviour is out of step with the direction and desires of the international community". If she truly believes this then she will not have any problem with making a commitment for America to take action against Iran only if it is backed by an unambiguous resolution passed by the UN.
Churchill's last journey
Sir: There are many reasons why the funeral train carrying Churchill's body left from Waterloo (letter, 4 February). The station stands very close to the Thames, which was an integral part of the funeral day. The locomotive hauling the train, a Battle of Britain pacific, bore the name Winston Churchill, and this was operated by the Southern region of British Railways, which included Waterloo. The fact that there is a line from there giving access to Oxfordshire via Reading was surely a factor.
The Rev DAVID R BUNNEY
Stay cool in winter
Sir: The fact that M Tatlock (letter, 5 February) saw his postman wearing shorts on the last day of January might have more to do with rules and regulations than global warming. Our postman now wears shorts all year round and told me that the old rules only permitted him to do so from April through September.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Sir: The landlord at our village pub and the man who delivers the newspapers both always dress in shorts. Does this indicate global warming, or how much heat may be generated by hard work?
Effect and cause
Sir: Professor Rodney Coates (letter, 5 February) explains that the legal principle of causality states that an event must be preceded by its cause. It seems to me that the annual posting of Christmas cards is caused by Christmas, yet the posting precedes Christmas. Does the principle of causality show that posting cards is the cause of Christmas?