The survey that will 'prove' that we all want choice in the NHS
Sir: In a month or two the Government will release statistics that conclusively demonstrate that the British unanimously want choice from the NHS, thus vindicating the Government's policy.
I know this as I have just been accosted by a market researcher on my high street and asked a series of leading questions. The flyer I received afterwards said: "We are conducting these interviews to establish the importance of choice in the NHS."
This statement is untrue, given that at no stage was I ever asked any question which would have measured the real priority I put on choice, such as "Would you prefer higher quality treatment or more choice?" or "Would you pay more for more choice?"
Instead, we paraded through a series of questions on where I wanted choice. Did I want a choice of doctors? Did I want a say in my treatment? Did I want a choice as to whether to see a nurse or a doctor?
By defining choice so widely, and by never calibrating priority, the survey guarantees that 100 per cent of those responding will rate choice highly. We are shelling out to have our opinions distorted by a government to vindicate its loony policies.
Iraq's Christians face ethnic cleansing
Sir: Patrick Cockburn (20 May) is right: the ethnic cleansing going on in Iraq is terrible but he hardly mentions the plight of the Assyrians. The indigenous Iraqi Assyrians community is nearly a million strong and represents nearly 10 per cent of the population centred on the Nineveh plain.
This Christian community is being ethnically cleansed from the suburbs of Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere. Atrocities abound, with women sporadically having acid thrown in their faces and even being killed in some cases for wearing jeans or not wearing the veil, especially in the Mosul area. Young men are being forced to flee into exile to escape death threats and assassination. This means they are not able to work or study, a disaster for a whole new generation of Iraqi Assyrians and Christians.
Unlike the Sunni, Shia and Kurds they as yet have nowhere else to call home, despite the European Parliament's plea that the Nineveh plain be recognised as an autonomous Assyrian area. The European Parliament last month voted virtually unanimously for this threatened community to be allowed to establish on the basis of section 5 of the Constitution a federal region where they are free from outside interference and can practice their own way of life.
Jordan and Syria have already seen hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christian refugees but many more will join if protection is not provided urgently by the government of Iraq and the coalition forces.
GLYN FORD MEP
(LABOUR, SOUTH-WEST ENGLAND) DR CHARLES TANNOCK MEP (CONSERVATIVE, GREATER LONDON) ANDY DARMOO SAVE THE ASSYRIANS CAMPAIGN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT BRUSSELS
Funds that pay for Ethiopia's progress
Sir: I write concerning your 16 May report "Third World cash exodus 'points to laundering' ". Quoting Bank of England sources, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) rightly states that money flowing in to UK bank accounts has surged in the past few years and cites several instances concerning developing countries, including Ethiopia.
The NEF's director states that the situation "raises the potential for a scandal", implying that the reasons for increased fund flow are nefarious. But there are a multitude of reasons for increased fund flow, so it is irresponsible infer simply from figures that the cash exodus "points to laundering" as your article puts it.
Ethiopia's economy has grown in double digits for the past few years and it is taking its place in the global economy. The UK is Ethiopia's second largest trading partner and Ethiopia buys, among other things, raw materials, machinery, equipment, chemicals and consultancy from the UK. All these require funding to be transferred. We consider that the NEF's inferences, as reported by The Independent, demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of how the world economy works and are deeply damaging.
AMBASSADOR ETHIOPIAN EMBASSY LONDON SW7
Rape victims denied refuge in Britain
Sir: The "soft targets" for deportation are first of all women and children who find it hardest to "disappear" in the system. (" 'Soft targets' picked on for deportation, say refugee campaigners", 18 May)
Just last week, a young woman was removed to an African country after the Home Office and courts refused to accept compelling expert evidence confirming the torture she had suffered. She had turned 17 when she was kidnapped and repeatedly raped by rebel soldiers who killed her mother in front of her. When government troops stormed the rebels' camp, she was imprisoned as a suspected rebel sympathiser and raped again by soldiers.
Like most rape survivors we see, this young woman was disbelieved (the conviction rate for reported rape in Britain is 5.6 per cent). She was forcibly deported despite the protests at the airport by fellow students and others.
Hundreds of women and their children, some conceived as a result of rape, are currently detained and facing imminent removal. Our most recent research found that two-thirds of women in Yarl's Wood Detention Centre who contacted Legal Action for Women are rape survivors. They are systematically denied legal representation and other expert help, and sent back to further rape and other torture, and even death - another example of the Government's determination to meet its removal targets no matter how unjustly.
ALL AFRICAN WOMEN'S GROUP CRISTEL AMISS BLACK WOMEN'S RAPE ACTION PROJECT NIKI ADAMS LEGAL ACTION FOR WOMEN SIAN EVANS WOMEN AGAINST RAPE LONDON NW5
Sir: It is good that one of your correspondents publicised the abrupt and inhumane deportation of a settled and well-educated family who were talented and had much to offer society (letter, 19 May).
The Government has no strategy for keeping "useful" asylum seekers here even though it has organised a points system for attracting "useful" people who are still overseas. If an individual is here as an asylum seeker, the law does not allow him to change his reason for being here: he must continue to be judged as to whether or not it is safe to be sent back.
Thus, we deport people just as they have learnt English and become able to continue their professions or trade. Their children, of course, go with them even though they have been educated in our schools and would soon be contributing to our workforce.
The system is not only inhumane: it is also not good economics. There should be a way of crossing over from the asylum-seeker category to the points system.
Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right (22 May) to stress the economic benefits of migration to Britain. Our research shows that as well as filling essential public service skill gaps, those born outside the UK contribute more yet take less from the Exchequer than the average British-born citizen.
Last week's revelations demonstrate that illegal, as well as legal, migrants provide hard-to-fill services, such as office cleaning. If we allowed the half a million or so people who are currently working illegally in Britain to stay and pay taxes, we would all benefit from an extra £1bn a year in taxes.
RESEARCH FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH LONDON WC2
The new American national language
Sir: In his article (20 May) on the US Senate vote to make English America's national language, Rupert Cornwell refers to the legendary 1795 vote in which English beat German by a single ballot to become America's official language. No such vote ever took place. The story began circulating in 19th-century accounts of German contributions to American life and quickly gained mythic status.
It's true that after the American Revolution, when England's poll numbers were at a record low, some superpatriots suggested replacing English in the new nation with French, thought to be the language of pure reason, especially by the French; Hebrew, the presumed language of the Garden of Eden; or Greek, the language of Athens, the world's first democracy. But one revolutionary wag remarked that it would be better for the Americans to keep English and make the British speak Greek.
The US, long known as the graveyard of foreign languages, has never had an official language. Like England, it doesn't need one. No one learns a language overnight, but new immigrants still make the switch to English at the same rate as earlier groups had done, sometimes even faster.
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH AND LINGUISTICS, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, URBANA, ILLINOIS, USA
Home Office takes control of our lives
Sir: The Home Office's refusal to offer a straightforward apology for wrongly labelling about 2,700 people as criminals is depressing and worrying.
Taken with other symptoms - identity cards that monitor far more than identities, the disingenuous reaction to the assassination of an innocent civilian wrongly identified as a terrorist, the misapplication of anti-terrorist legislation to civil protest - it reveals a relentless determination to assume maximum control with minimum responsibility over civil liberties and lives, all in the name of protecting "freedom".
Sir: The Home Office evidently considers 0.03 per cent to be an acceptable error rate for Criminal Records Bureau disclosures. In doing so, it sets an interesting precedent. For example, extrapolated to the scale of the Government's proposed National Identity Register, this "acceptable proportion of error" represents some 18,000 individuals.
Ghost of eugenics stalks Down's babies
Sir: On Sunday evening I caught the tail-end of a phone-in on Radio 5 which was concerned with the percentage of women (over 90 per cent) who "choose" to have an abortion if their unborn child is diagnosed as having Down's syndrome. As I was in the bath at the time, I was unable to join in the arguments and when I had dried off the programme had ended, leaving me in a state of frustration at my inability to take part. However, succour was at hand in the form of Dominic Lawson's compelling and moving article in today's Independent (23 May). I agreed with every word.
I have just completed a book about the history of learning disability and of Mencap, for this voluntary body (of which I am President) is about to celebrate its diamond jubilee. We have achieved a great deal in those 60 years but, alas, the birth of a child with Down's syndrome is still considered by many to be an utter tragedy.
Much positive legislation has been enacted since the 1970s, but somehow attitudes have lagged behind. The ghost of the biologist Sir Francis Galton, who founded the eugenics movement in 1885, still stalks the corridors of many a teaching hospital, with the resulting attitudes so ably expressed by Dominic Lawson in his final, most telling, paragraph.
Down's syndrome is not a disease, it is not an infection, it cannot be cured but attitudes can be changed. It's good to see The Independent leading the media down the paths of righteousness.
(LORD RIX) HOUSE OF LORDS
Sir: Mark Cohen implies (letters, 23 May) that the only reasons cyclists ride on the pavement or jump red lights is because of their oppression by car drivers. He should try spending a bit of time on a pavement or pedestrian crossing surrounded by seemingly brake-free machines ridden by bastards like him. He might then understand why pedestrians have limited sympathy for his excuses.
Sir: With reference to your article "Russian community faces schism as Patriarch Alexis sacks London bishop" (19 May) I should like to point out that my decision to ask the Moscow Patriarchate for release was not made until 24 April 2006 (not in December). It was announced to the clergy of the Diocese and the Diocesan Assembly on 1 May 2006, and to the cathedral congregation after the Liturgy on 7 May.
BISHOP OF SERGIEVO OXFORD
Liberators of Burma
Sir: Your "history of repression" (22 May) claims "Burma liberated from Japanese by the Anti-Fascist people's freedom league, led by Aung San". In fact the Burma National Army, led by Aung San, changed sides in March 1945 and thus made a minor contribution to the defeat of the Japanese, its one-time allies. Burma was liberated by the Fourteenth Army, led by General Slim, and by no one else.
Cost of Caesareans
Sir: Jeremy Laurance highlights new research on the dangers of a high national Caesarean rate (23 May). Rates in the NHS have increased from 9 per cent of deliveries in 1980 to 23 per cent in 2004. The NHS has recently introduced a "national tariff" for such procedures. NHS hospital trusts are now paid £758 to £801 for a normal birth, and £1,489 to £1953 for a Caesarean delivery. If we want to incentivise a lower national Caesarean rate, would the NHS not do better to pay hospitals the same amount, around £900, for either procedure?
DR TIM CRAYFORD
PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF DIRECTORS OF PUBLIC HEALTH CROYDON, SURREY
The swot at Defra
Sir: So David Miliband is being compared to Brains from Thunderbirds (Pandora, 22 May)? For my money he's far closer to Bart Simpson's best friend, the nerdy swot Milhouse Van Houten. And as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs he's perfectly placed to tell us, "Don't have a cow, man!"
DOMINIC W MARTIN