Letters: Farming today

Farmers must learn to live in the modern world
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Sir: Terence Blacker (9 May) claims that those who live on the land have become marginalised over the past 30 years and that country people are bad at playing the PR game. The proliferation of "Keep Out", "Private Property" and "Trespassers will be Prosecuted" signs in rural areas, and the constant accusation that urban folk have no rights to opinions about rural matters have not helped their cause, particularly since the BSE scandals and resistance to the Right to Roam legislation.

The suggestion that most farmers are running their land in an environmentally responsible way "as previous generations have done" may cause hollow laughter in light of the evidence of environmental agencies. And now to the list of subsidies paid to farmers can be added payments for planting trees, set-aside etc.

Most often expressed from "the countryside" is the wish that their way of life should continue. It is an entirely unrealistic expectation. Some country people may well resent "incomers" and city-dwellers but if they had their wits about them they could be earning a good living by welcoming all those people who are champing at the bit to see badgers, foxes, hares, otters, birds of prey, organic farms and the like.



Sir: Terence Blacker says few people appear to listen to the views of farmers. I have lived in the countryside for almost 30 years and most I have encountered, far from being guardians of the land, are despoilers of it, polluting their environment with their enormous filthy vehicles, covering the roads with spilled silage, manure and mud, and causing hazards to other drivers.

Many shoot, hunt and ride without any consideration or respect for their neighbours. Long may they remain unheard in influential circles.



Blair got lucky at the expense of Europe

Sir: The last time I voted was in 1997 and I voted for New Labour. The then Tory government was in meltdown and it was time for a change. The big issue was Europe, with Tory party Eurosceptics in open revolt against John Major. So when Tony Blair told us he was going to put Britain "at the heart of Europe", it was music to the ears of this Euro-federalist, who really does want to see a United States of Europe with common political, economic and defence policies.

But in the intervening 10 years, not a millimetre of progress has been made. Blair has not signed up to the Schengen agreement or made any progress towards joining the single currency.

I feel my 1997 vote was wasted. Blair is a known pro-European and he was in the position to lead the country, to change Eurosceptic hearts and minds. But he did not. He trailed in the wake of the Murdoch press and the xenophobia of Worcester Woman.

Blair weakened the European position on Iraq by his slavish obeisance to the appalling George Bush. A Europe strengthened by British whole-hearted commitment to a united stance on Iraq would have left the US isolated, with Europe on the moral high ground. That could have stayed the hand of the Washington warmongers. But no, he rushed to an illegal war without a mandate from the British people, much to the horror of our allies in Europe whose trust he squandered. And what does he have to say about this shameful course? Just the pathetic bleat, "I did what I thought was right." Which, as an excuse, is right up there with "I was only obeying orders".

Now he will be able to get rich on the lucrative lecture circuit. Perhaps the Blair legacy should be, "Boy, did I get lucky."



Asking doctors to become killers

Sir: As a family doctor for many years, I have two concerns regarding doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

It is likely that patients would wish to remain in their own homes to die. First, what if the self-administered drug failed to take effect? Drugs are often vomited up. The doctor would then be expected to step in and finish the job. A doctor's role in the community would then change from healer and comforter to dispatcher. What would a patient think of me when I arrived with a pain-killing injection, knowing that her old friend from bingo had received a killing injection the week before?

Second, once society began to accept in its midst voluntary euthanasia it would be only a few short steps to it becoming involuntary, giving a helping hand along the way to our many very weak and confused elderly with complicated, time-consuming and indeed expensive conditions which fill our nursing homes. Surely there would be a grave risk of the vulnerable feeling pressure, whether real or imagined, to move on, as it were. No dignity there, I suggest.

We can and must do better to increase provision for palliative care at all levels in our health service. After a lifetime of service it is the least our elderly deserve.



Sir: I am always surprised when the debate about assisted suicide is limited to the terminally ill, who will at least die soon anyway. Prisoners of severe cases of multiple sclerosis face, as do prisoners in Guantanamo, torture that may continue through decades of complete debilitation. In compassion, shouldn't they be entitled to the release of an early death, if that is their wish?



Sir: A reader quotes an instance (Magdalena Davis, 11 May) of a 95-year-old stroke victim, unable to communicate, having a tube inserted into her stomach to enable life-prolonging feeding to continue.

If this lady had previously made an advance directive stating that, following a stroke or other major disaster, she would not wish to be kept "half-alive" by artificial means then her doctors would have known exactly what they should (not) do.



Why Israel had to move into Lebanon

Sir: Robert Fisk writes: "Yes, Hizbollah provoked last summer's folly by capturing two Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese-Israel border, but Israel's response - so totally out of proportion to the sin" ("Olmert undone by the militia he said he could destroy", 3 May).

But Israel responded to the Hizbollah aggression not just because of the two kidnapped soldiers. It was because Hizbollah has done this sort of thing before, it had well-armed outposts on the Israeli border, it had thousands of rockets and fired them at Israeli villages, and the regular Lebanese army was not deployed in south Lebanon. The war was fully justified. Most Israelis object not to the war, but the way it was conducted.

If the Israeli army was fully mobilised and had gone into south Lebanon on the third or fourth day of the conflict, the war would have been much shorter and the Hizbollah would not have been able to fire so many rockets.

It is true one cannot destroy a movement such as Hizbollah, which is not a regular army. But one can make it much less dangerous. And that is what happened in the end of that war, with the regular Lebanese army, and thousands of UN soldiers, deployed along the Israeli border, without any armed Hizbollah outposts. There have been no more rockets fired from Lebanon by Hizbollah and no attempts to cross the border.



Sir: Adrian Hamilton ("We can learn from Stormont", Opinion, 10 May) quite rightly bemoans this government's continued policy of isolation towards Hamas and Hizbollah and its failure to apply the lessons learnt from Northern Ireland to solving the Palestine/Israeli conflict.

Although I applaud every effort that is being made to secure the release of the BBC journalist Alan Johnston, it seems ironic that this government is prepared to waive its embargo on talking with Hamas where an English journalist is concerned but will not talk to them to secure economic and political freedom for the Palestinian people.

Thousands in Gaza and the West Bank are suffering as a result of the withdrawal of international funding in this misguided attempt to isolate the democratically elected government of Hamas. When will we learn that the way to weaken extremism is to encourage its proponents to enter the democratic process?



UK sets penalties on pounds and kilos

Sir: Stephen Halden (letter, 11 May) is inaccurate. UK law assigns legal penalties to the use of units deemed "not legal for trade". This has always been the case; it just happens that since 1995 almost all of the legal units are metric ones.

In earlier times, they were imperial ones (with Mr Halden's hyperbolic "serious criminal offence" assigned to the use of metric units). The 1963 Weights & Measures Act outlawed units such as the bushel and peck; where was the outcry then, 10 years before we even joined the EEC?

EU member states agree directives, required to be enacted by national laws. Penalties associated with these laws are entirely a matter for each member state.

It is 42 years since the metrication process began in the UK, and it progressed happily for many years. Now those with a political agenda are trying to spin it out for further decades, if not reverse it altogether.



Votes of minorities can swing elections

Sir: Johann Hari is right to think our voting system may not deliver all that is desired by the electorate ("We have much to learn from the French", 7 May). But he is mistaken in thinking that the "votes of minorities and the poor can't make a difference".

In 2005, at the last general election, Operation Black Vote identified more than 100 seats where the black vote could decide who wins. One seat, Cheadle, had a 2001 winning majority of 33 and a black electorate of 3,444. Others included Orpington with a 269 majority and a black electorate of 3,727 and Hammersmith & Fulham with a 2,015 majority and a black electorate of 14,844.

So, there exist urban seats and "middle-class, middle-England swing seats", where the black vote will count at the next election.



Losing the plot over Rome's lost legion

Sir: I enjoyed that splendid fictional film Braveheart. I was in Glasgow when William Wallace hit our screens and I was amused so many Scots thought it to be true. Little of it was accurate.

We now are to be delighted by another blockbusting historical romance (report, 14 May) about the legendary disappearance of the Roman legion, IX Hispana, which marched from Hadrian's Wall to punish the rebellious tribes to the North, never to return.

The legion was last recorded in Britain at York in 107, hence part of the basis for the legend. But there is artifact evidence that this legion was transferred to the Lower Rhine after Britain.

It was certainly removed from Rome's army list by 170, probably having participated in the Jewish and Parthian wars. So there was no Scottish Varus.



Tale of 'Carmen' is a timeless one

Sir: Stewart Trotter laments (letter, 5 May) that English National Opera's new production of Carmen is to be a modern version. The plot of Carmen is universal and straightforward. It is a story of love, lust, rivalry and infatuation. Being timeless, Carmen comes to no harm by being transposed in time or place.

I have a stunning DVD of Carmen by a South African company. It is set in Kayelitsha, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town and performed in Xhosa!

The company brought this production to London in 2001. It was a sell-out within 24 hours and the tours were extended. It was listed as one of the most important music and theatre events in London. Deservedly.



Fare game

Sir: The rail authorities have installed automatic ticket barriers at Exeter St David's station, presumably to save money on ticket inspectors and fare evasion. When I asked why there are still two ticket inspectors permanently supervising the entrance, the answer was that "health and safety" insists on their presence in case of accident involving the machines. Some saving.



Yellow Europe

Sir: Your feature on the huge area of land occupied by oilseed rape (12 May) made me recall a conversation with my father, a former airline pilot. I remarked about how much of France and England were covered in yellow fields and he said that this was how you could tell, from 37,000 feet, where the boundaries of the EU were. Present airline pilots may like to confirm if this is still the case. This would seem to indicate that the supply of oilseed rape products is determined by subsidy, rather than demand.



Sir: "The Rape of Spring"?(article, 12 May) "Garish"; "Slicks of Day-Glo yellow"; "an intercontinental crisis"? What an emotive introduction to a report that fails to find any evidence for a major role for oilseed rape in hay fever. This is a crop that produces a useful and healthy oil, which could also help to cut our carbon dioxide production.



NHS boundaries

Sir: The writer of the article "Britain is sick man of Europe for providing cancer drugs" (10 May) appears to be unaware that the responsibility for health provision in Scotland lies with the Scottish Parliament via NHS Scotland; in Wales it is the responsibility of the Assembly via NHS Wales. Nice plays no part in decision-taking in either case. There have been several reports, since devolution, of drugs becoming available in Scotland and Wales long before they were approved by Nice for England.



Don't cross them

Sir: Many years ago, in pre-democratic South Africa, there were road signs reading, "Natives cross here". A colleague from South Africa told me of having seen such a sign altered by the addition of the word "Very" before "cross", an important warning.