Letters: Arms scandal

Saudi arms scandal redeemed by Blair's mission to save the world
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The Independent Online

Sir: Probably any prime minister would have cancelled the "slush fund" investigation in order to save thousands of British jobs. The Labour MPs who have lined up to celebrate "early Christmas presents" for the workers in their constituencies know and admit this. But Mr Blair insists that it is all to do with his attempts to end terrorism and solve the problems of the Middle East. It is not an example of "putting Britain first"; it is part of his mission to save the world. It is not the selfishness of Britain that sticks in the craw; it is the self-righteousness of her leader.



Sir: Lord Goldsmith must think we are all as gullible as Labour MPs when he says, in relation to the Saudi arms affair: "No weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest." This is so plainly untrue as to be laughable.

But worst of all is this part of his statement: "It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest." If this is really the view of so senior a lawyer, I am appalled. Is not the rule of law at the very heart of public interest? The interest being consulted here is in fact the narrow interest of our misguided, duplicitous and weak-kneed Prime Minister, to the dishonour and shame of our nation.



Sir: I am reminded of a Yes Minister episode, "The Moral Dimension", in which Sir Humphrey explained to his naive "boss" that it wasn't government policy to wink at corruption - "only government practice".

I found myself agreeing with Sir Humphrey for once. No bribes, no orders. No orders, no jobs. If it's good for Britain, that makes it right. If it's bad for Britain, that makes it wrong. If that be cynicism and amorality, make the most of it. The Government should turn a blind eye to stop them pushing up the price.



Sir: Let me see if I have this right: under the Blair government, America gets to determine the UK's foreign policy, the Australian-American Rupert Murdoch gets to call the shots regarding British European economic policy, and now the Saudis seem to be in charge as far as legal matters are concerned. Why don't we just sell the country to the highest bidder and be done with it?



Merciless pressure on the Royal Family

Sir: It is important that all aspects of the tragic death of Diana are uncovered, but the recent inquiry did not touch on one of the underlying reasons that led to her death - the system of monarchy.

The present system for determining our head of state is outdated and inequitable on several counts, but it also places an unacceptable burden on the Royal Family. The media hound them unmercifully, and submit them to a level of scrutiny that no family could withstand. Most families have their ups and downs, but for the Royal Family it all has to be played out in full public view.

What makes this worse is that - unlike politicians for example - the Royal Family have not chosen to be in this spotlight, and there is no end-date when they will be deselected or retire. There is no escape. These disadvantages may be offset by their advantages of privilege and wealth, but it is not a civilised way to go about things, suitable for the 21st century.

It is beyond hope that the media might take a more reasonable attitude - and they would argue that they are only meeting public interest. But if we had an elected head of state, and for a fixed period, it would remove the inequities of privilege, but would also take the life-long spotlight off a single family. No one would be forced to marry anyone to conform to the system.



Sir: Dominic Lawson (15 december) seeks to make a point but misses it when he refers to my complaint to the Press Complaints Commission in September 1997, objecting to a feature article headlined "City of rumour" which retailed boulevard gossip then circulating in Paris, immediately after the crash that killed Diana Princess of Wales, and Dodi Al Fayed. My purpose was not to confirm nor deny any of the several rumours, including that of the Princess's pregnancy, but to object formally to The Daily Telegraph dignifying hearsay by repetition so soon after the tragedy, while people of good will were working so hard to establish the facts.

Also, when I said at a press conference on 5 September that "we shall probably never know" the significance of the ring found on a bedside table at Dodi's apartment, I was simply stating the truth as I then knew it. The ring had been purchased by Dodi for the Princess on the day before they died. It later became clear that the ring, which had been advertised with the slogan Dis-Moi-Oui, had been an engagement ring.

This was obviously a private matter for the two people concerned and the receipt for its purchase, comprising the description, (in translation) "Ring 'Engagement' Gold Brilliant Emerald Cut Triangular Diamonds" was not brought to my attention until Dodi's possessions were returned to England, after the two funerals.

The ring often referred to in television interviews by Mr Lawson's wife, Miss Rosa Monckton, was a dress ring presented previously by Dodi. It may well be, as Miss Monckton maintains, that Diana said she would wear this ring on her right hand. Though undoubtedly a delightful and desirable ring, this was not the "Tell-Me-Yes" ring which, as we sadly know, was never worn, the lovers having been killed before that could occur.



Sir: For a newspaper that prides itself on its independence of thought and its critical deconstruction of dodgy dossiers, the Butler Report et al, your leader "The awkward questions that have not gone away" (15 December) shames you.

Neither Mr Fayed nor any newspaper, including your own, has ever produced any evidence supporting Mr Fayed's allegations that would bear the sort of scrutiny your high minded newspaper would normally demand of such a controversial sequence of events.

As Dominic Lawson points out in the very same edition of your paper, Mr Fayed has proved himself to be a thoroughly untrustworthy witness. You however, in an act that surely goes beyond sympathy for a grieving father, would portray him as a courageous pursuer of some hidden truth.



Language learning must start early

Sir: Any secondary school teacher, regardless of subject, will testify that trying to teach an adolescent pupil something they have no wish to learn can often be pretty futile.

This is particularly true in the case of foreign languages, which require active participation on the part of the learner. One cannot sit at the back of the class writing everything down and hope to regurgitate it in the end-of-year exam (though many may attempt to). A successful language learner, like a successful language teacher, needs creativity, imagination, and above all a willingness to suspend disbelief. These qualities are abundant in primary school children, but often lacking in teenage pupils.

For this reason, Lord Dearing's report is right to resist the temptation to make language lessons compulsory throughout secondary school. Instead, the concentration must be on engaging children in language learning from as early an age as possible; and this is not just the responsibility of school and government, but television producers, magazine editors and of course parents.



We need more Britons in space

Sir: The case for Britain's involvement in human spaceflight is immensely strong, and one that the British Interplanetary Society has been making for some time ("Reaching for the stars", 8 December).

At its conference in May this year the Royal Astronomical Society's report among others was discussed, and those present agreed that the society and others should seek to influence the Government into changing its attitude to manned spaceflight.

The immense value of "robotic" exploration should not be understated, but the results of over a year's work by the Mars Exploration Rovers, great though it is, could have been achieved in two or three days of human exploration.

The benefits for industrial development, university research and science education are strong: in the US undergraduate recruitment to science subjects rose dramatically during the Sixties and early Seventies, tailing off once the Apollo and Apollo applications programmes came to an end. The influence that meeting astronauts has on the imaginations of young potential scientists and engineers must not be underestimated and should be exploited, by supporting a British astronaut programme, perhaps as part of the European Aurora project.

Men and women from the British Isles were foremost explorers of this planet, we should be involved in the exploration of others.



The final, baffling question on Iraq

Sir: The conclusions reached prior to the Iraq war by Britain's negotiator at the UN, Carne Ross, as reported in The Independent (15 December), are much the same as those made public in 2002 by the former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter. On page 28 of the book War on Iraq", Ritter states that 90-95 per cent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been verifiably eliminated, together with its long-range ballistic missiles. Ritter correctly foresaw "a tremendous number of civilian casualties" and that the Middle East would be destabilised.

Like Dr David Kelly, should not Scott Ritter have been in a position to know, and to be listened to? Long before the revelations attributed to Carne Ross, therefore, for some of us the real question has been what the invasion of Iraq, a sovereign state, was in truth about. Ritter's insistence that it was not about oil, that it couldn't have been about a WMD threat to Britain or its interests, has meant that "why?" has long been the unanswered question.

It is unfathomable why a handful of senior members of the government have been permitted to bypass the practices of democratic tradition and act with such disastrous consequences. Something is well amiss in our administration. Are there no checks and balances to make Blair and his entourage accountable for what they have done?



Sir: Silas Sutcliffe asks (letter, 15 December) why the votes of those marching against the war in Iraq "didn't come out in the May 2005 election". The only party against the war was the Liberal Democratic Party. I marched; I voted Lib Dem, as I had done ever since the party I had believed in and worked for over many years betrayed me after 1997. Under our present voting system, this makes no difference whatsoever. I have to accept that, but it doesn't stop me complaining.



Sir: The Foreign Affairs Select Committee releases the evidence of Carne Ross ("Diplomat's report exposes the truth about the case for war in Iraq", 15 December), but we should always remember that on the two occasions (2003, 2006) that the House of Commons has had the chance to vote on the invasion of Iraq, it has overwhelmingly backed Mr Blair.

The huge New Labour-Conservative majority there will continue to back him, lies and disasters notwithstanding. The average MP develops the IQ of a frightened rabbit when faced with Mr Blair. I don't know why he doesn't declare himself Prime Minister for Life.



Pigeon peril

Sir: With reference to your report "Pigeon lovers sue Livingstone" (12 December), all New York subways carry adverts imploring citizens not to feed the pigeons. It lists some 42 diseases which they can convey to the public as the main reason not to encourage the pigeon population to develop.



In the bag

Sir: Action by Ikea to reduce the use of plastic bags by introducing a small charge and encouraging reusable bags has resulted in a 97 per cent drop in usage within one year (report, 16 December). I understand a similar result occurred in Ireland where a small tax was introduced. Meanwhile the British government is still "studying" this issue.



Ancient universities

Sir: Coimbra University (Travel, 9 December), though ancient enough, being founded in 1288, is not as old as three of Oxford's colleges, University College, founded under the will of William Durham, who died in 1249, Balliol, founded by John de Balliol not long after 1255, and Merton, founded by Walter de Merton in 1264, part of which dates from at least 1285. Nor is it even as old as Peterhouse, Cambridge, founded by Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely, in 1281, with a hall built as early as 1286.



The law of Christmas

Sir: Christmas Day is not and never was a Bank Holiday (letter, 15 December). Before Bank Holidays were invented it, along with Good Friday, was a Common Law Holiday. Since more national holidays have joined the queue it may perhaps be now known as a Statutory Holiday. Of course, things are different in foreign countries such as Scotland.



Children by order

Sir: The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission ("CSA will not be replaced until 2013, Hutton says", 14 December)? How does it propose to enforce children? One can only hope that more thought has been given to the workings of the Child Support Agency's replacement than has evidently been devoted to its title.