Letters: Fixed terms for Parliament

British democracy goes its own unpredictable way

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You report that the Cabinet is considering fixed terms for Parliament. How deeply have they considered the full implications of such a move?

Consider what might had happened if President Obama had lost his bid for a reformed health service. By all accounts he would have been almost incapacitated for the rest of his fixed term – the best part of four years. But if the American system had been more like ours, there might have been an immediate election.

The flexibility in lengths of parliaments, and hence of governments, is one of the most important features of our democratic system and its loss would be serious as the loss of one-member constituencies if a fully proportional pattern of voting were introduced. I trust that the Labour party will not be crazy enough to include a commitment to fixed terms in it manifesto.

David W Lloyd

Harlow, Essex

Local councils are not the only accurate predictors of the general election date (letter, 6 April). In February I replaced my boiler under the Government's scrappage scheme. The rebate voucher from the Energy Saving Trust mysteriously had an expiry date of 6 May, even though that date had no relation to when I applied for the rebate or the date it was issued. Were they trying to tell me something?

John Wells

West Wittering, West Sussex

Bed and breakfast for gay couples

The homophobic comments made by Chris Grayling not only raise the issue of illegal homophobia seemingly being tolerated by the Conservative Party, but also the greater issue of why religious groups feel they should be permitted to discriminate illegally against specific groups in society.

Following a religion is a lifestyle choice, basically a hobby. Age, disability, gender, race and sexuality, the five categories against which it is illegal to discriminate in this country, are not lifestyle choices, they are natural human conditions. It is completely unacceptable for any group who choose to follow a religion to be allowed to break the law by discrimination.

I choose to follow a religion, which I celebrate openly with other followers on a regular basis – it is supporting my football team. If we were ever to discriminate against one particular group we would quite rightly be prosecuted. If it is unacceptable for the BNP to discriminate on the basis of race, it must be unacceptable for church or religious groups to do likewise on the basis of sexuality.

Alan Edwards

Worthing, West Sussex

It is high time religious organisations realised that religious liberty is not the same thing as the right to discriminate.

The Human Rights Act upholds the right to hold religious beliefs and manifest such belief "subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others" (article 9). Under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations of 2007, it is illegal to refuse goods and services on the grounds of sexuality.

Christians who complain that their liberty is threatened are entirely missing the point. No one is forcing them to open a B&B. The moment they advertise and open their doors to the public, however, it is the public as a whole that they are open to.

David Marjoribanks

Canterbury

What is the difference between refusing bed and breakfast to a black couple and a "harmless" gay couple (Johann Hari, 5 April)?

The colour of a person's skin is not moral behaviour. To be gay is behaviour about which a moral judgment has to be made. Hence the qualification, "harmless".

The real question is, in a democracy, how much freedom should people be allowed to decide who they have in their own homes (not hotels). Should not a liberal society necessarily allow conscientious, and rational, difference of opinion about moral behaviour to be expressed and acted on?

R W Standing

East Preston, Sussex

What with his support for householders who beat up fleeing intruders and for B&B proprietors who flout anti-discrimination laws, Chris Grayling would seem to have a strange attitude to abiding by the law, for someone who aspires to be the next Home Secretary. I wonder if he will be as sympathetic to those who commit crimes in the name of principles that are less in tune with his own?

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

In my experience most B&B double rooms contain two single beds, and one double room is cheaper than two single ones. If two females or two males book a double room, who is to know they are homosexual unless they themselves make it obvious (such as by requesting a room with double bed). Surely two friends may share a room. What they do inside it is entirely their own affair.

Carol Plackett

Newcastle upon Tyne

Chris Grayling should be allowed, if not encouraged, to continue in his current post. It is through such unwitting candour that the prevailing beliefs at his party's core are revealed.

William Major

Wincanton, Somerset

Crazy ban on Iraqi artists

The lunatic exclusion of Iraqi artists from visiting Britain for an exhibition (report, 3 April) is a trivial but illuminating example of how excessive immigration restrictions are seriously damaging the recovery.

Here in Hastings, where we earn £35m a year from language students, we are at particular risk. The bizarre requirement to wait four weeks before recruiting non-EU skilled workers must be increasingly damaging, especially as there is no certainty that local workers, even if available, will be as competent.

How times have changed. In my youth, when Oswald Mosley demanded similar restrictions, the National Employed Workers Movement (the Jarrow hunger marchers) organised a demonstration demanding that asylum-seekers should be admitted. Whatever happened to unity among the "workers of the world"?

The excluded Iraqi artists are a testament to the moral disintegration of 21st-century Labour Britain.

Derek J Cole

St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

You have properly carried coverage of Dame Nuala O'Loan's report into the UK Border Agency. However, there are three serious inaccuracies in your coverage.

First, you suggest the agency or ministers tried to deny these allegations when they first came to light. This is not true. I asked for details so I could investigate.

Second, you continue to refer to allegations numbering in the hundreds. Your reports have variously mentioned 200 or 300 allegations or complaints, and on 12 March you reported that asylum groups were able to hand over a dossier of 300 complaints. In fact, 48 allegations from 46 individuals were identified in that dossier. It is simply irresponsible to continue pretending that you or anyone else uncovered a cache of hundreds of disputed cases.

Third, you state that the report backs your claims that asylum seekers were abused by security guards. That is simply not supported by Dame Nuala's report. She found a complaints system that was not always capable of dealing adequately and fairly with complaints about the use of force, but recognised there have already been significant improvements. She categorically found that "there was no evidence of systemic abuse".

Lin Homer

Chief Executive, UK Border Agency, Croydon, Surrey

How to tackle the budget deficit

There is a way to take out the levels of public spending needed to impact upon the deficit.

Much of the deficit is recurring public service costs, much of which are the costs of failure. These are the billions of pounds spent on drink and drug rehabilitation, educational under-achievement, lifetimes on benefits, the costs of policing, prisons, courts, teenage pregnancy, and above all the ongoing costs of poor parenting.

The deficit can be reduced by all parties coming to an agreement on how to address the failure in the first place. This would save billions upon billions of pounds, not just for one year as short-term frontline service cuts do, but for every subsequent year.

This can be achieved by intervening early in the life of babies, children and young people, so that instead of becoming a drain upon the taxpayer these children grow up to be productive, capable and well-rounded individuals. Early intervention spots problems before they happen, and with a small initial investment this virtuous circle can begin.

If all parties are willing to discuss this matter seriously then an agreed framework for future public spending could be put in place very swiftly. This would command widespread public support and begin the united approach which tackling the deficit and our social dysfunction deserves.

Graham Allen MP

(Lab, Nottingham North)

House of Commons

Those reckless young people

Young people are risk takers, whether taking drugs ("Drug ban chaos", 3 April), or embarking on "risky expeditions", Independent Life, 5 April), and there is a reason for this in brain development during adolescence – apart from just being plain bolshie.

Evidence using brain imaging shows that major reconstruction occurs between teens and early 20s (well described in the New Scientist, April 2009). Cerebral pruning removes unused neural connections made during the early growth spurt, and what is left is slowly stabilised.

One area is the prefrontal cortex, which is concerned with judgement, control of impulses and making decisions. During this reconstruction it is not surprising that this age group does not appreciate the long-term consequences of its actions.

What is needed is guidance and sympathy. Over-hasty banning of a drug will be counterproductive.

Dr Richard Paterson

Flushing, Cornwall

Briefly...

Gurkha warning

Now that it has been reported that Joanna Lumley was allegedly warned that the Gurkha charity was charging veterans, (report, 5 April) can we expect her to apologise to Kevan Jones and to the Prime Minister?

Peter Metcalfe

Stevenage, Hertfordshire

Banks and charities

Martin Kyrle's letter (30 March) raises an issue which is of great importance to many charities. My experience of the banks' attitude to the deposit of charity moneys has been identical to his. Answers are needed to two questions: why do the banks discriminate against charities by declining to pay interest on deposits which would attract interest if made by individuals, and what efforts (if any) have been made by the Government and the Charity Commission to end this discrimination?

David Blackburn

York

Battle for railways

I liked Michael Williams's elegiac article on the British love affair with the railway (3 April); it is a pity that he felt the need to bookend it with swipes at Bob Crow. Mr Crow and his members have legitimate concerns for the maintenance of a workable railway in this country, not just for their jobs. He often highlights the iniquitous way in which the whole enterprise is run for the benefit of franchisees and shareholders. The single biggest disincentive to railway use is price and price structure.

Terry Walsh

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Towering folly

Boris Johnson is to be congratulated in choosing the perfect sculpture to symbolise the state of our culture ("A monumental graceless tower", 6 April). On the point of collapse, chaotic, unfocused, devoid of meaning, this ode to bigness (Big Government, Big Business, Big Banks, Big Corporations, Big Society, Big Ideas) celebrates the triumph of size over quality. Tortuous and undecided, this unstable form reflects our agonised confusion over our most pressing problems: democracy, foreign wars, climate change. Brilliant too is the official choice of a name, ArcelorMittal Orbit – ugly, unpronounceable and impossible to remember.

Jim McCluskey

Twickenham, Middlesex

Sex-change Doctor?

Sorry, but Liz Hoggard (5 April) is wrong. The Doctor cannot regenerate as a woman. There are female Time Lords, but the male ones regenerate as males, and the females as female. We can be certain of that not only because of our previous encounters on Gallifrey with the Time Lords, but also from observing their society, where, if male Time Lords could regenerate into females there would have been more females on the High Council.

Ruth Coomber

Needham Market, Suffolk

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