Sir: I've been following the story of gay Iranian Mehdi Kazemi, and his fight to avoid deportation from Britain to punishment or death in his homeland. My news medium has been the web.
Consistently, for the past week or more, The Independent has taken the lead in covering this story. You've argued this young man's need for British asylum with logic, with courage, and with heart. I hope and pray that Mr Brown's government is similarly logical and courageous. And I take heart from the 6 March statement by the Prime Minister's spokesman, who said the Government would not remove anyone who it believed was at risk on return to his or her homeland. Who can possibly doubt that Mehdi Kazemi would be in dire peril if sent back to Iran?
Margot P Scandrett
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Sir: As a director/trustee of a fairly substantial national organisation I am always being told of the importance of "risk management". I am constantly being warned that, if someone dies as a result of my neglect of their welfare and safety or my failure to address known risks, I may well be liable to prosecution and indeed severe penalties for corporate manslaughter.
Would it be beyond the wit of human rights organisations, churches and other like-minded groups to bring a civil action for corporate manslaughter against the Home Secretary, or whoever is responsible for the asylum and immigration system, if in fact they deport Mehdi Kazemi or his like back to a pretty sure fate in his homophobic homeland? Or does risk management and the corporate manslaughter legislation not apply to government? Do as we say, not as we do?
Lindfield, West Sussex
Brown's only answer: impose more taxes
Sir: I write as a Labour voter since I have been eligible, having placed my X for the party in all elections throughout the last 28 years. My father, a union activist, for many years ran the party committee rooms in my home town; from the age of eight I was on the streets pushing leaflets through doors during campaigns. This is now ended.
Since the Budget, I shall now be looking to cast my vote to count against Labour, which in my tight constituency of Warrington South will therefore be for the Conservative. I would rather see the Tories in than experience another parliament under Brown's Labour. I won't be alone. My message to Labour MPs in marginal constituencies looking to save their jobs is get rid of Brown.
Brown appears to have only one tactic to address significant social issues, and that is to tax.
We have a problem with teenage culture on the streets, fuelled by alcohol. His answer to this is to tax beer in the pubs, which are already closing at the rate of four a week, and wine, though unless I'm mistaken Chateauneuf du Pape isn't exactly the drink of choice for the average 15-year-old. A crisis in our youth behaviour is being used as a cover to extract more money from an already overtaxed law-abiding majority.
Similarly, he's going to tax plastic carrier bags to discourage their use. Why, since he rightly recognises that they need to be eliminated, doesn't he start a process towards banning them? Might it be that a ban doesn't add to his already multitudinous means for taking money out of our pockets? He could have moved towards solving a significant problem, but instead he's used it to fill his coffers.
Sir: We have had high road fuel taxes for years but traffic continues to grow. Now Alistair Darling's timid tinkering with taxes on cars and air travel confirms that green taxes do not work. Politicians will never have the political courage to raise green taxes as high as they need to be.
A much better alternative is a system of Personal Carbon Allowances, controlled by an independent body in much the same way that interest rates are controlled by the Bank of England. This frees politicians from the temptation to meddle.
Another advantage of PCAs is that, if the right number of allowances is issued, there will be at least as many winners as losers. With green taxes, we are all losers.
Dr Gerry Wolff
Menai Bridge, Anglesey
Sir: Instead of the winter fuel allowances for pensioners, which, in many cases, will just result in a more profligate use of energy and better Christmas presents for the family, it would make more sense to provide draughtproofing and any other measures that are needed, not only to reduce the cost of heating but also to reduce carbon emissions.
If allowances must be paid, why can't they be part of the annual pension, and thereby eliminate the administrative costs of this political tokenism?
Sir: Cynicism abounds in the press, but unfairly I believe. I can see the logic in Mr Darling's Budget. Fourpence on mild and bitter beers and a hefty increase in the price of fine wines will inevitably send the gangs and undesirables scurrying indoors, all a-tremble, to finish the homework; pensioners and families will once more be able to unlock doors and emerge after dusk to reclaim their streets.
Halifax, West Yorkshire
Robust law against forced marriage
Sir: I strongly disagree with Deborah Orr's assertion in her comment piece (12 March) that "there was much disappointment and some measure of disgust, when the Forced Marriage Act stopped short of making forced marriage a criminal offence".
On the contrary, the Government consulted in detail on this and the majority of responses from stakeholders and voluntary groups with great experience in this area showed that victims do not wish to criminalise the behaviour of their families. It was widely felt that if forced marriage were criminalised it could be driven underground by the victims' refusal to co-operate with the police. The decision against criminalising forced marriage was therefore not, as Deborah suggests, a result of misguided deference to "cultural differences".
The Forced Marriage Act offers robust civil remedies to those seeking protection, by enabling them to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. This will allow the court to order the behaviour or conduct of those responsible to change or stop, or to impose requirements on them. Importantly the Act also provides for the court to attach a power of arrest to an order if it considers that the respondent has used or threatened violence. Breach of an order is not a criminal offence, but dealt with as contempt of court. Where a person is in contempt, the court will have its full range of powers available, including imprisonment.
I should also make it clear that the police and courts will be able to treat many of the practices associated with forced marriage, such as kidnap and assault, as criminal offences and deal with them accordingly.
I firmly believe that the approach taken by the Act will provide real protection for those at risk.
Bridget Prentice MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice, London SW1
CND maintains right to protest
Sir: Given the recent ruling banning protest camps at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston (report, 8 March) the need to reaffirm our right to protest, alongside our opposition to nuclear weapons, is clearer than ever.
It is good news indeed that the Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp has gone ahead last weekend as planned. But I can also reassure those planning to join us on Easter Monday that the police have agreed to lift the by-laws temporarily for the event. So there is no threat of arrest, on this occasion, for anyone taking part.
In fact, the High Court actually struck down the law preventing banners and signs being attached to the fence. So let's make the most of it.
Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, London N7
English 'identity' lostamid Britishness
Sir: I am confused by Lord Goldsmith's proposals for a new bank holiday to celebrate Britishness. If "events in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could be tailored to reflect their identities", shall we English be the only ones celebrating Britishness?
Alternatively, shall we also be able to tailor events to reflect our identity – in which case what is the point of the day? Surely the whole concept depends on all four "identities" celebrating those things they have in common, not those which are individual to them.
By the way, my spellchecker throws up "brutishness" for "Britishness".
D J Walker
Sir: Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond doesn't like the proposals for an oath of allegiance . The Welsh are none too keen either. So what about us English? Do we not get to have a say? The answer of course is no, because, unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we do not have an English First Minister to speak for us. Instead we have the Right Honourable Member for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath.
Books that children should not see
Sir: Does the Bishop of Lancaster really think that works critical of the Catholic religion can be compared to material denying the Holocaust? ("Ban anti-Catholic books in our schools, says bishop", 13 March).
There is a vast amount of impressive documentary and other evidence concerning the facts of the Holocaust, which can be presented to people in doubt. It may not convince them, but it would be part of a logical argument. The beliefs taught in Catholic schools, as in most other religious schools, are incapable of any kind of logical proof. Pupils are expected to accept them with very little reasoned argument.
"Given the age range of children in schools," says the bishop, "there is certain material that you do not put in front of them." He is quite right, but I know that he and I will not make the same choices.
Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire
Sir: By its definition, nothing is sacred to the non-believer, but, to me, the right to read books without fear of censorship by the Catholic Church comes pretty close.
'Ladettes' defy the girlie image
Sir: I was disturbed by Jeremy Legg's assumption (Letters, 11 March) that "every little girl's dream" is to end up as a "fairytale princess". Apart from the obvious stereotyping of this Neanderthal suggestion, he is wrong. As a child, my "dream" was to be a hero (sex undetermined, but I would save boys in acts of derring-do and I would fight on the side of the Red Indians) and I experienced considerable confusion when at my grammar school we were told to "run like boys, gels" on the sports field but behave like "ladies" everywhere else.
I have grown up to be a reasonably well-adjusted adult, have two daughters and have always followed my strong feminist principles in providing for my family and taking pride in this. I never wanted to be any kind of princess in a gilded cage.
Mr Legg, and other like-minded people, might just consider that in behaving in "laddish" ways, however misguided, these girls he deplores might have been striving to throw off the girlie image they disliked, and to assert themselves in the only way open to them given their social circumstances. Certainly their behaviour would have been undesirable, but only as people, not particularly as females; the boys in their areas might also have been guilty of anti-social behaviour, but that seems to be at least condoned as they are "lads".
Susan I Harr
Hull, East Yorkshire
Break for family firms
Sir: A tax fiddle is still a tax fiddle, even if Mary Dejevsky wraps it in "family" ("Family businesses don't deserve persecution by tax", 11 March). As an employee, I cannot reduce my tax by untruthfully claiming that my lower-taxed wife does half my work – so why should the self-employed be allowed to do so? Let's have some fairness.
Sir: Johann Hari (13 March) seems (yet again) to have highlighted the obvious point: in the forthcoming US presidential election, for which we are now witnessing the primaries, McCain knows he can beat the Billaries, but is a lot less confident of beating Barack Obama. In fact, he might well lose. Given this screamingly obvious point, the selection of a Democratic candidate would seem to be a no-brainer. Perhaps some Democrat from across the water (who isn't a closet Republican) could explain why it's taking them so long to come to the right conclusion.
Israel and Geneva
Sir: Rob Hester (letter, 13 March) ignores the collective punishment of the Israeli citizens subjected to an almost daily barrage of rockets fired from Gaza. And Israel has left the Gaza strip, and is negotiating with the Palestinian Authority to reach a peace agreement based on resolution 242. That resolution does not call for Israel to leave all the territories but to withdraw to recognised borders. The negotiations will determine the final borders between the two states. Until an agreement is reached, Israel will defend its citizens to the best of its ability.
Dr Jacob Amir
Staying with Lib Dems
Sir: I was astonished to read Dominic Lawson's article (29 February), implying that I threatened to resign from the Liberal Democrats and rejoin the Labour Party unless Sir Menzies Campbell, the then leader, abandoned the policy of holding a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. There is absolutely no truth in this allegation. Menzies Campbell has confirmed he has no recollection whatsoever of any such threat from me at any time.
Baroness Williams of Crosbyhouse of Lords
Sir: In your admirable obituary of Norm O'Neill (13 March) it states that the Australian cricket team that visited England in 1956 were routed by English sinners. Was this a typo for "spinners", or is there some awful secret that I have missed out on? I am always the last to hear team gossip.