Sir: "You cannot prove a negative" is the current mantra from Jack Straw and others, when challenged over the United States' extraordinary rendition that allegedly involves UK airport facilities. It is unfair to ask our ministers to prove it has not been taking place.
The mantra is curious, not least because a few years ago Iraq was being asked by the likes of Jack Straw to prove that it did not have weapons of mass destruction - and some detainees are being asked to prove that they are not involved in terrorism.
Of course, the "you cannot prove a negative" mantra is false. There are many negatives that I can prove: that Socrates is not alive; that pigs do not fly; and that you do not always get straight answers from government ministers. Indeed, many of our political leaders will have encountered the works of Karl Popper in their student philosophical heydays: maybe they recall that, for him, the impossibility is that of proving universal generalisations; the best you can do is to refute them, showing them not to be true - that is, proving a negative.
Sir: Colin Bobb-Semple has picked a poor example to prove the value of the Human Rights Act (Letters, 15 December).
Lord Bingham emphasised that English law has abhorred "torture and its fruits" for over 500 years. That and other principles of English common law were embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights only 55 years ago, and the Human Rights Act has existed for only seven years.
The wisdom of rejecting torture and other duress as a means of obtaining evidence is illustrated by the comparatively low toll of persons executed as witches in England , where alleged witches were not tortured - no more than 1,000. In Germany the law ordered the torture of anybody suspected of witchcraft, and over 100,000 innocent people died.
DR D R COOPER
Sir: Surely the way to end suspicion over CIA flights through Britain is for the Government to exercise the right to inspect all aircraft that land in the UK. Or is that too simple for Jack Straw?
Cull is in the best interest of badgers
Sir: While we fully understand the reasons for reticence when approaching the question of controlling the numbers of any wild animal, we should not hesitate to do so when necessary. There is more than enough evidence that a policy of addressing TB in farmed livestock will not work without removing reservoirs of the disease present in badgers.
Badgers were specially protected as a result of historic persecution. Numbers have risen very substantially since then, and the species is now responsible for widespread damage to biodiversity and the historic environment. Badgers eat ground-nesting birds and their eggs, have destroyed ancient monuments through digging extensive setts, have damaged private property and are certainly harbouring and spreading bovine tuberculosis to the great cost of both farmers and the taxpayer.
Nevertheless we argue that badger culling can only be justified as a part of a wider strategy that consistently and heavily bears down on bovine TB. These include more testing, better bio-security and the development of vaccines.
We argue only such a rigorous policy can rid the countryside of a nasty disease which leads to the culling of thousands of cattle every year and which compromises the welfare of wildlife and the badger in particular. We would be delighted to see healthy badger populations re-established at manageable levels.
PRESIDENT, COUNTRY LAND & BUSINESS ASSOCIATION LONDON SW1
Sir: There is no doubt that the National Federation of Badger Groups have directly caused the huge increase in the population of badgers, to the detriment and suffering of the badgers, even more than the cattle.
Cattle are domesticated animals, and if they contract TB, they are humanely killed . The same is not so for the badgers. They suffer - and terribly. There is no one to relieve their suffering as they die a dreadfully miserable death, often underground.
If the Government had done what it should have done, and consulted the country people, rather than pontificating, ignorant "theorists", then Bovine TB would have been eradicated long ago, by targeted culling of badgers and cattle alike.
Sir: I am sceptical that a badger cull will prevent TB amongst cattle. However, reducing earthworm numbers to control badger numbers (Letters, 19 December) will not work either. They will just find alternative food supplies. When earthworms are in short supply, badgers feast on my bantam hens, ripping the sides off the henhouse to get to them.
Badgers are Britain's largest carnivorous animal, with no natural predators and protected by law, hence the rise in numbers. There is a huge sentimentality about them. They certainly cause us more problems than do foxes.
KINGSTON, ISLE OF WIGHT
Mandelson failed to deliver for the poor
Sir: Your report of the WTO summit in Hong Kong ("Trade deal ends EU farm export subsidies", 19 December) announces in its headline the end of the EU's farm export subsidies, when all it really agreed was to a non-binding commitment to end farm export subsidies in almost a decade's time, far too late for millions of the world's poor.
The "deal" makes no effective progress towards delivering a package which will benefit developing nations: even the so-called "development package" is based on little more than empty promises and previous commitments.
The world's poorest have been denied a deal which delivers on development - and the EU is largely to blame for prioritising forcing open developing nations' service sectors against their will over keeping the promises made in Doha to make progress towards a "development round".
As a member of the EU's delegation to the talks I was able to see at first hand how EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson championed the cause of development in his public statements whilst failing to put it at the heart of the negotiations in reality.
DR CAROLINE LUCAS MEP
(GREEN PARTY, SOUTH-EAST ENGLAND) THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT BRUSSELS
Extradition to US for white-collar crime
Sir: You report the remarks of Sir Digby Jones to the effect that a treaty designed for the extradition of terrorists is being used to extradite British businessmen to the US ("CBI Chief to tackle Clarke over US extradition 'abuse' ", 15 December). The new treaty you refer to is not in force yet. When it is it will permit extradition requests in either direction for any serious offence. The US Senate has begun the process to ratify this treaty but currently extradition takes place with the United States under a treaty in force since 1977.
It is also claimed that 170 individuals accused of "white collar" crime have been extradited to the US over the past few years. In fact, only 48 people have been extradited from England and Wales to the US since 2001. Of these, only 11 were for fraud- related offences.
Where a valid extradition request has been issued, in either direction, subject to the scrutiny of ministers and the courts, it is right that an individual accused or convicted of a serious offence should be extradited. People cannot be extradited purely to be remanded while a case against them is marshalled. Whether the offences involve drugs, finance or other serious matters, they are not victimless crimes and prosecuting them is an important part of upholding the rule of law internationally.
ANDY BURNHAM MP
PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE HOME OFFICE LONDON SW1
Rates and the cost of pensions
Sir: Mr Edwards (letter, 28 November) attacks my IEA public-sector pensions paper for using "implausibly low discount rates". To correct his error: he claims I use 1.1 per cent a year real; I do not; I use 1.6 per cent a year real, as I make clear. Whether this discount rate is "implausible" is irrelevant; it is the current market rate for government index-linked gilts of the relevant maturity.
I note that the Government itself does not find these rates sufficiently "implausible" to prevent it from continuing to issue large amounts of new long-dated index-linked gilts at these rates (and indeed lower for the longer dates; in fact the 1.1 per cent a year real that Mr Edwards refers to). My complaint with the Government is that while it is happy to lock in this exceptionally cheap 50-year funding, it simultaneously values its own occupational pension liabilities using a 3.5 per cent a year real discount rate. Mr Edwards should worry about inconsistency not implausibility.
Finally, the question of the appropriate discount rate for appraising unrelated public sector expenditure or investment is not relevant to the calculation of pension liabilities. As for my "colleagues" in the IEA (and remember the IEA is a think tank that calls upon independent experts to contribute), I cannot speak for other Institute of Economic Affairs publications, as each one is independently peer reviewed, and my comments relate only to my own.
CHAIRMAN & CEO RECORD CURRENCY MANAGEMENT LTD WINDSOR
Why Tories should leave the EPP
Sir: The current row between David Cameron and British Conservative MEPs over continued membership of the federalist EPP Group in the European Parliament overlooks an important issue: money.
In 2004 the Conservative MEPs negotiated a membership deal where almost half of their information budget is given to the federalists. This money has been used to campaign for the introduction of the euro and the EU constitution; actions at odds with grassroots Tory opinion, and apparently the new leader of the party.
These amounts are not inconsequential; in the current parliamentary term the 27 Conservative Members will hand over £2m from their information budgets to campaign for the EU superstate. If, as he claims, David Cameron really wants to be "consistent" he should leave the EPP before the end of the year, to halt a further €700,000 being transferred to causes his party claims it opposes.
There are many better deals on offer. For example, Mr Cameron would be welcome to talk to our own Independence/Democracy Group, which takes less than a fifth of its members' money and campaigns against the EU constitution. While we can offer no guarantees, Mr Cameron is welcome to apply. However, as a member of Whites, he will of course appreciate strict entry criteria, and the danger of blackballing.
We would, of course, welcome genuine Eurosceptics to our ranks.
NIGEL FARAGE MEP
CO-LEADER, INDEPENDENCE/DEMOCRACY GROUP IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, UKIP, STRASBOURG
Sir: Progressives should rejoice at the news that David Cameron, and his new Eurosceptic foreign policy team, are pulling the Conservative MPs out of the Christian Democrat European Peoples Party (EPP) in Brussels.
For all of its labelling as "centre right" the EPP has been willing to defend a flexible and publicly funded welfare state, while its reach through the Christian Democrat International into Asia, Africa and South America has meant that it has taken the need for overseas aid and debt relief seriously while the Conservatives have squirmed in the face of such social conscience.
Internationally Cameron will now collapse into the arms of Berlusconi, East European nationalists and others that would have us grind down the very minorities and liberties that with the other face Cameron will claim to be championing. Thus we will quickly discover the true nature of the new Conservative leader.
VON HUGEL INSTITUTE ST EDMUND'S COLLEGE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
Sir: Another Christmas, another 48 hours of slaughtering. Twenty million horrific deaths after lives of torture in windowless sheds, debeaked, obese and crippled sensitive creatures crammed in tens of thousands in each of Britain's vast turkey factories. Once more the birth of divine love on earth is thoroughly celebrated.
Sir: I hate being pedantic, especially about something that nice Charles Nevin writes (News from Elsewhere, 19 December), but the state animal of Wisconsin is the badger, not the beaver. The state bird is the robin and the tree is the sugar maple. He did, however, get the state fish correct (the muskellunge).
ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: Concerning the recent race riots in Australia, there have been numerous comments by Australians, that their country is not and never has been racist. This is flying in the face of their own history. During what are now known as the Menzies years (the name of the premier in the 1950s and 1960s), and the days of the £10 Poms, Australia wanted plenty of people to expand their population - so long as they were white. This was a gross insult to the native population who were, and are black.
R J SMITH
Mice on the move
Sir: I am delighted to be able to inform Alana Michael (Letters, 17 December) that sugar mice (both pink and white) are alive and well in Perthshire;I espied a trayful for sale in the village post office here today. Perhaps global warming has driven them north?
Dickens of a read
Sir: There is one other possibility, not mentioned in your excellent leader ("A writer for all seasons", 16 December), for those feeling bereft of Dickens. Read the book?
DR JAMES A R WILLIS
ALTON, HAMPSHIREReuse content