Sir: Independent midwifery care is being threatened. Britain's 200 independent midwives practise outside the NHS, specialising in home births and providing one-to-one care. The Government is proposing to make it mandatory for these midwives to have insurance, which may seem an innocent expectation until you learn there is no insurance available.
The independent midwifery association has been trying unsuccessfully to find an insurer for five years, after the last insurance company withdrew their prohibitively expensive cover.
I was lucky enough to have independent midwifery care for the pregnancy and birth of my first baby last year. I chose this care because I wanted to know who was going to be at the birth and I wanted to have a good chance of having a home birth.
The two midwives made sure I understood they had no insurance, that if anything happened to me or the baby as a result of their negligence I would have little recourse to financial compensation. I might sue them personally, strip them of their positions and home, have them struck off the midwifery register, but I would not get the massive payout necessary to provide life-long care for a profoundly disabled baby.
We had to trust each other. I trusted them to give us the best care they could and they trusted me not bankrupt them.
We had an amazing birth experience; I felt safe and supported through my pregnancy. My daughter was born at home, and we got off to a smooth start. My midwives are now good friends to whom I will always be grateful.
Britain's independent midwives contribute a valuable strand of care to the NHS's over-stretched maternity services. While the government's stated objective includes continuity of care with one midwife through pregnancy, home births for healthy mothers and greater choice, these aims are not being widely met by anyone but independent midwives.
If the Government makes insurance mandatory when there is no insurance, this care will be outlawed, midwives will lose their livelihood and mothers will lose the right to choose.
Referral units lack professional staff
Sir: In Deborah Orr's column about education inclusion (11 April), she is not wrong when she writes "You don't need formal teaching qualifications to take a class in a Pupil Referral Unit. You can more or less just turn up and have a bash with something".
The reason anyone can have a go is because experienced, qualified teachers seem to be unwilling or unable to do the job. I work in the Learning Support Unit of my local faith school. This is where those students considered too difficult to manage in a normal classroom are thrown. Some are just plain naughty and others have special educational needs or emotional issues.
On the whole, they are not welcome in normal mainstream school or even at religious events. They are the educationally displaced and none will be allowed to achieve GCSEs. The school is obliged to teach them only non-curriculum maths, English, science, and IT.
There are no qualified people rushing to our door, so this is done using Ms Orr's "bashers"- unqualified, low-paid do-gooders, who will go where qualified types fear to tread. Do not look down your nose at them.
Sir: It would be wise for Deborah Orr to make fewer presumptions with regard to Pupil Referral Units and those placed in them ("Essentially, the most difficult children ... can only extract something positive if they are highly disciplined self-starters with plenty of self-confidence and a strong sense of who they want to be ... Needless to say, they wouldn't be there in the first place if they displayed much in the way of such qualities").
I was taken out of school at the start of the fourth year after developing severe depression as a result of many years of bullying. At the start of the fifth year I was placed in a PRU and, while it was clearly not ideal, I was not bullied once (I'd previously had problems at three separate secondary schools).
I left the PRU with five GCSEs - two of which were As - and spent several years as a music journalist, then went to university and got a 2:1. I'm now a trained subeditor.
Children are placed in PRUs for a variety of reasons. To suggest they are all lacking in certain qualities displays a shocking lack of insight.
Small specialist shops in danger
Sir: The article by Michael Jivkov about the difficulties of the camera retailer Jessops (Business, 10 April) brings to mind the serious consequences that occur when so many large supermarkets and various internet sites begin to retail items outside their core business.
There has been a huge increase in these types of stores selling digital cameras without giving staff suitable training to advise would-be purchasers on the best camera for their needs, and without carrying consistent stock lines and lines associated with digital cameras such as memory cards, tripods and cases.
In Northampton, we are lucky to have Jessops and Skears, both specialist camera shops with well-trained, knowledgeable and helpful staff. I hope these types of shop will survive the reduction in trade caused by the cherry-picking of popular lines of their business by supermarkets, because this, together with high rents and business rates for town-centre premises, will lead to the loss of specialist shops in our high streets.
There will be few companies willing or able to pay for premises in our town centres, and I can see our high streets being identical and left to fast-food outlets, building societies, Marks & Spencer, Boots, W H Smith, and charity shops on short-term leases. There will be no place for the small trader who gives good personal and knowledgeable service.
I was pleased to see HSBC is backing Jessops. It would be to all our advantage if landlords of town-centre retail properties urgently consider reducing the rental, and councils cutting the business rate, thereby allowing the smaller traders to continue.
Government seeks EU sealskin ban
Sir: This Government has long been deeply concerned about the reported cruelty during the Canadian seal hunt (article, 6 April), which is why we are pressing the European Commission to propose EU-wide measures to ban the import of all harp and hooded sealskin products.
Importation of certain products of "whitecoat" pups of harp seals and "blueblack" pups of hooded seals has been banned in the UK and the EU for 20 years. Under the Seals Directive, it is still legal to import skins from adult harp and hooded seals in most EU member states, including the UK. The Government is committed to extending the ban, so products from the adult harp and hooded seals would also be prohibited throughout the EU.
Along with colleagues at the DTI and F&CO, I am pursing this action at EU level, as unilateral measures alone would be ineffective. The Canadian High Commission is well aware of our stance on this, and, if we are to have a significant effect on the seal hunt, it is essential that we have the full support of the European Community.
MINISTER OF STATE FOR LOCAL ENVIRONMENT, MARINE AND ANIMAL WELFARE, DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS, LONDON SW1
Don't brainwash our children
Sir: The Department of Education and Skills, in conjunction with the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, will this week begin distributing the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, to all 3,385 secondary schools in England.
According to the DfES, "influencing the opinions of children is crucial to developing a long-term view on the environment among the public" (press release, February 2007). This is an explicit admission by the Government that its intention in circulating the film is to indoctrinate children politically.
Such deliberate political indoctrination of children is contrary to the Education Act 2002, which at section 78 says the school curriculum for maintained schools is to be "balanced and broadly based", and section 79 requires the Secretary of State, local education authorities, governing bodies and headteachers to exercise their functions "with a view to securing that the curriculum for every maintained school satisfies the requirements of section 78".
Political spin is bad enough, but when we start brainwashing our own children we are finished.
Family courts are deeply subjective
Sir: Ms Shepherd's analysis of her situation appears, to me, to miss the point (letter, 13 April). It is quite right and proper that access to society's "safety nets" are stringently controlled. She touches on the real cause of her problems only at the end of her letter. Her ex-husband does not pay maintenance despite having five children.
It is common, even the norm, that family courts fail to implement proper provision for children. I suggest that the quality (age and background) of family court judges and the aura of secrecy contribute to the ineffectiveness of those courts.
From my own case, the family court judge chose to ignore the P60s showing ex-husband's income of £100,000 pa and chose to also ignore my ex-husband's family income of roughly double that, and decided to award on the basis of the ex-husband's unproven and unprovable claims, made in order to avoid paying anything at all.
The judgments in family court, not being subject to public scrutiny, are deeply subjective and anomalous, and evidence is simply not wanted. Many people (mostly children) would have all need for benefits removed if the family court system were overhauled and made public.
NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED
How to tackle the opium trade
Sir: I proposed to a member of the last Conservative administration that a partial solution to the narcotic problem in Britain was to buy the poppy crop in Afghanistan at the price paid by the drug barons and local warlords. Although the idea was sympathetically received by the MP, no further action was taken.
The present proposals as outlined in Christopher Smallwood's article (10 April) would, by themselves, make the situation worse not better, because in a poverty-stricken country such as Afghan-istan growing more poppy not less would be seen by many as a solution to that poverty.
To be effective, poppy purchase would have to be phased out by progressive price reduction over, say, five years, during which the price paid for Afghanistan's natural alternative crops - wheat, fruit etc - would be sustained at the level originally paid for poppy.
This would then be more attractive than the risk of crop destruction and punishment that is the sole weapon now employed against the opium trade.
For an Afghan peasant with a family to feed, security (even the harsh security of a Taliban regime) in which he knows he will be able to reap and sell what he has sown, is paramount. This cannot be provided by the present negative, one-sided approach.
JOHN C GRIFFITHS
There's hope, Kate
Sir: It's always sad when a young couple in love part, but on hearing about Kate Middleton and Prince William breaking up I had to stifle a yawn. I wondered, who really cares? I'm sure they'll survive this rift, and who knows, if history repeats itself which it has a habit of doing, perhaps Kate could one day become another Camilla. So cheer up, young lady; all is not lost.
One seat's enough
Sir: The report "Tories claim Labour cannot find council candidates" (14 April) has to be one of Eric Pickles' worst jokes. Who is standing for them? Anyone they can drag off the streets. I had a letter from my local MP, Mark Harper, inviting me to stand as a Tory candidate in May's local elections in the Forest of Dean. I was briefly tempted but thought it may be incompatible with my present position.
LABOUR MEP, SOUTH-WEST ENGLAND, CINDERFORD, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Sir: As we move into the holiday season, where are the entrepreneurs who will invest a few million to build a tunnel under the Solent to the Isle of Wight? Thousands of drivers would happily pay £20 each way to access the island daily, and prospective homeowners would bring untold prosperity. Let us say goodbye to the ferries, charging fares double the price of travelling to France.
Carrot myth unpeeled
Sir: The notion of carrot-crunching fighter pilots having enhanced night vision (letter, 14 April) is also a myth; it was just a ruse intended to conceal from the Germans the RAF use of airborne radar.
BUNBURY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Sir: The advice by Alan Johnson, our Secretary of State for Education, that students should use the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is typical of the philistines running this country, when every university student is told they must not use this fount of all fag-packet knowledge and for very good reason. But we can all rest easy, the government is only doing its best and it's not its fault that things go wrong. They don't actually lie to us, just don't give us the full information.
KINGSTON UPON HULL
Signs of madness
Sir: A sign beneath a Blue Badge symbol in the car park at the Gunwharf shopping centre here reads "Illegal parking enforced". I have been there often, always parked legally, and no one has ever tried to make me do otherwise. Still, if I am compelled to, I expect I could find ways of parking illegally. This should please them.
Sir: Patrons of a Leicester ladies' hairdressing salon should not be surprised to see mares beside them. One sign states "Bridle service available".