Sir: The proposal to withdraw access to primary care from asylum seekers, as well as being morally abhorrent, will also waste vast amounts money.
Access to anti-HIV treatment has already been withdrawn, and as a result we have seen many asylum-seekers presenting with complications of HIV which then require prolonged and complex treatment, often in intensive-care units, at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds each time. In many cases this could have been avoided were fairly simple and inexpensive antiretroviral treatments made available.
If we withdraw primary care altogether, many more of these people will become severely ill and present to hospitals at an advanced stage of illness, placing a much greater burden on health services. The government proposals can therefore be defended neither from a moral perspective nor from an economic one. Prevention is better, and cheaper, than cure.
Dr Richard Dillon
Intensive Care Unit, University College Hospital, London NW1
Sir: I was pleased to see that doctors are refusing to co-operate with the Government's perpetual attack on the basic human rights of "failed asylum-seekers". Having volunteered with a charity desperately trying to house hundreds of such people in Manchester, I continue to be appalled at the new levels of discrimination and difficulty they face each day.
While there are wars and disasters in the world, there will be refugees in need of protection, some of whom will find themselves in Britain. No efforts to reduce the number of people granted asylum will change the fact that they exist. There are thousands who would rather stay in Britain and face destitution than return to their countries of origin. For many people I have met, it is a matter of life or death.
The Government must choose whether to treat these people with dignity and respect, or to make their lives a misery. Many doctors, social workers and other public servants enter their professions out of concern for people, whatever their political status or citizenship. The Government asks these people to undermine the very foundations of their profession, and the core values of British health and social care systems, by calling on them to discriminate against refused asylum-seekers.
Salford, Greater manchester
Hain: decline of a left-wing hero
Sir: The real tragedy of the Peter Hain affair is not incompetence but political integrity. No one demonstrates more vividly how, when junking Clause 4 and socialist politics, New Labour also got rid of the idea that one was in politics for any other reason than self-enrichment or personal advancement.
I first became active in anti-war and anti-racist politics in 1970 as a schoolchild, directly as a result of Peter Hain's leadership of the campaign to stop the Springbok rugby players touring this country. The boycott of sport played an important role in isolating apartheid. Hain, a political refugee from a regime where even the Liberal party was banned, was a symbol of all that was best and most decent in British politics.
Hain later went on to support the fight against Britain's newly resurgent fascists by supporting the Anti-Nazi League before deserting the Young Liberals for the Labour Party.
What is truly shocking is not whether or not Hain properly declared the monies he received but the fact that the rich and powerful would seek to donate nearly £200,000 to his campaign in the first place. In his younger days he would have been the first to cry foul and ask what they wanted. But clearly Iraq, PFI and now attacks on benefit claimants have dulled his political senses.
Sir: One of the least edifying and most corrosive aspects of ministers' behaviour during the last few years has been their failure to recognise when they should resign. By clinging on to their jobs when it was clear to most that they should go, numerous ministers have made it absolutely clear that their own interests come first, not those of country.
The electorate has not necessarily lost faith in government because mistakes are made or laws are broken, but because those responsible do not accept responsibility for their own actions.
Sir: Interesting as donations to MPs and political parties, and how they must be recorded, is, should we not also be asking why MPs need hundreds of thousands of pounds to stand for the deputy leadership of their party? And millions to run their shadow offices?
Southend on Sea
Tax holds key to local democracy
Sir: Steve Richards asks how we achieve local innovation and accountability in local government when central government raises the money and has responsibility for overall standards (Opinion, 15 January). Quite right, Steve, that is the nub of the argument.
Back in 1976 the Layfield Committee identified the problem. It stated that any new system had to be clearly accountable and that those responsible for spending money should be responsible for raising the revenue too "so that the amount of expenditure is subject to democratic control". The answer for Layfield was some form of local income tax.
It is agreed that most of us pay a great deal of tax, both direct and indirect. As far as the direct bit is concerned, why can't some of it be retained locally instead of it all disappearing in that black hole called the Treasury, to be doled out to local councils and police authorities by formulae that most people fail to understand.
Top that up with a simplified form of property tax and you have a sum of money which local councillors could spend according to the wishes of their electorate. I'd rather that money be directly accountable to elected members rather than simply be given to some remote unelected quango.
If local politicians make mistakes, then they can be punished at the ballot box. By giving real power to local authorities, we might just rekindle an interest in local government and encourage more able people to stand for election if they thought that it really could make a difference.
Sir: Steve Richards explores the way that all political parties are proposing devolving more power to local people, away from centralised government. An excellent aim – but the obvious consequence will be that service provision will then vary from region to region, as priorities and competence will not be nationally uniform.
No problem there, except that it will result in such a spate of carping about "post-code lotteries" that government will then be obliged to centralise power again.
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
A faith school for the community
Sir: As a governor of an inner-city Church of England primary school in central London, I just don't recognise the stereotype of faith schools currently being bandied about by people such as Andrew Copson (letter, 15 January)
Far from destroying the idea of a community school, our admissions policy deliberately gives priority to children living in what is quite a small parish. Some priority is given to families who can prove that they are genuinely committed church attenders, but because they form only a small minority of the population most of our children are drawn from a non-Christian, predominantly Muslim population. Only at the second stage do we admit children from a further, very limited area which includes the most socially deprived ward in London.
As a result, we have a genuine community school and are certainly not in the grip of ambitious, parents from outside the area, who have suddenly or temporarily become Christians. Many local Muslim parents actively seek places in Anglican schools because, unlike many secular schools, we do not ignore or pour scorn on the whole idea of taking religion seriously; and it's this, of course, that really annoys Andrew Copson. Non-Christians are regularly elected to our board as parent governors and we welcome them as colleagues.
Nor have we ever practised academic selection; we have always refused to give priority to children from our own nursery department and as for Mr Copson's claim that we are not governed by the same curriculum rules as other schools, we are just as subject, for better or for worse, to the National Curriculum and testing regime as everybody else is.
Dr Robert Bell
The result of failing to lock up criminals
Sir: Garry Newlove should be alive today ("Three teenagers convicted of kicking father to death", 17 January). He is dead mainly due to the Blair – now Brown – government's decision to be soft on law and order in our society.
Refusal to spend taxpayers' money on building new prisons meant policies, post-1997, that resulted in anti-social and criminal youths being allowed back on the streets by judges and magistrates – to commit further crime. It demotivated the police, further compounding the fight against crime.
The Government's no-show in fighting anti-social behaviour and crime took a turn for the worse when it allowed the supply of cheap alcohol across 24 hours, seven days a week.
The proper Christian practice of exorcism
Sir: It is not often that I find myself in agreement with Johann Hari , but I share many of his concerns about exorcism (Opinion, 17 January). However, as a Christian and sometime trainee pastor in the Pentecostal church, I feel I should address some of the points he raises.
Exorcism, also known as deliverance, is consistently misunderstood, often by its most ardent practitioners. Practised correctly, it results in freedom for people who may have suffered torments over many years. Malpractice results in the afflicted suffering even more.
Malpractice may occur where Scripture is misunderstood. Jesus' ministry to the demon-possessed clearly was based on love and compassion. Scripture tells us that Jesus "drove out the spirits with a word" (Matthew 8:16); there are no threats, whipping or starvation here. Jesus explains that some demons may only come out through prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29), but it is the minister who is expected to fast, not the victim.
The experiences of the unfortunate Clarice, whipped and starved during an "exorcism" in Congo, are not representative of the mainstream practice of deliverance. Sadly, much of what goes on at the fringes of church life in some countries is a hotchpotch of Christian examples misunderstood and misapplied, together with local superstitions that have no place in Christianity.
I sympathise with Mr Hari's judgement that Christians seem to be engaged in trench warfare against Satan. In one sense, we are. However, the front line is not to be found amongst those who are suffering from mental illness or demonic torment, and it is sad when churches or individual Christians spend all their time looking for demons where there are none rather than concentrating on the Gospel basics, which, as Mr Hari rightly points out, are peace, love and compassion.
Sir: Johann Hari is right to point out the dangerous practice of primitive Christian groups. He does need to take some notice of the way in which clergy of the Church of England are frequently called in to deal with irrational events, such as "poltergeists".
In working in an area of profound deprivation, I had to deal with several people who have been troubled by them, and called in more experienced clergy who have generally recognised that these disturbances are connected to people going through emotional trauma or grief; the exorcism is a matter of counselling and prayer, far from the wicked practices Mr Hari describes.
Were he to consult any of the diocesan "exorcists" he would find well-informed pastors with whom he would have much sympathy.
The Rev Stephen Griffith
Saviour of Tyneside
Sir: Now that Kevin Keegan has returned to Tyneside to massive acclaim, should he not be employed to sort out Northern Rock? After all, turning around a failing bank must surely be an easier task than managing Newcastle United.
Sir: If anyone needed further proof of the war-mongering nature of our present government and Defence Secretary, look no further than the interview with Des Browne (14 January). He churned out the usual stuff on Saddam: "... despicable regime that brutally oppressed...", but when asked for his favourite military leader of all time, he chose Alexander the Great. He was an "inspirational leader and outstanding statesman". So, not just a "brutal oppressor", or "despicable" conqueror of sovereign territories? I give up, I really do.
Sir: David Usborne (Our man in New York, 14 January) says that some British pop singers no longer sing with American accents "like The Beatles once did". He is obviously of a younger generation than myself, or he would be aware that The Beatles most certainly did not; they were true to their own Liverpudlian accents. This was one of the attractions of their music both here and in the US.
Take the plunge
Sir: The article "A year to change the world" (3 January), states that the Health and Safety Executive insists that there can be no outdoor swimming without a lifeguard. We make no such insistence; people are free to choose to swim in open water and take personal responsibility for their own safety. I enjoy doing this myself. In places where managed open-air swimming occurs, our guidance recommends lifeguards are deployed, but this is a matter for risk-assessment by those managing the facility, and depends on the circumstances.
Deputy Chief ExecutiveHealth and Safety Executive, London SE1
Sir: Tim Strouts still doesn't get it quite right (Letters, 11 January). Guy Keleny's phrase, "two alternative meanings" is a pleonasm rather than a tautology, which is a statement true by definition.
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