After Morecambe Bay, we must act against labour trafficking
Sir: There has been commentary, in the wake of the appalling tragedy of the cockle collectors in Morecambe Bay, on the lack of obvious offences for which those accused of exploiting them could be charged.
This confused search for justice shows how necessary it is to have explicit, and tough, legislation against labour trafficking and exploitation, and the necessary accompanying measures to catch and imprison bosses (rather than victims). This may require a vigorous inspection process and more efficient liaison between the Home Office and legitimate industry, and must go hand in hand with support for victims and a sensible approach to legal immigration, which would help put criminal gangs out of business. Care would be needed to avoid discriminatory targeting of employers who happened to employ large numbers of (British and legal immigrant) ethnic minority workers.
It is perhaps a pity that the UK had not already put fully into force an EU law passed in 2002 which makes trafficking in human beings a specific offence punishable by imprisonment. Included in the offence are the acts of instigation, aiding and abetting.
I am glad the Westminster parliament has now partly implemented the EU measure by criminalising sex trafficking for prostitution and pornography, though provisions to outlaw trafficking for purposes of labour exploitation have been given a lower priority and are only now being proposed in the current Asylum Bill. Welcome, though, is the fact that the UK is exceeding the EU target by making 14 years the maximum penalty.
But the important thing once the slave labour offence is on the statute book is that it is actually used. It will not be wise to automatically treat victims as illegal workers, and detain and swiftly deport them as EU states have tended to do.This is to risk the loss of valuable evidence, when if given care and protection the exploited people could testify as witnesses against their "masters".
If there is any lack of will or resources put into this effort - which should be a top priority of the new national police agency - then suspicions may arise that the Government is more conscious of the benefits of cheap labour to a "flexible" economy than zealous about eradicating the commission of heinous crimes.
SARAH LUDFORD MEP
Liberal Democrat European justice spokeswoman
European Parliament, Brussels
Iraq, the 'moral' war of aggression
Sir: It is outrageous of Bruce Anderson (9 February) to claim that the war against Iraq was moral.
Conceding there was no immediate threat from Saddam Hussein, he resorts to saying "with the passage of time, the risks of him obtaining terrifying weaponry were bound to grow." So we can now go round the world bombing countries and killing and maiming many thousands of innocent people if we believe that one day their leaders might possibly acquire the ability to attack others with horrible weapons!
Iraq was not within a thousand years of being able to wage a war against the United States and the UK. What could possibly induce any Iraqi leader to do such a foolish thing? Not one country neighbouring Iraq spoke of feeling threatened and most spoke against any attack on Iraq.
Wars of aggression are illegal under international law, and against the core principle of the United Nations Charter. Those who advocate wars of aggression should take note of the judgment of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal which stated that such a war is "the supreme international crime".
Executive Committee, Action for UN Renewal.
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
Sir: Tony Howlett believes that those who think the war in Iraq was illegal are unaware of its "benefits" (letter, 10 February). He asserts that the world is now a far safer place. Even if this were true, which is arguable, it is like justifying a bank robbery by giving all the money you stole to charity.
Sir: If I understand Alastair Forsyth (letters 9 February) correctly, the Iraqi regime had been defying the UN for several years, although Iraq had made it clear that UN weapons inspectors were free to carry on with their work; and it was necessary to go to war with Iraq in order to safeguard the world and restore the authority of the UN (which had refused to sanction the war).
Bush and Blair, plus a "great mass" of ordinary people (such as Mr Forsyth) were astute enough to know this and it was their duty to push the greater mass of the people into action, as forcibly as possible - and presumably using any so-called evidence, true, false or merely dodgy, it order to get the war started.
So the argument about the validity or otherwise of the evidence presented to Parliament and people is irrelevant.
So that's all right then.
Sir: The former senior MoD intelligence official, Brian Jones, has said in his evidence to the Hutton inquiry and repeatedly since that the September dossier was "over-egged" and that "In my view the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002, resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities" (article, 4 February). Strong stuff.
Tony Blair responded in the Commons, on the same day, that Dr Jones had simply argued that the dossier should have said "intelligence indicates" rather than "intelligence shows" that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. "I agree there is a difference between those two things, but let us be quite clear, it is hardly of earth-shattering significance," Mr Blair told MPs.
Are we now witnessing an interesting new phenomenon of "sexing down"?
Sir: The main line of defence from supporters of France's proposed law banning headscarves, skull caps, "conspicuous crucifixes", turbans and other religious symbols from state schools seems to be that "secularism [is] a core value of the French republic (a point lost on most British writers)" (letter, 10 February). I doubt very much whether this point is lost on most British writers; it's simply that it doesn't add up to a particularly compelling argument.
Even if we believe that Muslim women might be "liberated" by not wearing headscarves, as many Muslim women in France and elsewhere argue, we still have to address the issue of whether the state should and can legislate to bring this about. Accepting that children wear 'religious symbols' in schools does not suggest state endorsement of religion, but state support for the value of toleration. The wearing of a headscarf, skull cap or turban is the expression of complex cultural identity. Cultural practice is deeply rooted and cultural change tends to occur in a climate of respect and security rather than fear and conflict.
The law will almost certainly worsen already troubled race relations. Far from recapturing the "republican" agenda for the centre and centre-right, it is likely to play into the hands of the Front National by inadvertently encouraging racism and aggression towards immigrants and minorities who seek to maintain elements of their "difference". In response, minorities are likely to become further alienated from the mainstream of French society and some will become more militant.
The European Union has blazed a trail towards the free movement of capital, goods and services in a common market; a profoundly important step away from centuries of nationalism, imperialism and geopolitical competition towards co-operation for mutual benefit. Logically, the EU now faces pressure for the freer movement of peoples.
Accommodating the aspirations of those in the EU's newest member states - and many other people around the world - who wish to contribute to, and share in, economic success is one of the central challenges now facing the oldest nation-states. It is in all of our interests to find equitable and workable solutions. The current moves in France should be seen in this context and as a backward step both for France and for Europe.
Sir: Building trade associations such as the Mastic Asphalt Council will be interested by the Government's aim to offer children the chance to leave the classroom and learn a trade ("14-year-old 'apprentices' to escape the classroom", 9 February).
However, has the Government thought through this initiative? The major problem is the insurance crisis which has hit a number of specialist contractors within construction. This has seen increases in employer compulsory liability insurance premiums of up to 1,000 per cent in a year for some contractors despite an exemplary health and safety record. The Government will need to get clarification from the insurance industry to ensure schoolchildren can be properly covered when on the building site. Otherwise, it is going to be very difficult for kids even to see the work being carried out, let alone pick up tools and find out for themselves.
Another important aspect not sufficiently identified is the requirement that those schoolchildren receive the necessary formal health and safety training before setting foot on a site.
Nevertheless, the whole building industry recognises that there is an urgent need to address the skills gap. One measure the Mastic Asphalt Council has introduced is a scheme to encourage youngsters into the industry by awarding £1,000 to all apprentices who complete their NVQ Level 3 mastic asphalt course. We believe that for many young people the reward of a £1,000 bonus and a structured career path will sit favourably against the alternative of £20,000 debt due to top-up fees, and a qualification which does not necessarily prepare you to join the country's workforce.
Director, Mastic Asphalt Council
Sir: The complaints against speed cameras usually consist of either "I'm far too good a driver to be told what the maximum safe speed is" or "S'not fair, I got caught but they didn't, boo-hoo." We have all got the message now, so do you think that we could have a break from pompous columnists who think that speed cameras are a good thing in the road on which they live but an intolerable injustice elsewhere?
Jason Barlow (Motoring, 10 February) may think fining speeding drivers is comparable to the poll tax. I regard it as a tax on selfishness.
Sir: Jason Barlow is a fool if he thinks that motorists - speed-camera-hating or not - are anti-establishment. It appears that Britain and America went to war mainly to secure the West's energy supply (and hence petrol supply) for the medium-term: it doesn't get much more establishment than that. In the midst of our current speed-obsessed madness, true defiance of the status quo is represented by those who walk or ride bikes.
Ageism in court
Sir: Christopher Leslie wrote that the Criminal Justices Act will remove some of the categories of ineligibility for jury service (letter, 5 February). Is this to include ineligibility on grounds of age? Having retired, I would be very willing to serve, but am ineligible at present as I am the same age as Lord Hutton. Seems odd to me.
Sir: It was sad to read that the closed minds of their parents prevented some of your female readers from experiencing the pleasures of building sets in the 1950s (letter, 4 February). Particularly so as the manufacturers of Bayko were pioneers of equality, marking their boxes and manuals with a picture of a boy and a girl and the slogans "The Fascinating Never Failing Diversion for Boys and Girls", "The Ideal Gift for Every Boy and Girl" and "For Boys and Girls of All Ages". A visit to www.bayko.co.uk will prove this point.
Legend of Hutton
Sir: Last Friday I was present whilst two barristers were fiercely disputing their submissions to a judge when one said, "If he does a Hutton on me I'll go straight to the Court of Appeal." Will football fans soon chant this at referees, I wonder? I believe Hutton will become folk legend.
Sir: I hope that Michael Howard will bear in mind that there are as many British dreams as there are Britons. My dream is of a Britain as part of a united Europe with a foreign policy independent of the United States. What's yours?
Sir: Interesting to read that unprecedented numbers of swallows have been spotted across southern England more than six weeks ahead of their normal arrival time. How on earth did they get past David Blunkett?