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Friday 1 May 2009
Long struggle for justice for Gurkha heroes
At last. But what a long and tortuous path the campaigners for justice for the Gurkhas have had to tread.
Is the willingness of soldiers to die for a country (particularly one that is not their own) not reason enough to be afforded a welcoming home when they retire?
I know this would have been the view of my late husband, Bill Travers, who served as a major in the 9th Gurkha Regiment for six years. His admiration for them was boundless.
All these men are heroes in their own way; they need no medals for us to recognise that, and there can be no greater heroine than Joanna Lumley, who has battled indefatigably alongside them. At last compassion, gratitude and justice have prevailed.
Horsham, West Sussex
To describe our relationship with the Gurkhas as purely contractual, as James G Fluss suggests (letter, 28 April), is as absurd as trying to describe a marriage as nothing more than a contract. They have earned, through their loyalty and courage, a relationship that deserves to be celebrated and cherished just like a good marriage. Our troops, whatever their nationality, are fighting in faraway places to increase our security at home. They have earned the right to call our home their home.
After her stunning victory over Gordon Brown, perhaps Joanna Lumley can now direct her fire at "Sir" Fred Goodwin and his pension pot.
In a fantasy world, ID cards foil crime
Could you possibly arrange for me to live in the same world as Jacqui Smith (letter, 29 April)? In that world ID cards are the new wonder cure for every social ill.
They stop crime because every burglar and murderer leaves a photocopy of their card at every crime scene. They stop terrorism because would-be bombers are dissuaded from committing atrocities because they have to have a bit of plastic that no one could possibly ever fake (and of course finding them is easier because the large identity database attached to the ID card scheme conveniently lists their occupation as "mass murderer").
In Jacqui Smith world, no one is bothered that their most personal private details are logged on to a massive government database, because civil servants and government workers don't leave laptops on trains or lose CDs in the post, and hackers and identity thieves leave such a wealth of juicy information alone.
Even battered wives fleeing abusive husbands, and young girls fleeing forced marriages feel confident that the people they are hiding from will not be able to bribe one of the tens of thousands of people with access to the database to disclose their location, because who would do such a thing?
It seems so much nicer than this grey world where £4.7bn would go a long way towards putting more police officers on the street, or beating back the rising tide of child poverty, or employing more teachers.
Jacqui Smith states that "there is no large fund of money to spend – or indeed save – if ID cards were cancelled". She then goes on to say that of the £4.7bn expected to be spent by the Identity and Passport Service over the next 10 years "only around a quarter is dedicated to ID cards".
So, over ten years, around £1.2bn could be saved if the ID card scheme is scrapped. Should we be allowing a person with such a poor grasp of economics to be voting for increases to her own salary?
Canvey Island, Essex
Jacqui Smith demonstrates just how self-deluded politicians can become when guided by their civil servants.
She asserts that ID cards will cost nothing, because their £1.2bn cost will be covered by the fees. Does she really not understand that just because the government department's accounts will show a netting-off to zero does not mean the cards are free? The cards will be compulsory, and we will all have to pay the fee, making it a disguised hypothecated tax.
Jacqui, not having the cards will save money. Honest.
UK visa rules make no sense
I enter the fray on complaints about UK visa and immigration processes, having seen my mother, Jennifer Reed, go in to bat for me (letters, 4 April) and having read Ambassador Pringle's response. I can come up with half a dozen people at any time here in Moscow who feel they have had short shrift from the visa process. The arbitrary rejections do seem to have got worse recently.
The visa-application process is by definition a service designed to frustrate and annoy and, because of the volumes and the total lack of personal contact, it will inevitably trip up bona fide applications. To be fair, speaking to people who have had to process visas, it is just as bad being on the other side of the fence. The work is tedious. People do lie. The safest route is to reject, because as a visa officer if you get it wrong and the applicant absconds, it comes back and hits you in your job evaluation.
The real issue is that the rules are silly. There should be an automatic right to a visa for spouses if you have been demonstrably married and cohabiting for many years. What are the risks the immigration authorities are trying to protect the British public from where my wife of 10 years does not have automatic right of entry to the UK but our children and I do?
Mrs Pringle stated that in 2008, six per cent of visa applications were rejected, that is 8,400 that year. If they really wanted to provide decent service they could put in place an "appeal red route" where you could meet a visa officer face to face within a week of your rejection. That would only be about 30 cases a day and would be likely to catch the unfair and the frankly stupid rejections.
Straw's titanic error on prisons
Mr Straw consults widely about building "Titan" prisons of 2,500 places each : after over a year's consultation, which showed almost universal opposition to such prisons, he scales down his size of "Titan" to 1,500: I have news for him: 1,500 is still a titan. He is continuing Labour's disgraceful policy of imprisoning about 25,000 more prisoners than necessary: I make that £875m of tax payers' money that he is throwing down the drain.
This huge expansion of the prison population is a direct result of Mr Blair's abolition of the professional probation officer. Probation officers were able to contain minor offenders in the community safely, even when they suffered from mental health, drug, behavioural, or drink problems. The probation officers would see to it that these people got the right help with their problems, and so were much less likely to offend again.
These people now go to prison instead, and receive next to no help with their problems. So they offend again and again and again, and the prisons get fuller and fuller.
The ex-prisoners are supervised on licence in the community by the tattered remnant of the probation service, obliged to behave as if they were prison officers, sending offenders back to prison at the drop of a hat. Rehabilitation in the community is dead.
Bring back the professional probation officer, Mr Straw, and you won't need to build a single prison place.
Political spin over swine flu
According to your report (30 April) Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, has stated that we have a stockpile of anti-viral drugs which is "far higher than any other country".
Why do politicians have to spin every fact and obfuscate the important information? Most people have no interest in our position in a global league table. We want to know if this country is adequately prepared in the event that swine flu becomes pandemic?
David P Stansfield
Using the Opposition's rationale that every small catastrophe in Whitehall, such as the loss of computer disks, is the personal responsibility of ministers, will they be garlanding Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, for Britain's preparedness in being almost best placed in the world for its stocks of anti-viral drugs?
Swine flu strikes and the whole world swings into co-ordinated action, guided by the decisions and opinions of scientists. Climate change promises a far more devastating threat to the human race, and governments ignore the scientific community.
I propose that climate change be redesignated "Climate Pandemic", and responsibility for a co-ordinated global response be handed over to the World Health Organisation. Having watched Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO director, on television, I would trust her to bang government heads together in order to get them to take the right steps.
I'm worried. Bird flu fever seemed to pass me by. And now I find myself immune to swine flu panic. Is there something wrong with me?
A taste of old Hollywood
Thank you, Terence Blacker (24 April). I thought I was a lone voice in believing that the Britain's Got Talent Susan Boyle programme was a carefully crafted piece of promotional artifice swallowed by a public hungry for hogwash.
The whole thing smacked of those early Hollywood films where the kid from the backwoods melts the hearts of the hard-bitten Broadway moguls at the stage audition.
The most astonishing thing was that the press bought into it. Except for Terence Blacker, whose cynicism matches mine.
Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire
May I remind Nick Knowles (Pandora, 29 April) that the BBC does not, and should not, "make a profit". Whether or not he is worth the reported £1m pay packet is another question, although I do know the answer.
My tax burden
Dominic Lawson (28 April) states that that he knows of no individual who overpays tax. I would like to inform him, through your pages, that I overpaid my income tax the the sum of £2.85 last year, an amount which was duly acknowledged but not returned by HMG. In these straitened times, every little helps our hard-pressed political masters – that works out at more than three bathplugs for an MP's second home.
If our council did not paint all those diagonal stripes down the middle of so many roads and lay down so many unnecessary fancy-coloured surfaces at roundabouts and road junctions (and perhaps put up fewer speed limit signs and cameras too?) they would be able to afford to repair a hell of a lot more potholes. ("Pothole every 120 yards on Britain's Roads", 30 April).
Sandhurst, Bracknell Forest
Philip Mottram (letter, 29 April) raised an interesting question about a possible intelligent designer of the swine flu virus. This prompts two further questions. How many intelligent designers are there and in whose interest are they working? Democratically, each species should have its own designer acting to promote its welfare. Evolution becomes a competition between designers. Would we not do better to employ Occam's razor to decapitate all these unnecessary designers and return to natural selection?
A classic still with us
I would like to reassure readers that the classic Lyle's Golden Syrup tin is alive and well and available in all good retailers ("Customers in a fizz over sweet shop favourite", 27 April). The packaging has hardly changed since 1885. While Lyle's Golden Syrup can today be served in a variety of ways, such as from the convenient plastic bottles with non-drip caps illustrated in your article, the classic tin will remain one of the most familiar sights in British kitchens.
Head of Marketing, Tate & Lyle Sugars, London EC3
I can only assume that Mark Steel was employing a subtle form of reader survey in his column (29 April ). His motive for crediting Louis Pasteur with the discovery of penicillin, a feat usually ascribed to Alexander Fleming, must surely to have been to see how many readers wrote in to correct this howler.
Barton on Humber, Lincolnshire
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