Letters: Asylum and Iran

Our asylum system seems ignorant of reality for gay men in Iran
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The Independent Online

Sir: At long last, the cruelty of the Home Office immigration department in refusing asylum to foreign homosexuals has hit the front page of a national newspaper ("A life or death decision", 6 March).

Seventy-some years ago, I was born in England a potential criminal and I grew up in a country where homosexuality was illegal. It was the era of police agents provocateurs, witch-hunts, blackmail, lost jobs, ostracism, suicides, and socially/religiously sanctioned homophobia. Today I am legally married to my partner, with the privileges once exclusively enjoyed by heterosexual husbands and wives. The police, from whom I once hid, now lead the London Gay Pride March. Thanks to Europe, to New Labour and to the extraordinary (yet barely reported) U-turn of the Tory party, life for me and others like me has changed out of all recognition.

Yet the same government that gave me freedom and equality sends gay men like me back to countries where homosexuals are killed under the dictates of religion and tradition. Having briefly tasted 21st-century civilisation, freedom of expression and, in some cases, love, they are, in the course of a few hours' aircraft flight, transported back hundreds of years.

Is our immigration department institutionally homophobic or is it innocently unaware of the reality of other countries? Applicants for asylum have been told that they exaggerate the dangers back home, that things can't possibly be as bad as their personal experience leads them to believe. A few years ago, I gave support to a young man who had been told by an appeal judge that, if sent back whence he came, "It cannot be beyond your ingenuity to survive". That story had a happy ending, but not all are so lucky.

Peter Forster

London N4

When slaughter is just news-as-usual

Sir: The attack in Jerusalem brings out the usual despicable double standards of our western world. Look at the media coverage and compare it with the news-as-usual attitude last week over the slaughter of 120 Palestinians, many of them children, by Israeli military in Gaza.

The mendacity stinks from the grassroots of media reporting to the top, with Condoleezza Rice saying that this was a barbarous act and has no place in a civilised world. That's correct – the civilised people sit comfortably in their Abrams tanks, Humvees, F-16s and Apaches and blast smithereens out of men, women and children indiscriminately in Iraq, Gaza and the West Bank.

M A Baig

Slough, Berkshire

Sir: Please have one of the many supporters of these wonderful people in Gaza, who elected a terrorist organisation to represent them, and who celebrate this kind of barbarism, explain the "proportional" response that Israel could make that wouldn't set off a torrent of criticism for what, if it was any other nation, would be seen as legitimate self-defence.

Michael Fremer

Wyckoff, New Jersey, USA

Sir: If, as the Israeli government maintains, Hamas is entirely responsible for what is happening in Gaza, then Israel is solely responsible for the atrocity that has happened in Jerusalem.

Colin V Smith

St Helens, Merseyside

Rigged debate on the Lisbon Treaty

Sir: The Government's Chief Whip, Geoff Hoon, certainly deserves a reply (Letters, 6 March). First, as someone who has attended almost the entirety of the Lisbon Treaty debates so far, I can testify that I saw Simon Carr in the gallery far more frequently than I did Mr Hoon in the chamber.

Second, the Government has quite deliberately restricted the amount of time available to debate the treaty. Ministers repeatedly used a figure of 20 days of debate when briefing the media, but, in practice, we were only given 14 days. This is less than half of the 29 days that were allocated to debating the Maastricht Treaty in the House of Commons. (Mr Hoon's letter was obviously very carefully worded so as not to reveal that fact to your readers.)

Third, the proceedings have been rigged to prevent detailed debate of the treaty. MPs were promised an opportunity for "line-by-line" scrutiny. Instead, most days during the Committee stage began with generalised "themed debates", with only restricted time at the end of each day to discuss specific amendments – which is the standard way that Parliament has debated treaties in the past (including Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice).

As a result, whole swathes of detailed amendments were never discussed at all. The subjects thus denied detailed examination include borders, visas, asylum, immigration, defence, social policy, freedom of establishment, freedom of movement of workers and intellectual property rights – subjects your readers would presumably have liked their elected representatives to have been able to scrutinise.

In contrast, we spent nearly a day debating climate change, which has only six words directly relating to it in the entire treaty, which contains no new real powers to combat climate change that do not already exist in earlier treaties.

The reason why the Government is so sensitive about this is that its excuse for not granting the referendum – which it promised in the first place – is that Parliament would be given an opportunity for detailed scrutiny of the treaty instead. Now that this has been so blatantly denied, it is embarrassed about it.

The Government promised MPs detailed debate on the treaty and then so arranged the timetable as to deliberately curtail it. Your correspondent has simply told your readers the truth about what has been going on in the House of Commons and, in my opinion, he should wear the criticism from the Government Chief Whip as something of a badge of honour.

Mark Francois

Shadow Minister for Europe, House of Commons

Sir: The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has not only confused his own MPs but also the electorate by his instruction to abstain on the vote for a referendum on the European Treaty (report, 7 March). One sympathises with Lib Dem MPs having such two-faced leadership.

This is why they must never be trusted to govern this country, and fail every test of morality and competence. Labour and Conservatives are bad enough, but the Lib Dems are just as undemocratic.

As professed supporters of the European community, what credibility do they have after refusing to support a referendum on the treaty but saying that they would support one on leaving Europe? Without doubt this treaty is the more important issue and gives Europe powers of legislation and a federal state.

While it can be argued there are advantages in having a common economic area, an undemocratic federal state must be resisted. And the last thing we want is to have Tony Blair as president – a president we have no vote on and who is undemocratically appointed.

If Clegg were at all sincere in his desire for a referendum to leave Europe, the treaty referendum would have opened the door. And he knew it. He instructed his party to abstain because he was afraid of being put in a position of responsibility for leaving Europe.

Malcolm Naylor

Otley, West Yorkshire

Sir: If there was a national vote on the Lisbon accord, and our electorate voted against it, we would then be in a position where membership of the EU ultimately became untenable. Therefore, Nick Clegg is correct in saying that the referendum should be upon whether Britain remains a member of the EU.

It is about time that the sceptics realised that belonging to a club means abiding by the views of the majority. And remember that if defence policy had been under European control, we would not have been involved in the invasion of Iraq.

John Hamilton

Crowhurst, East Sussex

Naive to think ID scheme is foolproof

Sir: It is not only invasion of privacy that makes a national ID scheme alarming, but the inevitable inefficiency of such schemes ("Doctors and teachers will be among first issued with ID cards", 7 March).

I live in a house that, for reasons of superstition, is numbered 12a. On at least two of the databases recording my details, this has caused confusion, because the software thinks all such dwellings are apartments, not houses. The last time I called in a service engineer, he had difficultly finding my house.

My bank, after years of custom, started to record my given name wrongly: it wasn't just spelled incorrectly, but was a completely different name. My medical records are incomplete, because those who enter my details do not always have all the information – procedures I have had done privately, for example, do not appear on my computerised records.

I have been given a penalty tax on an ISA because my account was confused with that of my husband – he has the same name and initial, so why not?

The possibility of error in computerised databases is larger than is admitted, and extremely hard to correct. I do not understand the Home Secretary's naive belief in the integrity of such systems and would prefer not to be a victim of such naivety.

Doraine Potts

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Sir: Surely the first group that should be persuaded to carry ID cards are terrorists.

John Mackenzie

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Why East End pubs are closing down

Sir: The Big Question ("Why are so many pubs shutting down, and is their decline bad for society?", 6 March) omits two factors.

Here in the East End of London, the ghettoising of ethnic minorities, and in particular those people whose faith forbids them to drink, has led to a sharp decline in pub attendance. The "natives" who frequented these establishments have, for the most part, moved out of these areas. This could also explain why rural pubs have not been hit so hard.

The second factor is increasing rents, but not for the reasons to which the article alludes. A pub converted into a block of flats will be much more lucrative to the owner of the premises.

Kevin Lemonnier

London E3

Don't blame flying for climate disaster

Sir: Claiming that aviation emissions from the UK are "set to soar" doesn't do justice to the facts ("The green betrayal", 5 March). The 22 per cent share of our carbon emissions taken by road transport is by far the biggest in the transport sector. When seen in the context of a 2.8 per cent fall in emissions from domestic aviation between 2005 and 2006, it represents a huge stretch of the imagination to claim that aviation is one of our biggest sources of emissions, either now or in the future.

You neglect to mention that aviation is being included in the upcoming EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which, when combined with more fuel-efficient aircraft being introduced, will ensure that emissions from aviation growth will be kept to a minimum. Changes to air passenger duty will also see the industry paying its way in terms of taxation, so claims that any expansion of airports and aviation will result in a climate change disaster simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

Neil Pakey

Chairman, Airport Operators Association, London SW1

Let cyclists get away first at traffic lights

Sir: James Daley's idea about cyclists getting extra time to get going at lights, before the rest of the traffic, is used elsewhere in the world and should be used here in the UK (Extra, 6 March). Cyclists would be safer, the traffic would be calmed, and the message about leaving the car at home would be reinforced.

Last year, I asked Peter Hendy, Traffic Commissioner for London, to make sure that if he went ahead in the next few years and ordered thousands of new traffic lights, he would include a cyclist-priority option. He promised to do that.

Cllr Jenny Jones

Green Party Group London Assembly

The national sport

Sir: Arsenal's triumph over the holders, Milan, in the Uefa Champions League was indeed impressive, but to claim they are the "first English team to beat Milan at San Siro" is frankly delusional (5 March). The club may be geographically based in England, but "English" team? Obviously, 20 minutes of Theo Walcott goes a long way in the minds of your football writers.

Alan J Fisher

Finstock, Oxfordshire

Wind turbine aesthetics

Sir: Edward Collier (letter, 6 March) has a valid point when he says that a single wind turbine is more beautiful than a nuclear power station. However, a more realistic comparison would be with the beauty of the 500 wind turbines or so spread over a vast area of countryside that it would take to replace a nuclear power station, plus the conventional power station for back-up when the wind doesn't blow.

Jim Petts

Steventon, Oxfordshire

Show respect for Jesus

Sir: Please could we have a little respect for the founder of Christianity? I found the use of the word "Jesus" in the headline for Cooper Brown's column offensive (6 March). I can choose whether or not to continue reading the article, but headlines, by their very nature, force themselves upon you. We are careful to show respect for the founder of Islam, so why not Christianity?

The Rev Elizabeth Reed

Ross on Wye, Herefordshire

Faceless 'diplomats'

Sir: The "diplomat" quoted as believing that the Iranians may still have a nuclear weapons programme seemed to be extraordinarily shy (report, 6 March). Do British diplomats not have names that are in the public domain? It seems this particular gentleman is more likely to be from one of this country's secret services – the same people who brought us supposed Iraqi WMD and the fatuous "45 minutes from attack" claim. Do these people learn nothing from their past catastrophes?

P Allen

London E17

Peer pressure

Sir: Ben Bradshaw (letter, 7 March) sneers rather unattractively at Lord Mancroft as owing his position in the House of Lords to birth. Actually, he owes it to a Labour Act of Parliament, and would it have been any different if he had owed his position to being a rich friend of Tony Blair's instead? This government has now been in office for more than 10 years, so why have we still got any unelected members in the House of Lords at all?

Christopher Anton