Gordon Brown's plan to cut the number of Britain's nuclear weapons submarines from four to three has caught the headlines, but is unlikely on its own to achieve the goal of making substantial savings in the defence budget or signalling that Britain is committed to global disarmament.
According to the 2006 defence White Paper, the cost of replacing the four Vanguard class submarines will amount to between £11bn and £14bn, suggesting that the saving from cancelling one is likely to be no more than £3.5bn. Although this would represent a useful contribution to a reduction in public spending, it is only a small proportion of the cost of the programme to replace Trident, which has been credibly estimated at £97bn.
Moving from four submarines to three is unlikely to lead to progress in disarmament negotiations, unless it is backed up by a change in Britain's nuclear posture. Unless there are changes in the number of UK warheads and their alert state, the number of submarines in the fleet has limited practical relevance.
As the next step in Britain's contribution to gradually drawing down the world's nuclear fire-power, Gordon Brown should announce that the Trident submarines will be taken off continuous patrol. This would reduce operating costs, extend the life of the current fleet, and demonstrate good faith towards eventual disarmament. A reduction in the number of warheads deployed and a moratorium on upgrading or developing new warheads would serve as a further confidence-building measure and allow savings in the investment programme at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment – currently costing £1bn per year.
Such actions would demonstrate Britain's commitment to the global programme to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and save money without compromising national security.
Director, Nuclear Information Service, Reading
Law Officer falls foul of her own law
As a rarely roused, non-aligned member of the public, I am staggered at the behaviour of the Government with regard to Lady Scotland.
"She is very good at her job," I heard a Labour politician remark. She has demonstrated she is a total failure at her job. She has produced a law, of which she of all people should have known the technicalities, and fallen foul of it. This proves that not only is she incompetent but also lacks propriety and integrity.
In any earlier age a politician guilty of such an oversight would have resigned immediately. Today our politicians do not have the insight to recognise their misdemeanours and "bumbling Brown" does not have the authority to tell them to go.
It's no wonder that the public have lost all faith in those who claim to represent them.
It's always amusing to see the high and mighty hoist by their own petard. But at least Baroness Scotland had the decency not to take the informal advice recently given to me by a member of staff in the Department of Employment: "Don't employ blacks or people with foreign accents - it's just not worth the paperwork."
John Eoin Douglas
Laurence Williams (letter, 23 September.) asks what the difference is between an oversight and "simply breaking the law". The difference has been clearly expressed for centuries in two words: mens rea – guilty intent.
Baroness Scotland's offence was one of thousands of "absolute offences", many or most created by the present government, which can be committed through inadvertence, error or ignorance without any criminal intent whatever.
This is another example of one of those English irregular verbs: I made an administrative oversight; you committed a technical breach; he broke the law.
J T Davies
Planet looks to US leadership
It is true that the US engagement will be vital to securing agreement to tackle climate change at the UN talks in Copenhagen (leading article, 22 September) – but not all polluters are equal.
Rich countries, who have pumped out emissions for hundreds of years and grown prosperous from this way of life, bear the greatest responsibility for causing climate change. Even now, US emissions amount to 20 tonnes per capita and India just one tonne. It is only fair that the world's richest nations cut their emissions first and fast – millions of people in developing countries are already feeling the effects of global warming in the form of drought, famine, floods and crop failure. If unchecked, this will be just a taste of things to come.
Gordon Brown, Barack Obama and other G8 leaders must show leadership and cut their own emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020 at home – without carbon offsetting. Developing countries must play their part too, but with new money from rich countries, to grow cleanly and adapt to the impacts of global warming that are already putting millions of lives, and millions more livelihoods, at risk.
We need a strong and fair agreement in Copenhagen to safeguard the planet's future – and as the world's greatest historical polluter, America must rise to the challenge before us all.
Head of International Climate
Friends of the Earth, London N1
Even with some recent warnings of the seriousness of global warming, such as those from Lord Stern and James Hanson, the importance of the continuing rise in temperature is missing from accounts such as your otherwise excellent article "Warning: climate change will damage your health" by Michael McCarthy (16 September).
Limiting further rises in global temperature is surely not enough. We are already experiencing serious progressive global changes at the present temperature. Can we actually lower world temperature. How do we do it? If we don't then the evidence of an inevitable progressive breakdown of the ecology is compelling.
The other massive problems such as saving energy, excessive use of dwindling resources and reduction of the CO2 accumulation cannot be ignored. This is a plea to attend to the top priority, cool the earth, vastly difficult though it may be. I think (as James Lovelock does) it is close to being too late, since we are already experiencing the fastest mass extinction of species ever.
Dr Christopher B Wolff
Farce of Middle East peace talks
Again we go through this stupid farce of the Israeli PM and the Palestinian leader meeting in the same room, as if this will produce progress.
Israel is a rogue nation. It has both the atomic bomb and a huge advantage over its neighbours in conventional weapons. It invades and occupies its neighbours' lands in continuous violation of UN resolutions. It wants no peace treaty that will not leave it in full possession of its conquests.
Indeed it would seem that any Israeli government prepared to negotiate on a return to its former borders would fall and be replaced by an even more hard-line regime. How can we ever take the moral high ground with states such as Iran and North Korea when we continue to turn a blind eye to its behaviour?
The only move that would ever bring it to the negotiating table, offering real concessions, is the threat of the ending of its special status with the US in terms of arms supply and the subsidy to its economy.
Meanwhile occasional terrorism is the Palestinians' only feeble weapon against a military juggernaut.
Chris Ryecart (letter, 22 September) suggests that Israel should comply with the "50-plus UN Security Council Resolutions that it is currently in breach of".
Has anyone ever questioned why the United Nations devotes such a disproportionate amount of its security resolutions toward Israel, when other nations in breach of similar or worse cases than Israel don't get a fraction of the attention and criticism that Israel does? I suspect that the UN is anti-Israel to its very core, otherwise Israel wouldn't be the nation that holds the record for the most Security Council resolutions passed against it since the UN's inception.
Bangor, Co Down
BBC has to cater for all viewers
Dominic Lawson only watches a few BBC shows and resents being forced to pay for Saturday night entertainment that he does not watch (Opinion, 22 September). I suspect that his more expensive tastes are being heavily subsidised by the large numbers of people who enjoy these relatively cheap shows.
The BBC is not unique in subsidising minority programming. But, unlike Sky, it is actually obliged to try to cater for all viewers. Would Sky fund loss-making arts channels if it were not trying to show that we do not need the BBC? What might it charge for those channels if it won that argument?
And once the BBC has gone, which Aunt Sally will the newspapers move on to next?
No right to tax mansions
The surtax on houses worth more than £1m proposed by Vince Cable is wrong in principle, which is a far more serious flaw than its unworkability.
Taxing income is generally accepted as fair; taxing spending similarly. However, the mansion tax would be a tax on having, for which there is no moral justification.
A house is purchased from earnings which have already been taxed, and the transaction is taxed through the payment of stamp duty. Running the house involves paying several taxes – income tax, VAT, council tax, TV licence – but these are all identified with goods or services acquired or received. The passive owning of a property should not be subject to tax.
Passing on the morris tradition
How refreshing to read an article about Morris Dancing which is not an attempt to get a cheap laugh at the expense of a traditional activity with thousands of participants, and which entertains hundreds of thousands of people each year ("Strictly morris", 21 September).
Your glossary, however, missed out one of the most important members of a Morris team, the Foreman, whose job it is to teach the dances to the team. Not only must the Foreman be a very experienced dancer with a wide knowledge of dances from a range of traditions, but must also possess the ability and patience to teach to a group of people of widely varying ability, experience and age.
Foreman, New St George Morris, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
I can tell Chris Payne (letter, 23 September) the reason why "talented and popular" Helen Goddard has been jailed for 15 months. It is to deter other teachers from having sex with their pupils.
Your headline "Police hunt for elderly couple" (21 September), made me so cross. Elderly! People of 67 and 70 are not elderly, not these days. At this age, the world is our oyster and we do travel the world, go on expeditions, and absorb, at leisure, all that is new. We have the time to do all that we could not do when working and our motto is carpe diem – with both hands.
It is inaccurate to cast Germany's Free Democrats as equivalents of UK Tories (report, 18 September). The FDP's internationalist, pro-EU outlook is completely at odds with the narrow nationalism of many Tories. And also unlike the Tories, the FDP is instinctively progressive on social issues. The FDP belongs to the same pan-EU political group as the UK Liberal Democrats.
I agree with Tom Sutcliffe (22 September) about the pointless and annoying question "Everything all right with your meal?" In one pub chain we actually did complain, that my companion's "flaked mackerel" actually only had one flake. The waiter (obviously a student) went to speak to the "chef" (or microwave oven operator), who said nothing could be done, as "That's how they come packaged." No offer of something else, or a refund. The waiting staff have no power to correct anything wrong, so why ask?
In the Big Question on Britain's declining cheddar industry (22 September) you state that the cheese-loving King Charles I reigned from 1625 to 1642. While it may indeed be true that our dairy farmers are facing the chop, the cheese loving monarch didn't do likewise until 1649.