Letters: Again, Stockton leads the world


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Not many small towns can claim to have formed the epicentre of truly world-shattering events but, nearly two centuries after the first journey on the Stockton and Darlington railway, Stockton-on-Tees has done it again.

Air Fuel Synthesis can make petrol from fresh air (report, 19 October). Well, not all that fresh, I imagine, because it's the carbon dioxide that's needed, but still, imagine the repercussions.

Teesside, once an important centre of the chemical industry, will burst into life once more, with the return of full employment which disappeared a generation ago. We will be able to tell the Middle East princes that we no longer need their oil, and the Russians that they can keep their natural gas, and should they need clean petrol at some time in the future, then they know where to come – Stockton. Then we can start to live like sheikhs and oligarchs.

But the best bit will be when we tell the Scots their wish for independence has been granted. They can have what's left of North Sea oil as well, but they must promise to use this grubby fuel in their cars so that the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by the chemical wizards of Stockton-on-Tees in the production of clean petrol may be replenished.

A steady stream production line would thus be assured and it would be comforting to know that photosynthesis would continue to sustain life on Earth. Everybody wins!

Keith Giles

Normanby, Middlesbrough

Sorry, but as a chemistry graduate, I find your amazement at being able to make petrol from air quite laughable ("The scientists who turned fresh air into petrol", 19 October).

This simple process has been known for generations. The only drawback is the cost of the petrol produced.

Chemists can also make petrol from coal, from methane, and from wood, none of which are in short supply. Chemists could devise a method to make petrol from old socks if you asked them. We all live in a world dominated by chemistry and it is such a pity the subject and its practitioners get so little acknowledgement.

Dr William W Flood


Starbucks and the workers' income tax bills

Starbucks' outrageous claim this week that the £160m their employees hand to HMRC through PAYE should be credited in some way to the employer's tax contribution is I'm afraid quite a widespread argument through the business community, in particular the SME sector.

Only a few weeks ago, I was having a lively conversation with a man I know who is quite proud of his own ability, with the assistance of clever accountants, to enjoy a millionaire's lifestyle, yet pay very little personal tax (paying himself and his wife salaries below the higher-rate level, and enjoying two sets of personal tax allowances), and at the same time ensuring that his businesses's headline profits are all but wiped out through clever exploitation of every allowance claimable under the sun.

He claims that this is a legitimate reward for his "enterprise", and the tax his handful of employees pay is, in some bizarre way, his contribution to deficit reduction.

He and his like are often the most vociferous advocates of cutting back on welfare and all sorts of government spending, because "we're overtaxed, and it's killing business". His household pays about the same tax as a salaried employee earning no more than £50,000 a year, yet my acquaintance fails to see the hypocrisy of his position from the comfort of his £2m home.

Peter Morris


Richard Teather (letter, 17 October) says that the profits Starbucks make are not made in the UK, so it would be unreasonable for us to tax them.

He would presumably claim that the profits Apple make in the UK are due to its global image, design genius, economies of scale, homogeneity and brand image. A more rational view would be that if a company sells in the UK it should pay taxes on the profits it makes on UK sales.

It is hard to understand Mr Teather's claim that running a coffee shop "makes little or no profit"? Costa seems to be profitable. They paid £15m tax on sales of £377m.

Peter Moyes

Brightlingsea, Essex

Marriage under threat

Yvette Cooper (12 October) shows how the debate over same-sex marriage is threatening to change the meaning of marriage in more ways than one.

Marriage is defined in law as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, yet twice in her article Ms Cooper reduces marriage to the status of a "long-term commitment".

We all recognise that not all marriages last for life. The majority do, but not all. Nevertheless, when a man and a woman marry, they commit themselves to each other with the intention of staying together for life.

In legal terms, marriage is heterosexual, monogamous and lifelong. These three elements stand together. If the heterosexual character of marriage is discarded, the experience of other countries shows that its monogamous character immediately comes under threat. So, too, does its lifelong character, as Yvette Cooper has demonstrated.

Norman Wells

Director, Family Education Trust

Twickenham, Middlesex

Breast-feeding fights cancer

Apart from the extra treatment costs for the NHS, Britain's poor breast-feeding record costs mothers dearly (report, 18 October).

Only half of British mothers leave hospital exclusively breast-feeding their babies: it's 93 per cent in Austria. Extended breast-feeding is rare in Britain. This is a great loss for mothers as well as babies. Breast-feeding cuts the mother's risk of breast cancer: the longer women continue the more they are protected. Low rates and short duration of breast-feeding are major contributors to the current high incidence of breast cancer.

Dr John Doherty


Charlotte Faircloth's polemic ("How women feed babies isn't just about statistics", 18 October) misrepresents our recent report for Unicef UK and is devoid of constructive argument.

Far from "hectoring" women, we made the case for investing in the support of those women who are already choosing to begin breast-feeding. By demonstrating that this is likely to show a rapid return on investment, we hope it will encourage NHS commissioners to act and empower women to demand better services.

By making light of the strong body of evidence linking health to infant feeding, Ms Faircloth does a disservice to women. She fails to mention either the impact preventable illness has on the baby's family, or the positive effect breast-feeding has on women's own health.

The majority of new mothers want to breast-feed and we are merely calling on the NHS and government to support them effectively.

A feminist analysis of the evidence should conclude that skilled, effective, practical support is what women most need to overcome the considerable social, cultural and other barriers to breast-feeding in the United Kingdom.

Professor Mary J Renfrew

Felicia McCormick University of Dundee

Dr Subhash Pokhrel

Dr Julia Fox-Rushby

Professor Paul Trueman

Health Economics Research Group

Dr Maria Quigley, University of Oxford

Rosemary Dodds

National Childbirth Trust

Steven Duffy

University of York

Dr Anthony Williams

St George's, University of London

Votes in Ireland and Scotland

Voters in the Republic of Ireland did not vote on the Belfast Agreement, as Jon Sutcliffe suggests (letter, 17 October), but voted on removing articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, which referred to Ireland as the whole island of Ireland. It was Ulster Unionists who demanded that these paragraphs be removed as part of any settlement. If the Unionists had not demanded their removal then there would have been no reason to have a referendum in the south.

To try and compare this with a need to have referendums on Scotland's future throughout the UK is ridiculous.

Cían Carlin

London N4

Concrete cows of Milton Keynes

What a pleasure to have opened my Saturday Independent to see a photo of the concrete cows turned into skeletons (13 October). What an original and effective design! With a black background hiding their silhouettes they look quite fabulous. They were made by and for the community and it's very heartening to see people again showing ownership of them.

Congratulations to the artists who designed and painted the cows with humour and ingenuity. I'm sure everyone involved with me in the making of the cows in 1978 would gladly agree with me.

Liz Leyh

(Artist-in-Residence to Milton Keynes 1974-1978)

Isleworth, Middlesex

Mature taste in movies

May I suggest that Rosie Millard's parents ("The cinema is no country for old people", 18 October) visit the Royalty Cinema in Bowness on Windermere? It is 85 years old and has a recently restored fully working Wurltzer organ. As well as all the usual films, today they could see Singin' in the Rain. At other times a variety of silent and classic films are shown. At Christmas, it was A Wonderful Life.

I don't have shares in the cinema but can sympathise with anyone not wanting to see either children's films or "bash 'em up and kill 'em" films.

Sue Thomas

Bowness on Windermere

Formby's 'banjo'

DJ Taylor, in his review of Pete Townshend's book Who Am I? (13 October), is not exactly wrong to correct Townshend's memory of George Formby playing a ukulele. But nor is Townshend exactly wrong, either, to say it was a banjo. Formby played a banjo-ukulele or banjolele, a four-stringed instrument with a neck like a ukulele and a body like a banjo. I know this fact because I am the mum of one of the members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Virginia ironside

London W12

War memorial

Perhaps instead of spending £50m on commemorating the start of the First World War we could all sow poppies in our window boxes, gardens, parks and fields. A very cheap alternative – reminding us that "cheap and expendable" is how the warmongers view the lives of soldiers and civilians.

Jan Williams

Sandbach, Cheshire