Ministers lament Farepak but ignore pensions fiasco
Sir: It was most interesting to note that the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Ian McCartney, has described the collapse at Farepak, where 150,000 people have lost around £500 to £1,000 in toto as a "national emergency" and said "Let's get resources to people who need them."
MPs have been asked, and some such as Peter Hain have agreed, to give a day's pay towards a fund for savers. Gordon Brown has stated: "It is terrible what has happened to people who have saved through this scheme - to lose your money and therefore vouchers before Christmas, when you have been banking on that for your Christmas presents, is outrageous."
In stark contrast to the Farepak savers, virtually nothing at all has been done for the 120,000 savers who have lost their whole occupational pension over many years (despite a ruling from the Parliamentary Ombudsman that the Government was negligent), or for the very large number of savers at Equitable Life who have lost far more substantial sums than Farepack savers.
One could rephrase the Chancellor's comments thus: "It is terrible what has happened to people who have saved through these pension schemes - to lose your money and therefore pension when you have been banking on that for your retirement, is outrageous." However, he has not, of course, said this. Indeed he has been conspicuously silent over many years on the issue of lost pension savings.
Whilst I am very happy that Farepak savers will get back some of their savings, the whole approach from the Government represents a cheap political gimmick and smacks of massive hypocrisy.
DR ANDREW GOUDIE
Sir: In the light of the Farepak fiasco and the apparent need for a simple saving scheme for Christmas expenses, why don't we learn from the Germans? I understand it is commonplace there to opt to receive a monthly income of a thirteenth of one's salary, receiving two thirteenths in November to cover the Christmas period. Benefits could also be treated this way.
Bush punished for occupation of Iraq
Sir: The unwisdom of the Iraq occupation - and the way it has reduced the geostrategic clout of the United States and by extension the United Kingdom - could not have been better illustrated than it was last weekend.
President Bush criss-crossed the US defending the occupation, trying to save Republican congressional seats - vainly, it now seems. China's President Hu Jintao hosted a trade and investment summit in Beijing with no fewer than 40 African leaders.
Via Iraq, Bush spent much of the last three years weakening America's friendships and making her enemies more numerous and more virulent; Tony Blair has acquitted himself of precisely the same task for Britain. President Hu spent the same period quietly extending China's economic and political reach.
It has taken three short, dire years for the neoconservative doctrine of the Bush administration to be discredited, along with that administration's few international acolytes.
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
Sir: Is Donald Rumsfeld to be allowed just to just resign? Surely someone can be held responsible for the bloodbath that is Iraq.
WEST MOLESEY, SURREY
Sir: There are some things we all knew all along but he didn't know he didn't know it.
SHORWELL, ISLE OF WIGHT
Sir: I have a new-found faith in democracy. In trying to impose democracy elsewhere democracy has just kicked the neo-conservatives' butt.
Sir: Interesting, the amount of coverage given by the British media to the US elections. What a contrast to the coverage given to elections in other European countries such as Germany and France.
Does this not indicate a mindset that sees Britain as far more like the 51st state of America than a part of Europe? The total ceding of foreign policy to Washington on matters such as Iraq and Afghanistan is of course further evidence of this mentality at the heart of government.
Sir: Would it now be correct to assume that British foreign policy is to be formulated by Rupert Murdoch alone?
Sir: John Edwards, in drawing an unfavourable comparison between the legislatures of the USA and the United Kingdom (letter, 9 November), is missing an important fact. The USA is a federal state, ours is not. They might have fewer federal representatives, but Mr Edwards is forgetting that each US state has its governor and state legislature, as do countries such as Canada, Australia and Germany.
If Mr Edwards were to support the principle of regional government in the UK, then he could indeed see a reduction in the number of MPs at Westminster, which, by becoming a federal parliament, would have more limited responsibilities, like the Congress in Washington.
Firms snared by complex tax law
Sir: In Philip Thornton's excellent article (8 November) on the complexity of the UK tax system, Lord McKenzie, the Government's Treasury spokes-man in the Lords, is quoted as saying complexity affected only a small number of larger companies.
If only this were true. It may be that larger companies are the prime target of much complex anti-avoidance legislation. But when you fire a blunderbuss, it is not always the target who suffers most. The shot is aimed at the larger companies, but the law applies to all - is the Treasury saying smaller companies can ignore these laws in handling their tax compliance? Or should HM Revenue and Customs fail to enforce it?
With few exceptions, complex anti-avoidance provisions apply to companies of all sizes. Where relatively favourable treatment of smaller companies applies, the definitions of such companies are so complex that sometimes companies cannot know whether they fall inside them or not.
One of the many causes of complexity - and, incidentally, tax avoidance - in our system is a cavalier approach to law-making, assuming, without adequate thought, that the effect is limited to what is intended.
Solving this problem is not easy, but consistently thorough consultation would help, as would an independent Tax Law Commission, acting like the more general Law Commission and reviewing the law regularly from a non-partisan viewpoint, to see what could be reformed and simplified.
The Chartered Institute of Taxation has made all these points to the Treasury in the past and works with government departments whenever invited to help improve the system.
PRESIDENT, THE CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF TAXATION, LONDON SW1
Make best use of winter daylight
Sir: It was bright of Ian Dickens (Letters, 7 November) to point out that we can't manufacture extra daylight. Now that few people are engaged in agriculture, most people and organisations arrange their activities by the clock, not by the sunrise.
The fact is that each day since the clocks changed I have put the lights on earlier; I have also adjusted the heating timer. The energy savings in the evening that would result from keeping the clocks forward in winter will be discounted in the mornings only for a few weeks either side of the winter solstice.
There is clear evidence that there are safety advantages, for example for children returning from school, if we remain with GMT+1, as people are more alert in the morning than late in the day.
A few Scots might be disadvantaged perhaps, but I am sure that the majority of the English and Welsh would prefer to make the change.
The Scots make their own decisions nowadays.
Commemorate a selfless sacrifice
Sirs: I think that Daniel Emlyn-Jones (letter, 9 November) has rather missed the point when he argues that Remembrance Sunday should commemorate all those who fought for freedom, such as the suffragettes. Remembrance Sunday is to commemorate those who fought to preserve the freedom of the nation as a whole.
As worthy as the causes that he mentioned are those acts were not undertaken selflessly on behalf of the entire nation, but rather by interested parties representing a minority. Let us not dilute a wonderful tradition that still inspires young men to follow in their forebears' footsteps in serving the nation. Whatever you think of the moral case for any conflict the soldier's motives are pure enough to be celebrated and honoured.
Sir: I have recently seen signs announcing that my local racecourse is holding its annual firework display on Saturday 11 November. Leaving aside the absurdity of having the display six full days after Guy Fawkes Night, it struck me as being very inconsiderate to hold it on Armistice Day.
It would appear to me that the organisers imagine some of our older veterans may have forgotten their experiences during various wars so have kindly decided to remind them by letting off a string of loud and bright explosions. I wonder if any of your other readers have local institutions with a similar regard for what would otherwise have been a sombre day of reflection.
Racist poem has a long pedigree
Sir: The racist poem that has landed Ellenor Bland in trouble is at least 38 years old ("Cameron embarrassed by Tory member's racist email", 7 November).
A version of it, possibly the original, appears in my school yearbook for 1968, signed "Anon", along with a sympathetic treatise on the plight of "negroes" in the US and another poem entitled "Ode to an Undesirable Alien", in a similar vein to Mrs Bland's epic. This last title, while containing references to Allah, Buddah, Indians, white men and "wogs brown or black" does however contain the health warning "not to be taken seriously".
This particular yearbook was a glossy affair, produced to celebrate the school's quincentenary that year. I am shocked now to think that the school management must have approved the inclusion of these items at the time. And they say bring back the grammars!
O tempora, o mores!
METHVEN, PERTH AND KINROSS
Sir: Your correspondent (8 November) calls upon us to evoke the spirit of 1940 in relation to climate change. UK carbon emissions amount to 2 per cent of the global total. If the UK reduced carbon emissions tomorrow, the deficit would be made up by China in just over one year. Without a major commitment from the US, China and India, the UK's efforts will be as futile as wartime exercise of cutting down railings and scrapping pots and pans. Good for morale but useless to the war effort.
Sir: In your article "Phosphorus shells used in Lebanon invasion, UN says" (8 November) you continue to defend the allegations related in a previous article by Robert Fisk that Israel used a depleted uranium bomb. The UN did not find any evidence of this. If their findings of the phosphorus shells are enough for you to condemn Israel, despite Israel's defence, then it should be enough for you to exonerate Israel despite others' allegations. You really need to apply a more equable standard.
SPRING VALLEY, NEW YORK, USA
Freedom to eat GM
Sir: Alec Iredale (letter, 8 November) asks for the freedom to eat "organic" produce free from even a tiny amount of "contamination" by GM foods. On the other hand, I, who avoid the nonsense of organic foods, would like the opportunity to consume selected GM foods, because I believe that they are better for the environment. I am generally denied this opportunity because of the hysteria of the green lobby, who have persuaded shops and supermarkets not to stock any. We can't both have the choice we require, so some compromise would be necessary.
Scots and British
Sir: I have never watched Braveheart. I cringe at the very thought of it. I do not think "Gordon Brown speaks Scotland's political language." He sold the pass long ago, and his attempt to thrust Britishness upon Scots has had the opposite effect. What I do want is a grown-up federal UK with four independent countries, including a re-united Ireland. Sorry, Johann Hari (9 November), I can't share your enthusiasm for the continuance of an England-dominated Britain. Three hundred years is long enough.
Rhythm of Latin
Sir: I share the surprise of Mr Albu (letter, 8 November) that David Usborne failed to recognise that the Virgil translation is in metre. But it is surely not "blank verse", the technical term for the iambic pentameter used by Shakespeare and others, but rather the translator's attempt to mimic Latin hexameters. Latin syllables are deemed long or short according to fairly complex rules, whilst English is based on stress rather than length, so English hexameters can never be accurate copies of the Latin form. But Professor Fagles' verses do evoke the right rhythm.
Challenge to battle
Sir, In response to Claudia Winkleman's challenge (8 November) to find a girl who thought Alien vs Predator was a good movie: I thought it was a great movie!
NICOLA ANNE MONTAGUE