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- Arts + Ents
Thursday 3 April 2008
Letters: Dickens' last words
What the Dickens is all this unnecessary fuss about a statue?
Sir: The fuss about Charles Dickens's final wishes is totally artificial when it comes to the question of a statue (25 March). What he said was: "I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial or testimonial whatever."
His children, through their last survivor – the Old Bailey Judge Henry Fielding Dickens, who died in 1933 – gave the view that when they and Dickens's friends were dead, that request would cease to operate.
From the number of monuments, memorials and testimonials to Dickens already in existence, ranging from several museums to probably more than 10,000 busts, everyone seems to accept the view given by Henry Dickens, and now being subscribed to strongly by Dickens's numerous descendants. There is no question of the Dickens Fellowship being "enraged" about the idea of a statue, as your report claimed.
Dickens actually had four final wishes. The other three were: that he wanted a private funeral – he had thousands of mourners; he wanted to be buried in his local church – he was buried in Westminster Abbey; and he did not want the book he wrote for his children, The Life of Our Lord, to be published – it was, within a year of the death of Henry Dickens.
Anyone who speaks against a Dickens statue should be allowed to have their bit of fun. They should not be taken seriously.
Mrs Susan Healey (Chairman), rofessor Tony Pointon (Treasurer)
Statue Fund HoldersPortsmouth Birthplace Branch of the Dickens Fellowship
The real effects of mass immigration
Sir: The report from the Lords on immigration does not, as you imply, criticise migrant labour full stop, but the vast excess of migrant labour there has been in the past decade (leading article, 2 April).
GDP growth is, as indicated by the report, misleading when it fails to take into account the large additions to the population who share that growth. Calculations show that the much boasted £6bn growth does literally amount to "pence" when equated with increased numbers in our population.
If foreign workers are better motivated, it could be a motivation caused by an eagerness to find a new life. When they or their offspring become British, you may find that, as with many current descendants of migrants and other British people, they are unwilling to come off benefits in order to earn low pay for work they find unappealing. Will the answer then be to encourage even more large-scale immigration for the continuing purpose of suppressing wages among the low-paid?
You say that, with house prices, immigration is less of a factor than short supply. Do you really not see that short supply is caused by long demand, and that such demand is increased massively by massive immigration?
Some businesses have done well out of mass immigration, which has supplied them with cheap labour and more customers. Effects for society as a whole include: suppressed wages; widening inequality; cultural dilution; communal breakdown; increased urbanisation and pollution; and overcrowded schools, housing estates, hospitals, and prisons.
Sir: Our immigration system must remain flexible if we are to get anywhere close to dealing with present skills shortages. This means having the option to look beyond the EU.
The House of Lords' Economic Affairs Committee report talks about the impact of immigration at much too broad a level. A cap on immigration not related to a need for workers could be harmful to the economy and front-line delivery of services.
Targets such as the building of three million new homes, or providing social care to our ageing population, are not going to be met without a skilled workforce. Recruiters across the country experience difficulties in filling positions in sectors such as medical, social care, construction and engineering.
It is always easier to recruit workers who are local. But if they are not available, we must have the option to look further afield.
Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), London W1
Sir: The best single indicator of a nation's living standard is not its GDP but its national income per head, after the effects of inflation are removed, as best they can be. Short-term movements in GDP are not very different from those in national income, and politicians enjoy talking about GDP because it gives a mystique to what they say. But where influences are discussed which have a direct bearing on the number of people in the country, figures per head are much more important than overall figures.
China has a higher GDP and national income than Switzerland. But I would prefer a Swiss living-standard to a Chinese one.
Dr M R Weale
Sir: British employers naturally favour migrant labour. It enables them to fill vacancies at lower wages. The corresponding disadvantage to British workers is direct and obvious. The NHS would not collapse without workers from abroad. But we would have to offer higher wages to attract British applicants for the jobs. There is a conflict of interest between employers and British workers. Nothing is gained by concealing this.
Sir: The House of Lords Economic Committee has produced an appalling document on immigration. It combines the views of Enoch Powell with those of Migrantwatch. It is amazing that those who have signed it should have given their names to it. Of course, one should be glad that the Prime Minister has rejected the report, but there remains much confusion in government policy on the position of non-EC migrants, skilled and unskilled, and on the position of illegal immigrants, still eagerly sought and exploited in the agricultural and construction industries, with the aid of gangmasters. One suspects the debate is largely rhetorical and political.
Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick
Sir: There can be no greater case put forward for Scotland to have control over its own immigration policy than the House of Lords' report on immigration.
Ironically, this report was released at the same time as a study from Strathclyde University that commented on the Scottish economy's reliance on eastern European immigration, and the Home Office's new points-based immigration system, both of which, it is estimated, will see the Scottish workforce shrink by 10 per cent over the next 40 years, considerably reducing our competitiveness.
The points-based system, which is designed to win votes for Labour in south-east England, will make it harder for low-skilled, non-English speaking, non-EU migrants to come to the UK, harming Scotland in the process. Combined with a slowing down in the levels of eastern European immigration, this will have a dramatic economic impact, estimated by Strathclyde University to amount to a 5 per cent drop in GDP per year by 2025.
Scotland has different needs from the rest of the UK, and it would be far easier for us as a nation to influence population and economic growth through having the ability to set our own immigration policy.
Plea for GPs to prevent, not cure
Sir: How unpleasant to hear about the resentment of the family doctors at the government's proposal to screen all men from 40 to 74 for major illnesses (report, 2 April); 21 per cent of GPs already do, so let's make it fair.
"Symptom-led" is for a bygone age without science. These same GPs are willing to see anyone, with any minor complaint, who makes an appointment. Because of not having routine checks, two types of patient emerge: the panicked who beat a path to GPs' doors too often; and the stoic who put up with far too much.
I have just lost my husband to cancer which could have been picked up 10 years before diagnosis. His last four years, after diagnosis, were agony, and no one can tell me early detection is not the very best we can do. All the treatments come a pathetic second.
Green infrastructure for a pleasant life
Sir: Your report on Lord Rogers' concerns (29 March) makes good points about architecture, but remember that some slum dwellings in pleasant neighbourhoods are still lived in. There is an urgent need for more "multi-functional green infrastructure". This includes interconnected avenues, squares, parks, cyclepaths, watercourses, green roofs and living. These can be built anywhere, without the need for world-class architects. They store and filter rain, provide wildlife habitat, cool homes, provide local distinctiveness and keep us sane. Set higher minimum standards for green infrastructure and you have solved the problem.
Two reasons behind the Heathrow chaos
Sir: In the 1970s and 1980s I was involved in airport planning for BAA. I think there are two main reasons for the Terminal 5 fiasco.
One is that BAA may find it difficult to communicate with BA because of a clash of cultures. Airlines are short-term businesses, needing to be flexible and responsive to change. Airports are long-term businesses, with expensive fixed assets that are hard to modify. As an example, BA stated it wanted nothing to do with T4, then there was a change of chief executive and they insisted on occupying it. As a result, there were not enough gates, because BA aircraft spend much longer on the ground than foreign carriers, Heathrow being their home base. Both sides regarded the other as arrogant; I suspect this is still the case.
Second, the privatisation of BAA has been a major disaster. When state-owned, BAA, although keen to be as profitable as possible, sought to ensure capacity was provided ahead of need. The interests of a private company are different. Avoiding spending on new terminals means maximising profits, at the expense of passenger comfort and airline convenience.
But practically every major airport development has hit teething troubles , except maybe Singapore, where airport and airline share a common aim of helping the state.
Hove, east sussex
Sir: It is annoying to see the reaction of the media to the Heathrow problems, presenting it as yet another very British cock-up, representative of our country.
I was in Hong-Kong when they opened their new terminal: to say that was a shambles was an understatement. It was so appalling they had to re-open the old airport and fly all bags and other goods out of it for months. The international press applauded the architecture and barely mentioned the chaos, far greater than that at Heathrow. But, given that example, maybe the BA authorities might have thought more carefully about a phased handover, and not the big bang they chose.
Sir: I see now where the energy savings are at T5; they switch off the baggage-handling system.
Graham A Feakins
Sir: The way to solve the presrent problems suffered by BA and BAA is self-evident. They should start treating their "customers" as passengers again.
Sir: Well, that's all my travel and accommodation problems sorted; I'm spending my summer holidays at Terminal 5 this year.
Question of law
Sir: If, as Lord Justice Scott Baker says, it was "blindingly obvious" that Paul Burrell was not telling the truth at the Princess Diana inquest (report, 2 April), why was her "rock" not detained and charged with perjury?
Sir: Howard Jacobson (29 March) regurgitates the insult you first inflicted on Dostoevsky in your "Left to Right" article (15 March). Dostoevsky was not a revolutionary. He was a social misfit who made embarrassing attempts to gain social standing by attending revolutionary meetings organised by people for whom he had little respect. The nasty consequences, including imprisonment, are in his Notes from the Underground. Please do not mention his name in the same square mile as Christopher Hitchens, let alone the same sentence.
Sir: On the BBC News, I was astonished to hear a pompous Labour peer ask if the Speaker's wife is to be expected to use the bus like everyone else (report, 2 April). Years ago, the bus I was on drew up at a stop in the Westminster area and there, waiting patiently on the bench in a smart dark coat and hat, was the Speaker herself, Betty Boothroyd.
French letters praised
Sir: Not only does the French post office (letters, 1 April) manage to make a profit and pay dividends, it also delivers post the next morning before 8am in any post office anywhere in France, if posted before 5pm the day before. In 1992 it also paid back the purchase of letterboxes of a specific standard size, with a key for the postman, for the delivery of small parcels. No need to rush out of the shower when the postman rings.
Jan de Landtsheer
Littlehampton, West Sussex
Unprotected rain forest
Sir: Preserving Guyana's rainforest is a noble and worthy goal, but will require practical follow-up (letters, 31 March). The country's main north-south road runs directly through the Iwokrama forest, and it is possible to drive the entire length in one day. While doing so, one passes numerous logging trucks. Without serious enforcement of protection policies, all good intentions will come to naught.
Alan Dean Foster
Prescott, Arizona, USA
Trained to confuse
Sir: The other morning I heard a Network SouthEast announcement I hadn't heard before: "We are sorry that the 8.51 to Cannon Street has been cancelled due to being configured of only four coaches and subsequent overcrowding." A classic of its kind?
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