Letters: Curbing the over-mighty state?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

British rights? How about curbing the over-mighty state?

Sir: Dominic Lawson asks what possible "peculiarly British" rights there could be (Opinion, 27 June).

How about the right not to have an ID card? Many other countries seem comfortable with identity papers; most British people are not. How about the right, as Andreas Whittam Smith highlighted recently, to keep one's own property without it being confiscated because you aren't living in it? How about the right of comedians to make religious jokes without fear of being prosecuted for inciting hatred?

The Independent has for many years criticised the ever-increasing power of the Government and the interference of the state in people's lives. A Bill of Rights could apply a brake to the legislation and regulation juggernaut, which shows no sign of slowing down.

It seems to me, though, that I should have some say in this Bill of Rights. That David Cameron wants it drafted by a "panel of experts" is not encouraging. He should find a way that encourages the involvement of those whose rights he wants to protect.



Sir: Thank you for Jemima Lewis's excellent and timely piece on the need for justice to be blind (Saturday, 24 June). The pressure that politicians are putting on the judicial system to satisfy the wants of "the people" is indeed unwelcome and dangerous.

One phrase that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have been using recently is "common sense". Unfortunately common sense is, almost by its nature, unanalysed, ill-informed, cursory, emotive and often prejudicial. We need the sober and compassionate UK legal system to curb the more ill-advised excesses to which our "common sense" would otherwise lead us.

We must not let politicians whittle this away. Otherwise we shall see yet more examples of injustice done to suspects and innocent people.



Sir: David Cameron reveals perhaps more than he intends when he denounces the European Convention on Human Rights as "foreign". The convention is not foreign: it is European. To call it foreign implies that Europe is the "other" rather than an intrinsic part of what it is to be British. Is that what David Cameron really means?



Wildlife needs green corridors

Sir: The Independent's highlighting of declines in insect and plant species (24 June) makes disturbing reading. I am only too painfully aware of this from my job as biodiversity officer with Isle of Anglesey County Council.

So how is the UK government going to halt the decline in our wildlife and biodiversity by 2010, a noble aim to which it is officially committed? Whilst the mechanics and complex cause-and-effect relationships behind the losses are not understood in detail, you rightly highlight as one of the main problems fragmentation of remaining areas of wildlife habitat.

In the midst of the gloom, here is a suggestion which would carry multiple benefits: take land running alongside existing footpaths, bridleways and cycleways to make 10-, 20- or 30-metre wide wildlife corridors. Pay the landowners well to keep these for the long term, fenced off from the surrounding more intensively managed land; manage the corridors for a variety of wildlife and habitats, depending on local contexts (so, if linking two woodland sites, manage for woodland), going for variety in the big picture.

This approach would have benefits for wildlife - more habitat and habitat links to enable movement of populations, and adaptation to climate change. But it would also have big health benefits from enhanced recreation and steady cash input to the rural economy. It just needs imagination, common sense and not least joined-up thinking between government departments to make it happen. Look at how effective they have been at organising road networks - so how about greenway networks too?.

This is an issue of great importance which will get more urgent as time goes on. Britain should set an example for the world to follow.



Sir: I have been involved in nature conservation in Britain and Ireland since 1950. I deplore the current emphasis on rare and endangered species, and the lamentation about locally or nationally extinct species.

The prime objective of nature conservation should be the conservation and proper management of functioning ecosystems - habitats if you prefer. If we get that right we shall conserve biodiversity at the same time.

Within ecosystems I include arable fields with their weeds, and grassland. Intensive farming and coniferous afforestation have been the major factors in reducing biodiversity. I worry that resources, financial but more importantly intellectual, are going to the protection of rare species at the expense of the conservation of habitats. Time for a rethink?



Prima donnas on the ward

Sir: The article by "Dr Lucy Chapman" (20 June ) should have been subtitled "Nurse, know your place!"

"Dr Lucy" instances a night nurse who called her urgently to a "breathless and anxious" woman who proved to be in acute heart failure. Certainly there was some deficit of communication here, but it is possible that "Dr Lucy's" objection to nurses' thinking for ourselves may inhibit some of her nurse colleagues from volunteering concerns and information.

I am one of the middle-aged, nanny-style nurses of whom "Dr Lucy" approves. I stay late on duty rather than leave a patient in a dirty bed or omit essential observations. I wash up coffee-cups left by junior doctors, and tidy away the medical notes they have strewn around - not because I see it as my role to be their personal servant, but in the interests of patient care. If I were to object more often, perhaps I would run up against the haughty attitudes apparent in "Dr Lucy's" article. As it is, over the past 10 years I have encountered only three or four really dreadful prima donnas among junior medical staff who considered it their right to relieve stress by screaming abuse at nurses. And I'm sure "Dr Lucy" isn't one of those.

We all have had experience of the doctor who writes up a new drug and breezes off flinging the drug chart on the bed where the visitors sit on it for the rest of the evening while the nurses hunt for it in vain. And we all know the silent rage of hearing the doctor tell the family next day: "Unfortunately the nurses failed to order your mother's treatment, which should have begun yesterday!"

Yet I would not suggest that spoilt, thoughtless, self-absorbed young doctors are the norm. On the contrary, medical schools are beginning to take a leaf out of the nurses' book and to place much greater emphasis on communication skills and collegiate values, to the benefit of all.

Since I may need to continue working, I hope you will allow me to claim the same privilege as "Dr Lucy" and withhold my name.


Sir: Beverly Malone's letter (21 June) misses the point of Lucy Chapman's article, which as a fellow junior doctor I thought was excellent. It is not an attack on nurses but criticises the current nursing career structure that encourages ambitious nurses to become nurse specialists or managers. This means many of the best nurses are lost to career paths of varying benefit to the NHS and negatively impacts on nursing standards on the wards.

Most of my junior nursing colleagues seem to express a wish to be a specialist nurse or work in intensive care or accident and emergency. Working as a ward sister on a general medical ward seems to have become very unfashionable. Incentives to reaffirm the ward sister as a position junior nurses should aspire to could improve hospital care across the NHS. Discouraging good nurses from becoming managers in an increasingly bureaucratic NHS would have a positive impact.

Currently the nurses highest up the salary scale seem to be the ones doing the least nursing.



Freedom of choice for smokers

Sir: Why does Thomas Sutcliffe presume that freedom of choice for those who choose to smoke and those who prefer a smoke-free environment are mutually exclusive (20 June)? Designated smoking rooms, an option rejected by the House of Lords on Monday, offer a solution that few could object to. Unfortunately anti-smokers aren't interested in choice. Their intolerant, illiberal goal is to make it as difficult as possible for people to smoke, and to hell with the consequences for personal choice and individual responsibility.

Sutcliffe adds that "When two freedoms collide head-on like this we generally resort to democracy, not the same thing as liberty." He neglects to mention that the BMRB poll he uses to demonstrate public "support" for a total smoking ban was commissioned by ASH and Cancer Research UK. Other polls, including surveys carried out by the Office for National Statistics, suggest that a substantial majority are opposed to a ban on smoking in all licensed premises.

But even if every poll showed majority support for a ban, it still wouldn't justify a ban on smoking in every pub, club and bar in the country. As musician Joe Jackson recently put it, "Smokers are now the only minority whose minority status is quoted as justification for abuse."



Mental illness rate in veterans of Iraq

Sir: The comparison in Andy McSmith's article "Iraq: 60 soldiers a month suffer mental illness" (15 June), between the number of service personnel who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition since 2003 with the total current British military presence in Iraq suggested a higher rate of mental illness than is actually the case.

More relevant is to compare the 1,541 UK service personnel who, between 2003 and 2005, were diagnosed by our Departments of Community Mental Health with a mental health condition related to their service in Iraq, with the more than 100,000 personnel who saw active service in that operation over the same period. So the rate is around 1.5 per cent.

Our aim is to ensure appropriate treatment for all of them and to return them to fitness and to service as soon as possible.



Falling population is cause for hope

Sir: I read with disappointment Hamish McRae's opinion piece on fertility (21 June), which seemed to be suggesting that we can fit as many people as we want on this already crowded planet without cost. If the current world population lived like the average English person, the resources from three planets would be required.

The reduction in fertility in Europe is a cause for hope, not concern; it may mean that we stand a better chance of escaping some of the worst environmental disasters likely to come our way this century.

It is true that the ratio of old to young people will increase but there are ways of countering this: for example higher retirement ages and better education so a smaller workforce can be more productive.



Hard decisions over disability

Sir: I am glad that Maggie Dalton finds parenthood with a disabled child to be rewarding (Letters, 22 June). However, her situation is very different from that of parents who have had a prenatal diagnosis of disability.

These parents are faced with difficult decisions and she is wrong to imply that only selfish motives are involved. To choose to bring a child into this world when it is known that it will suffer from a debilitating or painful condition is of questionable morality for many people.

We must respect the decisions of parents when faced with these dilemmas rather than tar them with the accusation that they are making a lifestyle choice.



Gallant little England

Sir: James Lawton called Paraguay (area 406,752 sq km) "tiny" a couple of weeks ago, and now (24 June) he refers to Ecuador (272,045 sq km) as "little". Considering that the whole of the United Kingdom, with a total area of 244,101 sq km, is considerably smaller than tiny Paraguay and somewhat smaller than little Ecuador, what adjective would he employ to describe our country?



Traffic wardens praised

Sir: I write to commend traffic wardens for the excellent job they do, because without them there would be no short-term parking spaces in our towns and cities. The whole area could be parked up solid by those who live or work nearby.



Who started the war?

Sir: Dr Dan Melley (letter, 27 June) quotes the 1945 Nuremberg Charter - "To initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole" - and says that European leaders know they are accommodating war criminals. However, Dr Melley does not say who started the war of aggression. Does he believe the UK and US started the war by invading Iraq, of was it the perpetrators of 9/11, Bali etc?



Schools for prejudice

Sir: It is not rude to express a valid opinion in the pages of a newspaper and that opinion is not prejudiced if it is based on an unfortunately large range of experience. I would not be in the least outraged if Helen Maclenan (Letters, 27 June) said her local comprehensive school turned children into criminal, brain-dead chavs if this view were also based on experience. Children educated with a wide variety of peers are less likely to be prejudiced than those in a more select environment.



Good news at last

Sir: Good news on the front page of The Independent ("The feelgood factor", 26 June). Now I am really worried!