Jasper Humphreys (letter, 2 November) raises a legitimate concern about a "fortress" approach to visas and border security. It is not just conservationists who wish to visit the UK to collect an award who are impacted by the Border Agency's rigid policies and appalling inefficiency. Spare a thought for those who married Brits and plan to settle here with their spouses.
My husband is one such case. We have been awaiting the outcome of our settlement (marriage) visa for several months. Meanwhile, he cannot work, and is unable to leave the country – for example, to visit his elderly mother for Christmas. Thousands of others are in the same situation. The UK Border Agency itself states (in response to a Freedom of Information Act inquiry) that of the 9,116 applications made between February and June of this year, only 25 per cent had been processed by October.
It is unacceptable to prevent visa applicants from leaving the country for months at a time. I am sure it contravenes the UN Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 13 regarding freedom of movement. And surely it is unacceptable to the Home Office to have so many visa applicants with uncertain or undecided status in the country.
The UK Border Agency is overwhelmed, inefficient, inflexible and as a result apparently incapable of meeting its obligations as a public body.
Anyone wishing to visit Britain from outside the EU has to go to extraordinary lengths just to obtain a simple visa. It is a ridiculous policy that hinders trade, tourism and normal movement of persons wishing to visit the UK and is yet another example of a government department sub-contracting out its duties to agencies that are woefully inadequate. Why can't Her Majesty's Civil Service just employ people to do these jobs properly?
Politicians really are all the same
I must take issue with Terence Blacker, who bemoans the British public's disengagement with the political process (2 November).
There is a widely held perception that there is little real difference, ideologically, between the two main parties; it's merely a matter of management style. Can the average citizen point to a significant difference between his life under successive Tory and Labour governments that was a result of government policy?
The story is told of the peasant tilling his field who asked the passing nobleman which side had won the recent battle and was told: "What is it to you? You'll still be a peasant."
The public are not fools. They listen to politicians parroting the current party line, braying at PMQs and fiddling their expenses, and reach the inevitable conclusion. It's why Boris Johnson is popular: he talks like a real person.
Richard Fagence (letter, 3 November) couldn't be more wrong in claiming that "spoiling of ballot papers" is "refusing to participate in politics". For those of us who believe that elected police and crime commissioners, like elected mayors, are a waste of space, what else can we do, in the absence both of a referendum and of the all-important "none of the above" box on the ballot, but either spoil our ballot paper or abstain?
I would urge all like-minded people not to take the easy option and abstain but to attend their polling station and mark their ballot prominently: "No to PCCs". That would be an extension of our limited form of democracy, not a negation of it.
Keighley, West Yorkshire
A way out of the schools dilemma
Yes, there is a better alternative to the private schools dilemma. Why can't the parents of all children receive a voucher towards their annual education to spend wherever they like? They could then opt for the low-cost option (at the value of the voucher) of a five-day week, 8.30 to 3pm, or choose to contribute a bit extra to "buy" a longer day and possibly a six-day week which allows the time for all the extra- curricular activities.
Like Christina Jones (letter, 31 October), I too teach in the state sector, alongside some of the most dedicated professionals I have ever met, but I sent my children to private schools because I wanted them to access all the opportunities that a longer day and less stressed teachers can provide.
We cannot move this debate on until we recognise two important facts. One, many educational authorities could not afford to educate all the pupils in their area, and so tacitly support private schools. This is particularly true of the Home Counties. Two, all pupils deserve a timetable that includes compulsory sport, art, music and other enriching activities for all abilities which are not deliverable under the current state school funding arrangements.
I am tired of trying to offer these opportunities at lunchtime with no time-allowance reflected in my timetable to allow me to prepare the sort of lessons that Ofsted and I would like to deliver, every lesson.
R L Davey repeats the meaningless old saw "the politics of envy" in his rebuttal of a call for the abolition of private schools (letter, 2 November). I have no envy for those who choose to pay for their children's education. I could afford to have my children educated at private schools but choose not to. The problem I have with private education is that the right to choose exists only for a minority in this country, not the majority.
I have heard parents offer up myriad reasons why they choose to pay for their children's education. Interestingly, the three arguments they never proffer are (a) "Because we can", (b) "Because our children are not very bright", and (c) "Because of the advantages private education secures in opening doors to a series of institutions and professions ring-fenced by privilege".
Storm victims, rich and poor
Ian Craine (Letter, 3 November) writes of a friend in New York telling him about a young mother who had lost her children in the floods there following Sandy, as against an earlier correspondent, John Crocker, who had criticised your over-emphasis on the effects of the storm on the US: "Americans are people too," you added in a headline.
But that is exactly the point: other countries were affected by the storm, specifically Cuba and Haiti, but they don't get much coverage, presumably because they speak the wrong languages and anyway are very poor. Anyone would sympathise with Mr Craine's example, but he needs to recognise that Cubans and Haitians are people too.
For all too many in the USA, the world revolves around their country, but those of us outside it do not necessarily share their view.
Having read the responses to my letter of last Wednesday, I hope you will allow me to make my position clear.
I maintain the position that the British media are in thrall to US affairs, but in emphasising the point by focusing on their reaction to the effects of the storm by pointing out how the actions of the US have affected civilians across the world, I did not intend to seem unsympathetic to the plight of those US citizens who, I realise, are the victims of one of Nature's more extraordinary events and who, in many cases, have lost everything.
The event's being widely reported will, I hope, bring the kind of financial and practical support witnessed following the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia.
For the love of dog
C M Rogers (letter, 2 November) and others who oppose gay marriage constantly put forward the argument that if love were the only criterion for marriage then a man could marry his dog. This leaves me and C M Rogers with a major stumbling block. I am not gay and my dog is male, which rules that argument out on both counts.
Of course love is a good basis for marriage between human beings of whatever sexual persuasion, and if the dog argument is the only one they have to throw at the idea then they would be better off keeping quiet. Mind you, my neighbour has a beautiful cat and it is female, I wonder ....
C M Rogers asks: "What is to prevent a man from marrying his dog?" Among other things, it is the inability of the dog to hold a pen.
A snake in the library
The Foreign Office thinks refurbishing a stuffed snake is worth £10,000. Pity they didn't place the same value on keeping the 500-year-old archives of maps, books and correspondence that they happily split up in 2008, some items even turning up on eBay, leaving nothing but empty shelves to testify to diplomacy's long history. Is the FCO now a better home for snakes (stuffed or otherwise) than hard-won knowledge of other states and cultures?
Buckland Newton, Dorset
Austerity? What austerity? The Foreign Office has spent £10,000 sprucing up a stuffed anaconda which hangs in the FCO library. "Officials in William Hague's department noticed the reptile was in poor condition." Bless. Just fit him with a toupee, give him a shot of Botox, and get Ffion to feed him up.
Fleece for the future
Deborah Ross was obviously much taken with her first polyester fleece ("If you ask me", 1 November). She might become even more fond of it if I tell her that it was almost certainly made largely from recycled plastic drinks bottles. Now when she wears it she can take additional pleasure in knowing that she has done her bit in helping us secure a more sustainable future.
Emeritus Professor John Ebdon
The Polymer Centre, University of Sheffield
I note that Deborah Ross has surrendered to the fleece. This can only be the downward slope to the long johns that I have worn for the last 30 winters.
Bishops Cleeve, Gloucestershire
I wonder if someone could explain to the few of us who live outside the BBC London area why the hissy fit of someone called Danny Baker places so much pressure on the BBC.
D J Walker
Autumn Break? (Letter, 2 November.) How about St Edmund's Day, 20 November – the first patron saint of the English, and the Queen's wedding anniversary?