Letters: Blood diamonds

Blood diamonds show need to fight poverty

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The return of blood diamonds must not be allowed to happen (report, 25 June). The underlying cause of diamond smuggling, and the atrocities it leaves in its wake, is poverty. Corruption and exploitation go hand in hand with poverty, and in mineral-producing countries where democracy is weak and governance poor, violence quickly follows, as the stakes are high – whether diamonds, coltan or timber.

The fact that a war has not been declared should not mean that we are bystanders to an increase in human rights violations against artisanal miners and their families, of whom there are more than 100,000 in Africa alone. Horrific sexual violence against hundreds of women in coltan mining areas of the Congo, for example, urgently needs addressing, yet we are impotent in action.

Global Witness and PAC, as reported in your front page story, and the industry through the World Diamond Council, are right to underline that it is the poorest who suffer from apparent intransigence on the part of government members of the Kimberley Process. They argue it is government members that need to clean up their act and be more rigorous in their inspections and penalties.

With a decline in demand for diamond jewellery, most notably the US, the formal industry and their government partners, particularly in Africa, can least afford to have consumer confidence in the integrity of diamonds undermined. Now is the right time for the British government to take the lead on addressing violence and rights abuses associated with natural resources, and for diamond importing government agencies worldwide to invest in addressing poverty, education and fair prices among the artisanal mining communities of these countries.

If we don't invest in addressing the causes, we won't get the solutions we want. And that is a familiar story with respect to other global risks such as pandemics, climate change, energy security and water stress. All roads lead to the imperative of poverty alleviation and combating corruption.

Professor Alyson Warhurst

Chair of Strategy & International Development, Warwick Business School

Coventry

Chance for radical pension reform

Deborah Orr could not be more on target ("Shrinking the state is the best way to redistribute wealth", 2 July). Why should progressivism in the age of cuts be bagged by the Conservatives? Huge cuts are inevitable and should be welcomed by centre- left radicals as a way of implementing the major reforms that were promised, but never delivered, in the age of public-sector abundance.

Taxpayers support pensions in three main ways. The cost of public-sector pensions – rising to £90bn by 2050 – is unsupportable. Pension savings are subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £30bn a year, and rising. As well as paying the state pension, the cost of means tests, of failing to bring about radical pension reform, comes in at £15bn and is also rising.

Radicals should seize the initiative. To build a funded scheme around the state retirement pension, offering a guaranteed minimum pension above means-testing, would see for the first time a government on course to abolish pensioner poverty. It would require higher contributions, including those to pay for the poor, but where else can a guaranteed return for minimum savings be gained apart from a new collective endeavour?

Such a scheme would see the £15bn welfare bill for pensioners falling and over a 20-year period governments could phase out the £30bn tax subsidy to pension savings. This move alone would radically transform public-sector finances and deliver the abolition of pensioner poverty.

A truly radical government could then use this reform to close all public-sector pensions to new members. Some of the £45bn savings could be used to make good over time the loss of revenue coming into the schemes from new members.

But the debt market would know that GB Ltd had a government intent on restructuring the public finances. A likely autumn gilt strike might thereby be avoided.

Frank Field MP (Birkenhead, Lab)

House of Commons

I heard George Osborne promise that a Tory government would protect the NHS and international development funds from cuts, the latter because of our "moral commitments". I have no problem with moral commitments, but to whom are we committed?

India receives hundreds of millions in aid from Britain, and apparently needs it when you consider the huge problems in health care and illiteracy suffered by millions of impoverished Indians. Yet this is also a nation which has its own manned space programme, is engaged in an unprecedented naval construction programme and has stated its ambition to become a superpower.

So why are we pouring development money into a country that seems to be one of our biggest international competitors in science and technology, military development and global influence? Perhaps we should be spending that money on our own beleaguered industries and our growing population of illiterates instead?

Mike Ranson

Warrington, Cheshire

In considering means-testing pensioners for the winter fuel allowance, I hope the Government takes into account the severe attenuation which any potential savings would suffer because of the massive costs of administration of such a scheme. On current showing, it is probably a vain hope.

Conrad Cork

Leicester

Why MPs should have other jobs

If MPs are to be banned from having second jobs (Dominic Lawson, 30 June) they reduce their knowledge of business. Politicians need more than ever to understand the world of work to effect better regulation. Research commissioned by the Industry and Parliament Trust in 2008 discovered that just one in seven MPs have 10 years or more experience of private-sector management or financial services.

Many parliamentary candidates in recent decades have been career politicians and lack in-depth business experience. Policymakers must be able to understand complex financial and business issues.

The late Lord Weatherill, former Speaker of the House of Commons, a founder of the Trust, continued working for many years after he was elected to Parliament, always carrying a tailoring thimble in his pocket to remind him of his origins and the importance of those who create the wealth of UK plc.

Sally Muggeridge

Chief Executive, Industry and Parliament Trust, London SW1

Barely a day goes by without yet another story regarding the sickening greed of Britain's political, business and cultural elite. Recent examples include MPs earning tens of thousands a year for a few hours' work. We also heard about the BBC top-brass who are apparently quite happy to pay themselves hundreds of thousands, despite 7,200 of their colleagues being laid off in the past four years. If, as appears likely, our economy continues to struggle, or worse, there must be a significant risk of social turmoil.

As our so-called elite seem incapable of restraining themselves voluntarily, as far as I can see the only way of dealing with this problem is via penal rates of tax on higher earnings. Nobody needs to be earning in excess of £100,000 per year when there are many living in poverty.

No doubt there will be much whingeing from high-earners at this suggestion and threats to move abroad. We should ignore them. If they feel so little allegiance for this country, then let them go. Britain will be a better place when left to those who are happy to accept moderate lifestyles and a more balanced society.

Keith O'Neill

Shrewsbury

Jackson a victim of his own success

For Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (29 June) to blame Michael Jackson''s personal problems almost solely on his parents shows a lack of understanding of the family dynamic. From her article one would think that Michael Jackson was an only child.

His parents had 10 children, with all of his brothers and sisters having some degree of success in the music industry, the most notable of whom is Janet Jackson. As far as I am aware, all are well-adjusted individuals with none of the demons that plagued their brother

The life of Michael Jackson, I am sorry to say, has only followed the trajectory of other megastars such as Elvis. This is not about parenting, but dealing with mega success, something that not many in Michael Jackson's position have done well.

Andrew Edafe Onoro

Birmingham

Burqa is a symbol of repression

Farooq Aftab (letter, 30 June) says there is no punishment in Islam for not wearing a veil. However, many Islamic states do mete out punishment upon women for "crimes" that in western society would be considered normal behaviour. The burqa symbolises such repression. How are we to know if a woman is choosing to wear a burqa freely when the very nature of the garment is to hide the truth?

Bob Armstrong

London SE29

I often wonder, if more than one burqa-clad mother is at the school gate, how does a child identify his or her mum? Same problem if Mum and child get separated in a crowd – especially if the number of these hidden faces increases.

Dorothy Neville

Rugby

I find people who choose to wear beards a little bit scary, and as a large part of the face is thus covered perhaps they should be forced to shave them off.

Andrew Lee-Hart

Wallasey, Cheshire

Farm animals' life not worth living

P Cain's (letter, 24 June) comments on vegetarians who wish meat production to cease and asks: "What farmers are going to keep these animals if they are not being used? Is it better not to have lived at all?" How naive. Of course it would have been better for them never to have been born.

Few farmed animals enjoy that rosy existence in which misinformed children believe. It is a cruel business in so many ways: the dairy industry where newly born calves are separated from their mothers; the mass production of poultry; stressful transportation. Cruelty is rife in industries where animals are at the disposal of humans.

H J Burton

Brinsley, Nottinghamshire

Does this honour have to be a cross?

I commend the Government's proposal, to honour service personnel killed in action. But is it really necessary to call the award the Elizabeth Cross?

The name was obviously modelled on the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. But what about non-Christian service personnel? To award a cross to a bereaved Jewish or Muslim service family would be inappropriate. There are plenty of alternative titles for awards. This one could be the Elizabeth Medal, the Elizabeth Order or even the Elizabeth Star.

Michael Arnheim

London WC2

Briefly...

Biggs's offence

Surely Ronnie Biggs's greatest offence was not to "cock a snook at the British police" (leading article, 2 July) but to be a member of a violent criminal gang.

David H Clarke

Seaford, East Sussex

Queue for the loo

It is not only women's theatre visits that can be punctuated by long loo queues (David Lister, 27 June). Such occurrences are widespread in their cultural and social life. Recently, several coachloads of us converged at the same time on Flora Macdonald's remote Skye grave, and sadly I had to spend most of my allotted visit time in a loo queue. More time or more loos? The locality needs to dictate varying solutions, but they should be found.

Jean Allan

Ynyshir, Mid Glamorgan

Downing Street snub

I have every sympathy with Peter Tatchell over the lack of an invitation to 10 Downing Street (Pandora, 1 July). I've been – almost – a model British citizen for more than 68 years and never had a hint of an invitation to visit any of our prime ministers over the years.

Jeff Smith

Washingborough, Lincolnshire

East of the Lea

I Moseley (letter 2 July) is the one who obscures the history of the East End of London by confusing administrative boundaries with the social reality. The development of the area east of the river Lea began with the banishment of noxious industries by the City. The poorest housing and people followed. The siting of the Royal Docks, with an appetite for cheap casual labour, added to the poor population. The idea that the area now known as Newham is not part of the East End is simply ludicrous.

David Thurtle

London E6

Beach assault

I know it's near London, but why, every time the sun shines, must we have a picture of the beach at Brighton (1 July)? At least try Margate or Southend. I believe they even have sand.

Owen Ralph

Manchester

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