Sir: The current state of the housing market is full of irony. A modest fall in house prices sees the media full of "housing crisis" headlines, whereas the reality is that house prices have doubled since 1997.
Nationally, the average house price is 6.9 times the average income compared with 3.5 times in 1997. In Kensington and Chelsea the ratio is 20.4. Only four of England's 353 local authorities have earnings to house price ratios of less than the traditional lending criterion of 3.5.
A static housing market for a year or two will be no bad thing and will enable those aspiring to home ownership to catch up. Existing home owners should count their blessings compared with the nation's 4 million social housing tenants the average net equity is 90,000 compared with the average tenant's savings of just 800. England has 600,000 empty homes, of which, contrary to popular media portrayal of inefficient social landlords, 90 percent are in the private rented sector.
The reality is that we need a more balanced housing market with an increased supply of affordable homes, including bringing existing "empties" back into use, coupled with more modest house price inflation for the foreseeable future.
Research and Development Director, HUMAN CITY institute, Dudley,West Midlands
Sir: Sean O'Grady, along with many commentators, clearly files falling house price stories in his bad-news tray ("Is the roof falling in on the housing market?", 30 November). This is curious because few people get any real benefit when prices rise. Apart from percentage-paid estate agents, speculators and finance companies eager to feed a desire for loan-financed instant gratification, house price rises just make it harder for people to get on to or ascend the housing ladder.
If the price of any other of life's staples were to fall this would surely rate as good news. So why not the basic need of shelter?
Confront Islam's bigoted minority
Sir: Muslims do not need Johann Hari to reinforce the "negative connotations" described by Osman Ahmed (letter, 29 November); Islam seems more than capable of doing this for itself.
In a week in which a teacher in Sudan is jailed for naming a children's toy after a religious figure, and a young woman in Saudi Arabia is sentenced to 200 lashes for the unforgivable sin of not only allowing herself to be gang-raped, but for having the temerity to complain about it, we are reminded once more of the malevolence of sharia law when it is applied according to Wahhabist and Salafist doctrines.
This has nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq, unblinking support for Israel or any perception that the Ummah is threatened by the profanities of Western values. Certainly it is true that Bush and his neocons are doing little to prevent their interpretations of Christianity's own allegorical stories from fanning the flames of global conflict. However, remove US/UK foreign policy and the "war on terror" from the equation, and we should still be left with the fact that there are at work in the world large numbers of religious flat-earthers, some of whose theocracies are already heavily armed and moving toward WMD capability, who are wholly committed to winding back the global clock to the seventh century and imposing their illogical and absurd beliefs upon everybody.
What is to be done about this? Little other than to encourage as far as possible decent, right-thinking Muslims the worldwide majority finally to cease wringing their hands ineffectually over their aberrant minority and act. Since anything we kufirs do to remove the threats posed by militant fundamentalism is inevitably met by howls of indignant outrage from the faithful and their political and legal apologists, Islam itself must mobilise to neutralise properly the firebrand mullahs and those mosques and madrassas that function as little more than finishing schools for violent, dark-ages intolerance.
Sir: As a British Muslim, and a nursery teacher myself, I am appalled by the prison sentence issued by a Sudanese court against a British school teacher for allegedly "insulting religion".
It has been clear from the outset that Ms Gibbon did not in any way desire to malign the Prophet Muhammad and that the choice of name for the teddy bear had come from the children themselves. The only thing to come from this affair is for the name of Islam to be dragged through the mud yet again by bigots.
Prophet Muhammad himself commanded Muslims to seek knowledge wherever they can. Ms Gibbons was indeed a part of such a beautiful tradition of teaching others and we are saddened by her treatment and note that Sudanese courts do not speak for Muslims in Britain.
Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, London N1
Sir: The sentencing of Gillian Gibbons to 15 days in jail for naming a teddy bear after the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is completely wrong. There was no harm to the Prophet intended.
If he was alive today how would he react to this? Mohammed (PBUH) dealt with terrible blows against him during his lifetime with complete mercy and sound judgement. I believe the ruling made by the sharia scholars in Sudan was a complete over-reaction. The people who sentenced Gillian Gibbons should not take it further than Mohammed (PBUH) himself would have done, and I call for her immediate release.
President, The British Libyan Solidarity Campaign, Manchester
Sir: Jenny Backwell asks whether teachers in this country would allow a teddy bear to be named Jesus (Letters, 30 November). She seems to have missed an important point. The name Mohamed is a common name in Islamic countries. The name Jesus is not a common name in Britain.
However, Jesus is a fairly common name in Spain, where Ms Backwell may well find any number of teddy bears called Jesus. As far as I know no one has been hauled in front of the Spanish Inquisition for naming their bear Jesus.
Headley Down, Hampshire
Sir: My children owned a green stuffed elephant which they named Lord Jesus. Should they be worried?
One law for the Labour Party . . .
Sir: As a solicitor, I am subject to stringent money-laundering laws that require me to question the source of funding from clients whose lifestyle appears to be at odds with the amount they appear to tender. On occasions, the line of questioning can be so inquisitive that it borders on the impertinent.
If I fail to do this, or worse still fail to form a suspicion as to the source, I am liable to imprisonment. Unfortunately, good faith does not afford me a defence.
I am therefore angry that the very same politicians who brought in the law now have the temerity to say that not only did they not question the link between the proxy and the original donor but also did not inquire into the source of the funding because the money was accepted in good faith. Can someone please explain to me why we and politicians should be subject to different laws?
Mental health in Manchester
Sir: The dismissal of Karen Reissman is a matter for Manchester Mental Health Trust and currently subject to a formal process. However, as commissioners of mental health services in Manchester we are keen to put the record straight about the supposed "cuts" in services (Mark Steel, 14 November).
Mental health services in Manchester are undergoing significant financial investment and strengthening. We recently implemented a programme of improvements called Change in Mind. These represent 4m of new investment and have created 40 new staff posts; Change in Mind brings to Manchester the requirements of the Government's minimum National Service Framework for Mental Health, requirements that have been long delayed in implementation here. Implementing the National Service Framework will ensure mental health services in Manchester address the very issues which have caused the Healthcare Commission to give such low ratings to some of our services (such as poor performance: 173rd out of 175)
Manchester PCT alone has committed an additional 17m to mental health care. We care very much about service users and patients and while any major change programme can be difficult to implement, this is particularly so when dealing with vulnerable people. The provision of services which the trust previously delivered was unacceptably poor, so when the new teams start to deliver the minimum National Standard, this will significantly improve the level of services.
Executive Member for Adult Social Services, Manchester City CouncilEvelyn Asante-Mensahchair, manchester primaryCare Trust
Value of old-style sexual morality
Sir: The Independent is to be congratulated on its clear review of sexually transmitted diseases (Jeremy Laurance, The Big Question, 28 November), and on drawing attention to the scandalous failure to provide free medical treatment for those with HIV who are denied asylum (Bianca Jagger, 28 November).
It is odd that discussion of sexually transmitted diseases seldom includes recognition of the health benefits in today's world of what until part-way through the last century was traditional sexual morality, commonly respected if not universally adhered to. Avoiding penetrative sexual intercourse except in the context of a lifelong partnership with someone who has observed the same discipline clearly reduces or eliminates the risk of such diseases.
Observing such a principle seems now to be widely regarded as an outdated religious eccentricity, but it deserves mention, at least, in guidance to young people, as a lifestyle option with health benefits.
Sir: Your article veers close to letting this government off the hook. For example, a tenfold increase in the incidence of syphilis in the last ten years is truly frightening.
Yes, in 2004 the Government announced a 300m programme to improve clinics. Unfortunately the allocation was not ring-fenced and this omission resulted in most of the money being used by cash-strapped primary care trusts to balance the books last year. Yes, 50m was earmarked for a safe-sex publicity campaign but last year it emerged that only 4m was actually allocated and a recent parliamentary answer revealed that only 1m of this is being spent this year.
The Government is very good at talking the talk, but until it insists that money for improving clinic services is used as intended and until a properly resourced safe-sex publicity campaign is adequately funded, we will continue to be the sexually "sick man" (and woman) of Europe.
Herpes Viruses Association, London N7
Sir: Once smoking was shown to cause cancer and heart disease and to harm unborn babies, there was an escalating campaign of warning signs, public disapproval and, eventually a ban in public places to shame people into a change of lifestyle. The loss of personal liberty was justified by public health considerations.
The causation of sexually-transmitted infections has been known for far longer, but where is the government-sponsored campaign to shame people into a change of lifestyle? Wouldn't the pressure on personal freedom be similarly justified by public health considerations?
Ancient British bishops
Sir: In Harriet O'Brian's article on cathedrals in the Travel section (24 November) there is a historical error : "Canterbury Cathedral is the focus of England's most ancient diocese." Nearly 300 years earlier there were dioceses in London and York and possibly Lincoln. Their bishops attended the Council of Arles in 314. Canterbury was not founded until 597.
Canon Dr John Toy
Sir: Trains are overcrowded? Clearly, passengers need to be hit with yet another above-inflation fare increase. Airports are overcrowded? Obviously, the solution is a massive programme of expansion which, will destroy whole communities and make it impossible to meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets. Does this government even understand the concept of "joined-up thinking"?
Sir: I would like to know what fuel all those aircraft using the proposed new Heathrow runway in 2020 will be using. It is unlikely to be Jet A-1 (kerosene), as it will too scarce and expensive by then.
Sir: Gary Dexter in his piece about how well-known literary works acquired their titles (26 November) is not convinced that Anthony Burgess heard the phrase "as queer as a clockwork orange" in a London pub or from "aged cockneys". He almost certainly did. I heard the phrase when I was growing up in the slums of Liverpool in the Fifties, and found it puzzling.
Nutley, East Sussex
Passport to privacy
Sir: Your claim that the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) database includes your travel history is incorrect ("They've got your number", 22 November). IPS only retains information collected when a passport application is submitted and processed, which is needed for the secure issuing of passports. We would neither want nor need information about our customers' travel history.
Executive Director for Service Planning and Delivery, Identity and Passport Service, London SW1
Sir: Simon Carr (26 November) states that the children of "celebrities" will not be included in the National Register. Why not? The decision seems to presume that the register will not be secure against unauthorised access in spite of all the assurances given by the Government. In which case why should they be privileged above the common man?
Hersham, SurreyReuse content