I understand why Catholics, with their odd notion that marriage is a sacrament, would wish to refuse to conduct one for same-sex couples, but as an evangelical Christian my concern is less whether I should be compelled to do so than why on earth any same-sex couple would want me to.
Church weddings have to be conducted according to the "rites and ceremonies" of the church in question. Jumping over the inconvenience that no churches have or have ever had any rite or ceremony for such circumstances, it is without question that in any evangelical or reformed church a wedding includes a sermon on a topic of the minister's choice.
Were I ever to be obliged by the civil authorities to conduct such a wedding, my sermon would certainly include a forthright exposition of the Bible's teaching on sodomy and the evils of laws made by godless governments. If any homosexual couple and their guests were willing to sit through that for the 45 minutes or more of my average-length sermon, I suppose they would have earned the right to the piece of paper that entitles them to the very few and steadily diminishing privileges still conferred by the legal state of marriage in this country.
David P Negus
As an ordained priest of 17 years standing in the Church of England, I personally would not choose to marry a same-sex couple in a church building. I would however want my colleagues who disagree with me to have the choice to do so. The Government's approach to this issue reminds me of the phrase, "a sledgehammer to crack a nut".
The Rev Dave Thompson
So the Church of England is going to be legally forbidden from conducting gay marriages, even if the vicar and congregation want to. And, of course, the Church is also legally forbidden from having women in senior positions of authority.
In other news, the number of people describing themselves as Christian plummets. Who would have thought it, when the Church is working so hard to get into the 20th century?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if our established Church might recognise that two constituent groups which make up a significant proportion of its congregation aren't second-class citizens?
Director of Music, All Saints' Church, Kingston upon Thames
Migrants held in prison for years
The Prisons Inspectorate finds that it cannot be right that migrants have been detained by the UK Border Agency for up to nine years in Lincoln Prison ("Somalian rapist still serving time in Lincoln prison nine years after the end of his sentence", 11 December).
These are particularly shocking cases, but by no means isolated instances. The long-term detention of foreign nationals who have served prison sentences, but who cannot be deported, has become an established feature of our immigration system. The vast majority are not rapists, but minor offenders who pose little risk.
Many, like those found by the inspector, are from countries such as Somalia and Iran, to which deportation is usually impossible. This is due to court rulings about the dangers of return to Mogadishu, and the closure of the Iranian embassy in London, which makes it all but impossible to obtain travel documents.
Quite apart from the financial waste of detaining people who cannot be removed from the UK, we should be very concerned about the human cost, and the damage caused to individuals and their families by such protracted periods of detention.
While the UK continues to refuse to set a time limit for immigration detention, there is every probability that such cases will continue to occur. The time for change, surely, has come.
Director, Asylum Aid
Director, Detention Advice Service
Director, Detention Action
Director, Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees
Violence in Burma
I noted the letter on human rights in Burma (11 December). I want to make it absolutely clear that I will be raising the full range of human-rights issues directly with ministers from the Burmese government during my visit to Burma. Additionally, I have a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi where this will be on the agenda.
I also want to reassure the signatories of this letter in reiterating the Government's position that any investment in Burma needs to be undertaken in a way which supports Burma's transition to democracy.
The UK Government shares the concerns of my fellow parliamentarians and many UK citizens about the ongoing violence in Rakhine State and Kachin State; I spoke about these issues in the House only last week. Later this week, I intend to visit Rakhine State to meet people there from all sides and to stress the need for access for humanitarian aid and for a long-term solution to the violence there.
Finally, I wrote to Baroness Kinnock as Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group and offered to share my first-hand experiences with them on my return from Burma.
Minister of State for South East Asia, Foreign and Commonwealth Office,
Jeeves raises a further concern
"So the crossword imbroglio is over, Jeeves, if imbroglio is the word I want?"
"Imbroglio will serve, Sir, though I regret to say the affair has yet to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion."
"Why is that, Jeeves?"
"The assertions of a recent correspondent to the editor [11 December] notwithstanding, Sir, you will doubtless recall that while I was indeed temporarily in the employ of Sir Watkyn Bassett, I did not at any time consent to the appellation 'butler'."
"I see, Jeeves. What does 'appellation' mean? – no, never mind. Perhaps another missive from the Wooster pen would be in order?"
"I would be most grateful, Sir."
"And a fitting punishment for the crossword compiler? An evening with Madeline, perhaps?"
"A little harsh, Sir, but the experience would linger in the memory."
"Thank you, Jeeves."
"Thank you, Sir."
Hospital to blame in royal hoax
The responsibility for the protection of patient privacy lies in the application of rules laid out by those that run hospitals and the adequate training of their staff. This protocol was clearly inadequate when the King Edward VII Hospital received the hoax call from Australia recently.
The call was from a young woman, in her twenties and with a very broad Australian accent, sounding nothing like the Queen when she said: "Hello, it's the Queen here – can I inquire after my granddaughter Kate?" The Duchess of Cambridge is not the Queen's granddaughter nor is she known as Kate, but Catherine.
Whose fault is it? In the case of the Royal Family, there must be special security vetting of the bona fides of any inquiry. It is clear that these hospital staff were neither supervised nor trained, and thus unable to handle this matter.
William K Larkins
I was dismayed and disappointed to read your letters (10 December) condemning the Australian hoaxers. Of course what they did was silly, but they certainly did not really expect their call to get through! In my opinion, the hospital is entirely to blame. Clearly, it has no proper system in place for vetting phone calls to patients.
Why has the hospital's failure been glossed over? Surely heads should roll at the top.
How to measure underemployment
Having experience of underemployment at both a practical and academic level, I fully endorse Professor Sapsford's suggestion that the Office for National Statistics should take the measurement of this phenomenon much more seriously (Letter, 1 December).
The International Labour Office has been refining approaches to the measurement of underemployment for many decades, so the ONS would not be starting completely from scratch.
In addition to time-related underemployment, measured by the availability to work longer hours, the ILO also identifies "inadequate employment situations" where individuals are working at lower productivity levels than they wish to achieve. This may arise, for example, because they are in jobs that do not fully utilise their existing skills, usually resulting in low pay.
This type of underemployment is completely missing from our current measures of spare capacity in the economy.
Hard days in court
Mary Dejevsky (12 December) wrote that finding out about English Court proceedings and actually attending Court proceedings are both difficult.
I was a police officer in London for over 20 years and it was my experience that the Courts are run chiefly for the convenience of those running them. Any notion that they encourage transparency – ease of access and convenience for victims and witnesses – is, in most cases, a nonsense.
Thatcham, West Berkshire
Until recently, teachers who had been trained in the 1960s were blamed for the perceived shortcomings in schools. These teachers have now mostly retired or died. Which group of teachers will now be blamed?
Are we disloyal to the Crown if we in Guildford don't fly a Union Flag from our council offices?
H Trevor Jones