Sir: The House of Lords will return to the Tribunal Courts and Enforcement Bill in January. They will discover a government policy document telling them that in addition to giving the bailiffs power to force entry into the home of a fine defaulter to seize goods, the bailiff will also have power to restrain the defaulter if he or she interferes or threatens to interfere with his work.
When male bailiffs are in private property removing the goods of a single mother receiving unemployment benefit they will know very well that the chances of a complaint against them succeeding are zero; even if the children are traumatised by the violence of both bailiff and mother. The debt in default could be a fine for no TV licence or truancy, or council-tax arrears. The power to restrain the lone mother will be very loosely interpreted by the bailiffs; it will lead to more violence not less.
There is a naive belief in the Department of Constitutional Affairs that training will make the bailiffs behave in a civilised fashion. Changing the culture of anarchy among bailiffs will take more than that. Once bailiffs have obtained their certificate the training will go out of the window under the pressure to collect fees, debts or fines from defaulters.
A further weakness is that there is no judicial review against a bailiff employed by a private company when they are undertaking government business, such as enforcing fines or council tax with their new rights of forcible entry and restraint of defaulters. They need monitoring by NGOs against the specific legal criteria already suggested in the National Standards for Enforcement Agents if enforcement against vulnerable people is to be fairly exercised.
REV PAUL NICOLSON
CHAIRMAN, ZACCHAEUS 2000 TRUST, LONDON N17
Lesson of Iraq peace plan: never again
Sir: Thank you for publishing Ali Allawi's account of the current situation in Iraq (5 January). It not only offers a vision of how the invasion has, and may yet still affect the wider Middle East, it is also testimony to the hubris, arrogance and myopia of George Bush and Tony Blair.
To embark upon such terrible intervention guided only by their own messianic fantasies of how the region would be affected is the ultimate in political irresponsibility, and when one factors in the fabrication and deceit used to justify the war the fact that these two men have not been legally called to account for misleading their respective peoples and governments, as well as attempting to hoodwink the UN, demonstrates a profound failing in our democracies.
At least since 1979 and the Iranian revolution, Iraq and Saddam Hussein have been used by the US and UK governments to counter Iranian power. We were prepared to sponsor tyranny and terror as long as the violence suited our interests.
Now, almost 30 years later, the story of that support is being played out, and in Allawi's view, as well as those of a number of other writers in your newspaper, it seems that our support for tyranny has only bolstered the "enemy" we wanted to undermine.
The lesson we should learn from this truly dreadful mess is that we can promote democracy and justice only through democratic and just means. Violent self-interest can no longer be the course of political action. And with regard to Blair's legacy it should be the British people's refusal to ever permit such immorality and idiocy to guide our foreign policy again.
Sir: The catastrophe of Iraq is certainly an indictment of the majority who, to put it mildly "have not been more outspoken in their views" (letter, 2 January), but not an indictment of us all, and I among thousands of others cannot accept the blame.
I have been on every major anti-war march since February 2003; I have lobbied Parliament; I have bombarded the Foreign Office, Downing Street and my MP with letters, receiving only contemptible evasions in reply; I support the protest financially by direct debit.
In a town where only two anti-war posters ever appeared (one of them mine) I stood alone in the Saturday marketplace before the war, feeling like the crazed old prophet of some ridiculous sect, trying and failing to engage a population interested only in bread and circuses. I have been arrested for sticking anti-war stickers on lamp-posts while death and horror have been brought to the Iraqi people in our name and no one is brought to book.
What else should I have done in this militaristic country, where most people cannot be bothered to understand the issues and still seem to think we went to war to save the Iraqi people from their tyrant? Those whom the cap fits, wear it and do something now. It is still not too late to bring the war criminals to justice.
Sir: It seems extraordinary that only one man, the magnificent Brian Haw, has stood out for 2,036 days, against Tony Blair's Iraq disaster, from his campsite in Parliament Square.
If Tony Blair had lost a son or a father in war, perhaps he would have gained some wisdom and insight into war. Many years ago, my father wrote from a trench in Korea before he was killed: "We are a small country, we cannot police the world. We should use diplomacy. The British soldier will always do his duty, but the politicians have a duty to tell him why."
P M ANGIER
Sir: How wonderful to read such a perceptive analysis of the situation in Iraq by Ali Allawi. However, there is one glaring omission from his proposed confederation of Middle East states, namely Israel. If some way could be found to involve Israel and Palestine in such an organisation, then progress could be dramatic. Sadly, G W Bush has less constructive ideas.
Fare strategy is a success
Sir: Richard Ingrams talks about fare increases in London, but he refers only to cash fare prices (30 December). The 2007 fares package aims to encourage people to switch from using cash on public transport to using an Oyster card in order to speed up travel across the network. By using Oyster, people can make significant savings. Those increases that are seen in this year's fares are paying for the largest public transport investment programme in London since the Second World War.
Encouraging people to use an Oyster card, rather than cash, does not represent a "U-turn", but a response to totally different circumstances in London now from that of the 1980s, when there was significant available capacity on the Tube and buses. London has seen an increase in bus journeys of two million a day in the last six years and the number of people travelling on the Tube is at an all-time high.
With regard to the claims that a possible Cuban cultural event in the run up to the Olympic games would cost "£2m", Richard is a victim of the pure inventions of some newspapers. In fact, in the run-up to Olympic Games in 2012 it is planned to invite countries participating in the games to stage events in London. All such events will be funded primarily through sponsorship and at the countries' own expense.
MAYOR OF LONDON, CITY HALL, LONDON SE1
Colour-coded labels to promote health
Sir: There is much nonsense being talked about the new food labelling (report, 4 January). The manufacturers' scheme is referred to as the Guideline Daily Allowance (GDA) scheme, but the Food Standards Agency (FSA) scheme gives exactly the same GDA information. The only difference in the schemes is that the FSA scheme has the additional colour coding (the traffic light system) to highlight the higher GDA percentages. This makes it easier to assess the food constituents for everyone, not only those who are less familiar with percentages.
It is regrettable that the manufacturers appear to be so keen to limit the accessibility of this information, so that a significant proportion of the populace will continue to eat unhealthily. There can be no valid objection to the colour-coded system.
SCUNTHORPE, NORTH LINCOLNSHIRE
Brown won't start with a clean slate
Sir: John Rentoul says that "Brown has the priceless advantage of being one of the few British politicians who has not made a mess of things" (Opinion, 2 January).
Oh yes he has, with his off-balance sheet PFI funding of public expenditure. This "creative" accounting is like borrowing on your credit card at 15 per cent to pay off your overdraft at 5 per cent. The NHS is increasingly feeling the weight of it, with ever more hospitals falling deeply into deficit.
PFI overruns in the context of an economic boom financed by personal borrowing which is now approaching unsustainable levels will not take long to show that the Iron Chancellor deserves to be put behind iron bars for his mismanagement of the economy.
W B McBRIDE
Scientific proof is not written in the stars
Sir: I am amazed at a serious newspaper describing opposition to astrology as "propaganda peddled by so-called scientists", even in a reader's letter (5 January).
In ancient times astronomy and astrology were pretty much the same thing. Even Sir Isaac Newton studied astrology. The science of astronomy developed through constantly adapting theory in the light of experimental observation into a solid body of knowledge, while astrology became the domain of quacks.
In the 18th and 19th centuries observations of unexplained deviations in the orbits of other planets led astronomers to predict and subsequently discover Uranus and Neptune. If astrology had been even a second-rate science it would have at least explained hitherto unexplained events retrospectively as being due to the newly discovered planets, and if at had been a real science it would have used unexplained events to predict those planets. Of course it did nothing of the sort.
Astrology has no basis whatsoever and any correct "predictions" made by astrologers are not so much "the result of good guesswork" but the operations of blind chance.
DR RICHARD PALMER
Sir: I wonder if the dropping out of university and Mr Guttridge's belief in predictions made by astrologers (Letters, 5 January) are causally connected?
DR EDUARD J ZUIDERWIJK
Straight facts about homosexual sheep
Sir: As a fan of Johann Hari and a supporter of gay rights, I found his article about gay sheep interesting but it contained several inaccuracies (4 January).
First, the gestation period for sheep is five months, so it's difficult to see how there can be a third trimester of pregnancy.
Second, the reason for using sheep to research homosexual tendencies in animals is because they're plentiful, docile and cheap and the rams are, as he says, known to indulge in homosexual behaviour. Whether this is by choice or stupidity has not been determined.
Third, it doesn't matter to the overall fecundity of the flock if 8 per cent of rams are gay, as one straight ram usually serves 60 to 100 ewes. In a flock of 1,000 sheep there will be 10 to 15 rams. If one or two of them are not up to it, the others will make up for them. Also, during the mating season, the rams' bellies are sprayed with non-drying paint (a different colour can be used for each) so that the covered ewes and the non-performing rams can be identified. The latter provide a nice supper for the sheep dogs.
J B NIXON
ILKLEY, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: Like Nicholas Waters (Letters, 5 January), I shall not be advocating violence against those using words or phrases I dislike. But I shall be advocating zero tolerance (short of violence) against anyone using the following expressions: "iconic", "there you go", and "he/she should get out more".
Cheaper by train
Sir: Your front page article "Planes, trains and the road to ruin" (3 January) compared the available return air fares for the journey from Manchester to London with the standard return rail fare. This is not comparing like with like. This evening I searched for fares travelling first thing tomorrow (Friday 5 January), returning in the evening. The website thetrainline.com offered me a second-class return fare of £59.50, while the cheapest air available fare through www.manchesterairport.co.uk was £261.
Sir: I am in total agreement with Mary Dejevsky about the unhygienic practice of nurses arriving at work already in their uniforms (Opinion, 5 January). But a friend of mine, newly retired from a lifetime as a children's nurse, has shed new light on the issue. The erstwhile nurses' changing rooms, she tells me, have now been converted to offices for the new batch of administrators.
Sir: Something stinks about using animals in circuses, but it's not emanating from animal dung ("French turn noses up at the circus", 3 January) . Beating and whipping animals and forcing them to live in tiny cages is condemned by caring people worldwide. People do not want to pay to see animals being abused - in France or anywhere. All over the world, innovative and truly entertaining artistic troupes that don't use animals are performing to sell-out crowds. The answer is obvious: lose the animal acts, regain an audience.
Path to honours
Sir: I share Pat Rattigan's incredulity (letter, 3 January) at yet again being overlooked in the New Year Honours. The way forward may be to join the Royal Household, noting that the coveted Royal Victorian Medal has been awarded to, among others, several Coachmen, a Housekeeping Assistant, Tractor Driver, Farm Worker, Daily Lady, Royal Box Steward (The Guards Polo Club), Plumber, and Assistant Garden Supervisor. And they say the monarchy is dated.