Sir: The reform of the abortion law in 1967 did not make abortion more common, it made abortion more safe. As an obstetrician practising before abortion was legal, I had to get up nearly every night to clean up a botched abortion. Michael Savage [The Big Question, Oct 25] could not be more mistaken when he writes "There has been a four-fold increase on the number [of abortions] ... since 1969".
If anything, the evidence in the 1960s was that, as a result of rising use of contraception, fewer abortions were done after the reform of the abortion law than before it. The good-news statistic is that 90 per cent of legal abortions are now done the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. I have done abortions. I also have a PhD in embryology and I know what I destroy when I do an abortion. I would rather see five abortions at six weeks of pregnancy than one at 16 weeks.
Professor Malcolm Potts
University of California, Berkeley
Sir: While agreeing with Joan Smith that "men have responsibility for abortions, too" (Comment, 26 October) and hoping that male responsibility might go so far as to say no to abortion, I find the rest of what she has to say repellent in its lack of concern for human life. Implicit in her article is her belief in a woman's "right to chose". This is a choice between the life or death of a human being. That the human being is developing and dependent is neither here nor there. No other group in society claims such a right of life or death over another human being.
And those who oppose abortion do not so on "ideological grounds": they oppose abortion on moral grounds. In a truly compassionate society, we would not allow unfortunate women to take life, but would help them through their difficulties with understanding and practical help.
Eurostar adding to the M25 tailbacks
Sir: How can Eurostar be serious in expecting those thousands of travellers who have been so happily starting and ending their adventures at Ashford, both as visitors to this country and as travellers abroad, to get in their cars and add to the tailbacks on the M25 to reach their new Eurostar connection (letter, 25 October)? And where is Ebbsfleet? I have searched for signposts on the M25, but failed to find it.
Their publicity says that travellers in the area have been consulted and most were in favour of the change. I know of no one in Sussex who has been asked their opinion. Did Eurostar think of consulting the countless English, French and Belgians who established their businesses in and around the town on the opening of Ashford International how the changes would effect their businesses, or think of the new home-buyers in the area, who were encouraged by the government because of Ashford being such an important rail hub?
As a frequent traveller to Europe by rail, Ashford to Prague, Ashford to Dresden, Ashford to Sicily, Ashford to Madrid, Ashford to Vienna and Berlin and many other far-flung destinations, both on business and for pleasure, I am shocked at the customer-unfriendly attitude of Eurostar. Nothing will make me go to Ebbsfleet, or to St Pancras. I shall be taking either the ferry to Calais, or taking disastrously carbon- rich flights from Gatwick or London City. It will certainly be cheaper than Eurostar.
Rye, East Sussex
Sir: I am beginning to wonder if Eurostar's business plan for the new high-speed link relies heavily on the profit from parking at Ebbsfleet. Not only will many residents of Kent have to drive to Ebbsfleet after curtailment of Ashford services, the company seem intent on getting those of us from west of London to drive there too.
Eurostar has an ad running on our local radio station, "Goodbye Waterloo, hello Ebbsfleet International". It makes no mention of the new terminal at St Pancras but extols the "benefits" of Ebbsfleet, "just off the M25" and "a short drive from Bluewater". Faced with the hassle of a half-circuit of the M25, I think I may just keep on going down the M20 and put my car on the Shuttle at Folkestone.
Sir: Your letter-writer, Richard Thomas, is naturally annoyed that his favourite trains from Ashford to Brussels and return are about to be withdrawn, and about Ashford's excellent rail connections (though I wonder how many Eurostar passengers actually use the train services he refers to, or the regular buses from Tenterden, to reach Ashford station?). But in the interest of fairness, I should point out that how conveniently TGV and Eurostar services connect in Lille has always been largely a matter of chance, not planning; we decided against a trip from Yorkshire to Languedoc wholly by rail largely because the connections did not work.
And the remaining daily Ashford-Lille service from December, at the civilised time of 0930, has excellent connections with TGVs from Lille to the usual French destinations (except beyond Marseille), though the return is markedly less convenient.
Real reasons for housing shortage
Sir: It is ill-informed to blame the planning system (leading article, 24 October) for a housing shortage that is largely the result of a sharp decline in social housebuilding over the past 20 years and an increasing tendency among developers to hoard land. Provision is made in regional plans for 210,000 homes a year in England, a figure that is rising, while most planning applications are approved (82 per cent in 2006-07). Housebuilding lags, with 168,000 homes built last year. But landbanks of the UK's leading housebuilders rose by 44 per cent to 340,000 plots between 1998 and 2005.
The latest demographic projections highlight the need for the right type of homes to be built in the right places. We are quite right to treat the figures cautiously, since assumptions may change. But we should be under no illusions about the environmental impact of new development.
Homes need to be built to high environmental standards in locations which do not place further stress on already overstretched natural resources, such as water, and respond to needs in terms of size, type and affordability. The planning system is the best tool we have for achieving these things.
Senior planning officer, The Campaign to Protect Rural England, London SE1
Brown is right to reject referendum
Sir: Contrary to Bruce Anderson's argument ("There is a moral requirement for a referendum", 22 October), a national referendum on the EU treaty would display a lack of integrity. It was dishonest and disingenuous of Labour to promise a referendum. But Mr Brown is still right to reject the idea now.
Any EU member-country freely choosing to call a national referendum on a pan-EU proposal commits a unilateral wrecking manouvre. A referendum in one place (unless constitutionally required) must always lead to unstoppable demands for referenda across member countries: and a country somewhere will always vote "no". If subject to national (rather than EU-wide) referenda, the EU partnership can only fossilise amid chaos.
We elect national representatives to wield our country's national vetoes during negotiations. They represent our country taking responsibility for its membership of the EU. A national referendum on an EU treaty simply indicates a member-nation unwilling to honour its membership.
Manifesto commitment or no, potential rebel Labour MPs should realise the only EU matter fit for national referendum would be a move to quit the EU altogether.
Danger of importing 'blue-card' skills
Sir: The suggestion that non-EU scientists be offered "blue card" work permits to work in Europe should trigger warning lights. Where there are skills gaps in the EU, and the UK, they should be filled by products of a system that invests in science at schools and universities.
By importing promising talent we merely delay the long-term solution here. And we are depriving their countries of the bright young skill essential for their own national economic and social development. And when we have honed those skills, many will return to their own countries, which are often international competitors. Far better to supply the resources and energy to the EU and the UK science base so we produce sufficient able graduates to meet the needs of established and emerging industries.
Professor Jim Feast
President Professor Dave GarnerPresident-ElectDr Richard PikeChief Executive, Royal Society of Chemistry, London W1
Badger-cull trial was not flawed
Sir: It is ludicrous to claim that the RSPCA condones the unnecessary suffering of any animal (letter, 26 October). The RSPCA is as concerned about cattle welfare as wildlife welfare but killing badgers is never going to be the simple solution to the complex problem of TB in cattle.
It is disingenuous to talk about a cull of infected badgers. There is no reliable test to detect TB in live, free, wild badgers. Any badger cull would include more healthy than diseased badgers.
The badger-culling trial was not flawed. In his final report, Professor Denis Mollison, the independent statistical auditor of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) trial, expressed the hope that the work of the ISG would be recognised "as an exemplar of how to bring high quality science into public decision-making".
The RSPCA supported the ISG research, despite the large numbers of badgers that died in the process, because we recognised the need for firm scientific evidence. The resulting ISG report is thorough, impeccable science and effectively rules out a badger cull as a sustainable and practicable solution to the bTB problem.
The ISG findings have appeared in world-renowned scientific journals and been subjected to rigorous peer-review. None of the ISG's critics have subjected their claims to similar scientific scrutiny.
To proceed with a badger cull would make a nonsense of the ISG research which took almost 10 years, cost the lives of more than 10,000 badgers and cost taxpayers £34m. It would also be the worst possible option for cattle and badgers.
Dr Julia Wrathall, Head of Farm Animal Science, Dr Rob Atkinson, Head of Wildlife Science
RSPCA, Horsham, West Sussex
No permit, no smoking
Sir: At last a good idea from the powers that be: smoking permits (report, 23 October). If people have to make an effort to smoke they are less likely to start, and more likely to give up, particularly if the application process is anything like any other government form.
Here in Oman, we expats have to have an alcohol licence which has to be shown in the alcohol shop before we can buy anything. My husband had to get a letter from his employer saying it is OK for him to drink alcohol.
The licence has a set limit, has my husband's photo on it, and obtaining it involved a fee to the government and some time in a busy police station where he wasn't the priority. You have to be pretty determined to get it and, yes, we drink less.
Hay Al Mina, Sultanate of Oman
Matter of taste
Sir: You say Silbury residents drank spring water and sugar in their rituals (report, 24 October). Would that be cane sugar, indicating they had already developed trade with far continents? Or would it be beet sugar, showing they exploited the sucrose-laden flesh of this noble swede long before we realised? Come on now; honey surely!
Divide that conquered
Sir: Janet Street-Porter discusses the social, economic and political implications of Professor Dorling's map on the North-South divide (Comment, 25 October). At school (in the North) I was taught in geology that the divide was more pre-ordained than the professor suggests. The "Tees-Exe" line follows the boundary between the rocks of the older carboniferous and younger permian periods. The older rocks are harder, so the North is hillier. They also contain the coal that led to industrialisation. The younger rocks are softer, leading to the South's lowland agricultural fields.
The vital 1 per cent
Sir: The use of the soundbite about the new EEC Reform Treaty being 96 per cent identical to the buried EEC Constitution is tedious as well as ridiculous. Genetically, we are 99 per cent identical to chimpanzees but, with the possible exception of some politicians, the remaining 1 per cent seems to make a significant difference.
Sir: Your report "Russia jailed Khodorkovsky to silence him, say lawyers" (26 October) says he is held in "Chita Siberia". Actually, Chita is not in Siberia, but in the Russian Far East. Many people assume anything east of the Urals is Siberia but the RFE, which stretches to the Pacific, is a separate entity.
Balmain, New South Wales
Sir: I was pleased to read that cinema audiences are increasing (Extra, 24 October) but disappointed at no mention of the vibrant film society sector. The British Federation of Film Societies reports that the 250 groups account for 225,000 admissions a year. Indeed, we have been in existence for 30 years and we too have had a healthy resurgence in recent years, evidenced by 70 people coming to see a Burkinabe film, or 200 for Laurel and Hardy.
Forest Row film society, East Sussex
Fathering a fraud
Sir: So Padre Pio, who became a cult figure through displays of stigmata, was thought by two popes to be a fraud (report, 25 October) . The question is not so much how Pio tricked the masses (as it were), but how he managed to keep his face straight. Two blokes, both of whom claimed to be God's representatives and have infallibility granted them by the Holy Spirit, accusing a priest of trying to pull the wool over people's eyes? I haven't laughed so much since the last Father Ted episode.