Letters: Car-ownership

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Take back the country from car-borne devastation

Sir: I wish to respond to the letter by Lady Eveline Bright on car-ownership (23 February). I am not a lady, nor a gentleman, for that matter; just a lowdown, snivelling peasant. But, on the bright side, I do own a two-acre smallholding on which I keep two cows, two goats, some chickens and a wonderful collection of rats.

I do not live on the smallholding and do not own a car. I commute by train to my little farm eight miles each way and walk about six miles a day, seven days a week.

Lady Eveline says the country-dwelling car-owner is "discriminated against", and that she lives a country life out of a desire to lead a more "eco-friendly"' lifestyle. What she and thousands of other car-commuting country-dwellers fail to recognise is that they live in the countryside only because they own a car and can access, and live in, areas of little or no employment.

Our once-beautiful landscape has been annihilated by a 50-year, car-induced, house- and industrial estate-building rampage along the length and breadth of Britain. Our ancient farms and villages have been invaded and bought by the car-commuting yuppie brigade, who add nothing to the rural economy or traditional ways of life. Those who have built their lives around the car should not now develop a persecution complex over the welcome prospect of congestion charging.

If anyone is interested in eradicating the most environmentally damaging and life-destroying contraption ever devised, the solution is obvious: stop a new generation of young people buying cars, and make them build their lives around trains, buses, cycling and walking, as millions did before the tragedy of mass car-ownership.

The car lobby should realise their days are numbered.



Customers made to pay for banks' errors

Sir: You report bank spokesmen as saying that overdraft penalties are the customer's own fault (21 February).

My wife and I run a current account for the regular household expenditure, standing orders, and direct debit. Pension and other amounts feed into the account with an agreed small overdraft to cope with minor fluctuations. Despite our attempts to balance the account evenly we find that the banking system itself has on a number of occasions caused us to be charged penalty fees.

It is not our fault when the banks can take five working days plus a weekend or holiday period to process a cheque.

It is not our fault when the bank can take it upon itself, without letting the customer know, to process a direct debit early or late.

It is not our fault when banks cannot recognise that HM Government insists on paying pensions on a four-weekly basis which fails to relate to monthly outgoings.

It is not our fault when annual payments fall at strange times or when sudden changes to interest rates have slightly altered the amount.

It is not our fault when banks make a mistake or when sloppy finger errors by their staff cause computer data errors.

It is not our fault when banks seem unable to recognise the difference between regular honest customers and those who are irresponsible with their monetary affairs.

There was a time when a human at the bank monitored accounts but since computerisation it is now up to the customer to monitor his own bank account daily if the anomalies I have listed are to be avoided. If the bank would allow us to see up-to-the-minute account statements over the internet this might be possible but the best we can get with online accounts is a three-day-old statement, which would still allow mismatches to occur.

If banks are really offering a service they should strive for the same standards they expect of the customer and should not hide their own inefficiencies by expecting the customer to pay for them.



Sir: With all the recent press regarding bank charges, I decided to ask my bank, the Abbey, how much they have been taking from me (illegally?) for the last six years.

To my surprise, they told me that they had no idea, and that I would have to work it out for myself; however, for a £10 fee, they would supply me with the 72 monthly bank statements necessary (but, sadly, not with a calculator ).

Yesterday, I was bemused to discover 15 envelopes on my mat - all from Abbey. Yes, each month's statement had been posted individually. Fifteen down, 57envelopes to go!

The lady I rang in horror said it would cost too much - "£3 or £4"- to post everything in one envelope. How many trees, Oh Lord, are being sacrificed to the bank customers' selfish whim to know how much they have been dunned by?



Sir: Your current campaign against the banks is not only unfair on them but it is doing a disservice to the majority of their customers who so arrange their finances as to avoid charges on their current accounts.

By encouraging disorganised people to think that they can treat the banks as if they were philanthropic institutions, which should be expected to allow them to overdraw without penalty under threat of litigation, you are ultimately leaving the rest of us to foot the bill for their profligacy. This is surely not in the best tradition of even-handedness which The Independent has hitherto upheld.



Sir: There have been lots of complaints in The Independent about banks and their charges; I would like to put an alternative view. My bank gives me 0.1 per cent interest on my credit balances; this is so small that I now have little or no reason to hang on to my money. I can pay my bills early, thus avoiding the risk of being charged for late payment on credit cards etc. That seems good, but who am I paying early? In the case of my credit cards I am paying my bank.That sounds like a win-win for them.



Wilberforce shames today's moral fog

Sir: As we celebrate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, I was inspired to hear on the radio an extract from William Wilberforce's speech in the House of Commons in 1789 putting the case for this momentous reform with such moral courage.

The one big idea which stood out was the absolute clarity of Wilberforce's judgement that the trade was so "irremediable and wicked" that the "consequences" of its abolition had absolutely no bearing on the issue: in other words, the damage done to people's economic interests was irrelevant and the moral justice of the cause overrode all other considerations.

How different is such a totally principled stand from the craven calling-off of the Serious Fraud Office's bribery probe into Saudi arms deals with BAE Systems. In this case, as Tony Blair has made clear, the potential damage to our economic interests is far more important than upholding either the law or moral principle.

The contrast between the moral clarity of Wilberforce and the moral fog which has engulfed our political system could not be starker. It explains why, 200 years on, we are still celebrating the legacy of one of our greatest parliamentarians, and why at the same time no one seems to have has the foggiest idea how to describe the legacy of Mr Blair.



Sir: The news that Tony Blair has been in secret discussions with the Americans about allowing the US missile defence system to be sited in the UK shows that the war-mongering neoconservatives still call the shots in the US administration.

It is they who have decided Russia presents the most credible threat to US world hegemony, and it is they who called for action to counter this "threat". The fact that the US has convinced Poland and the Czech Republic to allow the US to site this system in their countries, shows quite clearly that President Vladimir Putin is right to suggest the missile defence system is directed against Russia.

Poland and the Czech Republic may have to accept US demands that in the event of war with Russia they must be "punchbags" to soak up some Russian nuclear missiles, and missiles heading for the US will be shot down over their territories.

It now seems that Tony Blair is happy to contemplate volunteering Britain's total destruction so the US can survive to dominate a post-nuclear war world. No doubt, having signed the agreement and resigned his office, he'll head off to a new, wealthy, elitist career, and safety from nuclear attack in the US.



Red Hand from Glasgow to Tel Aviv

Sir: Robert Davison (letter, 27 February) cannot be allowed to get away with the calumny that Rangers supporters' Red Hand "salutes" at the recent game in Israel were Nazi.

Davison is correct that there is no tradition in Ulster of a Red Hand salute; however, over the years a minority of Rangers supporters, to celebrate the Ulster-Scots heritage of the club, have adopted this gesture. In the past a red glove was often used to emphasise the meaning.

There is no history of racism at Ibrox and whilst this behaviour in Tel Aviv may have been ill-advised it was certainly not a demonstration of Nazi politics.



Ethics of human egg donation

Sir: Jeremy Laurance's feature "The big question" (22 February) outlined the pros and cons of infertile women gaining financial benefit from donating half of their eggs to receive subsidised IVF treatment at centres undertaking both service provision and research. A conflict of interests must surely exist.

It is not widely known that there may not be any potential child within a group of 10 to 15 eggs resulting from drug stimulation given for fertility treatment; sometimes just one, less frequently two, or more.

So is it really ethical to encourage women to give up half of their precious eggs for research since their birthright will be compromised if there is only one potential child, and this unknowingly exists within the eggs donated for research? We think not.

We consider the principle is flawed. Laudable research should be dependent on altruistic donation from those who have completed their families and who are adequately compensated. The HFEA limit the total expenses to £250 per donation for egg donors not having IVF but, by sanctioning egg-sharing, allow the infertile to benefit in kind to the extent of £2,000 because they cannot afford private treatment.

We were surprised that the HFEA at their meeting on 21 February approved egg-sharing by couples tempted by an offer of subsidised IVF. This decision appears contrary to the Declaration of Helsinki on research.





Justice for crimes of the Iraq war

Sir: Correspondents such as Colin Smith ( 27 February) allege clearly that Mr Blair is guilty of crimes. Crimes that must be judged include continuing economic sanctions against the Iraqi people, illegally invading Iraq, failing to fulfil the duties of an occupying army and lying to and misleading Parliament. The enormous scale of these crimes must surely lead to a court of law.

There is talk of impeachment and trial but as a member of the public I need to know how to bring the guilty to justice.

Justice must be done to reduce the chance of these sins recurring, to bring bring some satisfaction to the military families of those who have died in Iraq and to show the world, in particular Iraqis, that even when the UK government has lost its senses, when we err and are in disgrace we will not fail those we have harmed.



Forgotten anniversary

Sir: On 23 February you carried a two-page spread on the significance of the number 23, including the importance of 23 April for Shakespeare. But you omitted to mention Handel's birth on 23 February 1685. Shame on you.



Not quite so innocent

Sir: Noel Smith's idea of "innocent" in his piece on the Old Bailey's centenary (28 February) is a bit strange. Whilst Ruth Ellis and Derek Bentley may not have been guilty of murder - and that is a debatable point - they were beyond any doubt culpable in the killing of two men and were at least guilty of manslaughter and accessory to murder, so were hardly innocent, unlike the Guildford Four.



Doomed reform

Sir: Adrian Buckley's letter (26 February) makes many good points linking availability of credit, excessive house prices, overworked adults and delinquency. In this, he complements Steve Richards' thoughtful article of 20 February. Sadly, nothing will come of their comments because what they are proposing, correctly, is that it would be good if house prices were to fall dramatically. Find the politician who campaigns in favour of falling house prices and you will also find a lost deposit.



Brown's Britishness

Sir: Gordon Brown's declaration that prospective immigrants should not only be made to learn English, but should also be obliged to do community service, raises a question. Will English lessons and work service be simultaneous, or will special arrangements have to be made to allow time off for study? If the second solution is adopted, logistical problems will abound; if the first, education may be limited to learning to say "Yes, boss" in a dozen different ways. In any case, it will certainly keep them in their place.



Clever enough to rebel

Sir: Michael K Baldwin (letter, 28 February) seems to equate academic ability with "good behaviour". As a teacher I have found that "being bright" does not guarantee good behaviour. Some of the most difficult children I have taught have the intelligence to know how to cause the maximum amount of disruption.