The sport of horseracing is at pains to show scrupulous regard for welfare, but this is not the same as actually having a scrupulous regard for the welfare of the animals used. With one death already at the Grand National meeting, and many animals falling hard over fences, journalists must look at this so-called sport more objectively and tell the public what is really happening – that horseracing inevitably causes pain and death to those who have no choice in whether they take part.
Head of Campaigns, Animal Aid
The deaths of five horses over the first two days of the Cheltenham Festival this year reminded us of the level of risk horses are exposed to in hurdling and steeplechasing (a risk ratio of four and six fatalities per thousand horse-starts respectively).
In large meetings with more than 500 starts, such as the Cheltenham and Aintree, we can expect two to three horses to die. These fatalities are not freak accidents; they are the predictable outcome of running horses at this level of risk.
I often wonder how race-course vets must feel, knowing that it is a likelihood, rather than unfortunate chance, that they will have to use the humane killer. I sincerely believe that most of those involved in racing genuinely and deeply care about their horses and hate to see them injured or killed.
I do not suggest that I, or anyone else, have any right to demand a ban on jump racing. I do believe that we should clearly assess, acknowledge and discuss the risk horses are exposed to. If the risk is unacceptably high, we have to consider whether it is right to expose horses to this risk.
The British Horseracing Authority is the regulator with a duty to act in the best interests of the horse as well as the future of UK jump racing. It has commissioned a study of causes of risk in jump racing, which also models the effects of possible changes. The results of this study, based at the University of Glasgow and led by Dr Tim Parkin, will be published and these will inform their policy.
I cannot see how we can draw any conclusion other than that the present level of risk is too high.
Dr Mark Kennedy
Senior Lecturer in Animal Welfare, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge
No tax incentives are required for true philanthropy
I contribute 10 per cent of my modest income to a charity based in Romania, which massively enhances the education of Roma children in a small village in the northwest of the country. My contribution pays for the teacher's salary for the whole year; without it there would be no teacher. I have visited the school and know the teacher. I receive no tax relief.
I am surprised that there is any tax relief for charitable giving. What is the point of this?
I believe you should give to charity without thinking that you would get anything back. As a Muslim friend of mine said, "The fewer the people who know you are giving, the more righteous is that giving".
If a wealthy person ends up financially better off through some manipulation of the tax system based upon making financial gifts, that's not philanthropy; it's a rather unpleasant form of tax avoidance.
There are very real benefits to philanthropy: status, recognition, honours, influence. Such enhancement of social position often opens doors to other opportunities to make more money, accumulate more wealth and, through influence, keep more of it from a beneficial tax regime.
No real philanthropist will be deterred by the Government's proposals: they will just add a non-reclaimable premium to their contribution to leave the charitable cause unaffected. All that means is that their personal generosity will genuinely be represented by the new amount donated as it will all, for the first time, come from disposable, net-of-tax income: as it does for we normal mortals. An uncapped limit means taxpayers are paying substantially towards the enhanced social standing of the wealthy.
Gifts are not being capped: only tax-deductible gifts. Publish all withdrawn donations – then we'll know the true philanthropists.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Charity status is utilised by organisations including "public" schools which are in fact private schools whose fees are such as to accommodate only the children of the wealthy. I attended such a school and still receive the yearly magazine. Its sports facilities include a mile-long stretch of playing fields, a golf course, provision for all forms of racket games – including separate buildings for a super-sized squash court where the special balls only last for two sessions – and, uniquely, a real tennis court, one of very few in the country.
I fail to understand why the taxpayer should be deprived of the tax not payable on charitable donations given by alumni to such institutions.
Schools at mercy of arrogant ministers
It seems to have been scarcely noticed that schools agreeing to take on Academy status will be offered exemption from the National Curriculum. This curriculum, imposed with great fanfare in 1987 to "standardise and optimise" teaching and learning, has been rigorously – some would say ruthlessly – enforced by Ofsted and has involved an exponential rise in the workload of teachers (and a corresponding decline in their morale), compounded by continual radical and apparently arbitrary changes.
The end result has been "improvements" gained by lowering examination standards, while at the same time the ministers responsible have been bemoaning a decline in literacy and general social and educational competence.
Now it appears that this "essential element" of the maintenance of educational standards is not essential after all. It is revealed as a malign imposition on schools which can be lifted if they play ball with the latest whims of a government minister.
"Whimsical" does not characterise these ministers adequately. Choose from the list: incompetent, shambolic, arrogant, ambitious, egocentric...
Stratford upon Avon
Ban the pesticides killing our bees
Fifty years ago Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring showed that DDT was behind massive declines in bird populations. The pesticide industry accused her of scaremongering, mounted a fierce attack on the science, and lobbied furiously against any controls. As a result, it took governments years to ban DDT, by which time some bird species were on the edge of extinction ("New pesticide link to sudden decline in bee population", 6 April).
Today pollinator populations are in freefall while scientific evidence points the finger at a new class of pesticides – neonicotinoids. The industry once again denies it is the cause of the problem and rubbishes the research. Government buries its head in the sand and refuses to act.
But this time the stakes are even higher: without pollinators like bees we will be unable to feed ourselves. Pollination services are worth £430m to the UK alone. Without bees, UK agriculture and the British countryside would be devastated.
The Harvard research – and a host of other recent studies – is unequivocal: neonicotinoids are contributing to the catastrophic declines in bees and other pollinators. Defra must act now to ban these dangerous chemicals and help farmers switch away from a reliance on them. We cannot afford to wait.
Dr Keith Tyrell
Director, Pesticide Action Network UK, London EC2
Shameless GPs make patients wait
Caroline Mais's letter (11 April) regarding surgery times for GPs prompts me to share my experiences as a medical receptionist. In two practices, the senior partner chose to start his morning surgery at 9.30, despite patients being booked in from 9am. Neither doctor had any intention of starting on time, but had to appear to begin at 9am in order to satisfy the authorities that they were available for consultation for the required number of hours per week. It is an example of how patients' time is regarded as worthless.
Every so often, a patient would complain to reception staff. Of course, out of loyalty, the staff had to make up stories about emergencies or call-outs in order to protect the GP. How might it be if they just told the truth: he is always late, and has no intention of getting in on time.
One of the doctors concerned would make up lost time by whizzing through the surgery. The other made the receptionists block out several appointments in order to catch up. I think this is symptomatic of some GPs manifesting an arrogant approach, but they should be made to remember that they are paid from public money. Sections of the press are quick to decry "benefit scroungers" but manipulating surgery hours in order to qualify for the maximum payments is also cheating, surely?
When does the year begin?
For me the natural sequence is spring, summer, autumn and winter (Letters, 9 April). Yet when we speak of the harsh winter of say, 1947, we mean January, February and March 1947. But of course until 1751 the year began on Lady Day (25 March), not 1 January. Under the old system January 1947 would have been January 1946, ie at the end of the year. So unwittingly our terminology still reflects the old system.
Consistent arms policy needed
One trusts that in his travels David Cameron doesn't sell weapons to any country that he later decides he wants to have a war with. A consistent policy of weapons sales and warmongering is essential.
Surely the letter from T Saul (12 April) about the exotic cruise "replicating" the voyage of the Titanic, but not offering steerage-class menus, should have gone further. This was a ship that took 20 months to build, two months to sea-trial and five days to kill over 1,500 people by a combination of incompetence, corruption and stupidity, and not one of the bereft got a penny compensation. Are we really having a celebration?
Yates of the Yard
On 13 April you report on page 5 that Mr John Yates claims that Bahrain is "safer than London". On the opposite page it is reported that "Met bosses were guilty of poor judgement" including specifically the same Mr Yates. Clearly his judgement on the Bahrain situation is not to be trusted. The F1 should, with regret, be cancelled.
Glad to be gay
"Not Catholic, ex-Catholic, post-Catholic, GAY and proud. Get over it!" ("Christian group's adverts offering 'gay cure' are pulled from buses", 13 April). And if the bus is painted pink, so much the better.