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Saturday 29 November 2008
Letters: Debt-happy Banks
Credit crunch? Not at this debt-happy bank
There's so much talk about people having difficulties getting credit; my problem is trying to reject credit being offered. I got a letter from my credit card company to say they'd increased my credit card allowance. I did not request this increase; it's almost four times my monthly pay cheque.
I went online to get this ridiculous limit reduced. And it turns out that I can increase my limit online, but if I want to decrease my limit I must ring a helpline. So I phone and the friendly lady says unfortunately she cannot reduce it for me as she is not authorised to, and would I call back on Monday? Is my personal request to reduce this limit not authorisation enough? Wrong again. Some suit in a bank knows my financial needs better than I do.
The same online banking website has articles on "borrowing sensibly and dealing with debt". What about advice for these banks on "lending sensibly and preventing debt"?
I spent 20 minutes in a Monday morning call-queue only to hear those dreaded words, "The other person has hung up". So instead of dialling again, I thought I'd write this letter. Not to my bank, but to anyone who will pay attention
Please regulate our banks, so they cannot offer people access to money that they probably cannot afford. Please stop all this unwanted promotional literature offering this loan and that. Please stop unrequested and ridiculous increases in credit limits. Please make it easier to decrease our credit limit. Is it any wonder things got out of hand financially?
Limavady, Co Londonderry
Tory MP arrested for doing his job
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, a government spokesperson was caught suggesting that this was a "good day to bury bad news". Let's hope nobody in government thought that the awful terrorist outrage in India was a good day to arrest opposition politicians ("Serious questions over MP's arrest, says Cameron", 28 November).
I am not a supporter of the Conservative Party, but Damian Green MP is an effective Opposition front bench spokesman doing his job of holding the Government to account. All governments, of whatever political complexion, are tempted to hide embarrassing information. Opposition spokespeople are paid to find out these facts and, if they are in the public interest, publish them. That way we can have a proper informed debate about the issues of the day.
In recent years, leaks have shown us that, in the run-up to the Iraq war, the Government colluded with the US to spy on other members of the Security Council. They have revealed the Government's involvement in extraordinary rendition. They have revealed practical difficulties the Government has faced with its ID card scheme, helping us to debate whether this policy really is a good idea. This and much more would not have been revealed without leaks.
If anyone in government did order the arrest of Damian Green, we need to know. Such a person has no place in public office. And whether the police acted independently or not, Parliament must pass laws to protect MPs to allow them to do their job properly. As a voter, I expect MPs to be able to hold the Government to account without fear for their personal freedom. Anything less, and as David Davis has suggested, our country becomes "in some way reminiscent of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe".
Dr Stephen Leah
Seeking a safe haven from foreign dictators, persecuted opposition figures often seek my advice, as an asylum barrister.
In my opinion, setting nine anti-terrorism police on to an opposition front-bencher, detaining him for nine hours, searching his homes and offices, for publicising government illegalities, amounts to persecution. A government minister permitted this. Senior police officers went along with it. Senior civil servants began the process. Whitehall raises smokescreens to hide the truth from us.
Provocatively, Lord Hailsham used to describe the constitution of the UK, as an "elective dictatorship". If Mr Brown does not dismiss the government minister responsible straight away, he signals to all that Lord Hailsham's words have become true.
Andrew M Rosemarine
After the great conflicts of the 20th century it is deeply worrying to learn that at the beginning of the 21st century an opposition politician has been arrested by the police for doing his job.
Under New Labour we have seen the erosion of habeas corpus, the diminution of trial by jury and the right to protest being curtailed. Gordon Brown promised his government would respect civil liberties, but now Damian Green has been arrested for leaking information which the public has a perfect right to know regarding the Home Office and its numerous failures.
It is perhaps even more worrying that Mr Green was questioned by "counter-terrorism officers." How much further can the use of the word "terrorism" be stretched? Indeed, how much further does Britain have to go before legitimate members of a parliamentary opposition are arrested for becoming too good at their job?
It has been clear for some time that we are sleepwalking into a police state. The arrest of Damian Green takes us closer to the point of no return.
We cannot allow the governing party to use the powers of the state to suppress criticism or opposition. The state has access to huge amounts of information and surveillance, which we are told we should not fear if we have done nothing wrong. But we should never trust those who hold such power to police themselves.
The only steps that the Government could take to reassure us – a stern rebuke of the police, and a change in the law to make such a situation impossible in the future – seem unlikely, given their passion for control and their intolerance of criticism.
Success on the railways
Network Rail receives grants from Government (report, 24 November), with almost half of its income from private companies such as Stagecoach, National Express, FirstGroup; also, it has been classified officially by the Office of National Statistics as being in the private sector
And Iain Coucher's pay rose significantly this year because he has a new job as chief executive. That pay increased last year by the same percentage as every other employee at Network Rail. He did indeed receive a bonus last year and that's because overall, the year was a good one for the railways and passengers. Trains were more punctual than at any time in recorded history: more than over 90 per cent on time. Costs were cut, investment was high and safety was at record levels. We reward only success, not failure.
Chairman, Network Rail London N1
Dreaming of a secular Christmas
While the Church of England's website inexplicably "warmly welcomes" the issue of both secular and religious Christmas stamps by the Royal Mail, are we alone in finding this much-trumpeted free-market "choice" utterly demeaning?
In the US, where they issued stamps to celebrate Eid Mubarak, they did not feel it necessary to issue a parallel set for non-Muslims. If we are to have Christmas stamps at all, let them be Christian. But if for some mindlessly secularist reason we must have a choice, then let there be stamps of both sort in equal number.
In truth, the Royal Mail intended only to have a purely secular "pantomime dame" set of stamps. Under pressure, no doubt, they agreed to reprint just two religious stamps from last year's set. But they undermined even this shabby compromise by failing to communicate how the "choice" is to be presented to customers.
We phoned six post offices in Lancashire. In each case when asked how they let people choose, they admitted that in fact they didn't, and simply sold the next stamp to hand. If they can show a lack of demand for religious stamps, then they will no doubt be back to their shallow secularist games next year.
Dialogue Development Officer
Canon Chris Chivers
Wrong way to save the forests
The world will gather in Poland next week for crucial talks on climate change. But as ministers work out ways to cut emissions, a bomb is ticking under the very rainforests we rely on to take carbon out of the atmosphere.
Finding the right solution to deforestation is urgent, and what's on the negotiating table is dangerously flawed. Allowing rich countries to buy chunks of forest to offset their emissions won't solve climate change – and it could trigger a land-grab leaving millions vulnerable to losing their homes.
In the meantime the EU is making the problem worse. If it pushes through new targets to increase the use of biofuels, forests will ring to the sound of even more chainsaws. Clearing enough land to grow 10 per cent of Europe's road fuel will lead to greater emissions, not less.
The smart option is to look at ways we can reduce demand for crops such as soy and palm oil – and come up with an international solution for deforestation that supports the land rights of forest communities.
executive director, Friends of the Earth, London N1
No grounds for cancer jab scare
I was saddened to see Jerome Burn's article "My girls won't have the cancer jab" (18 November): to use his own words, his article was unnecessary, reckless and ridiculous.
Mr Burn's economic analysis was naive. The UK model (Jit et al, BMJ 2008) shows that the Nice criteria were passed at a range of prices, including the list price that Mr Burn used. Government contract prices can be significantly lower than list prices.
The safety concerns that Mr Burn raises come from an anti-vaccine website. Detailed analyses of safety concerns show no significant increased risks of serious adverse events: it is irresponsible to raise such concerns when there are no grounds to do so. Presentations on the safety of Gardasil cover 20 million doses under passive surveillance and over 375,000 doses under active surveillance
I doubt that Mr Burn's views about cervical cancer are shared by women who have had cervical cancer. One of Mr Burn's daughters is old enough to decide if she wishes to have HPV vaccine. Hopefully both his daughters have more sense than to put their faith in such nonsense as "a healthy immune system that hasn't been challenged by too many vaccinations" to prevent cervical cancer.
Professor David Salisbury
Director of Immunisation
Department of Health
The biggest scandal about public pensions ("Pension squeeze for public sector", 28 November) is that MPs and ministers get to decide their own pension entitlements. On top of this, they are paid ludicrous expenses, and when the electorate has had enough of them they are paid a "resettlement grant". Nice work if you can get it.
Selby, North Yorkshire
Expensive world role
At a time when government borrowing is huge, a reduction in spending would help. Last year I think the MoD's budget was £33bn, about a tenth of all spend. Perhaps this little island with 1 per cent of world population should stop playing world policeman. Our recent record of arming Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan and a few years later invading those countries is redolent of the Keystone Cops.
Richard Garner's article on the difference between 1955 and present science GCSE grades (27 November) reminds me that in the late 1950s at grammar school 5th form we studied Beowulf, "The Rape of the Lock", Middlemarch, and Milton's poetry. I met them again, 30 years later, as degree texts.
Littlehampton, West Sussex
Recipe for comfort
Leg of lamb for Lancashire hotpot? ("Comfort Cuisine", 27 November). Surely not. Too lean, too dear, not enough gelatine. The best hotpot has minimal ingredients and uses neck of lamb on the bone – a really cheap cut – set in one or two layers between layers of potatoes and veg. Increase and slice the onions; omit the tricksy, non-trad flour and herbs. Season (salt and pepper only please). Cook slower and longer than your recipe, say three hours in a Gas 3 oven. That's real comfort for the wallet and palate.
Matthew Norman writes that Jon Gaunt "now lionises the very human rights he has derided for so long" (Opinion, 27 November). What a fine illustration of A C Grayling's claim that, in general, "right-wingers are in politics to protect their own interests, left-wingers are in politics out of concern for others". Here's to altruism and philanthropy.
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