Letters: Green travel

No excuse for flying – until you try to book the train
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Sir: Simon Calder says there is no excuse for flying rather than taking the more environmentally friendly route through Europe (1 March). This may be true if there are no time or financial constraints.

My wife and I are planning a short visit to friends in south-west France in April, and would love to go by train. This has involved over half an hour searching the web. There is no direct timetable from St Pancras, and having found times to Paris or Lille further details have to be obtained from the SNCF site. Either route involves crossing Paris or waiting two hours for a connection at Lille. The total trip will take about 10 hours and tickets obtained via Rail Europe or an agent.

By contrast direct flights via BA take 10 minutes to find and book on the web. The journey will, even with airport check-in, take less than half the time and save at least £200 including carbon offset.

While this difference persists I regretfully cannot envisage any real chance of a move in the direction Simon Calder advocates, and which most of us would wish.

Bruce Piper


Sir: Two weekends ago I flew from Birmingham to Amsterdam on business. On my return flight on Saturday evening, I queued for about 40 minutes to have my luggage scanned at the gate, and 45 for my luggage to come to the luggage carousel (where I discovered my luggage lock had been removed, my luggage searched, and a minor item removed).

Last weekend I went to Bordeaux from St Pancras on Eurostar and then TGV, a much easier journey with few delays on check-in at the Eurostar terminals. Both the Eurostar and TGV journeys were smooth and on time, and (unlike on a British Pendolino or Voyager train) the fold-out tables on the seat backs are large enough to place one's laptop on and work without balancing papers on one's knee – a tribute to France's environmental responsibility, sensible levels of public investment and thoughtful design – and my luggage was always in sight.

J David Healey

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Referendums, the great political sham

Sir: Steve Richards (4 March) rightly reminds us that every time a national referendum has been proposed, including the one we actually had, the real purpose was to get a political party over a short-term problem. We are now even having (unofficial) referendums about whether to have a referendum!

People obsess about referendums because it is an easy concept to understand, much easier than what is actually in the Lisbon Treaty. Those who oppose the treaty, and who demand a referendum because they assume that it would make ratification less likely, should explain to us just why, for example, they want to keep the present ludicrous six-monthly rotating presidency, or the ability of one country to veto the wishes of the other 26 on crucial issues.

Alan Pavelin

Chislehurst, Kent

Sir: At last! Steve Richards is the first political commentator to point out the sham of all this talk of referendums. Politicians use them for their own ends, not as a means of giving people a real say.

We had a prime example in the north-east in 2004. Many people here wanted a regional assembly. Tony Blair didn't. So he put forward a totally unacceptable proposal that he knew people would reject, which they did by a huge majority. He could then claim that we didn't really want devolution after all, and the issue was killed stone dead.

No one is accountable for the result of a referendum. It is merely an expression of public opinion on a specific question put to them. As with our north-east referendum, it is the question you put that decides the answer you get.

It's up to Parliament to make the laws of this country. We elect them every four or five years and hold them accountable for their actions. That's how it should remain.

David Rolfe

Dipton, Co Durham

Sir: The reason that we cannot have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is that the vote would be an inevitable "no". This despite that fact that most voters would not have read the treaty or have any idea of its contents. Years of anti-European propaganda in the press, much of it led, for reasons best known to himself, by an Australian who lives in America, means that rational debate on Europe is no longer possible in this country.

Pete Barrett

Colchester, Essex

Gaza: silence from London

Sir: You rightly criticise President Bush for his supine inaction over Gaza (leading article, 3 March), but what about our so-called British political leaders?

I thought Tony Blair was meant to be the Middle East envoy? Where was his voice as the carnage raged? Are we to presume that Gaza has now been confined to his "too difficult" box, while he pursues more lucrative agendas elsewhere?

What also of the British Government? On 2 March the Foreign Secretary finally published a supine statement on the subject, which contained not a word of criticism of Israel's actions nor any constructive suggestions for progress, beyond a few tired old platitudes.

Is this the same David Miliband who publicly stated a few weeks ago that the British "had a special moral impulse to promote and foster democracy, especially in the Middle East"? Yes, this is indeed the same British Government that still refuses to talk to Hamas, the domocratically elected government of Gaza.

Even public opinion in Israel now supports the principle of such talks, and the president of the EU is openly supporting them. Shame on our "leaders".

Michael Gwilliam

Norton-on-Derwent, North Yorkshire

Sir: As a relative of many Holocaust victims, who died in Treblinka camp, I totally agree with Ruth Tenne (Letters, 3 March) that Gaza now resembles the Warsaw ghetto. To call the brutal collective punishment of the people of Gaza self-defence would be laughable if it were not tragic.

Stephen Edwards' assertion that Hamas is a threat to Israel's very existence is a well-known Israeli myth. How can a few thousand poorly trained militants with rudimentary weapons defeat hundreds of thousands of Israeli troops with the most advanced arms, nuclear weapons, and the unconditional support of the world's only superpower?

Israel could stop the rockets immediately by negotiating with Hamas. In the peace negotiations with both Egypt and Jordan recognition of Israel was not a precondition, but part of the final settlement. Why then make it a precondition for Hamas?

B Maizels

Wembley, Middlesex

What the Lib Dem leader must do

Sir: Both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable realised something that Ming Campbell and your leader writer (3 March) obviously did not – that the main job of any third party leader is to get the party noticed. To this end, last week's walkout by the Lib Dems was a good idea, whether or not you or Sir Menzies agrees. Without it, would you have run a full editorial on the party?

Ming Campbell's reported disapproval of Vince Cable's boycott of the Saudi state visit is further evidence of his lack of judgement; the boycott won the party favourable publicity when compared with Gordon Brown's white-tie grovelfest, and reminded the public that the Lib Dems are, and should be, different.

Finally, contrary to your leader writer's suggestion, the Lib Dems are not pretending they can form the Government after the next election; your own paper has reported Nick Clegg's more realistic ambition of doubling the party's representation in two elections.

The headline-repelling "statesmanship" you advocate can surely be left until that ambition has been achieved.

Allan D Forrester

Broughton, Orkney

Decline of an exotic pheasant

Sir: Your article "End of the line for Lady Amherst's pheasant" (25 February) was misleading in its attempt to blame foxes for the decline of this bird.

Lady Amherst's pheasant is not a native species and was never very common, so comparing its loss to that of the great auk, a British bird, is facile.

Lady Amherst's pheasant is a native of south-west China, south-east Tibet and upper Myanmar, where it lives on rocky slopes with dense cover at altitudes of 2,100 to 3,600 metres. There were a number of attempts to introduce it to Britain from the late 1800s, but it is hardly surprising that these never really flourished.

There was a review on the decline of this pheasant in Britain (Barry Nightingale, "The status of Lady Amherst's Pheasant in Britain", Bird Study, January 2005, volume 98, 20-25). This scientific review concluded that "habitat change, either through human activity or the natural maturation of conifer plantations, [was] probably the most significant" factor leading to its gradual population decline over the past 20 years. Hardly surprising for a species that lives on high-altitude rocky slopes with dense bush and bamboo cover.

Chris Gale

Chippenham, Wiltshire

Sir: The bizarre statement that a feral ornamental bird is being driven to "extinction" by gamekeepers "who believe they endanger fox hunts because they run rather than fly" made us check the calendar to see whether it was 1 April. Sadly, some people are predisposed to believe the worst of gamekeepers, so we would like to assure fair-minded Independent readers that the allegation is complete nonsense.

Alasdair Mitchell

National Gamekeepers Organisation, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham

Books for haughty pre-teen brats

Sir: As the mother of two young girls, I read the article on Jacqueline Wilson's latest comments with interest (3 March). Her books were introduced to my elder daughter a few years ago as a Christmas present from a relative. Within a day of reading one of them my daughter had turned into a haughty, unpleasant, brattish pre-teen. Conversations with other parents revealed identical experiences. The book was hidden and she soon turned back into her pleasant self.

Similar unpleasant behaviour was recently noted in her sister (argumentative eye-rolling etc). It emerged that she had been reading Wilson's books at primary school. They are now banned from our household.

To say that children are being catapulted into adulthood while making money out of writing storylines that do precisely that is extremely disingenuous.

Christina Purcell


Wind, water and nuclear power

Sir: You report that nuclear power requires 12,500 litres of water for every 5 MW, compared with 10,000 litres for coal and 5 litres for wind ("Water to be the next commoditised resource", 3 March). This is misleading, because the cooling water for nuclear power is not contaminated in any way.

Wind power is at least three times more expensive than nuclear power, as well as being unsightly, unreliable and damaging to the price of houses in the vicinity. Nuclear has long been the cleanest and safest generating option for the UK, and at current gas prices it is also the cheapest.

Ian McFarlane C. Eng.

Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Licensing laws under review

Sir: So the "jury's still out on 24-hour drinking" (4 March). There must be serious doubt whether such a jury will be in a sufficiently sober state to reach a balanced view on the licensing laws.

Ivor Morgan


Sir: One of the main differences between our drinking culture and those of our fellow Europeans is the practice of "buying rounds". Polite though this is, feeling obliged to stay and buy your round or hanging around for a repayment in kind must play a part in excessive consumption.

The German custom of having one's beer mat marked by the server of drinks for settlement when one leaves the group makes it possible to drink as much or as little as one feels like and to leave the group without feeling any obligation to others.

Michael du Pre

Marlow, Buckinghamshire


Spooky hair

Sir: The glaring omission from Tim Walker's list of "lethally blond"villains ("Baddy hair days", 29 February) is Robert Shaw's Smersh agent in From Russia with Love. His dark curls were given the kind of spooky peroxide treatment which scared you just to look at.

Steve Gooch

Robertsbridge, East Sussex

Free to pollute

Sir: People most certainly should not be free to make decisions on the environment (letter, 3 March). The majority always go the greedy way – cheap air travel, big cars, free shopping bags.We need firm rules and brave government, which we haven't got at the moment.

Eddie Johnson

Long Melford, Suffolk

Off to war

Sir: Now that many columns are free, as you no longer need to cover Harry Windsor in Afghanistan, you might consider providing the public with coverage of the offspring of other honourable members of society. May I suggest that you enlighten us with information about Cabinet members' offspring serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. If none such can be found, how about those of any Tory or Labour MP who voted for the Iraq invasion?

S U Sjolin

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Sir: I would urge the British media to consider a media blackout not just of Prince Harry but of all the Windsor family. For ever.

Marc Jones

Colwyn Bay, Conwy

No beauty contest

Sir: In his article on Father Ted (4 March) John Walsh mentions the Rose of Tralee Festival. Some years ago I was working in Dublin when the Rose of Tralee Festival was on. I asked a young Irish colleague about it. She explained that it was not a beauty contest, but was to do with personality, charm and artistic talent. She finished off by saying: "But I have never seen a plain girl win it."

David H Clarke

Royston, Hertfordshire

Military budgets

Sir: Bruce Anderson (3 March) comments on the lack of financing for the Army . Perhaps the Army should hold more jumble sales, as schools must do, in order to top up their funding.

Neil King

Beverley, East Yorkshire