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Wednesday 16 May 2007
Letters: English parliament
Prospect of Brown as PM sharpens debate on English parliament
Sir: Gordon Brown should realise that before he seeks to become Prime Minister of the UK, he will also be de-facto First Minister of England in the absence of an English equivalent of the Scottish Parliament. As he was elected by votes cast in Scotland only, what right does he have to decide government policy on health, transport, education or any other area that in Scotland is devolved to the government in Edinburgh?
If he wishes to govern England then he should seek election in an English constituency first. If he wishes to continue serving the electorate of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath but still wishes to lead a government then perhaps he should seek election for the next Holyrood parliament.
His third option of course would be to give England her own national parliament with equal powers to the one in his homeland, but as he and his party have shown no interest in treating the people of England fairly in the past 10 years I will not be holding my breath on that one.
Sir: Now that demands for an English parliament are increasing, nobody seems to be questioning whether an "English" parliament is really what we need. If we had one tomorrow it would still be based in London and would be no better at fulfilling the needs of Lincolnshire, where I live, than the present setup.
In terms of geography and population size, England is on a different scale from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. What we need is proper regional government, and not the watered-down version offered by John Prescott some years ago.
By all means, keep the Parliament in Westminster as the seat of a federal government, but let's have real devolution to our regions. As a local politician, I'd rather take my chances in Nottingham or Leicester than in the different world that London and the South-east have always been.
Ban killing of forests, don't buy it off
Sir: The deforestation cover story (14 May) highlights the deepening rainforest crisis. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change remains a hopelessly inadequate response. Yet as the Global Canopy Programme (GCP) proposes a new carbon market to protect forests, they omit to mention that recent EU and US biofuel targets are driving forest destruction on an epic scale, as forests are replaced by palm-oil plantations. Removing the drivers of deforestation is preferable to relying on markets to sort it out.
Last week I attended meetings on deforestation at the climate convention in Bonn. It quickly became clear that the Coalition of Rainforest Nations favoured reduced deforestation to 50 per cent of its current level rather than an end to deforestation.
Yet early signs of ecosystem failure (rainforests showing prolonged water stress as a result of dehydration and fires) are already evident in several tropical forests including the Amazon. Prolonged water stress implies that forests may be close to a minimum size beyond which they will cease to be self-sustaining in a warming climate and begin to dry out. This ecosystem failure will ultimately lead to collapse of the rainforest as megafires ensue. Once it starts it's unstoppable. Only with a complete ban on all old-growth forest destruction will we have any chance of stabilising these rain-generating ecosystems.
Money will be needed to effect a ban on deforestation but not as part of a new carbon market. Financial "payments for services" will simply put money into the hands of governments and corporations whilst weakening the already fragile "rights" of local and indigenous communities and in particular women, whose custodial role in forest ecosystems has a long history.
When Costa Rica implemented a ban a few years ago, deforestation was reduced by 85 per cent. Combine this with the successful "territorial rights" approach taken in Colombia and Panama and we have a recipe for stabilising old-growth forest loss.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT, LONDON N1
Sir: In 1896, the Swedish physical chemist Svante Arrhenius predicted that adding CO2 to the atmosphere would raise global temperatures. In 1976, the American physicist Freeman Dyson pointed out the importance of deforestation in releasing CO2.
In 1978, I proposed a new approach to forestry and timber use for CO2 fixation, conserving existing forests, planting new ones, aiming at high density of carbon per unit area, and making wood last as long as possible in housing, furniture, books and other enduring uses.
Now at last the matter fills your front page (14 May). But there is something wrong with the way scientific ideas get into the public domain.
P J STEWART
OXFORD THE WRITER IS A RETIRED FORESTRY LECTURER
Sir: The UK timber trade welcomes your focus on deforestation and climate change. Andrew Mitchell (14 May) is right to say that commerce is part of the solution. If there were more demand for legal and sustainable timber around the world, there might be a real incentive to producers in developing countries to keep and manage their forests sustainably and so mitigate climate change.
Our buyers often feel very alone when they approach mills in the tropics asking for timber from sustainably managed forests. We wish other big importing countries would join us.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, UK TIMBER TRADE FEDERATION, LONDON WC1
Sir: We are junior high school students in Medan, Indonesia. Our country is losing an area of forest equal to 300 soccer fields every hour. Our country loses $1bn a year because 88 per cent of logging is illegal. The Sumatran rhino and tiger will become extinct and many species of plants and animals will be lost. The logging will increase the flooding here and increase global warming.
We are writing to you because your readers can make a difference. The wood is exported to Europe and there is no law in Europe to stop it. Please join the WWF campaign for a new law and write to your MP.
Sir: I heartily agree that stopping the loggers is the fastest and cheapest way to stop the loss of the world's hotspots of biodiversity. Please do not blame our global leaders because IPCC and the media usually focus their attention on transport not chainsaws.
BEDBURN, CO DURHAM
This 'Lear' doesn't need the critics
Sir: I read Adrian Hamilton's piece ("This great stage of fools", 10 May) with enormous interest, having seen the RSC's King Lear a week ago, and being, I think, well-qualified to appreciate what I saw: I have taught the text to countless students; I have seen every major Lear since Paul Schofield, except for Ian Holm.
Obviously, critics are important, for all the reasons Mr Hamilton gives, and I am looking forward to reading the reviews when they eventually appear, but my decision to go to the theatre has never been influenced by a review.
On this occasion, like everyone else, I went to see Ian McKellen's Lear, sorry to miss Frances Barber's Goneril, but happy to accept her understudy, Melanie Jessop. I agree that the part of Goneril is not crucial, and I fail to see, in such a controlled production, how another actor would make a significant difference.
For me, this Lear was an unforgettable and profoundly moving experience.
Sir: No one but a critic of breathtaking pomposity and Lear-like derangement would imagine that the audience for the Royal Shakespeare Company's productions of The Seagull and King Lear feel insulted by "being told that the production they are witnessing is unworthy of presentation to the critics". I did not meet a single audience member who gave a fig about whether the critics have or have not seen the plays.
Adrian Hamilton is correct to point out that one potentially unfortunate consequence of Sir Trevor Nunn's decision not to allow critics to see the productions until Frances Barber is able to resume her roles is that her understudy, Melanie Jessop, may be denied the credit for the excellent performances she is now giving.
But the saddest consequence is that, in the absence of reviews of the The Seagull, there are empty seats for one of the finest theatrical productions of recent years.
Bringing hope to the poor of Uganda
Sir: I recently returned from a study tour to Uganda organised by the charity Send a Cow (www.sendacow.org.uk) for which I am a volunteer. Those 12 days were humbling and inspiring. Professor Gilbert Bukenya, Vice-President of Uganda, recently visited rural areas as part of his "Prosperity for All" tour and praised techniques taught by Send a Cow, one of The Independent's Christmas charities in 2004.
We visited Rakai district, an area badly hit by HIV/Aids, where children as young as 11 are left as head of families or a grandmother is left to care for up to 11 or 12 children. These, together with widows' groups and families with disabled children, are Send a Cow's main beneficiaries, receiving not only livestock, but also vitally important training in animal welfare, organic farming methods, nutrition, hygiene, family planning, water harvesting, environmental conservation and simple records and business management.
The warm welcome we received as we visited more than 20 different beneficiaries was overwhelming and the difference the livestock and training had made to their lives ranged from impressive to miraculous.
Hun hits back in war of stereotypes
Sir: Tony Paterson ("A Berliner on Britain: don't mention the beer", 15 May) should have set Thomas Hütlin's critical comments about the UK in Der Spiegel in context. This magazine's coverage of Britain has been relentlessly negative for years, and it constantly recycles tired stereotypes that are at least as inaccurate as the UK red-top tabloids' coverage of Germany.
A common theme of Der Spiegel is that the UK economy is some sort of neoliberal free market hell, rife with injustice that would be unacceptable in Germany, a view that ignores the facts. While the position here is by no means perfect, the UK does have near-full employment, a comparatively generous minimum wage, a comprehensive system of tax credits and high levels of participation in higher education - job market conditions of which less well-off Germans can only dream.
The problem these days isn't so much British "hun-bashing" as the out-dated Anglophobia of Mr Hütlin and his colleagues.
Sir: Your correspondent's description of Der Spiegel's London correspondent, Thomas Hütlin, as "recently installed" may provide a clue as to his ridiculous assertion that we "cannot stand the Germans - even 62 years after the end of the war".
Had Herr Hütlin probed our national psyche for a little longer, he would have realised that we have never been able to stand the Germans. (Or the French. Or the Irish. But I digress.) Why does he suppose our Royal Family changed their name to Windsor? Why does he think we live on an island in the first place? Because we can't stand anybody? Well yes, but in particular because the Angles, who give our country and our language its name, quite sensibly didn't want to live in ... Germany.
Why election result was overturned
Sir: Bruce Anderson (Comment, 7 May) refers to a petition in the High Court which successfully challenged the result for Winchester, after the 1997 election. I was leading counsel for the acting returning officer, David Cowan.
Mr Cowan is a man of the utmost integrity with considerable experience of the conduct of elections. There was never any suggestion in the petition that ballot papers had been secreted out of the building where the count occurred. Such a suggestion as made in the article could not relate to Mr Cowan and those others who conducted the election, which was overturned merely because there was a narrow majority affected by a small number of irregularly cast votes.
TIMOTHY STRAKER QC
Sir: Instead of culling badgers to prevent TB in cattle (The Big Question, 15 May), perhaps we ought to cull cattle in order to prevent TB in badgers.
Sir: We are indebted to Dominic Lawson (15 May) for pointing out with creditable clarity that if a consensus for imperialist war cannot be gained in the United Nations then Nato will be pressed into service. However, I still cannot see how the collective security of the countries of the north Atlantic is threatened by whatever regime is in office in Afghanistan - unless the continued and unimpeded supply of heroin is regarded as a vital matter of state.
The Romans in Scotland
Sir: Oh no, not another rerun of the Braveheart controversy (letter 15 May). It seems that the forthcoming film about the "disappearance" of the Roman Ninth Legion in Scotland is going to be another film industry embarrassment. Evidence of the continued existence of a Ninth Legion will be enough for the "all Scottish history is bunk" camp to deny that the demoralising defeat of the Romans by the Caledonians as described by Tacitus ever happened, while the more extreme "Wha's like us" Scottish nationalists will waste the opportunity to promote a deeper understanding of Scottish history.
GORDON PETER DUFF
Sir: I have found an error in the Errors & Omissions column (12 May). Commenting on the "picture puzzle" headshot of Hasina Patel, Guy Keleny repeatedly misspells "pixelated" as "pixilated". A "pixelated" image is one in which the individual pixels are apparent to the naked eye, causing the image to appear blurred. "Pixilated" means whimsical, bemused or slightly drunk. Was Mr Keleny perhaps a little pixilated when he wrote the article?
Sir: A public house on our high street urges me to "Live on Plasma". It does not tell me how much a pint it costs, or whether I need any dietary supplements.
G W EGGINS
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If I were Prime Minister ... No 1:
I’d be a free-market version of Natalie Bennett
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