For Home Office failings on this scale, Charles Clarke must resign
Sir: Over a thousand foreigners have been released from our prisons into the community. Not only didn't the Government consider forced repatriation to their own countries for these people, but they also don't know where most of them are. Some have committed extremely nasty crimes. Even after the discovery of these serious failings of several government departments, the releases continued.
The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, says that although he considered resignation over this matter, he has decided against it, as it is his responsibility to sort things out. It must be very pleasant to be in the sort of job where you yourself decide whether or not to take responsibility for failures on this scale. Mr Clarke is a member of a collective which has managed the Home Office for nine years. He should take responsibility for this incompetence, which could put our citizens at risk of harm, and resign briskly.
Perhaps too, with hindsight, Mr Clarke should have spent more time in the office and less in radio and TV studios.
Sir: Charles Clarke's position has become untenable. He is the archetypal exponent of bombast and self-righteousness and has presided over some of the most draconian legislation to have been introduced into our normally tolerance-loving midst since records began.
A vindictive Home Office under Labour has put measures in place that have led to Asbos for staring into a neighbour's garden or jumping into rivers, and for protesters to be detained for wearing the wrong T-shirt, saying "nonsense" at a political meeting or reading out the names of dead British soldiers. Yet these so-called misdemeanours pale into insignificance when this figure of 1,023 ex-prisoners lost to the four winds comes to light. Even after Charles Clarke knew of the problems a further 288 prisoners were released.
In a real state of emergency we would rely on this man to be on top of things. In our last real emergency last July, radios didn't work, there was a lack of co-ordination, and an innocent person was shot dead by mistake. The Home Office is obviously out of control.
David Blunkett's case was bad, with his own version of nannygate and visas, and he was finally kicked out. This new revelation is far worse, yet Clarke decides he should stay? I find this staggering.
MICHAEL D MITCHELL
HOLBEACH ST MARKS, LINCOLNSHIRE
Not enough help for breast-feeding
Sir: Bronwyn Eyre had a horrible time breastfeeding her son, and rightly points to the way confused and conflicting advice in the early days made it difficult ("Breast isn't best", 25 April). The "support" she had was pitiful - early supplements of formula are likely to undermine breastfeeding and there was no need for her husband to fill in charts of timing and frequency. Ineffective feeding leading to her son's poor weight should have been spotted long before Day 15.
The unnamed "German nutritionist" who disagrees that breastmilk is all a baby needs sounds ill-informed. If the baby isn't getting enough breastmilk, of course, things are bound to go wrong. Bronwyn also dismisses the well-documented risks of not breastfeeding, which include (among other points she did not list) an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in the mother and infections, serious and less serious, in the baby.
National Childbirth Trust breastfeeding counsellors agree that it's very unfair for mothers to be encouraged to breastfeed, but then to find when they need help and good information to make it work, there's nothing there for them. The most highly trained form of breastfeeding support in the UK actually lies with a few hundred trained volunteers, who can't hope to be reached by more than a handful of the 450,000 mothers who begin breastfeeding each year.
Perhaps Bronwyn might think about writing to the maternity unit and complaining about the poor service she got, and asking what training is in place to ensure mothers get off to a good, and correctly informed, start.
NCT BREASTFEEDING COUNSELLOR AND TUTOR NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
Sir: Bronwyn Eyre seeks to justify making a bad choice for her baby by arguing that breastfeeding is outdated and "not necessary".
I'm afraid Brownyn's experience is one shared by many new parents, but falling back on formula didn't have to be the outcome. As a relatively new father, I have seen how difficult breastfeeding can be. I watched my partner sobbing with pain as she struggled with a badly latched baby. She eventually obtained the right advice, solved the problem and we were able to dispose of all the paraphernalia - the sterilisers, bottles, milk warmers and packets of expensive foul-smelling powder which had to be carted around whenever we left the house. We no longer had to sit up wind-ing a colicky baby for hours after a night-time feed. The nappies were no longer filled with evil alien poo. Now that was being freed from "tyranny".
If breastfeeding is proving difficult, try this simple experiment - mix up a pint of formula according to the manufacturer's instructions and bring it up to heat. Put it in your favourite mug, then drink it yourself. Then see if you still want to give it to your baby.
Japan undermines whaling bans
Sir: Congratulations on your excellent coverage of the whaling issue ("The great betrayal: pro-hunting Japanese seize control of the whaling commission", 17 April) . I would add a note on three other declared intentions of Japan if it succeeds in securing a simple majority in the International Whaling Commission.
One is the opening to whaling of the huge protected areas for whales (that the IWC calls "sanctuaries"): the entire Southern and Indian Oceans. Again, as with the moratorium on commercial whaling, this would formally require a three-quarters majority for abolition, but resolutions adopted by simple majority will greatly diminish their credibility and effectiveness.
The second is prohibition of all discussion and action regarding what the IWC calls "small cetaceans": dolphins, porpoises and the smaller whales such as narwhal, beluga and pilot whales.
Third is abolition of the recently established Conservation Committee, with its mandate to consider questions such as whale watching and effects on whales and dolphins of climate change, pollution and other environmental alterations caused by human activities.
SIDNEY J HOLT
Sir: I was sorry that in your otherwise excellent report on Japan and its appalling record on whaling it was suggested that anti-whaling countries like the UK had done nothing to counter Japan's efforts to seize control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
The UK and like-minded countries were instrumental in achieving the international ban on commercial whaling. And since it came into force in the mid 1980s we've vigorously fought any attempt to overturn it.
The UK and its allies have lost no opportunity in trying to persuade new anti-whaling countries to join the IWC - with some success - five have joined in the last two years. But it would be quite wrong for us to resort to the recruiting tactics of the Japanese - so well documented in your article.
That makes our job harder. We depend on the goodwill and campaigning of like-minded governments, NGOs and world opinion if we are to maintain the moratorium on commercial whaling and prevent Japan and her allies getting it lifted.
MINISTER FOR FISHERIES, DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS, LONDON SW1
Families coping with severe autism
Sir: It is appalling that Angela Riley (letter, 24 April) feels that as a mother she has failed her severely autistic son, after the load she and her family have had to bear, almost alone, for so long. In what other field of health and social care would such a serious diagnosis be made and not followed up by more understanding and help than Ms Riley has been given?
The effects of severe autism on the behaviour of adults, or adult-sized children, are well enough known, as is the effect that their violent and unpredictable behaviour has on their mothers. It is also well known that families, in addition to the exhausting and demoralising job they have to do, have to fight for the services they do get.
Recently on your correspondence and news pages you have drawn attention to some of the effects of extreme autism which have driven mothers to despair. One kills her son, another jumps off a bridge; very, very many depend on anti-depressants. The mothers are not to blame: we are, the whole of our society is. We and our elected representatives are not taking this matter seriously and, until we all do, more good, caring families will be driven to extremes and unnecessary guilt.
Blair out of touch with civil rights
Sir: Tony Blair is reported to have attacked his critics for being "out of touch" with modern Britain ("The battle for civil liberties", 24 April), yet he should be asking whether he himself is in touch.
He and his government are chipping away at our precious freedoms and civil rights, but has he ascertained whether or not we are willing to lose them? People have fought and died for these freedoms, including freedom of speech, our right to trial by jury, our right not to be held by the police for more than a few hours without reasonable cause and access to a lawyer, and our right to go about our lawful business unchallenged in our own country.
His government is slowly but surely taking these things from us, they say to protect us from terrorism - though how it will do this I cannot see. So who is it we really need protection from?
Why we still need a second chamber
Sir: There is much to support some of the assertions of Johann Hari ("Don't reform the House of Lords - close it", 24 April). In a democracy there is no place for an unelected chamber making decisions on legislation that has passed a democratic chamber.
However, a unicameral assembly is also flawed. Unicameralism was an aim of the Levellers and later the Chartists and was put in place firstly by default in January 1649, and by design in December 1653 in the Instrument of Government. The second Protectorate Parliament of September 1656 onwards proved that a single chamber can be just as inclined to act in a irresponsible manner as any executive when there was no effective body to pull it back from its erratic course: in that case in the vicious pursuit of a religious radical.
The later redesigned constitution created a second house which was far too dependent on patronage to gain credibility. There are clear lessons for us in the current debate. The influence of a current executive of whatever disposition should be minimised.
READER IN HISTORY NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY
Sir: Coalition governments would obviate the need for a House of Lords, Johann Hari argues. Not so. Dutch experience with perfect PR in the lower house shows that coalitions lead to strict party discipline, precisely because coalitions can crumble. It stifles debate and paralyses select committees. Governmental power thus descends into backroom deals between coalition parties.
Better to keep the Commons as it is, keep the Parliament Acts and introduce PR in an elected House of Lords. Coalitions would then form according to topic rather than to stay in power. That would be a true democratic check and balance on a majority-ruled Commons.
GIJSBERT TER KUILE
Milestones record life at a slower pace
Sir: Members of the Milestone Society will smile after reading Michael Bywater's dismissive review of their work ("The preserve of the English", 24 April).
Apart from a few tollhouses and coaching inns, mile markers remain almost the only visible evidence of a time when life moved more slowly. They not only represent a unique record of travel but also a colourful human story, the essence of social history.
Medieval peasants may rarely have left their village, but the milestone era was a time of rather more mobility, not least driving cattle to urban markets and in due course shopping excursions.
INFORMATION OFFICER, THE MILESTONE SOCIETY BANBURY, OXFORDSHIRE
Tax money for the BNP?
Sir: If politicians get together to rifle our taxes to pay for party expenses at election time they should remember that if it means one penny of my taxes goes to the BNP then I will not only not vote, I will stop work and reduce spending to avoid taxation.
Sir: Your item on the new Betjeman manuscripts ("Poetic passions of Betjeman come to light after 30 years", 26 April) ends with the quotation "... Because that bough might fall and injure a [illegible] head." Surely the missing word is "ratepayer's" - quite legible even sideways on in your accompanying photograph of the document?
Guilty of having no TV
Sir: Jessica Ray's letter on TV licensing (22 April) indicates that her organisation writes to people who do not own television sets in intimidating terms, requires them to state that they are not committing an offence and does not trust this statement but verifies by home visits. Not having a set, that is, creates a presumption of guilt.
COLERAINE, CO LONDONDERRY
Sir: A great pull-out guide to the UK (26 April). However, in the fact-boxes for individual regions, Northern Ireland's flag seems to be the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom. I was under the idea that Northern Ireland had a flag of its own. Irrespective of the beliefs of the people of Northern Ireland, the Union Jack is not the correct flag to use considering that England, Scotland and Wales were correctly represented.
Sir: Let Tesco run the NHS.