Sir: Thank you for the very clear article concerning the plight of honey bees and the Government's apparent indifference to their fate (The Big Question, 23 April). I would like to add some points.
In addition to the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA),which represents hobbyist beekeepers, the Bee Farmers' Association (BFA) represents the three hundred commercial beekeepers of the UK. We fully support the BBKA in their search for a sensible level of funding for research into the problems facing bees.
The scale of this winter's losses of bee colonies is now emerging. There are unconfirmed reports of a 50 per cent loss of hobbyist bees, while a survey of the members of the BFA is showing losses of around 15 per cent (we would once have expected losses of 2-5 per cent). Further afield, Denmark has just reported losses of 20 per cent. Is the Government waiting until the situation is irrecoverable before doing anything? Results from research do not appear overnight.
On the side of doing nothing, please add that unemployment will become a thing of the past, as a very large army of people will be required to carry out pollination using feather brushes, for the top-fruit orchards, soft fruit, fields of rape, field beans, borage; the heather moors, garden plants, hedgerow plants, and everything else that the billions of honey bees currently pollinate for us.
Secretary, Bee Farmers' Association of the UK, Southampton
Sir: I read with interest your article on honeybee declines (due to disease), but I note that you illustrated the article with a photo of a bumblebee. When people think of pollination they think of bumblebees, and rightly so – they also do an extremely important job.
With honeybees facing an uncertain future, it is more important than ever that we look after our wild bee populations. They should be our insurance policy, but sadly they too are in serious decline. Of 18 native species of "true" bumblebee, three are extinct and six more are severely threatened.
Dr Ben Darvill
Bumblebee Conservation Trust Director, School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling
Brown's tax penalty on the low-paid
Sir: I am 52 years old and earn around £13,500 a year as a legal secretary. My husband died slightly under a year ago and I am far from being a rich widow: I do not own property and have practically no savings. My daughter is putting aside as much money as she can before starting university in September and to help her to do so I am effectively supporting her, too. The only benefit to which I am apparently entitled is a weekly reduction of £3 in my council tax.
Older women must comprise a sizeable proportion of low-paid workers, particularly as we are the people most likely to have forgone higher-paid jobs in favour of rearing children or caring for elderly parents. If, in our forties and fifties, we find ourselves single again, we are very much affected by the abolition of the 10 per cent tax rate.
We are not a vociferous lot. We use our qualifications, intellect and skills in jobs which require them but which – in a resounding testament to the hollowness of any nationally declared belief in gender equality – pay little more than the minimum wage. To be financially penalised for being low-paid is offensive to me in a way that I cannot begin to put into words.
I am grateful to Frank Field and his colleagues for recognising that the abolition of the 10 per cent band discriminates against the poorest people and for trying to do something. But the compensatory measures seem to address only the very young and early retirees. That I, and others like me, have apparently slipped under even his radar actually makes my situation feel worse.
Sir: The idea that hard-up people should grovel to get their stolen tax back at some future date, using the ludicrously expensive, discredited and error-prone tax credit system, and do it by ticking all Labour's politically correct boxes, doesn't sound like a fix to me. I don't want my £200 tax cut at the expense of the working poor, young soldiers and pensioners.
Benedict le Vay
Sir: David Cameron and the Daily Mail are sobbing their hearts out because poor people are losing out. That's a first. Especially stomach-churning are the crocodile tears of the Conservative Party that robbed the pensioners with below inflation increases in the basic pension for 17 of their 18 years in power. They opposed fair wages for those on dirt pay, bled our public services dry and wrecked countless lives.
Sir: Further Deborah Orr's article on poverty and tax (23 April), we were taught in history about the evils of the Speenhamland Dole, a system devised in 1795, in which the parish supplemented poor wages, thereby allowing employers (mainly farmers) to continue paying less than their workers needed to stay alive.
It was done with the best of intentions, but turned out to be a system that reduced hard-working employees to the status of parish dependents – "a universal system of pauperism". The goal must be a properly enforced, living minimum wage.
Sir: Mr Brown's attempt at micromanaging all aspects of economic, social and political life has had the inevitable tragic consequences. His attempt at placating dissident backbenchers has reinforced his creation of a 21st-century version of outdoor relief for the deserving poor. After the nationalisation of Northern Rock he has now in effect nationalised and bureaucratised poverty.
Sir: Marina Donald wasn't the only person aware of the problem of the abolition of the 10 per cent tax rate (letter, 23 April). While listening to Gordon Brown's budget speech on TV last year I realised that I (then aged 61, with an income of about £7,000 a year) was about to have my income tax bill doubled.
MPs and the news media seemed unaware of it, or ignored it. It is only now that local elections are upon us that the poorest pensioners (aged 60-64) are given any consideration at all.
Inspired bywind farms
Sir: It seems that a principal objection to wind farms is loss of visual amenity (letters, 24 April). I totally agree that in fighting global warming, far, far more attention should be focused on saving energy, but we will still need to source it renewably, and wind energy seems to be one of the best sources.
I find the farms impressive and inspiring (we have lots of them here in Cornwall), and many people agree with me. Why are there no protests about those ugly national grid pylons, or little about the mushrooming cell phone masts, both much uglier than wind generators?
To be sure, the money costs of wind energy are huge – the Stern Report warned us as much – but that is the sacrifice we need to make, not nimbying about visual amenity when so many don't have a problem with it. The bottom line has to be, which is the worse of two evils: runaway universal global warming, or a little, but strictly localised, loss of amenity? In fact I think nuclear is a still better, indeed complementary, option to wind, but that too is bedevilled with costs, irrational fear and prejudice.
Obama cannot hope to beat racism
Sir: I voted for Obama in Pennsylvania. I see the vast potential an Obama presidency could offer. I had hoped that people would be able to transcend racism and prejudice. I was wrong.
Obama actually lost the white vote by 20 points (60-40 per cent). Only over 90 per cent of blacks voting for Obama obscures how badly he was beaten among whites. This is what has happened in other similar states.
It is time to acknowledge that racism will haunt Obama, and that this might doom his bid for the presidency. It is time for the Democrats to face the possibility that Obama might not be electable, and consider whether he might best serve as a vice-presidential candidate.
Robert E Griffin
Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, USA
Sir: Rupert Cornwell may know a great deal about politics but his article of 24 April bemoaning his $100 bet on the Democrats to win the US presidency betrays a great deal less knowledge of betting.
Odds of 6/4 are widely available on a Republican win. If Rupert places an $80 bet at these odds he will win $120 from the bookmaker in the event of a Republican win, which more than compensates for the $100 he will pay to his friend. If the Democrats win, then the $100 from his friend will outweigh the $80 loss to the bookmaker. So, far from being out of luck, a simple hedge can lock in a certain $20 gain.
Abuse of deportees must be stopped
Sir: Dr Goldwyn (letter, 24 April) gives an appalling, graphic description of injuries suffered by detainees as a result of attempts to remove them forcibly from the UK. Clearly, the system of monitoring of detainees both in detention and during removal needs to be considerably strengthened immediately. No time for yet another review – action now.
Detention centres are currently monitored by outside boards and, as I understand it, a system is being introduced whereby flights are to be monitored by monitors travelling with detainees, but only to certain countries and not routinely for all deportees. It would seem imperative that the statutory remit of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons be extended to cover removals. The Chief Inspector has produced highly critical reports of the regimes within detention and removal centres and her team's critical eye must now be turned to these quite unacceptable practices.
When removals do not take place, the detention centre monitoring boards should investigate and log the injuries on those returned from aircraft, as Dr Goldwyn is professionally doing.
Meanwhile, the breathtakingly arrogant behaviour of British Airways gets worse by the day. Can we rely on BA's non-executive directors to, first, set up an inquiry into this very serious incident and, second, ensure that no such removal flights take place in the future?
J R Parker
Sir: In connection with the brutal deportation of a Nigerian national and the subsequent ill-treatment of Mr Omotade, a passenger, BA's spokesman Jim Forster has explained that BA have a policy of zero tolerance (letter, 22 April). Is it not time for passengers to make it clear to BA that they, too, have a policy of zero tolerance, for example by choosing other airlines?
Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire
No scapegoats at the Royal Bank
Sir : I am with Sir Tom McKillop when he begs that there be no sacrificial lambs in response to his board's failure to see the consequences of the high price they have paid for ABN and their liberal provision of doubtfully secured loans.
I am hoping that the local branch manager of Royal Bank of Scotland will take an equally sanguine view when I tell him, in all humility, that I cannot repay my loan because my lack of foresight and profligacy led me to put it on a horse which is now dog meat. But there it is. I am quite contrite. Let us move on.
Church Minshull, Cheshire
Sir: I understand that Hillary Clinton will nuke Iran should Iran drop an atomic bomb on Israel. Should somebody tell her that Israel has a couple of hundred nuclear warheads of its own, and is unlikely to wait for her before retaliating?
Sir: More to the point, will President Hillary Clinton hesitate to obliterate Israel if it dares to attack Iran?
Cuckoos on time
Sir: Julia Doherty comments (letter, 23 April) that her daughter had not heard a cuckoo on her birthday. She can be assured that they are back. In Ashdown Forest about five kilometres from her village I spotted a silent male on 17 April. A few days later there is a report of a cuckoo calling in nearby Duddleswell. The birds are just better at weather forecasting than humans.
East Grinstead west Sussex
Sir: I was interested to learn that Morrisons supermarket ask readers to confirm they are over 21 when buying The Independent (letter, 24 April). I had the same experience in Penrith recently. At 50 the question is somewhat flattering. I wonder whether your newspaper will shortly become an under-the-counter item. Clearly it remains appropriate for a nonconformist.
The Rev Peter Sharp
Policy or personality
Sir: Suzanne Kerins, acting editor of OK! Magazine, thinks most women would rather see Victoria Beckham in the paper than Mr Brown ("It's good to put celebrities on a pedestal", 21 April). Many women enjoy reading about celebrities and fashion, but that does not mean that we find Victoria Beckham's life more interesting than what is going on in the country. Kerins and the OK! staff have a very low opinion of the intelligence of women in this country.
St Andrews, Fife
Long way round
Sir: We have ordered an Oyster Card prior to a few days in London. It has arrived very promptly, but from Laurencekirk, a town about midway between Dundee and Aberdeen. Are the council tax payers and commuters of London aware that London Transport has "subbed out" such work to a country which may well be classed as foreign soon and will have shunned London as its capital?
James W Edwards
Darlington, Co Durham
Types of Tories
Sir: Pace Richard Neil (letters, 23 April), teachers are driven to strike action because they've got a Tory government.