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It's poverty that makes the choices so hard

Mary Pimm's letter (30 August) reminds us that abortion is indeed "a class issue". It also serves to remind us of the limited and individualistic context of the debate. While pro-lifers and right-to-choosers engage in their familiar dialogue of the deaf, both neglect to ask: "What kind of life?" and "What kind of choice?"

While unemployment, unaffordable housing and cuts in post-natal services pressurise many women into accepting terminations they might not otherwise wish for, the alternative of seeing pregnancies to term may seem to offer no life at all. Only the well-off and the well-housed can feel free of such pressures.

Contrary to Ms Pimm's assertion, procedurally impartial counselling may help individual women to come to more autonomous choices, but it cannot solve the systemic problem. With or without such counselling, "it is the poorest and the weakest who will suffer the most".

Perhaps the struggle for a more just society is an issue over which both sides of the abortion debate could begin to make common cause—however we should not hold our breath!

The Rev Dr Duncan Macpherson, Hampton, Middlesex

Ministers pander to religious zealots

With reference to Nadine Dorries and her campaign for so-called "independent" advice for women seeking abortions, the crucial test is surely not whether any advice given is independent, but whether the advice given is genuinely impartial.

As her stated aim is to save 60,000 abortions a year, and she has taken the counsel of Christian fundamentalists, it's blindingly obvious that the advice she is advocating will be heavily biased. It will be advice in the best interests of male-dominated religious groups, and against the best interests of women, who surely in 21st-century Britain have the right to determine the use of their own bodies.

The astonishing thing is how readily the Government is falling in behind this religiously motivated campaign. It is surprising that the self-confessed wishy-washy Anglican David Cameron seems to be happy to foist the bizarre superstitions of a handful of religious fundamentalists so readily on all of the population.

Where is Nick Clegg, the atheist and man of reason and rationalism, in all of this?

Alistair McBay, Methven, Perth and Kinross

If a foetus is human, it has human rights

In the abortion advice debate, the neglected question is whether the unborn baby has any human rights at all. That the foetus is obviously human is plain from scan images. The human right not to be killed must not depend on whether a person is "wanted" or not. Otherwise infanticide and other heinous crimes would become acceptable.

Mary Pimm (letter, 30 August) complains that lack of abortion "rights"' affects the "poorest and weakest". But surely unborn children are even weaker and more defenceless.

Matt Pallister, Durham

Don't give in to the banks

You report that David Cameron and George Osborne are sympathetic to the (entirely predictable) calls by the banks for reform to be delayed for several years ("Osborne and Cable at war over bank reform", 31 August).

I'm sure I recall David Cameron warning, before becoming Prime Minister, that a Conservative government would not surrender to "vested interests" when pursuing much-needed modernisation.

Oh, of course, he was only referring to the public sector. To the Conservatives, there is no such thing as vested interests in the private sector. The demands of big business are always deemed to be entirely altruistic and in the national interest.

Pete Dorey, Bath

Claims by the British Bankers Association and Confederation of British Industry that ring-fencing of retail banking would be damaging to the British economy are both alarmist and incorrect.

Failure to ring-fence retail banks would pose a far greater danger. This country cannot afford another bank bailout, yet we would be left with no choice if we allow banks to continue to intertwine vital retail banking services with riskier "casino" banking.

That's why the Government must not delay in implementing these reforms. Giving the banks years to put a ring-fence in place will just prolong the exposure of British taxpayers and the wider economy.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive, Which?, London NW1

Why do we fear travellers?

Basildon Borough Council has won a court case permitting the eviction of travellers from an illegal site at Dale Farm. While many local residents will be happy with the result, the legal process has been incredibly expensive, and many fear the situation will simply be shifted to another location.

Why does the settled community fear travellers setting up in their neighbourhood? The big problems are those of litter, rowdiness and petty crime. It is a situation repeated in the cases of illegal raves and squatting.

If a landowner wishes to use property that is occupied illegally, eviction is indeed the only answer. In other cases though, the efforts of the authorities would be better spent on ensuring the good behaviour of the people concerned. For example, how many extra police officers in the Dale Farm area could have been paid for with the estimated £9.5m cost of clearing the site?

It is surely time for the Government to recognise the difference between alternative lifestyles, providing those people keep themselves to themselves, and those people who use such lifestyles as an excuse to commit criminal offences against others.

A R Wainwright, Halstead, Essex

Here we go again, we have the followers of human rights trying to defend tinkers, travellers, call them what you will, illegally building on Green Belt land. They call themselves travellers, but they don't travel; instead they pick a piece of land they like and build on it.

What gives these outlaws the right to ignore the law that we all live by? Why do they have the right to build on any piece of land they want and we don't?

Why this council has waited this long to move them on is beyond me. Perhaps other councils will take notice and move this gang on as soon as they arrive.

J H Moffatt, Bredbury, Greater Manchester

The Christopher Robin I knew

M Donnison-Morgan, commenting on the closure of the Harbour Bookshop (letter, 24 August), suggests that we "give something to Christopher Robin Milne to say thank you for all the misery he endured trying to be allowed to shake off the image of the boy with the teddy bear".

I was at school with him at Stowe and also knew him at Trinity College, Cambridge. That was the first year of the Second World War. By then I had been commissioned in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, but had been told to complete my engineering degree finals before being called up. Christopher, after his first academic year, decided to join the Royal Engineers, so we both left together in June 1940 to join the Local Defence Volunteers, later renamed the Home Guard, near to our respective homes before being called up.

When he returned to England after the war, he went back to Trinity and took a degree in English. He then went to work in the Central Office of Information. Sometime then he told me about his search for a suitable location for starting a bookshop in a town where there was not one already but where there was likely to be a good demand for one. Dartmouth, with the Royal Naval College, looked ideal.

My wife and I visited him and his wife, Lesley, and their daughter, Clare, several times in Dartmouth.

When I knew him, he did not seem still to be suffering from his close association with Pooh. Nevertheless, he dealt with it in an ideal way in the first two of the five books which he wrote, one every three or four years, being published between 1974 and 1988. His memorial already exists in the form of the wood at Ashdown Forest, the original Enchanted Place.

Sir Reginald E W Harland, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Mind your languages

David Wilkins writes much about the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages at GCSE (Letter, 27 August), despite appearing to have no experience of the subject.

I have taught French and Spanish in the state sector since 1979. It is simply untrue to suggest that no communicative work is done in a GCSE in a foreign language. All three main exam boards currently award 30 per cent of the total mark for speaking and 30 per cent for writing, with only 20 per cent being awarded to each of the receptive skills – reading and listening. Pupils spend the vast majority of my lessons in Year 11 doing nothing but communicative work. It is simply inaccurate to suggest that GCSE pupils are unable to have a conversation in a foreign language with a native speaker of that language.

It is also completely inaccurate to suggest that GCSE students have to study literature in modern languages. It never has been the case, and nor was it the case at O-level or CSE before. Even at AS and A2, literature is no longer a compulsory part of the syllabus. I did teach Bodas de Sangre by Federico Garcia Lorca a couple of years ago, but only because my students chose to study it. This year, my A2 students have opted for other cultural topics. As for Flaubert, I would like to assure Mr Wilkins that I have read Madame Bovary in the original, and would never recommend it to anyone.

David Warbis, Poole, Dorset

While on a technicality, Richard Garner may be correct to believe that "The decline [in pupils studying languages] started after Labour made the subject voluntary ... in 2004" (report, 26 August), I trace this trend back to the 1980s when it appeared to us who taught modern languages in UK universities that Margaret Thatcher had little short of a vendetta against languages, with the result that so many of our institutions had to retrench massively.

There was little to distinguish the approaches of the two main parties on this: one encouraged the decline in our schools, the other in our universities. However, I rejoice in a sinner who repents.

Dr Michael Johnson, Brighton

Why rape is so hard to prove

Joan Smith's article on justice for rape victims (24 August) displays the usual impassioned bias in favour of the complainant, which does rape victims no favours at all.

Last year I was called for jury service, and heard an accusation of rape. I was impressed by the painstaking and thorough procedures of the court, and the way in which every possible facility was made available to the young lady in question, including enabling her to give evidence behind a screen, a break in the proceedings when she became very distressed, and a subsequent video-link set up. No such facilities were offered to the defendant, who before any verdict had to make himself known to all.

The unanimous decision of the jury was "Not guilty." The problems with rape cases are manifold: first, it is almost always a case of one person's word against another's; the presence of bodily fluids on clothing or furniture does not, of itself, mean that penetrative intercourse has taken place; and then there is the question of expectation and what each party has experienced the act as having been.

In the recent case of DSK, there would always be a doubt, regardless of any background details, such as the victim's having lied to immigration, as it boiled down to her word against his. This might well be tragic in some cases, undesirable to say the least, but it is a fact.

The moment we start tampering with this essential basis of "reasonable doubt", the law collapses into itself. Rather than imprison an innocent person, we stick to this principle.

Susan I Harr, Hull, East Yorkshire

British guilt over Israel

If Michael Burd (letter, 31 August) took some time to discover some of the many reasons why Israel is so unpopular at the moment he would be less bewildered.

Many of us in Britain feel guilty that Britain unwittingly gave away another country and that the people living there have suffered and continue to suffer ever since under occupation. Many of us seek to redress an ongoing injustice in solidarity with the Palestinians in the pursuit of peace.

Whether boycotting the arts and academia is helpful is a moot point. Boycotting import of settlement goods from stolen land is another thing and is legal.

Jennifer Bell, Tiverton, Devon

Michael Burd writes of racism and discrimination against minority Christians in the Palestinian territories.

Three years ago I was a member of a group who had a meeting, in Bethlehem, with the principal of Bethlehem Bible College. He told us that he had never been on the receiving end of such racism and discrimination from the Muslims in the Palestinian population.

We were presented with decorated wall tiles as a memento of our visit. These were taken away from us on our exit from Israel to be tested for traces of explosives. How much safer I felt. Almost as safe as when, at a check-point in the wall between Palestine and Israel, we were threatened at gunpoint by a young member of the Israeli Defence Force.

Jeremy Axten, Addlestone, Surrey

School uniform keeps the peace

Your feature on school uniforms (31 August) fails to mention a significant advantage for parents if children have to wear them.

If kids are wearing uniform, then they are not wearing their "own" clothes. With my six- and eight-year-old boys, the school uniform is a saviour: same clothes, every day. No choice. No debates. No tantrums.

My four-year-old daughter is still at nursery and does not wear a uniform. Every morning: "Not wearing that. Don't like buttons. Don't want a dress. Want short sleeves. Not those shoes....".

I think school uniforms, beyond the philosophical, psychological, motivational and financial aspects, are a practical solution.

Gary Clark, London EC4

Virgin Islands tax agreement

Your article "Osborne's targeting of overseas tax havens 'appalling deal for UK' " (26 August) suggests HM Revenue and Customs will now seek an agreement with the British Virgin Islands (BVI) similar to the one recently concluded with Switzerland. In fact the BVI has a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the UK, which was signed in October 2008 and which already allows the UK to request information in relation to civil and criminal tax investigations.

This TIEA was further complemented by the BVI's commitment to move to automatic exchange of information under the terms of the European Union's Savings Directive from the end of this year. The UK Government has generally recognised that an information exchange approach is preferable to the introduction of a withholding tax regime because it is clearly more transparent.

The BVI has now signed a total of 22 such TIEAs with countries including the USA, China and many other European nations. Indeed the BVI is on the "white list" of those countries which have "substantially implemented" the internationally agreed tax standards set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Sherri Ortiz, Executive Director, British Virgin Islands International Finance Centre, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

Pathetic rubbish from Hitler

Tony Paterson's article about Storch Heinar (30 August) and his book Mein Krampf misses one rather important point. Krampf also means "pathetic", implying "rubbish", as in Das ist doch Krampf! Hitler's Mein Kampf is often referred to as Mein Krampf. Not, of course, by the far right.

Michael Clarke, Godalming, Surrey

Draconian punishments

In 2008 Rowan Williams was criticised for suggesting maybe Sharia law could apply to some communities in Britain. Now, after the riots, someone gets 20 months for stealing a T-shirt, and I suspect the same objectors will say, "Well done."

Clive Tiney, York

Birds of good omen

You report on the resurgence of wildlife in Britain (29 August). While walking from Leicester to Loughborough along the river yesterday I saw six heron. Only a couple of years ago I would have been lucky to see one.

Brian Smith, Loughborough, Leicestershire

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