House of Lords champions our liberties over ID cards
Sir: The Labour manifesto commitment on ID cards was: "We will introduce ID cards ... backed up by a national database and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports". The present Bill, however, would compel people to apply for an ID card when they renew their passport. In their attempts to link the Bill to the manifesto, the Government have come up with some shocking statements, such as "passports are voluntary documents", "applying for a passport is matter of free will" and "this is not compulsion by stealth".
Far from blocking the Government's manifesto pledge, as ministers claim (report, 29 March), the Lords have consistently attempted to amend the Bill to make it consistent with the manifesto. It is the Government's heavily-whipped majority in the Commons which is being obstinate and unreasonable here, in refusing to accept any amendment whatsoever to the Bill.
The Identity Cards Bill is an illiberal, arrogant, unnecessary piece of legislation. It grants enormous powers to the Home Secretary: but we are expected to believe the Government's assurances that these powers will be used reasonably. The Government's behaviour in attempting to railroad this Bill through shows what value we should place on these assurances.
Sir: I am fascinated by Geoff Hoon's idea that the Salisbury Convention should be enshrined in law, so that the House of Lords would be forced to pass any government bill which purported to implement a manifesto pledge ("Peers threatened with ban on blocking manifesto pledges", 29 March)
If election manifestos were given legal status in order to bind the Lords, should not the victorious party also be bound to keep the promises upon which it was elected? Would we then have disgruntled citizens seeking court orders, compelling the Government to meet its manifesto targets for carbon emissions, or educational standards, or hospital waiting lists? And what if there was a coalition government? Would a judge have to decide which party's pledge should prevail?
DR D R COOPER
Public service workers let down
Sir: After much soul searching, yesterday was the first time that I reluctantly took industrial action in my 27 years of public service. It was not, as you provocatively described, "a shameless example of special pleading" (leading article, "Public sector privileges that are out of date", 29 March). It was the only way left to demonstrate how unhappy we all are to be losing an important part of our pay package. I would do it again because we all feel so strongly.
We understand there is a future funding problem with pensions. The way forward is for government to accept that a deal is a deal. Existing employees, many of whom are not well paid, should retain their existing pension rights. New employees could sign up to revised arrangements.
How can you describe our pensions as an outdated privilege? They are what we signed up for all those years ago. When I joined local government I had a written assurance that I could retire at 60 and have made my financial plans accordingly. Is it unreasonable to expect these commitments to be honoured?
Sir: If we, as a nation, are living longer then we must expect to retire later. The increase in university admissions means more of us enter employment later; common sense would tell you that if we are starting later we should finish later. It seems absurd to rely on the state to allow us longer retirement when we have contributed less during our working years. My grandma had worked for over 50 years by the time she was 65. If I work for the same 50 years after my degree I will finish when I am 73.
I am more than happy to do my share as long as I am fit and able to do so, and then enjoy roughly the same length of retirement as my grandparents due to the increase in life expectancy. The care for the elderly on the NHS must improve with reciprocal benefits to the Government, enabling us to work longer, reducing the dependency on a longer state pension.
FIRST-YEAR MEDICAL STUDENT, MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY BRADFORD, WEST YORKSHIRE
Sir: The argument in your leading article, that it is unfair for public sector workers to expect the Government to stand by promises it made concerning their pensions given that the private sector is gradually removing these benefits, is based on a false premise ("Public sector privileges that are out of date", 29 March).
You rightly point out that rewards in the private sector have been better traditionally than in the public sector but that this difference has over time been eroded. However, you fail to highlight that the effect of this difference is cumulative and that the pension expectations of a long-serving public sector worker are predicated on the 20 years of service already put in, on less favourable employment terms than somebody in the private sector, rather than the remaining time in service on equal terms.
Whilst it might now be deemed fair for the Government to vary the pension terms of a public-sector worker at the beginning of their career, to do so after many years of service is patently unfair - unless, of course, the Government is prepared to give these workers a back-dated lump sum to compensate them for working in a less-well-paid public sector job under the mistaken apprehension that there would be a pension at the end of it.
DR LUKE SEED
Sir: The public sector strikers have my full support ("Council workers' one-day strike heralds long dispute", 29 March). A decent pension is one of the few "perks" of public sector work, and as a final-year student at a prestigious university committed to a career in the public sector, I am watching my peers plan for jobs in investment banking and management consultancy starting on salaries that I will be lucky to be earning by my 30th birthday.
In these tumultuous times, the public sector needs more than ever to be recruiting our brightest young minds, but until it can provide incentives anywhere near comparable to those offered by the private sector, I am afraid that the brain drain to the City will continue.
Olmert peace plan is no answer
Sir: Your cartoon (28 March) depicting the comatose founder of the Kadima party is a truthful display of the current state of the peace process in the Middle East. Kadima does not propose a lasting peaceful resolution of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
Ehud Olmert's unilateralist proposal to impose final borders with the Palestinians, strengthen large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, judaise East Jerusalem and alter its religious, cultural and political character, poses a serious threat to human health and makes it difficult if not impossible for the Palestinians to establish a viable and contiguous state.
The construction of the apartheid wall is a poignant reminder of how precarious the life of Palestinians under military occupation is.
DR MUNJED FARID AL QUTOB
Simpler spelling for all English speakers
Sir: Nicholas Groves (letter, 29 March) is partly right: the fact that we don't all pronounce English in the same way does mean that in an ideal spelling system we shall all have to make compromises. But it doesn't mean that we have to abandon all ideas of improving our spelling system.
Everybody, no matter what their social or geographical background may be, pronounces "friend" to rhyme with "bend". We ought to spell it "frend". Everyone uses a short vowel in "river" but a long one in "diver". So we ought to spell it "rivver". No one pronounces a vowel at the end of "twelve": the final letter e does not indicate anything at all. So we ought to spell it "twelv". That is as true in Chicago and Adelaide as it is in London, Edinburgh and Belfast.
PROFESSOR JOHN WELLS
DEPARTMENT OF PHONETICS AND LINGUISTICS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
Sir: If Masha Bell (letter, 25 March) thinks 4,000 incoherent spellings are too many for individuals of average ability to memorise, how does she explain that children have so little trouble recalling vast stores of data relating to, say, entertainment: band names; record titles; technology terminology; programming instructions; slang etc. New words are added to the lexicons on an almost daily basis. Our children are smarter than she credits. It is not our language that is the problem, it is their instructors.
Mental health care for older people
Sir: It was saddening to read of the failures of the NHS in its care of older people (report, 27 March). Our service provides mental health care for older people, and we share other readers' hopes that services will improve throughout the NHS as a consequence of the inspectorates' report.
However, the report is unjustified in claiming that the existence of separate mental health services for those over 65 has "resulted in" discrimination. On the contrary, designated older people's services were developed precisely to offset the discrimination that already existed. Before the emergence of such services in the 1970s, older people received a lower level of mental health care than younger people. Specialist services were created in order to earmark a proportion of mental health service resources specifically for the benefit of older people. Your editorial notes that discrimination was "particularly apparent" in mental health, because of the organisational division of services. If the division of services has helped to make the discrimination "apparent" where previously it was hidden, then this is an important step towards rectifying that discrimination.
Older people served by our unit benefit from more rapid responses, greater accessibility, and closer links with local agencies than a general adult service would be able to offer. These benefits have arisen, without loss of other services such as out-of-hours access, because we have a service dedicated specifically to the care of older people.
DR GERAINT PRICE
HEAD OF PSYCHOLOGY BEV SMITH SERVICE MANAGER, MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FOR OLDER ADULTS ST CHARLES HOSPITAL LONDON W10
Sir: Everything in your report of the failures of the NHS to care for older patients pales in comparison with the inability of our social services departments to co-ordinate and offer appropriate continuing treatment of the elderly when they are not in hospital.
My mother was admitted in 2004 to Birmingham City Hospital when she was dying of "old age". She was allocated to a stroke unit, then a maternity ward because of "no beds" and eventually discharged into the environment of Birmingham social services. Here, she faced an army of bureaucrats with a complete inability to do anything. Eventually we put her into a private nursing home although she was a council tenant and she died soon after.
When I then issued a "Freedom of Information Act" request to explore what had happened over this disastrous nine months, Birmingham asked me for my birth and marriage certificates before they would proceed. What is one to do?
Sir: What, I wonder, can be the social and political significance of the fact that those who are making themselves most usefully unpopular right now with our political duds are silver-haired folk with names like Kember and Wolfgang? Young people are certainly stirred to action en masse - as demos and Live8 shows. But where are the bold-as-brass individuals?
Fit for a green wedding
Sir: Natasha Courtenay-Smith's article "My big fat green wedding" (27 March) provided welcome light relief on the otherwise serious subject of environmental damage. But I have an important reservation: "The Drink". Of all English wines the ones that we can be most proud of are our "sparklers". These have been judged superior to any of their continental counterparts at blind tastings and deserved an honourable mention at least. And they are, after all, near at hand.
DR M G THORNE
Actors and actresses
Sir: In these times of political correctness, can anyone explain why female thespians insist upon being referred to as "actors", except when it comes to Oscar and Bafta awards time, when they are happy to be considered for "Best Actress"?
Sir: Your article on Blackburn (27 March) states that the famous "Hovis" bicycle commercial was filmed in Kidder Street in the town - this is incorrect. The advert was in fact filmed by Ridley Scott in 1975 in Shaftesbury, Dorset, and to this day there is a larger than life "Hovis" loaf at the top of the hill commemorating the event.
SOUTH NUTFIELD, SURREY
Sir: If daylight robbery were ever to be an Olympic event, Ken Livingstone would win the gold medal. My latest council tax statement shows that, while the Borough of Greenwich increase is a modest 0.9 per cent, the Greater London Authority highwayman has blagged a whopping 13.3 per cent rise! This is to pay for the Olympics, about which I was not consulted and do not care, since I won't be living in London when Livingstone's big ego-trip happens.
Sir: I sympathise with Philip Hensher's irritation about the unwanted intrusion caused by "bluejacking" (29 March); it is possible, however, to disable the bluetooth function on his phone so that it isn't "visible" to other people. He can then reactivate it if he needs to use a wireless hands-free kit in the car, for example. This will have the added benefit of prolonging battery life.