Letters: A new Constitutional Convention

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A new British Constitutional Convention for the 21st century

Sir: Margaret Macaulay (Letters, 10 November) calls for a "federal UK with four independent states". If the four states were united in a federation they would not of course be "independent". Presumably she means "self-governing" in all "domestic" matters but conferring supra-national powers to a federal government, as in the US?

To achieve this objective, the British Parliament would have to repeal the Act of Union, restoring sovereign Scottish and English Parliaments, which would then decide what powers, if any, they were willing to hand over to a British government.

So far from re-examining the Act of Union, the British government will not even agree to ask the people of England if they would like to have a devolved Parliament for England, as in Scotland. The Labour government is supported in this by both the Conservative and Liberal-Democrat parties. None of them will ask the people of England what they want. They will offer only what the people of England have shown emphatically that they do not want, that is elected "regional" assemblies.

There is a Tory review of the Constitution but what is the betting that it will fail to propose either a devolved English parliament or a federal solution?

This matter is too important to be left to partisan politicians. We need a new British Constitutional Convention. There is in existence an English Constitutional Convention.

Let it combine with the former Scottish Constitutional Convention, and with convention representatives from Wales and Ireland, and consider what form of government is required for 21st-century Britain.



Armed police are a danger to the public

Sir: Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur (Letters, 13 November) invites our sympathy for the plight of armed police officers who kill, but wishes to apply double standards to support them. What other person under investigation for possible unlawful killing is given anonymity prior to trial and only named on conviction?

Who, in such circumstance, is subject only to secret investigation by colleagues? It is difficult to reconcile innocence under that process with, for instance, the Coroner's Court finding of "unlawful killing" of a man shot for carrying a table leg.

He stresses the dangers of hesitation when deciding to shoot, but it might have prevented two high profile killings of entirely innocent men in recent years. They deserved protection by the police, not summary mistaken execution.

The routine arming of police is a danger to the public at large, and there is little evidence to show that many lives have been saved as a result. Our police are developing a gun culture based more on protecting themselves than the public. Their job is dangerous, but not uniquely so, and they should not be allowed to kill without being accountable for their actions in the same way as the public they are employed to protect.



Sir: Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur clearly does not understand.

First, it isn't the split-second decisions at the end of the process that worries us. It is the repeated failure of the process up to then to identify the right person or operate sensibly.

The police shoot unarmed people, such as Harry Stanley who was carrying a table-leg, or Derek Bennett who was carrying a novelty cigarette lighter. They shoot people whose mental health has caused concern, such as Andrew Kernan or Michael Malsbury. And they shoot Jean Charles de Menezes 11 times at point-blank range, thinking he was somebody else.

The one thing they don't do is melodramatic shoot-outs with the perpetrators of gun crime, thankfully.

Second, the much-vaunted accountability holds nobody to any sort of effective account. The police who shot dead a naked Jimmy Ashley in the cold, grey light of dawn are the only ones the CPS could bring themselves to prosecute. The judge directed the jury to acquit in that case.

The rest of the so-called accountability is to toothless watchdogs such as the IPCC, or often idiosyncratic and powerless coroner's courts.

The assistant commissioner's apparent complacency, together with the attitude of the president of Acpo and the chairman of the Police Federation, is exactly what concerns those who have been bereaved by his officers' shootings, a group of families suffering every bit as much stress as those of police marksmen.



Sir: Carl Gladwell reinforces my point (Letters, 14 November). He implies that because a number of policemen have laid down their lives in the course of their duty the grateful public should not question the efficacy or management of the police force as a whole. So, by the same logical leap, because our soldiers are being killed in Iraq we shouldn't question the legality of the war?

No, even though each year on average two policemen are killed on duty and over 25 members of the public, on average, also meet their ends at the hands of, or in the care of, the police. We must question every case properly; we need a really independent enquiry force, one that is motivated to allocate blame where it really lies and has some power.

We also need effective and transparent disciplinary procedures, so that we can see that poor performance is being effectively managed, wherever it occurs.



Blair's legacy is the threat of terrorism

Sir: For more than three years I have been at my wits' end, trying to make out what will be the enduring legacy of Tony Blair's premiership: no doubt many people share my concern.

For a long time I was afraid it would be that he planned and took part in an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation which did not constitute any threat to this country or its interests. Or it may have been that his successive administrations have launched the most sustained assault on civil liberties in Britain since the Six Acts. It could have been his eagerness to support Israel's recent assault on Lebanon, or to diminish the status of the United Nations.

So much it might have been. But now we know: the man himself has told us. Rather than anything as trivial as those suggestions, Mr Blair's legacy is that terrorism will threaten this country for a generation. Well, it's something to be proud of, I suppose.

If George Bush is, as Rupert Cornwell suggested (9 November), the worst president in America's history, what does that say for his obsequious ally?



Newspapers are here to stay

Sir: I thoroughly enjoyed your special report on the future of newspapers (Media, 13 November). It is a tribute to your eponymous independence that you publish praises of your competitors, something they are unlikely to have the confidence to do. The only weakness of the report is that insiders tend to polarise in their opinions; they are some of the worst people at seeing the wood from the trees. Outsiders can sometimes take a more objective view so, if you will forgive me, here's mine.

The doomsaying may continue forever, but the show still goes on at the theatre. The good news therefore for all of us who adore newspapers must be that it would take something significantly more radical than the internet to signal the end of print.

New technologies and new media do have two recurring habits. They bring about a need for greater specialisation and they enrich the whole through cross-fertilisation. The cross-fertilisation happens at the level of ideas however, not within a single business.

Will Lewis, the editor of the Daily Telegraph is mistaken if he thinks the future of a print newspaper lies in marketing itself through its online edition. In time, that idea will come to be seen as delusional as the idea of a theatre company using their TV department to put more bums on seats.

The past century would suggest that newspapers will be around for a very long time and although more people will flock to the internet than to the newsagent and although the big new commercial success stories may come from pure online players, the richer experience will probably still be found in print. On with the show.



Climate catastrophe waiting to happen

Sir: Imagine, if you will, that in 2050 a giant meteorite was predicted to collide with Earth. The impact is likely to cause catastrophic changes, melting of the Polar ice caps, including Greenland's vast ice sheet, leading to 12-metre rises in sea levels, vast areas becoming deserts and huge temperature rises.

Imagine also that the technology existed to avert the path of the meteorite and, provided action was taken within 10 to 15 years, such a catastrophe could be averted. In such a case, would we not be united in our demands for immediate action that included strong, decisive leadership from all governments? Would we expect the formation of a coalition government that put aside minor differences and dealt with the issues as a matter of extreme urgency?

With the onset of climate change we face a similar scenario and yet we drift aimlessly on. Am I the only one who feels terrified?



Real recipe for a Cornish pasty

Sorry Mark Hix, but no. I am sure your Cornish pasty recipe (13 November) tastes wonderful but it can't be the real thing. Miners' and farmers' wives had neither the time nor resources to pre-cook, add Worcester sauce, use butter in the pastry and stick things together with beaten egg.

The ingredients should be raw chopped onion, chopped skirt of beef, and swede and potato "chipped" in a particular way off the corners of the peeled potato or swede so that the centre of each piece is thicker than the edges. This helps cooking and allows the ingredients to be successfully put one on top of the other.

Layers mean that the juices of the onion run into the meat and down through the pasty, picking up flavour until they seep into the potato layer.

Ample seasoning of every layer with salt and particularly pepper is essential. The pastry is made with lard only and wetter than normal short crust so that it can be pulled up over the mound of vegetables and meat.

Cutting out pastry round a dinner plate? No, not even that. The true pasty makers do it all by eye and work it to such a degree that not one morsel of pastry or ingredient is left over. My Cornish grandmother and Cornish aunts would be amazed at Mr Hix's "up country" methods.



Sir: Mount Edgecumbe Estate mentioned in the article as the source of the pasty recipe is in Cornwall, but at one time was in Devon. Perhaps that accounts for the confusion.



Profit-making drugs

Sir: Jo Tanner assures us that experiments on live animals are a "vital piece" of drug development (letter, 11 November). It's good to know that every new drug subsequently withdrawn after deaths in humans (sometimes running into thousands) has been so thoroughly tested. Does her assertion include in its scope the development of so-called "me-too drugs", pharmacologically-irrelevant molecular tweaks of existing drugs aimed purely at evading competitors' patents and seizing a share of a profitable market?



Shameful stamps

Sir: I have just seen the new Christmas stamps, and am appalled. They are so distressingly vulgar that I shall be ashamed to use them. Could some enterprising soul please produce stickers saying "At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ", or some such wording, which we could stick alongside the stamps?



Exercise hour

Sir: Yet another argument (Letters, 13 November) in favour of retaining the extra hour at the end of the working day and school day is of course that it offers the opportunity of outdoor physical activities of various kinds, particularly as global warming seems to be providing decent weather for them.

The Government seems to have no interest in making anything of this invaluable means of helping deal with obesity and other forms of ill-health promoted by inactivity. Ah, well, back to the extra hour of computer games and telly.



Momentous mansion

Sir: Robert Verkaik claims (13 November) that Pitshill is "one of the finest examples of a Georgian Palladium mansion". I suspect it may be unique.



Talking the truth

Sir: Nick Allen (Letters, 14 November) questions whether comments by MI5 about terror plots should automatically be regarded as reliable, since "truth is something they are, often correctly, trained to conceal".

There is good authority for his suspicions: Miles Copeland Jr, the former CIA agent, once issued the following dictum on late-night television: "In intelligence, if a guy gives you a piece of information you never ask 'Is this true?', only 'Why is he telling me this?'. "



Drumming days

Sir: Terry Kirby's thesis that as a result of extra pressures, drummers in rock bands are more likely to self-destruct (11 November) is undermined by the inclusion in the list of Richard Manuel of The Band.

Only an occasional drummer, Manuel's main contribution was as a keyboard player and an outstanding vocalist. Although not himself unfamiliar with the wilder lifestyle of the rock star, the long-time skin-beater Levon Helm survived the excesses, appearing recently in the outstanding film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.