Sir: Like Frank Rickards (letter, 30 December) I wish our ex-PM well on his spiritual journey. The scandal about his conversion is not the list of his apparent sins but the publicity given to the ceremony by the Cardinal Archbishop.
Tony Blair has a reputation for spinning his government's policies and decisions, for lying, for warmongering, for avoiding taking responsibility, with which a leader of the Catholic Church, without judging the sinfulness of it, should avoid associating. It is part of the role of the clergy, bishops and cardinals not to cause scandal to the faithful. While Blair has certainly been to confession and he could well be in a state of grace, something we cannot judge, wise counsel points to a quiet, private ceremony of conversion carried out by a priest of his parish.
One would hope that in time, as a practising Catholic, he will show us that he has distanced himself from the acts that formed his reputation. The Cardinal Archbishop's choice to give his name publicly to the conversion ceremony was ill-advised and dangerous to the faithful and to the reputation of the Church.
Dr Robert Hamilton
Sir: Frank Rickards misses the point in defending Blair's dark night of the soul. He should be brought to book over his facility to dissemble and reduce human beings to a means to an end. It is vanity and self-righteous self-interest which are at question.
Sex workers are not helpless victims
Sir: I am a sex worker and a sex manager. I run an agency and I work as a male escort and have done so for ten years. I have met hundreds of clients and represented hundreds of sex workers. I have never come across anyone who was coerced or trafficked.
Thousands of sex workers throughout this country work freely and by choice in an industry that provides them with a good income and flexible hours. Many sex workers do the work for a short time and others make a full-time career out of it
I wonder how many real sex workers Joan Smith has met ("Yes, it should be a crime to pay for sex", 27 December). I suggest she speaks to real sex workers and learns the truth about the industry.
I do not argue that there is not a problem with trafficked victims, but I do question the numbers and strongly urge that further criminalisation will do nothing to stop this vile trade. It will have quite the opposite effect.
Sweden is seen by prohibitionists as a model for the destruction of the sex trade, but Sweden had a tiny sex worker community to begin with and those few sex workers are now more victimised than ever before.
Further criminalisation will not work here but rather will push the industry further underground and into the hands of the criminals we all despise. If she is genuinely concerned with helping the victims of crime, then she should look to decriminalise the industry and open the industry up to public scrutiny. The vast majority of sex workers are not victims and hate being classed as victims, just as the vast majority of managers are not evil pimps but rather are employees of sex workers, employed by them to provide collective services.
How many lives will be destroyed by the state egged on by people like Joan Smith simply because they have chosen to work in an industry that she disapproves of?
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Sir: Joan Smith's article "Yes, it should be a crime to pay for sex" is in danger of reinforcing common mistaken stereotypes concerning prostitution and victims of human trafficking. A genuine, coerced trafficking victim is not a prostitute. She is a rape victim.
Ms Smith states that estimates vary between 4,000 and 25,000 sex-trafficking victims in the UK. Whilst both these figures seem to have emanated from the Home Office, no methodology explaining their foundation has been made available. The nationwide police operation Pentameter 1, which used the Palermo Protocol definition of trafficking and involved all 55 forces in the UK, found either 84 or 88 depending which report you read, Crimestoppers or Acpo. Its successor, Pentameter 2, has found more, but nothing like the number that would justify even the smaller of the two figures.
The 4,000 figure appears on page 25 of the 2005-6 Joint Committee on Human Rights report on Human Trafficking, where the committee reported the "Government told us that [research] showed that there were an estimated 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK during 2003 at any one time. Because the research has not yet been published, we have not been able to judge the validity of this figure."
All this does not mean society should not do what it can to identify genuine cases, prosecute those responsible, and end the sufferings of real victims. However, as a great deal of police evidence on trafficking victims comes at present from prostitutes' clients, rendering the latter illegal and pushing prostitution further underground is hardly a constructive way of going about matters.
Colwyn Bay, North Wales
Sir: I write in response to the letter from a host of academics entitled, "Sex workers need no moral crusades" (22 December). I entirely agree with the points they make. It is wrong, of course, for anybody to be forced to work in the sex industry and there should be criminal sanctions in place to tackle those involved in that aspect of the market. But why should everybody engaged in selling and buying sex be subjected to draconian criminal measures? This is one reason that those working in the industry should be involved in a debate on the subject.
In many instances, women choose to sell sex because they want to, not because they are forced to. The reasons may be many and varied choosing when and how they work and the amount of money they are capable of earning, for example, might feature among those reasons. If a man chooses to buy sex from a woman choosing to sell it, what harm is being done? To criminalise such transactions would mean that numerous people would be hauled up before the courts when there is not even a victim.
Our laws on prostitution have always been behind the times and ineffective. Why not have brothels that are regulated? That would be one way to make sex workers offer their services in a safer environment than a dimly-lit street.
Sir: How does Julie Harrison (letter, 29 December) know that many people object to men buying sex? Most people, I suggest, are completely indifferent to prostitution so long as it doesn't affect them. And what evidence does she have of men "in their thousands" sexually exploiting women? So far just 88 trafficked women have been rescued from the sex trade.
Cowling, North Yorkshire
Sir: Julie Harrison alludes to large numbers of women being enslaved and beaten. These are extremely serious matters; so serious that it would be surprising if they were not already covered in criminal law. Ms Harrison offers a case neither for enacting new legislation nor for making this gender-specific.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Energy that doesn't cost the planet
Sir: Bruce Anderson's diatribe on environmentalists and their "mental" approach (17 December) to climate change cannot go without comment.
Growth does indeed depend on the availability of energy. The human race has followed this principle through burning wood, then coal and, of late, oil. The path of future climate change is directly linked to our energy consumption.
A reduction in energy consumption of 30 per cent through energy efficiency and utilising readily available technology reduces the challenge of the UK's looming energy gap by a third. Switch from very inefficient electricity generation from coal-fuelled plants, which waste 60 per cent of the energy, to combined heat and power generating plants, which achieve efficiencies of at least 70 per cent by heating our homes and factories as well as generating electricity, and the problem is reduced by a further third.
Now the problem is manageable. Renewables can step up to the plate. The portfolio is broad. At the upper end, there is the Severn Barrage, which has the potential to generate 10 nuclear power stations' worth of electricity, and the recent Government proposal for offshore wind-farms with the capacity to generate 20 per cent of our current electricity demand.
Biomass heat and electricity generation has gathered pace quickly in Europe and is beginning to take hold in the UK. Our rivers have thousands of disused hydro-generating sites. Solar hot water is there for the taking and works even on cloudy days. Photovoltaic continues to develop; elsewhere in Europe there are hundreds of hectares of solar farms.
Growth can be achieved without costing the planet. The Government has talked the talk; it is now time to walk the walk. Halt the construction of any new coal-fired power stations. Let nuclear power reach the end of its natural life: it's too costly and the issues of waste disposal have yet to be decided. Implement a moratorium on airport expansion and place a realistic price on carbon emissions.
Darfur still waiting for UN force
Sir: Today, 31 December, is the day when the AU-UN hybrid force should have been deployed in Darfur. However, Sudanese government obstruction and a lack of resources have delayed the deployment.
Throughout 2007, the international community stood by time and again as the Sudanese government neutered any attempts to bring an effective end to the atrocities in Darfur. Further, when called on for troops and aerial capability for the force, no UN member stepped up to the task.
On this day, the UK and all its allies should reflect on their part in this failure and find new resolve for 2008. With 4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, we must do better.
Director, Waging Peace, London W2
Prison watchdogs with no teeth
Sir: Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) in prisons (letters, 26 December) are the empty shells of what were the Boards of Visitors (BOV), composed of local dignitaries, who influenced the management of prison.
IMBs have no teeth; they are beholden to the prison governor for their conditions of work, so the avoidance of conflict becomes paramount; prison management at area level resents intrusion by lay meddlers. At the highest level, the minister depends on guidance from the very civil servants responsible for any malfunction.
Nevertheless, there is good work done by talented IMB members in helping disadvantaged residents of prisons understand and overcome the complexities of their prison life. But this is a welfare role, not one of a prison watchdog or monitor.
Well-meaning volunteers are misled into offering their services to the Ministry of Justice in the belief that they will be performing a valuable public service.
Cottingham, East Riding
The line that goes through Jerusalem
Sir: Jim Whitehead (letter, 28 December) is not entirely accurate in his account of the status of Jerusalem. The "partition of Palestine in 1947" never occurred, as the Arabs rejected the proposal. It was the war of 1948, and the armistice line, that established Israel's de facto border. This placed west Jerusalem inside Israel, a status maintained under the various "two-state solution" maps.
Britain, along with most other countries, chooses to maintain its embassy in Tel Aviv at this time. However, Tel Aviv cannot be said to be the capital, as the government is located in Jerusalem.
Alexis Rosoff Treeby
Dame Peggy Ashcroft
Sir: America commemorates the birth, 100 years ago, of Bette Davis with a postage stamp (report, 28 December). This country does not mark the centenary, on 22 December, of the greatest English actress of the last century with a whisper. Would it be possible, at the very least, to print her name?
Price of the Dome
Sir: Jonathan Brown's article, "The year the Dome finally delivered" (28 December) was fascinating. I only wish he had included some mention of when the Heritage Lottery Fund, or the taxpayer, may expect some refund of the 600m that went into its construction and operation before its sale to its present owners.
Legal aid harms NHS
Sir: Further to recent items, our legal aid system is not only the most generous in the world but has caused huge damage to our health service, propagating dangerous myths about the safety of childhood vaccines, and funding unsustainable cases against hospitals and doctors. Lawyers are rewarded for bringing speculative cases, thus diverting resources from patient care to legal pockets; it is amply borne out by the dismal success rates in clinical negligence and pharmaceutical litigation, where lawyers are too often the only beneficiaries. Legal aid reform is long overdue.
DR ANTHONY BARTON
SOLICItoR & MEDICAL PRACTITIONER, London N1
Sir: Your report on transport during the festive season (21 December) referred to Network Rail giving only 10 days' notice, instead of 12 weeks required by the regulator, of the extension to 31 December of engineering work at Rugby. No doubt, as in the past, Network Rail will be fined by the regulator for this breach. Unfortunately, as it is a "not for profit" company, the fine falls on taxpayers, not shareholders. The regulator should have the power to impose fines on Network Rail executives in the shape of a percentage of their earnings.
N C WALKER
Duirinish, Kyle of Lochalsh
Dressed for the opera
Sir: Lynne Walker (Extra, 27 December) refers to a "preposterously black-tied" audience at Opera North. What's preposterous about it ?
Lewes, East Sussex