Sir: The Government's impending response to its UK Energy Review is a historic opportunity to tackle the global energy challenges which we all face. Let's hope action is more visible than good intentions. Merely to suggest, as the Prime Minister has already done, that nuclear is the answer is to miss the fundamental point about the need to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
Government action is needed on all fronts, none more so than the appointment of an Energy Minister at cabinet level to drive policy forward, both domestically and internationally. It also needs to be at the forefront of promoting a pan-European energy policy to ensure a level playing field for British business.
Households need to be persuaded of the benefits of becoming more energy efficient and to be better informed about their "carbon footprint". Domestic fuel bills should contain clearer information about energy consumption and consumers should have access to be a one-stop-shop web portal telling them about all the available free advice and measures needed to reduce energy demand. Action must also be taken to protect those on low incomes, with the offer of grants for home insulation to help alleviate the problem of fuel poverty.
Extraordinary times require extraordinary action, but, without clear leadership and, decisive action, the UK will have missed its opportunity to shape and deliver the needs of tomorrow.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, ROYAL INSTITUTION OF CHARTERED SURVEYORS, LONDON SW1
Muslim grievances against the West
Sir: Yusuf Patel (letter, 7 July) provides an excellent example as to why Tony Blair rightly believes Muslim grievances about the West are wrong.
He says: "As a Muslim born and brought up in this country I have lived through western double standards in Bosnia, the Gulf War, the invasion of Afghanistan, and then Iraq, the lack of a real response to Israeli aggression and the propping up of tyrannical rulers throughout the Muslim world."
If propping up tyrannical rulers in the Muslim world is wrong, why does he complain about our invasion of Iraq and our removal of the tyrannical Saddam Hussein, but does not complain about the insurgency that is murdering other Muslims? Were the Taliban not tyrannical?
I believe that the UK government is extremely fair to the Palestinians. Until Hamas came along, I provided more aid through my taxes to the Palestinian Authority than most citizens of any Arab country. Even now, our government is providing assistance to the Palestinian people. Our government is critical of Israel's policy, and is pushing hard for peaceful negotiations.
I suggest Mr Patel focuses his complaints on those currently doing the killing against the will of democratically elected governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sir: In response to comments in today's letters (7 July), I find it incomprehensible for any western leader to say that Muslim feelings of grievance against the West are false and need to be challenged. I am not a Muslim, and yet I sympathise with how policies in the West have assumed and continue to assume an air of supremacy over everyone else.
Policy in Israel exemplifies this. Zionism in Europe was born out of hundreds of years of violent anti-Semitism, perpetrated by us, the West. However, rather than deal with the social problems in our own countries, we give Palestine, a Muslim country, to the Jews, and condemn the Middle East for not welcoming them with open arms.
Similarly, Hamas get elected and start to embrace political, democratic means to power, as the West encourages, and we impose sanctions, because the Palestinians elect someone other than who we wanted.
It is this overbearing and arrogant belief that the West knows best, and the policy of punishing those who disagree, that is causing resentment. Blair is obviously unable to step back and view the situation from any angle other than his own.
Sir: Shamim Chowdhury (Opinion, 7 July) cites a line from the Quran to show that Islam is a religion of peace. However, there are passages in the Quran that justify violence, e.g 9:29: "Fight those who believe not in Allah." So why is it correct to say that those who act on these supposedly divine words are not true Muslims?
Like Christianity, Islam is split into many different branches, each of which believes that their interpretation is the correct one. Most of these may promote peaceful messages, but there are a significant number that do not. When Muslim commentators state that the 7/7 terrorists were not "proper" Muslims, they are being very disingenuous.
Blunder that has put the Union in peril
Sir: Andy McSmith is correct to point out how English regional assemblies could have answered the West Lothian question (The Big Question, 4 July). However, the situation leading to the "no" vote at the North-east referendum in 2004 is complex.
Regional campaigners always knew that devolution of strong powers to the regional assembly would be key to winning the referendum. In the years preceding, they repeatedly urged the Government to offer real responsibilities. Unfortunately, ministers and Whitehall refused to cede any significant powers.
As a result, "no" campaigners were able to make mincemeat of the Government's weak assembly proposals. The rest is history. If a powerful Welsh-style regional assembly had been offered to the North-east, it is quite possible that there would have been a "yes" vote, and at the same time the West Lothian Question would have been neutralised.
An English Parliament now seems increasingly inevitable. It may answer the West Lothian Question, but unlike regional assemblies it will do nothing for regional economic and democratic disparities and its size and dominance in relation to Scotland and Wales will probably lead to the break-up of the Union. If the Union does disintegrate, history should record the refusal of the Government to devolve genuine powers to the English regions as a major contributory factor.
Prison system must be held to account
Sir: The lack of accountability following prison deaths has resulted in a culture of impunity and complacency ("Mubarek inquiry judge lambasts prisons policy", 30 June). Will the recommendations of the Zahid Mubarek inquiry report vanish into the ether like those of previous inquiries that have alerted government to systemic and individual failings within the prison system?
Our casework and monitoring has shown that there have been a further nine homicides and 529 self-inflicted deaths in prison in England and Wales since Zahid Mubarek's death. Of these, two homicides and 59 self-inflicted deaths have been of people from black and minority ethnic communities. Deaths in prison are all too often linked to the inappropriate use of penal custody for vulnerable people and institutional neglect, racism and indifference.
The Government resisted the holding of the Mubarek inquiry and is abolishing the post of Chief Inspector of Prisons. It also proposes to exempt prisons from new corporate manslaughter legislation. The closed nature of the prison system means that it is vital that it is open to independent inspection and investigation and held to account when human rights abuses occur.
DEBORAH J COLES
CO-DIRECTORS, INQUEST, LONDON N4
Sir: I think that Johann Hari rather over-eggs the case concerning inspection of prisons, by casting unevidenced aspersions in the direction of the other criminal justice inspectorates (Opinion, 3 July). I readily plead guilty to being what is disparagingly described as an "insider", that is someone with a 31-year record of effective probation practice, both in and out of prisons, that helps me understand the nature of the work we inspect - but that doesn't make me tolerant of poor practice.
The issue is not where you come from, but whether you do it well. We find it every bit as important to assess whether offenders are being managed effectively, thus protecting the public, as well as whether they are being treated decently. And while the purpose of inspection generally is undoubtedly to help staff improve their practice, our recent reports have hardly been criticised for being too timid!
HM CHIEF INSPECTOR OF PROBATION HOME OFFICE, LONDON SW1
Sir: Lord Ramsbottom and his predecessor (my old friend Judge Stephen Tumim) were like a breath of fresh air in the fetid conditions of our prisons. Johann Hari is right to warn of the deterioration which will inevitably accompany the abolition of the ruggedly independent Inspectorate of Prisons. Why are the Chief Inspector and his staff being effectively abolished? To prevent outsiders knowing what is or is not going on inside.
As a practising barrister, much of whose work involves parole review cases, I find that the most significant failure is the absence of adequate rehabilitation, which could substantially reduce the present disturbingly high rate of recidivism in the ordinary prison, now running at 78 per cent compared with a mere 7 per cent at the therapeutic prison at Grendon where psychologists and psychiatrists, with the help of the general prison staff, achieve surprising results with challenging prisoners.
Prescott's tribute to Wilberforce
Sir: John Prescott's assertion that the granting of licences for casinos was not discussed with Philip Anschutz when staying at his ranch does have a ring of truth, if, as has been claimed, they were discussing their common interest in the ex-Hull MP, slavery abolitionist and "Renewer of Society" William Wilberforce.
For it was in 1802 that Wilberforce, who was an evangelical Christian, sought to renew society by establishing the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Presumably Mr Anschutz, who is a devout Christian, and Mr Prescott would have recognised the incongruity of discussing their joint interest in Wilberforce and the subject of setting up casinos and left the latter well alone.
Sir: As John Prescott bumbles from one blunder to the next, his friends (I'm assuming they are still plural) automatically accuse anyone who says so of snobbery. But as the implicit basis of their reasoning is that the inability to speak coherently, keep your trousers fastened or recognise impropriety are working-class traits, who are the real snobs?
Sir: The premiership of Tony Blair is ending like a Greek tragedy. A premiership which began with such high hopes is ending, like John Major's, in scandal and the decay of the Prime Minister's authority. The time has come for the good governance of this country for both Mr Blair and Mr Prescott to announce their resignations.
A brief guide to foreign policy
Sir: Just so everyone is clear: it is "bad" for North Korea to fire missiles into the open sea, even though it is "really-not-that-bad" for Israel to fire missiles into power stations, bridges, and apartment blocks.
Meanwhile: Iran, which had opposed Saddam (who was once "relatively good" but is now "very bad"), is still just "bad".
Saudi Arabia, a feudal totalitarian state with legalised sexual apartheid ("bad"?) is nonetheless "good", but don't ask any awkward questions.
The United Sates may now kidnap and torture innocent civilians (this was previously "bad", but is now "okay, if outsourced"). Similarly, some of our allies may, from time to time, need to boil people alive (literally, in the case of President Karimov), and whilst not "good" it would be a crass liberal simplification to call this "bad".
DR CHRIS SCANLAN
Sir: May I join Josette Morgan's amazement (letter, 7 July) that you are providing a platform for Cooper Brown? I enjoy the challenge of being stretched by the diversity of opinions your paper provides, but if I want to read a vacuous, self-centred piece of xenophobic self-publicity, I'll turn to other publications. Freedom of speech means just that, but I will be skipping past his column and urge you to withdraw it as soon as you can.
Sir: I would like to congratulate The Independent on your new column "Cooper Brown". It's been some time since I read such a deviously subtle satire on the current penchant for vacuous, self-absorbed, over-rated columnists.
Food for hedgehogs
Sir: We were concerned to read Anna Pavord offered bread and milk to hedgehogs (Magazine, 1 July). We have long suggested people avoid offering this food as it can cause tummy upsets that could lead to dehydration, especially in dry weather. Her second menu option of meat-based pet food, along with a bowl of fresh water, is much better for them, and is likely to be very appreciated too.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BRITISH HEDGEHOG PRESERVATION SOCIETY, LUDLOW, SHROPSHIRE
Sir: Donald Burke (letter, 7 July) asserts that "kicking and elbowing are accepted as part and parcel of a good match" in rugby (sic). They most certainly are not in Rugby League. I feel "utterly defeated" when letters make such a claim. Does he mean Rugby Union by Rugby?
Sir: Stephen Bayley (Books, 30 June) makes a couple of bold assumptions with his reference to "the future King Charles III". If I were a betting man, my money would be on the Prince of Wales choosing, if he ever becomes King, to take the name "George".
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