Sir: There is no longer any argument that burning fossil fuel is detrimental to the atmosphere ("Back to black", 10 March). What we can do is put our money and new technology into trying to reduce the harmful effects.
In this country we are running out of choices; coal is becoming the only fossil fuel over which we have political and economical control. If we turn to gas-fired power stations, we will be increasingly dependent upon Russia and Central Asian countries for supply. Nuclear power can help but it is expensive and has damaging long-term side-effects. Renewable energy sources should be used, but they will never replace the base load of our electricity requirements.
In my professional life, I am involved with coal-mining and power generation projects around the world, including Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia. When new power generation projects in these countries are looking for international finance, they are expected to meet stringent environmental targets which require them to sanction extra expenditure on technologies to reduce harmful emissions from burning coal. They are expected to employ the latest technologies. During discussions we are often faced with the implicit response, "You don't do it, so why should we spend the extra money on expensive technology."
China is now in a position to decide for itself; it doesn't need our finance any more. We can however lead by example and help develop the technologies which will mitigate the harmful effects of power generation from coal.
Consultant Geologist, Northwich, Cheshire
Sir: The move by the Government to rehabilitate coal as an energy source is deplorable. Sadly, however, it is inevitable that it will happen.
The costs associated with nuclear power make it unattractive to the private sector. Oil is getting scarce. Gas supplies are linked to regimes with whom we may have future political problems. Meanwhile, the country sits on hundreds of years' worth of a carbon-based fuel that can be exploited and used in power stations at relatively low financial cost. It is a no-brainer.
Of course we should be moving towards meeting our energy needs by the use of renewables, but this government, and the opposition if it gains power, will be unable to resist a cheap fix that will keep the wheels of economic growth rolling.
Loyalty oaths won't revive patriotism
Sir: Any government attempt to resurrect British identity and patriotism by introducing an oath of allegiance to the Queen is merely a gimmick that is closing the door when the horse has long bolted.
Just after the Second World War, the great socialist writer George Orwell recognised that English patriotism could be a force for good but he also saw it was disdained by the left-wing intelligentsia. This is the elite that, since the 1950s, has suppressed British and English patriotism and identity and condemned perfectly natural yearnings for them as nationalistic and, at worst, racist. We are now seeing the results of this ideological stance in culturally segregated inner-city communities and increasing support and sympathy for far-right groups like the BNP and extreme religious causes such as Islamic Jihad.
I am not calling for an American-style system whereby children, hand-on-heart, sing the national anthem and swear allegiance to the flag – just a tolerant country that is proud of its history, its institutions and its values, and makes every effort, when it welcomes new arrivals, to integrate them into its way of life and prevent them from feeling unwanted. The vision of a society where many cultures live side by side in harmony is a Utopian ideal destined to fail.
Orwell's patriotism may be extinct among the ruling elite of this country but it must be revived, even if it takes a generation.
Sir: How can any modern British government contemplate requiring an oath of allegiance to "Queen and country" for every UK citizen? Lord Goldsmith's report makes a mockery of what multicultural British citizenship should mean – by urging that young citizens should be required to swear just such a solemn promise when leaving school.
For a nation once proud to pioneer liberal values, and which claims to enshrine freedom of conscience within its laws, enforcing such a step upon new immigrants is disputable enough. It is plainly illiberal to impose such a contentious requirement upon indigenous British citizens – most obviously those non-English ones who may be sincere Welsh or Scots nationalists.
At least new prohibitions against religious discrimination stop Goldsmith from demanding allegiance to a god at the same time. But does not the Human Rights act protect the freedom of conscience of anti-royalists, and render his proposed inducements illegal? To suffer for denying an antiquated devotion to the undemocratic British monarchy would be among the biggest legal and political outrages of modern times.
What would that reactionary oath conceivably do to address the many causes of alienation from our failing "common bond" of loyal citizenship? Is this kind of blinkered, futile, barely coherent, yet deeply immoral gimmickry becoming typical of what our government's massive consultancy budget continues to waste our taxes upon?
Bradford West Yorkshire
Sir: How could anyone find fault with the suggestions made by Lord Goldsmith about promoting a sense of Britishness in our young people? It certainly couldn't do any harm and should be extended, as he suggests, to include a day celebrating Britishness. The UK is unusual in not having a single public holiday connected with our nation (they are all either seasonal or religious) and this is surely an omission.
Sir: So the Government now plans to have school-leavers swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty? What I'd like to know is how the Government expects to force hundreds of thousands of teenagers, teenagers who by and large won't do what their parents or teachers tell them to do, to take part in a ceremony that will be widely held up for ridicule.
And I wait with bated breath to hear what sanction will be imposed on any youth who refuses to mutter the words with appropriate solemnity. Perhaps, now that parents and policemen are no longer allowed to cuff delinquents, we will see how truly effective the naughty step is.
Sir: Ever since settling in this country, I always have considered it a defining aspect of "Britishness" that you don't bother with nonsense like greeting the flag and expressions of allegiance.
Eduard J Zuiderwijk
Sir: Isn't it ridiculous for Lord Goldsmith to give us a finger-wagging lecture about how we need to feel British?
This man legalised an illegal war that cost thousands of innocent lives. He made British people feel a terrible sense of unbelonging and insecurity and ashamed of their country.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
Sir: In 45 years of living in the UK, I have never come across a better example of muddled fuzzy British thinking than the suggested citizenship ceremony. When I became a UK citizen, I swore allegiance to the Queen, but isn't that what subjects do?
I am left wondering what "full" citizens are. Are these voters? If voting is what is wanted, it won't happen until we get proportional representation. Until then, people will continue to climb on to the roof of the Commons to make a point. Never mind the daft ceremonies – give us a vote that counts.
Assisted places at fee-paying schools
Sir: Regarding your story "Private schools warned on fees" (12 March), independent schools already provide many thousands of places to children from "working-class homes". One in three of the 500,000 students at independent schools receives fee assistance, and one in four lives in a postcode on or below the national average income. And independent schools are committed to increasing the number of assisted places they offer. But this has to be within practicable limits: the majority of schools do not have access to large funds or endowments and have little scope to raise fees to fund extra places.
On a day when the Department for Children, Schools and Families revealed that 36 per cent of London schoolchildren will not be able to attend their first-choice secondary school, some parents, whose children were unfortunate enough to miss out, will be able to choose an independent school as an alternative as long as they make financial sacrifices. The cost of this vital choice should not be pushed beyond the means of middle- and low-income households through arbitrary (and legally incorrect) insistence by the Charity Commission that schools should fund free or subsidised places when the money isn't there.
General Counsel, Independent Schools Council, London WC2
Official decisions made on the hoof
Sir: I welcome the Information Commissioner's decision to order Downing Street to publish Cabinet minutes of the run-up to the Iraq war (report, 27 February). I find it reassuring to discover that minutes of these meetings actually exist, because my recent request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has demonstrated that careful note-taking of meetings is now something of a rarity in central and local government.
My request was designed to uncover the decision-making process that led to John Nash, a venture capitalist, becoming the preferred sponsor of Pimlico School in Westminster, should it become a City Academy in September 2008.
I asked for the notes of meetings and telephone calls between the department and Mr Nash. I expected to receive detailed minutes of these meetings, but have been shocked to discover that not a single note exists of the nine meetings that took place between 8 June 2006 and 17 July 2007 involving Mr Nash and Lord Adonis, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Schools, Sir Bruce Liddington, the Schools Commissioner, and Sir Simon Milton, the leader of Westminster City Council, among others.
The Government sets great store by its City Academies programme, but it seems that important decisions regarding potential sponsors are being taken on the hoof with scant regard to the proper processes of government.
Lib Dems should beware of coalitions
Sir: Why is it that political commentators need to define the Liberal Democrats in terms of potential coalition partners (Steve Richards, 11 March)?
There is no point in being an independent political party if you are then expected to sell yourself to the highest bidder in a hypothetical "hung" Parliament. Liberal Democrat voters would be rightly disappointed if Nick Clegg and his colleagues sold their political souls in return for a few ministerial cars.
In any case, in a "hung" Parliament what would be so out of place with a grand coalition of New Labour and Tory? Their ideas are so similar. Such a coalition exists in Germany.
There is an urgent need for a political force on the centre-left that dares to be different. If the Liberal Democrats want to succeed they must stay independent and be radical. There is no prospect of a meaningful deal with a political system that they rightly describe as "broken". The Tories and New Labour are part of the problem, not potential coalition partners.
Dipton, Co Durham
Israel and Geneva
Sir: There is something breathtakingly cynical about Dr Jacob Amir's reference to the Geneva Convention in relation to Hamas "hiding among civilians" (letter, 12 March). Isn't this the very same convention that prohibits, among other things, collective punishment, expropriation of land, bulldozing of homes and the building of settlements on occupied land? I look forward to reading his condemnation of these practices.
Stuck on the ground
Sir: Your report on the stampede of British holidaymakers taking "indulgent" long-haul mini-breaks (10 March), missed a major consideration for many of these travellers. As the time to be processed through airports – security and immigration – takes longer and longer, with all its concomitant stress and anxiety, these long-haulers are just improving the ratio between being at the airport and being on the actual flight. The short-haul curse of spending twice, thrice, or even longer in airports as on the actual flight is thus averted.
Sacred and profane
Sir: The Rev Elizabeth Reed is upset at Cooper Brown's profane use of the word "Jesus" and asks you to show some respect for the founder of Christianity (Letters, 8 March). And what do you do? In the very same issue you print a political cartoon by Dave Brown entitled "Father, Son and Wholly Toast" that both plagiarises William Blake and, in suggesting that God is a Liberal Democrat, blasphemes the entire Trinity. Is nothing sacred, man?
The Rev Kim Fabricius
Pictures of sex objects
Sir: I found your interview with Mario Testino ( 8 March) interesting. Asked why he doesn't enjoy photographing nude men, Testino responded "I'd much rather a girl being sexy for the camera. . . . Men shouldn't be showing their legs everywhere." I was surprised that the journalist's only gripe with this was that it sounded "prudish". Testino's comments were more sexist than prudish and their conversation is revealing of a media culture in which sexual objectification of women is seen as normal.
Advocacy Officer, Object London E2
Sir: Taking Ruth Kelly's "hard shoulder" proposal (letter, 12 March) a step further, perhaps the railways could be "broadened" in strategic places, by allowing trains to run on the platforms?
Egerton, Greater manchester