Letters: Bishops in the Lords speak up for justice


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The Independent Online

Good grief! Your editorial about bishops in the House of Lords (26 January) read like something out of the Sunday Express circa 1962. Bishops should stick to their pulpits; the "privileged" Church of England having a voice in Parliament because it's the established church. Those arguments became boring many years ago.

Like it or not, we have a second unelected chamber in Parliament called the House of Lords, and for historical reasons, 26 of the 104 bishops of the Church of England have seats there. Since Parliament still sees fit to legislate for the Church of England's internal affairs, I would call that a reasonable quid pro quo. If you want to change that system, then do: it won't worry the Church of England.

Meanwhile we have, in the House of Lords, a group of fairly intelligent people, including bishops, who do not have to cast an anxious eye on what the electorate has been persuaded to think, and who have sufficient independence of thought to curb, or at least delay, the excesses of the government of the day. They are not afraid to do so; and, generally speaking, I would say that was a good thing.

You also go on to imply that religion, politics and ordinary life are three different things which must be kept apart, and that a leader in one field cannot possibly be permitted to interfere by commenting on another. When a bishop stands up in the House of Lords to protest about a piece of proposed legislation which he considers unjust, he is doing precisely what he's paid for. It's called freedom of expression, and it applies just as much to bishops as it does to newspaper leader writers.

John Williams

West Wittering, West Sussex




Your editorial blithely asserts that representatives of the established church "must go" in the next wave of Lords reform. Why?

We have an established church that is as much the consequence of our social, economic and political history as of our spiritual past. Given the quantity of time-serving apparatchiks who have been rewarded with seats in the Lords, it seems a little extreme to single out precisely those who by the very nature of their work could be said to bring a much-needed ethical and moral approach to the proceedings.

The established church fulfils a role not dissimilar to that of the monarchy; it is a useful mechanism, nominally filling a space that would otherwise be the object of competitive acrimony and destabilising ambition.

And as we have seen, the meddlesome priests are not in anyone's pocket. Perhaps we should put up with them for a while longer.

Christopher Dawes

London W11




Your leader was astounding. Agree with them or not, the bishops who proposed the amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill on Monday were from dioceses with some of the most significant deprivation in the country. They are therefore in touch with clergy on the ground living in these areas – journalists and politicians don't tend to. They know what they are talking about.

I would have thought that drawing people from this incredible network of parishes, which is what establishment is really about, is just what the second chamber needs. To say that they should not meddle in politics is to argue that faith is irrelevant to life. Secular does not equal neutral. By all means disagree with their maths and policy analysis, but they speak from serious engagement on the ground and therefore deserve hearing.

Canon Ian Black




Badgers and hedgehogs

Michael McCarthy (19 January) is wrong to suggest that the link between the presence of badgers and the absence of hedgehogs is being played down. It isn't, but from a conservation standpoint it doesn't make sense to put it centre stage: it isn't the case that fewer badgers would mean the decline in hedgehog numbers would be stopped. The link between badgers and hedgehogs misses the bigger picture.

The main causes for the decline in hedgehogs are almost certainly habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. And we are working hard to understand the cause better and to help the hedgehog cope with our very intensively used landscape, even when they are eaten by badgers, which – along with disease, accidental road casualties and a changing climate– is a fact of life.

The solution lies in improving the quality of the environment within which both hedgehogs and badgers have co-existed for millennia. They are, for the most part, competitors for the same food resource, macro-invertebrates such as worms. It is only when their habitat deteriorates that the relationship shifts into one that is predatory.

Hedgehogs and badgers frequently co-exist in urban areas, where there is no indication that badger numbers are increasing – but urban hedgehog populations are declining as fast as their rural counterparts.

Our project to monitor hedgehog hibernation emergence (www.hedgehogstreet.org) is part of a massive effort to understand better the ways in which we can ensure that the hedgehog survives and thrives. And part of the work is looking at how intensive farming depletes both hedgehog and badger food. Rather than getting side-tracked by a single dimension, please join in and help us understand the complexities better.

Fay Vass

Chief Executive, British Hedgehog Preservation Society,

Jill Nelson

Chief Executive, People's Trust for Endangered Species

Abingdon, Oxfordshire


Shameless lying

I was saddened to read your leading story about declining standards of honesty (25 January). What concerns me most is the assumption that "everyone is doing it".

As I was reading about it on a train from Guildford to London Waterloo, which was running on time, I was forced to listen to a young woman behind me proclaiming through her mobile phone that she was "stuck outside Waterloo" and was going to arrive late at her destination, wherever that was.

Not only is this an unfair calumny against the train company, whose trains are rarely late, but I was shocked by the utter indifference to her fellow passengers, who knew that she was lying. Should the honest person stand up and protest in such circumstances? I am sorry to say that all I did was to resolve to write to your paper about it.

Bob Tomlin

Caterham, Surrey




David Butland cites a number of his friends who claim to have rarely told lies, as evidence in the debate about national dishonesty (letters, 26 January). Unfortunately, I suspect that everybody he spoke to was lying.

Tim Matthews

Luton, Bedfordshire


Smart meters will help consumers

The Government is determined to see consumers benefit from the introduction of smart meters, and will study the Public Accounts Committee report carefully ("Smart meters 'may lead to an increase in fuel poverty' ", 17 January).

Consumer protection is at the core of the programme and we have been consulting closely with consumer groups over the past year. Smart meters will give us more control over how we use energy at home and at work, helping us to cut energy waste and save money, and will mean an end to estimated billing – so no more nasty surprises for consumers.

They also have a key role in modernising our electricity system so we keep the lights on and bills down. Energy companies will be able to do their job more efficiently, which will also mean lower costs for us all to pay for through gas and electricity bills. The benefits of smarts meters are £18.7bn from an £11.7bn investment – that's a £7bn net benefit to the nation, and we want to realise it sooner rather than later.

Charles Hendry

Energy Minister, Department of Energy and Climate Change, London SW1


Fight again for the Falklands

Britain will go to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands only if the Argentines stage another unprovoked attack on the 2,000 or so innocent British civilians who live there.

Both your correspondents (letters, 26 January) are in effect suggesting that rather than defending those Brits we try to bribe the potential aggressors in pursuit of a quiet life – despite the certain knowledge that the last time round the invaders included people subsequently convicted of brutal crimes against their own people, quite possibly with death-lists of our fellow countryman in their pockets.

No decent nation looks to bribe such people. It makes it clear, as the PM has, that if necessary we will fight them again. The only real concern is to be sure that we can still do so successfully – which I hope we are, but fear we may not be.

R S Foster



Drink? A lemon would be nice

Starbucks is to sell alcohol in the USA. In the UK, I have yet to find a Starbucks able even to supply a slice of lemon to enhance a cup of tea. Over many years, I have suggested, by letter and across the counter that, to supply a slice of lemon for those who prefer it to milk would not affect Starbucks' profitability too dramatically. Excuses for failing to do so, which have included good old "health and safety", have come down to: "We don't stock lemons for tea."

Peter Williams

Faversham, Kent



My father and his father both died of heart attacks. My GP insisted on testing my blood pressure a couple of years ago (since I was over 55) and discovered it was shockingly high. So, but for NHS policy of checking patients of a certain age and treating them, I might well have had a heart attack by now. So why should there be a mystery to the reduced heart death rate in England (report, 26 january)? It's all down to sensible NHS decision-making.

Mike Park

London SE9


Be fair to Sir Fred

It would be unfair if Sir Fred Goodwin were deprived of the knighthood awarded in 2004. The honour was bestowed on the basis of a career of service prior to that time. Granted, things went belly-up later, but if, for example, a theatrical knight or dame turned in a lousy performance now, would that justify calls for their honour to be revoked?

Anthony Bramley-Harker

Watford Hertfordshire


Family mansion

Judith M Steiner is worried that she and her husband could be forced out of their family home by a mansion tax (letter, 24 January). There is a simple solution. Should a tax on dwellings of over £2m be introduced, residents who find it difficult to pay the tax immediately should be able to give a charge on their property to the local authority, who will collect the money the next time the property comes on to the market.

Harvey Cole



Polite star

John Calder's obituary of Nicol Williamson emphasised his aggression (26 January). But when reviving Inadmissible Evidence at the Royal Court in 1978 he was, I seem to remember, entirely courteous to all his supporting players.

Clive Swift

London NW8