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Friday 27 June 2008
Letters: Big Brother Britain
State security machine reaches over the bank counter
Sir: David Davis is so right about Big Brother Britain. The Government is trying to control every aspect of private family life. The local branch of my bank refused to electronically transfer £150 from my account to my son's account in New Zealand because I had no ID, although it cheerfully told me it would charge me £20 for the privilege. This would have been a fully trackable and auditable transaction.
This is the branch that has managed my accounts for twenty years, opened saving accounts for all my children, including the son in New Zealand , set up trusts for the children on my husband's death and holds the deeds of my house. I visit the branch once or twice a week.
According to the bank, the Government views all those using the banking system as money launderers and terrorists and applies severe penalties to organisations that fail to apply their draconian rules. Don't they understand that money launderers and terrorists couldn't stand the queues in most banks, and make alternative arrangements?
Sir: At the weekend I purchased 1,500 euros for a forthcoming holiday to Dublin and paid in cash. Regulations apparently required that I write my home number and post code when doing this. The slip of paper explained this was to prevent crime. Surely someone buying foreign currency in cash for criminal purposes would write false details? Then again, perhaps it is best not to say this too loudly or further regulations will require one to provide a passport and proof of address.
Having resoundingly failed to make the case that ID cards would protect us from terrorism or major crime, the Government has fallen back on the identity theft bogeyman. If they really wanted to prevent identity theft there would be an advertising campaign urging people to pay in cash whenever possible. Instead when anyone does this they are treated as a suspect. The woman behind the counter asked where and when I was travelling and for how long. Was this just friendly banter?
How long before one is required to provide name and address before making any payment above a certain amount in cash? Alarmist? Not long ago it would have seemed so to suggest councils would check the rubbish in your bins and it would be illegal to smoke on open-air railway platforms and in private clubs.
Alternative therapy: science or quackery?
Sir: Dominic Lawson has his finger on the pulse of an important issue. ("So now we will have degrees in quackery", 24 June).
Suggestions that practitioners of "alternative and complementary" therapies should gain university degrees in those subjects are misplaced. Around 1.1 million health professionals are now registered by eight regulatory bodies, including doctors, nurses, dentists and professions supplementary to medicine. All registrants can, and some do, use "alternative medicine", including homeopathy, provided they are satisfied such would be in the best interest of their patients.
All will have been trained to use their critical faculties in a scientific way to assess the value of any treatments they might wish to use. Anyone feeling a strong desire to practise one of these "therapies" can and should qualify conventionally and then they can practice as they wish. I myself have researched acupuncture. It works. But no better than placebo. Study of "complementary therapies" is adequately covered (given lack of demonstrable benefit) in university courses of medicine, nursing, psychology, philosophy, physics, anthropology, drama, etc.
We should expect universities to avoid pseudo-science. Estimates vary, but some claim over £15m is spent by the NHS on homeopathic therapies. That is why at the British Medical Association's annual meeting next month I will be calling for Nice to review and report on whether homeopathic remedies have enough benefit to be worthy of continued NHS support.
Patients should be able to access any therapies they wish, but should not be misled as to their clinical value by spurious academic credentialing. And scare national resources for medicine and education should not be frittered on fripperies.
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Kingswear, Devon
Sir: Dominic Lawson presents an inaccurate account of the report from the steering group on the statutory regulation of acupuncture, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and other traditional medicine. It was not, as Lawson asserts, published by the Department of Health, but by the steering group.
The report is about protecting the public primarily from inappropriate use of acupuncture and herbal medicine. This is of the highest importance, given that survey data suggest that as many as 10.6 per cent of adults in England have accessed the more established therapies.
The report does not support poor science but emphasises the need to demonstrate benefit and evidence of efficacy, safety and quality assurance as a prerequisite for NHS funding.
Whilst it would be desirable to establish a robust evidence base ahead of statutory regulation, the public health risks are such that regulation cannot wait. In the week that our report was released the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency published yet more information highlighting poor professional practice in the unlicensed herbal medicine sector.
Lawson implies, as do others, that universities should not teach complementary or alternative medicine as any part of a science degree.How refreshing that the General Medical Council has specified that because many patients choose alternative and complementary therapies, medical graduates should be aware of these, why patients use them, and how they may interact with other types of treatment.
I have no doubt that those involved in the training of health professionals achieve this without what Lawson calls pseudo-science. We have endeavoured to ensure that our recommendations are consistent with Government policy including prioritising patient safety and choice. I hope it will lead to more measured debate than that offered by Lawson.
Professor R Michael Pittilo
Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen
We must speak out against Islamists
Sir: According to Adrian Hamilton (Opinion, 26 June) an attack on Islamism is "by extension" an attack on "all Islam". By whose extension? Certainly not mine. I was referring to a tiny minority who preach violent jihad, who incite hatred and violence against "infidels", apostates, Jews and homosexuals; who will tolerate no other interpretation of Islam but their own; who have murdered, among others, fellow Muslims by the thousands in the market places of Iraq, Algeria and in the Sudan.
To speak against such things is hardly original or unorthodox. But it was Mr Hamilton's sister paper, The Independent on Sunday, which found my views "astonishing". As for Mr Hamilton himself, he would prefer we did not speak of such matters at all, because it creates the impression that "Islam is under attack". Well, who else but Mr Hamilton is conflating Islamist extremists "by extension" with Islam? Would criticism of the atrocities of the Shining Path imply an attack on socialists everywhere?
Another reason he says we should be silent when extremists murder Muslims in the name of Islam is that other faiths, other people, are also committing terrible acts. This is a feeble rhetorical ploy, an attempt to close down debate. Surely, the purpose of a serious columnist is to do precisely the opposite.
Sir: Adrian Hamilton's attack on writers who publicly criticise Islamism is a travesty (Opinion, 26 June). To describe them as "a mirror image of the views propagated by the worst of the mullahs" is absurd. These writers do not advocate the suppression of the basic freedoms, torture or execution for acts that damage no one.
Hamilton derides the idea of a "clash of civilisations", but that is precisely what Islamists seek – the system of laws advocated by them challenges basic notions of humanity, justice and freedom and the good life developed from Aristotle through the Enlightenment to present day liberal democracy; to pretend that this is not a threat to what we understand as "civilisation" is dangerous and stupid.
Islamism is not the property of a lunatic fringe, but an influential political movement. We ignore it our peril, as we did fascism in Europe in the 1930s.
Shooting pigeons at Wimbledon is legal
Sir: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it illegal to kill pigeons ("Wimbledon 'breaking the law by killing pigeons' ", 25 June). This is not the case as the Act does not apply "to the destruction of an animal in an appropriate and humane manner".
The general licences, which are made by virtue of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act as amended, make it lawful to kill certain species, including feral pigeon and woodpigeon, for specific purposes such as preserving public health and public safety or for crop protection. Therefore, assuming that they abided to the conditions of the licences, then the All England Club acted within the law.
Head of Biodiversity Projects British Association for Shooting and Conservation Wrexham
The need to know who lobbyists are
Sir: The register of interests of people given parliamentary passes by peers ("The arms lobbyist in Parliament", 26 June), reveals what many already knew – that lobbyists are regularly being granted privileged access.
Of most concern are the consultant lobbyists representing the interests of a number of clients, who have not revealed their client list. Some will be working for clients bidding for government contracts or infrastructure projects, which demand transparent decision-making and democratic oversight. It is incredible that they should be allowed to roam Parliament, mingle with ministers and MPs and use its facilities.
If lobbyists are going to be afforded such privileged access, the public must be able to know which interests they are representing. Government urgently needs to introduce transparency regulations, notably a register of lobbyists detailing who they are working for and which areas of public life they are trying to influence.
Professor David Miller
Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Gay and lesbian people in Iran
Sir: I am surprised that your article about the situation of gay and lesbian asylum seekers (23 June) did not point out that it was my intervention in ordering a review in the Mehdi Kazemi case that has enabled him to stay in the UK.
I was also clear in my letter to Lord Roberts that the conditions for gay and lesbian people in Iran are such that individuals may well need international protection – and that this is reflected in our advice to the caseworkers who make the individual decisions.
Finally, as the minister who steered the civil partnership legislation through Parliament, I am hardly someone who believes that gay and lesbian people should need to be discreet in order to receive the protection of the state – either in this country or in Iran.
Home secretary, London SW1
Speed up the planning process
Sir: Why are the government proposals for replacing public inquiries into infrastructure projects a bad thing ("Not in our back yard", 24 June)?
If they are to involve experts who know what they are talking about rather than lawyers who are merely expert in the law, won't that be a good thing? And if they enable railways or schools or hospitals that we sorely need to be built more quickly, isn't that also a good thing, subject to more speedy public consultation and compensation for those affected?
H Trevor Jones
Sir: This revolutionary innovation of a surgical checklist (report, 25 June) seems to me so blindingly obvious that I cannot believe that it hasn't been in operation for decades. Having said that however, I suppose it is only recently that it was concluded that regular hand-washing by medical staff might be quite a good idea. Mind-numbing stuff.
Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
Price of food and oil
Sir: Mary Dejevsky's article on food prices (25 June) ignores the elephant in the room, which is rising oil and natural gas prices around the globe. Modern agriculture relies on cheap and abundant fossil fuels for fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation and transport, and the inexorable rise in energy prices has taken its toll on the cost of food. I don't really know what to suggest, except maybe that we drive and fly less, and turn down our thermostats, but I'm sure that pontificating about food futures markets is of no use at all.
Sir: Unlike Sean Cordell (letter, 24 June), some of us are not so arrogant as to assert that human intelligence is the highest intelligence in the universe. Everything he mentions, the wonders of the material world and the power of thought – science, natural history and philosophy – is to many of us evidence of a far superior intelligence, which for brevity's sake we call God.
the Rev John Williams
West Wittering, West Sussex
Sir: Your 20 June edition carried a profile of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham MP. In this profile you described Andy as the bass player in the parliamentary rock band MP4. As the bass player in MP4 I would just like to correct the record. Andy has played one song with us (on rhythm guitar) at one performance, and I think your report took journalistic licence too far. Or perhaps the rest of the band know something they haven't yet told me.
Ian Cawsey MP
House of Commons
Sir: Nick Haysom (letter, 25 June) thinks that receiving two postal deliveries the same day is a miracle. I believe in miracles, but suspect that the delivery he found at 6.30am was the previous day's post, which arrived after he went to bed.
The Rev Peter Mott
Keighley, West Yorkshire
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