Letters: Cosying up to China

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Sir: Over the past few days we have seen the great and the good displaying a poppy in memory of those who died fighting two world wars and numerous other conflicts. As I grew, many of my parents' generation would remind me of the freedoms we fought for in the last world war, and what my life might have been like had we lost. The Nazis were intent on wiping out whole races and subjecting others to slave labour and exploitation in vile conditions. It is of course both proper and commendable that the people whose lives were sacrificed in the war against Nazism should be remembered.

I do wonder though if Tony Blair and other members of the Government will stop to consider this, when they welcome Chinese President Hu Jintao to this country shortly. He is after all the leader of a totalitarian regime guilty not only of viciously silencing peaceful protest in his own nation (remember Tiananmen Square) but also the cultural genocide of Tibet. Let us not forget the invasion of Tibet in 1950 was no less an act of war than the invasion of Poland in 1939. Many thousands of Tibetans died and continue to die under an oppressive regime which denies their identity as a different people and punishes peaceful dissent (such as singing songs in Tibetan) with torture and long prison sentences.

It would be wholly unrealistic to believe this country could have gone to war in 1950 as it did in 1939. Why though do we continue to suck up to such a repellent regime, whose lack of labour laws and totalitarian nature have also combined to give international traders the chance to wipe out so much of our manufacturing industry. Trade with the country formerly known as Burma was curtailed because of their appalling human rights record.

I wonder if the good Tony will stop to reflect on the hypocrisy of wearing a poppy in his lapel if Hu Jintao shows up before Remembrance Sunday. I wonder too if the Queen or any other member of the Royal Family roped in to give him a formal reception will pause to reflect on the way this reflects on our country.



Civil rights challenge to Blair's terror law

Sir: I urge all MPs and peers to oppose as strongly as possible the current anti-terrorism proposals on glorifying terrorism and detaining suspects for up to 90 days without charge - and not to compromise on this opposition.

Tony Blair's sole justification for them seems to be that the police and security services want them. Yet who would be surprised at police and security services anywhere in the world wanting extra powers and wishing liberty to be restricted? Doubtless there are many liberties that are, for them, tiresomely inconvenient, not least habeas corpus and the need to convince a jury of a suspect's guilt.

We have enjoyed for centuries the civil liberties which Tony Blair now seeks to curtail; they have survived two world wars and, in the 1970s and 1980s, a sustained period of terrorist attack. I hope that they will survive the attack of a mere politician. They can only do so if those of our legislators who have the responsibility to defend them stand up to be counted.



Sir: As the parent of two children who use daily the London Underground I view with dismay the current Dutch auction regarding the period of detention of suspected terrorists.

To ignore the advice of senior police and intelligence officers in this matter would indeed be folly of the highest order. I have enough faith in our judiciary, and in the individual probity of senior judges who would oversee a 90-day period, to feel happy that this would only be used in quite rare and exceptional cases where they felt a longer than usual period was essential for the gathering of further evidence.



Sir: People are asking the wrong question with regard to Tony Blair's 90 days' detention. It isn't whether we would like to see terrorists detained for 90 days without trial, but rather, do we want to see innocent people, including ourselves, detained for 90 days without trial.



Sir: The axiom "hard cases make bad law" was drilled into me when a student. Current events must surely illustrate the truth of this assertion as never before: the hard and tragic case of 7 July to be followed, if the Government gets its way, by repressive anti-terrorist legislation.

The badly drafted Terrorism Bill represents an assault on the liberty of all citizens. Edmund Hulme was right when he wrote in 1789: "Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice neither is in my opinion safe." May we hope that our legislators will take this thought into account?



Sir: Whatever the outcome of the Commons vote, it was the police that suggested the 90 days' detention limit and Mr Clarke (curiously detached from his Prime Minister) who has suggested a compromise. If things go wrong therefore - or right - Mr Blair will be in the clear. "Slippery" is too weak a word.



Biofuels, jobs and the fate of forests

Sir: It is wrong to suppose that biofuels make our driving carbon neutral as you imply ("Revolution at the petrol pumps", 7 November). While they can provide a partial reduction in net emissions, there is a substantial amount of fossil energy used in making biofuels, which can wipe out much of the apparent benefit from using the fuel in your car.

Perhaps more importantly, the carbon cost in terms of creating additional agricultural land, or the opportunity cost of not regenerating forest, outweighs the benefits of these fuels. When a hectare of forest or grassland is cleared and ploughed to produce biodiesel or bioethanol, hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide are released from the soil and vegetation into the atmosphere. The damaging impact of this on atmospheric CO2 is immediate and may not be recoverable from the use of the fuel the land then produces. Regenerating forests on set-aside agricultural land takes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than would be saved from the use of biofuels.

While there may be national arguments for biofuels, such as support for farmers, their overall impact on climate change may well be negative; and for biodiversity they are a disaster. Conservation and regeneration of forest and driving less will do far more for climate stability and for our disappearing wildlife.



Sir: The Liberal Democrats are long-standing advocates of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels as a means of tackling global warming. The Early Day Motion on biofuels has, so far, attracted the support of 178 MPs. In an era of record oil prices and uncertainty surrounding the supply of petrol, biofuel rightly enjoys cross-party support for both the economic and environmental advantages it offers.

At present, the UK lags far behind many other European countries in developing a biofuels industry. In 2001, a European Commission report noted that, if the UK could develop a biofuels industry, we could benefit to the tune of 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs, mostly in rural areas. Furthermore, Elliot Morley indicated in a parliamentary answer that if the UK met the target in the EU biofuels directive for the substitution of 5.75 per cent of fossil fuels by biofuels by 2010, that could create or sustain up to 6,000 jobs in the agriculture sector.

Biofuels will not only help the Government achieve the targets set in the Kyoto protocol, but there are distinct economic advantages in switching to biofuels and encouraging a domestic biofuels industry.



Sir: While I sympathise with Jane Green's "disappointment" (letter, 7 November) at Jonathon Porritt's proposition that "enlightened self-interest" is the way forward to saving the world, I do not see how it can be any other way.

Capitalism and globalisation cannot be unmade, and one way or another they are here to stay. Therefore Porritt takes the pragmatic course, and opts for changing the nature of capitalism.

But that can only be effected by each of us, as consumers, changing our behaviour. That will require education and a step change in the way we regard ourselves as entities upon a limited planetary body. Such a change cannot be legislated into existence.



Shakespeare's idea of a noble Roman

Sir: Johann Hari's column on 8 November was entertaining, but he is presenting his facts rather selectively. Many people would argue that Julius Caesar is a great play at least partly because Brutus is deluded about his true motives for participating in the plot against Caesar; and several of Hari's points are made by Mark Antony in the frequently quoted funeral oration ("When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept/ Ambition should be made of sterner stuff").

If anyone still believes that what Hari calls "Cicero's version" of Roman history was uncritically accepted by two thousand years of Western culture, they might also like to recall that Dante places Brutus and Cassius at the very bottom of the pit of Hell, actually within Satan's jaws.



Why officers are leaving the Army

Sir: It is true that morale in the Army is low at present and Christopher Horsford (letter, 8 November) gives some valid reasons for the problem, but to just blame this country's leaders is too easy an option.

I served in the same infantry division as Mr Horsford for 24 years and saw many changes. Officers and senior NCOs are leaving in vast numbers and the Army has lost many of its most talented young officers over the past few years, but mainly due to the draw of big money in the City. Operational tours in the Balkans were seen as an ideal entry on your CV. The draw of the City is still there, as many young officers have set a career path of university, five years in the Army and then the City and marriage. The Army has always been a young man's game, and many NCOs have had to leave at the age of 40 even if they had wished to stay on.

The new destination for many promising young NCOs and officers is cash-laden contacts as security operatives in Iraq, where though the money is vast, time at home is even less than for a serving soldier.

It is now time for commanders at all levels to show true leadership, to keep the morale of the Army high, to find ways of retaining the best soldiers and to continue to keep the high standards that the British Army expects and has delivered over the past 10 years.



Coursework fails to test knowledge

Sir: Verity Brown correctly draws attention to the faults inherent in using coursework to assess educational attainment (letter, 8 November). She is wrong however to assert that the same faults are inherent in exams. Pupils may well receive the same assistance from parents as when doing coursework, but they have to assimilate the knowledge to pass the exam.

She suggests that the American Scholastic Aptitude Test may be the best method to determine ability. As one who passed through both the British, and American systems, I have two observations. First, the SAT was regarded as a joke by those who sat it, a multiple-choice relief from real classroom work.

Second, even if it is now a valid measure of ability, that is all it is; such tests do not measure whether someone fully knows their subject (at any given level). Only an examination, and not a multiple-choice examination, can measure that. Real life requires knowledge. When the surgeon opens you up, he is not confronted by a label asking "Is this (a) the spleen, (b) the heart, (c) an ear?" He has to know.



Intolerant of belief

Sir: In her letter (8 November) Julia Anderson claims that atheists, "have no agenda to convert or make life difficult for religious believers". Presumably, she has not read the recent less than tolerant writings of Richard Dawkins, the high priest of atheism, on the subject.



Not a Socialist

Sir: Your paper incorrectly describes former Aslef general secretary Mick Rix as "a leading light in Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party" ("Barbecue Brawl ...", 5 November). Mr Rix was a Socialist Labour Party member in 1998 when he was elected Aslef general secretary, but left the SLP and joined New Labour prior to his defeat by Shaun Brady in 2003.



Blaming the French

Sir: For Blair to blame France for his illegal war of aggression in Iraq is beneath contempt. Did French objections to his plans force him to cook up a pack of lies to justify the invasion? He seems to be saying that if only they'd agreed to wage war, we could have avoided war. Or is his anger based on the fact that they refused to provide the figleaf of legality?



Obscenity of hunting

Sir: I am astonished that you recognise the cruelty of pursuing foxes on horseback, and at the same time condone it by believing it should not be banned (leading article, 5 November). What is obscene about hunting is that by the participants' own admission it is a sport and is pursued for pleasure. So were bear-baiting and cockfighting. What is sporting about hordes of men, women, horses and dogs chasing one small creature to a violent death? It ought to be banned outright.



Huge mistake

Sir: Stephen Lewis takes Tony Parsons to task for his perfectly legitimate remark that Iggy Pop had the largest penis he had ever seen on a man (letter, 8 November). I agree that it's unlikely that he'd seen a larger one on a woman, but he may well have seen one on something other than a man. I bet the stallion I can see from my office window would give even Iggy a run for his money in the penis stakes.