Sir: Your story on EU Commission plans to put a cap on farm subsidies, ("Off with their subsidies!", 9 November), is a little one-sided. While at first glance the idea of limiting the amount of taxpayers' money going to "super-rich landowners and industrial farms" is appealing, in practice it would do more harm than good.
At a time when farmers are being urged to compete on the world market, taking almost half the subsidy away from the biggest amounts to a penalty on efficiency. It acts as a disincentive to farmers who want to grow their businesses. It would also make no difference to small farmers, who would not see their subsidies grow.
Since subsidies were decoupled from production in 2003, payments to farmers are the reward for managing the countryside. Large landowners, such as Prince Charles and the Duke of Westminster, are often doing the most to improve the environment. Penalising them just for being big makes no sense.
Capping subsidies has been on the table three times before in Brussels – in 1992, 1999 and 2003. Each time it has been rejected by farm ministers.
This time could be different, however. For the first time, each member state would be allowed to keep the money sliced off and use it for wider rural development. Given the UK's pitiful share of the EU rural development budget – about 2.5 per cent – this could make the latest Commission proposal much more appealing to UK negotiators in Brussels.
Europe Editor, Farmers WeeklySutton, Surrey
Sir: The European Commission's plans to place a limit on Common Agricultural Policy payments to the uber-rich should be welcomed. But it represents only the most modest of steps towards the desired arrival point – scrapping the CAP entirely.
Pledging to reduce the handout to the British monarch – from a bit over half a million pounds to bit less than a third of million – does not constitute radical reform. That's loose change to Her Majesty the Queen. The people we really need to focus on are food producers in the developing world who cannot trade freely or fairly because of the European Union's extreme protectionism in this area.
Progressive Vision, London SW1
Sir: The suggestion that the Prince of Wales receives £225,000 in farm subsidies, is incorrect. Any subsidies given to farms leased on Duchy of Cornwall land go directly to the farmers and not to the Prince of Wales. In common with entitlements for any other working farm, Home Farm at Highgrove receives approximately £90,000 a year in farm subsidies. This is the only farm subsidy which the Prince of Wales receives.
Press Secretary to TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, Clarence House, London SW1
No jobs, so stay at school until 18
Sir: The Government's decision to force the jobless over-16s to continue their studies seems, like so much of the "New Labour" legislation, to be hasty and clueless about the background to the problems in senior schools.
It was the Thatcher government's destruction of Britain's major industries and the obliteration of millions of apprenticeships which led to "no hope" senior pupils who were not academic. The Thatcherites also destroyed regional policies, in place since the 1930s to stop the "drift to the South" and to restore the poorer regions which suffered most in the depression years of high unemployment.
The inheritors of this mess are those 16-plus children, deprived by government policy of jobs, who are to be fined and punished if they cannot get work.
Sir: I am shocked at the lack of understanding that some readers have displayed relating to the proposals to raise the school-leaving age to 18.
Young people will still be able to choose between post-16 courses at school, sixth-form colleges, colleges of further education and apprenticeships and work-based training. For those not ready for these options, there is the entry to employment provision. No young person will be forced to stay at school to the detriment of well-behaved children from "nice" families.
It is by no means easy for "Neet" under 18-year-olds to sit on their arses claiming dole money, as one reader implied. Only young people in severe financial hardship, usually the most vulnerable, such as those who are living outside the family home, through no fault of their own, are entitled to claim benefit.
I am in no means in favour of imposing monetary fines on young people who refuse to participate in post-16 learning but I do whole-heartedly agree with the policy to raise the age of enforced participation. It will lead to a more skilled and capable workforce and ensure that those who would have previously been Neet, receive the support that they require to gain the life skills required to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to the economy.
Market Harborough, Leicestershire
Sir: When my father left school the leaving age was 12 and he had nine years of wider experience before he was entitled to vote at the age of 21. When I was at school the leaving age was 15 and the voting age still 21.
When my children were at school the leaving age was 16 and the voting age 18. In elections which took place when two of them were in the sixth form, they complained that they had not had time or experience enough to feel competent to vote.
Now there are serious suggestions both of raising the school-leaving age to 18 and lowering the voting age to 16. How much crazier can you get?
What the abortion figures mean
Sir: In the article, "With advances in modern medicine, is it time to rethink the abortion law?" (25 October), you stated that 201,173 abortions took place in England and Wales in 2006, without distinguishing what this number represents. This figure includes all residents and non-residents of England and Wales. The total number of residents in England and Wales having an abortion in 2006 is in fact much lower at 193,700.
You then stated that England has become a "sought-after location for women from overseas to have an abortion". I would like to know how you substantiate this, given that you then say abortion numbers for non-residents in 2006 has gone down from the previous year.
Abortion in Northern Ireland is only allowed in rare circumstances. Consequently, women prevented from having an abortion in Northern Ireland are forced to travel to Britain to pay for a private procedure. In such circumstances, women travel to Britain under duress and extreme financial hardship because abortion is not legal in their home country. This is neither a situation, nor a destination that is "sought after".
Chief ExecutiveFamily Planning Association, London EC1
Mothers driven to the bottle
Sir: In response to Jeremy Laurance's article, "Where do the latest findings leave the debate on breastfeeding?" (7 November), I would dispute that there exists such a "pressure to breastfeed". I am a lay breastfeeding counsellor and I have noticed a strong commercial pressure to bottle-feed. Far more money is spent persuading new mothers to turn to the bottle than is ever spent on "pressurising" mums to breastfeed.
Women are entitled to have access to the facts about the advantages of breastfeeding in relation to the risks of formula milk.
Until mothers are provided with independent information and adequate support from health professionals, knowledgeable in breastfeeding management, we'll continue to hear defensive stories from mothers who have not been enabled to breastfeed. What is required is an appreciation by the Government of the importance of breastfeeding to the health of the nation.
It would do well to implement the Breastfeeding Manifesto to improve awareness of the health benefits of breastfeeding and its role in reducing health inequalities. Banning the promotion of formula milk would also help.
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
Same bakery, but a choice of biscuits
Sir: Terry Eaton may have been confused in his letter, "The choice: biscuits or the same biscuits" (7 November), regarding the product recall issued by United Biscuits.
Bourbon creams are in the UK's top-five everyday sellers. Each supermarket and brand have their own unique recipe. Realistically there are just a couple of suppliers in the UK who can manufacture these biscuits in sufficient volumes, so inevitably many supermarkets rely on the same bakeries to produce their own brands. United Biscuits manufactures two varieties for Somerfield, but to quite distinct recipes.
For efficiency the products are baked in the same production facility in rotation, and all faced a possible contamination issue resulting from this isolated problem on the line.
Grocery Technical Manager, Somerfield, Bristol
Nothing sinister about Brown
Sir: In his diatribe against the Prime Minister, Barry Tighe (letters, 9 November) calls the proposed identity cards "dangerous, Stalinist and ruinously expensive" and the DNA data base "sinister". The scheme will certainly be expensive, but whether it will be ruinously so is doubtful. It will also be dangerous – but only to wrongdoers.
As for being Stalinist, I wonder if Mr Tighe has any real understanding of the implications of using an adjective derived from one of the 20th century's worst monsters to describe a proposal put forward in a liberal democracy with a large measure of public support to ensure the security of that democracy and subjected to all the rigours of the democratic process. Soviet citizens who lived through Stalin's reign of terror would find it difficult to see the connection.
As for the "sinister" DNA database, I and many others feel comforted by the thought that it will not only help convict the guilty, it will also provide compelling proof of innocence. I'm sure people such as the Birmingham Six must wish it had been available forty years ago.
Mr Tighe also questions Gordon Brown's legitimacy, calling him an unelected leader. He is no such thing. A democratic process exists in the Labour Party for electing officials. If only one candidate applies for a post and he or she has demonstrated a substantial body of support within the party, that candidate is elected. There is nothing in the constitution that makes a contest a precondition of legitimacy.
There are certainly some doubts about Gordon Brown's aptitude for the country's top political post, but none of them centre around his legitimacy or his security policies.
Railway rivalries across the Channel
Sir: Simon Calder is right to welcome the completion of the St Pancras-Channel Tunnel rail link and to call for the construction of other purpose-built high-speed lines in the UK (6 November). It is a pity, though, that he felt it necessary to denigrate Britain's existing rail network.
London-Newcastle every half-hour in three hours or less, and to Leeds and Manchester half-hourly in two hours or just over, are already highly competitive with air. Even London-Edinburgh (four and half hours) presents a pleasant and environmentally friendly alternative.
Nor is everything the other side of the Channel wonderful. Not a single French domestic train conveys proper restaurant car facilities and, off the main TGV routes, service frequency is appalling.
Wrapped in the flag
Sir: Nationalism only becomes important to governments and individuals when they fear their own reality and start floundering for an identity. It becomes a cloak, grabbed to cover personal inadequacies. The Prime Minister and Home Secretary should stop fiddling with flags and mottos and face up to their jobs.
Latin in English
Sir: Michael Bennett (Letters, 7 November) asks: "Where is the BBC Pronunciation Unit when we need it?" I agree with Mr Bennett that anyone with a smidgeon of Latin would know to pronounce difficile to rhyme with Sicily, but the unit has not gone Awol. In the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation, we find: "klost-RID-i-uhm DIF-iss-il. This pronunciation is in line with the usage of the various microbiology and infection control experts the BBC has consulted." Make of that what you will.
Sir: Two cheers for your trenchant leader about Afghanistan (10 November), identifying the problem of finding an alternative to the opium poppy for the Afghan farmer. Even if we manage to destroy the harvest, they will plant it again. If we destroy it again, another country will grow it. There is a viable alternative: we have to destroy the trade at the point of consumption, not the point of production. That means us rather than them. Tough! The third cheer would have been for your leader to have stated this.
W R Haines
Sir: Ru Hartwell is right to make the case for new tree planting as a way of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere (letter, 8 November). However, in towns and cities trees moderate the local climate, which can reduce energy consumption to heat and cool buildings by as much as 10 per cent and this is likely to have an even bigger impact on global warming than their carbon-absorption effect.
Chief Executive, Trees for CitiesLondon SE11
P olitical motto
Sir: Gordon Brown, along with the rest of our present day esteemed leaders, may more be guided by the mantra of Private Eye's public school, St Cakes, which is, of course, "Who pays, enters."
Totnes, DevonReuse content