Sir: In May, many of us wrote in support of further efforts to secure debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries. We stressed that the cancellation of debt is an act not of charity but of justice, a concept central to all our beliefs.
We therefore applaud the UK and Nigerian governments' efforts to secure international agreement on debt cancellation for Nigeria. The resulting deal means that $18bn of Nigeria's debt will be cancelled, which will be very beneficial in the long term. But we are deeply concerned by the huge $12.4bn payment that Nigeria must make first. Of this, $3bn (£1.7bn) is coming to the UK: this is twice as much as the UK is giving in aid to the whole of Africa in 2005.
Nigeria is among the world's 20 poorest countries: more than 80 million Nigerians live on less than $1 per day. The democratic government in Nigeria has been praised by the World Bank for its "transparency and willingness ... to commit funds to the poor", but its efforts to tackle poverty have been hampered by enormous debts built up during former dictatorships. Despite having already repaid more than it originally borrowed, Nigeria's debts to rich countries total more than $30bn. Wealthy creditors should not now be demanding any of this money from Nigeria; they should instead return this money for spending on poverty alleviation.
It would be shameful for the year in which the UK government called for a focus on Africa to end with the UK accepting a huge payment from Africa. This is not the justice we called for in May. We urge the UK government to return this money to help end extreme poverty in Nigeria.
THE REV DAVID COFFEY, GENERAL SECRETARY, BAPTIST UNION OF GREAT BRITAIN
DR HANY EL BANNA PRESIDENT, ISLAMIC RELIEF IBRAHIMSA MOHAMED, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, MUSLIM AID THE REV DR DAVID PEEL, MODERATOR OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE UNITED REFORMED CHURCH SIR IQBAL SACRANIE, SECRETARY GENERAL, MUSLIM COUNCIL OF BRITAIN
THE MOST REV JOHN SENTAMU,
ARCHBISHOP OF YORK HANNE STINSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION
Gestapo powers threaten our liberty
Sir: The police are proposing to track everyone's car journeys via CCTV of number plates, and store the details for seven years. Once again, as with the shoot-to-kill policy for terrorist suspects, a piece of legislation or planning seems to have gone through "on the nod" with no public consultation, to the detriment of our hard-won civil liberties. It has been presented as a fait accompli.
What concerns me, apart from the obvious extension of the surveillance society and the loss of freedom (two things which may be more or less taken as read in any government proposal these days) is the lack of any debate, and the degree of mute acceptance. The police have not just thought this up overnight. It must have taken months of planning, and government approval. Where was it in Labour's manifesto? Did the Conservatives oppose it? Did they even know? Were the Liberal Democrats sleeping on the job?
I have nothing to hide, but I do not want my every journey recorded by the police, watched over by MI5, and stored for seven years. Apart from anything else, such a use of data seems to contravene at least two provisions of the data protection act, by the collection of data "on spec" rather than for an express purpose, and by retaining it for an excessive length of time.
We are rapidly approaching a state where the freedoms our fathers fought for in 1940 are being "protected" by a tyrannical state apparatus which the Gestapo themselves would have given their eye teeth for. It's obviously what Tony Blair wants, but is it what we want? There are more of us than there are of him.
HUDDERSFIELD, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: I enjoyed your science-fiction feature on automated police monitoring of vehicles on the roads. While I can readily believe that the Home Office would happily spend tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds on a system, I still have trouble with combining the concepts of "large government database" and "working correctly and reliably".
I'm still waiting to receive any of the personally targeted marketing that is the result of the huge database of my personal purchases held by retail companies. I'm always reading about it as a theory, but for some reason it just doesn't happen. I don't therefore believe that the police are going successfully to trawl through a database containing hundreds of millions of records and extract any useful information from it. If Tesco can't manage it, it is certainly way beyond Thames Valley Plod.
Rather than blow another huge wad of public money on another testosterone-fuelled computer project, couldn't we just have more and better-trained police, and then use them more on crime prevention and less on the painstaking but pointless recording of the after effects?
Sir: I doubt if this government will be able to resist the temptation to issue automatic speeding tickets to whoever completes part or the whole of their journey too soon.
ROCKLAND ST MARY, NORFOLK
Sir: Won't the trade in DIY number-plate stick-on overlays, among the criminal fraternity, absolutely rocket up? Or are criminals more naive than I think?
Why we need to cull badgers
Sir: The letter entitled "Blame farmers, not badgers" (22 December) is an appalling misrepresentation of NFU policy. We have never refused participation in pre-movement testing. We do however believe pre-movement testing of cattle will only be effective if it is accompanied by specific measures to remove bovine tuberculosis from wildlife. As for the assertion that there is no evidence to show that TB spreads from badgers to cattle: both the Krebs Trial and the Irish Four Areas Trial have demonstrated a definitive link.
Farmers take very seriously their dual role as food producers and custodians of more than 70 per cent of the British countryside. To suggest farmers are careless with that responsibility is not only grossly unfair but ignorant of modern farming practices.
VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS' UNION OF ENGLAND AND WALES, STONELEIGH, WARWICKSHIRE
Sir: Claims that badger culling is in the "best interests" of badgers are shamelessly cynical (Letters, 20 December). Even in TB "hotspots", barely 1 per cent of badgers are actively excreting bovine TB, which means that most exterminated badgers will be perfectly healthy. And it is hardly in the welfare interests of badgers to be strangled with snares, poisoned with gas or maimed by shooting.
If farmers were so committed to animal welfare, 250,000 cattle would not die each year from treatable diseases, including mastitis and diarrhoea.
The great irony about farmers' demands for badger culling is that we subsidise livestock to the tune of £1.3bn each year and many of the country landowners baying for badgers' blood will be receiving fat environmental stewardship cheques from tax payers in 2006 for looking after wildlife.
THE BADGER TRUST LONDON SW11
Sir: Lawrence James (letter, 22 December) is quite wrong in comparing badger culls to the Reign of Terror. Madame Guillotine did save the French Revolution and so contributed mightily to the making of the modern world; Robespierre's sans-culottes caused the removal of the vile reactionary ancien regime and French aristocracy from the scene of history. In comparison, badgers really are worth saving.
The price of saving ancient orchards
Sir: I was interested to read your report on Britain's ancient apple orchards (21 December), but sorry that you did not note that the price paid to the smaller producers at the "factory gate" has stayed the same for years and many longstanding contracts have been ended. These small producers have supplied the cider industry's giants for many years from their "ancient" orchards, which are now the most threatened. A recent survey of traditional orchards by English Nature put their rarity on a par with unimproved grassland, or wood pasture, both of which they resemble.
In areas including Devon and Somerset, new associations of small orchard owners are trying to market their fruit independently to help them keep orchards as part of the mixed local economy and landscape. On the other hand in Herefordshire, thought is being given to producing bio-ethanol with surplus fruit from orchards which have been planted with some encouragement from the industry. Only the former approach is likely to save old orchards.
The increasing popularity of cider is welcome, but to avoid the transience of trend, the cider has to be good. And if the point of the article, that more consumption is good for the "ancient" orchards, is to be achieved, that can happen only if the owners of such orchards are a valued part of the supply chain.
Chase off hangovers
Sir: "The sobering news; hangover cures don't work" (23 December)? One of the great advantages of combining active interests in beer and running is that in one long steady run one can get rid of last night's hangover while acquiring a thirst to start on a new one. Happy New Year!
GORDON PETER DUFF
Praise for Tony Blair
Sir: Following Tony Blair's article in The Independent (21 December) on same-sex marriages, could we not, just for a change, give a small bit of praise to him? Yes, it's easy to knock him, but when he talks about the new civil partnership law it makes you feel quite good about the modern world and how far we have come since 10 or 20 years ago.
Christmas in Indonesia
Sir: I wholeheartedly endorse the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks concerning the right of the people in this country to celebrate Christmas, and all other Christian festivals, without having to look over their shoulders to see whether they might be upsetting some non-Christian minority. The Archbishop cited Muslims and others as possibly susceptible minorities, and, while I am totally unable to speak for these people, it is interesting to note that in the largest Muslim country in the world (Indonesia) both Christmas Day and Good Friday are public holidays.
The wrong move
Sir: When I saw that Sir Benjamin Slade is planning to give away his 16-bedroom mansion (report, 22 December), I had no particular reason to question his state of mind - until I read that he wants to move into a council house because, he tells us, "If anything goes wrong, then people just come round and fix it."
Sir: A suggested addition to Michael Bywater's Lost Worlds (16 December): unlocked, free to wander around, country churches. Are there still a few where it is not necessary to head off through unfamiliar territory in search of a key?
How to win at cricket
Sir: According to Angus Fraser (22 December) England cricketers must "get out more" to shine in India. I thought the problem was that they were getting out too often.