Sir: As a former economic adviser to the Treasury (2001-03) with responsibility both for providing advice on Inheritance Tax (IHT) and for managing the Budget process, I would like to point out an anomaly in the Chancellor's proposed reform of IHT ("Darling's promise: no inheritance tax on family estates worth less than £700,000", 10 October).
At present, when one partner in a marriage dies their assets pass tax-free to the surviving spouse. The proposed change to IHT appears to allow the deceased partner's IHT allowance to be transferred to their spouse or civil partner which, in turn, is then effectively inherited by their surviving children. Thus the proposed change has the effect of doubling the IHT threshold for the heirs to the spouse or civil partner who dies second.
However, the proposed reform to IHT does nothing for those, like myself, who were bought up by a single parent as a result of divorce. In a case such as mine, the effective IHT threshold will remain exactly where it was before Tuesday's announcement. Thus, not only do the children of divorcees have to go through the agony of seeing their parents split up but, on the basis of the proposed reform, they are going to be penalised via the tax system for having this dubious honour. Given that the UK has the highest divorce rate in the EU, this is not an insignificant issue.
To make the proposed reform "fair" (I personally believe, on grounds of social justice, that the current threshold is about right, given that the principal asset in most families is a house whose value has inflated because of the vagaries of the housing market and not the thrift or entrepreneurship of its owners), it needs to apply equally to each and every heir regardless of the marital status of their parents. The proposed reform discriminates against those who, by no fault of their own, saw their parents separate.
Dr Andrew Meads
Lecturer in Economics, Open University, Milton Keynes
Sir: A Labour government is to tax capital at one third of the tax on labour. The top rate of tax on earned income is 53.8 per cent (40 per cent income tax, 1 per cent NI, 12.8 per cent employer's NI) almost three times the tax on the unearned income of the capital gain on an investment or second home (18 per cent). Is it not time the party was renamed the capitalist party, or would the unions no longer fund it then?
Planning law stops me going green
Sir: I live in a Grade 2 listed country house and would like to run it in a little more environmentally friendly (and cheaper) way.
I have looked into installing solar panels on a roof which can only be seen from my fields, to heat the water. No go. I then inquired about erecting a domestic size wind turbine on one of my fields. Sorry, conservation area, can't be done. Finally, I decided that I'd bite the bullet and foot the bill for replacing my sash windows with double glazed but otherwise look-alike new ones, but was told that the thicker glass (all of 100-200mm difference) so significantly alters the appearance that this also cannot be approved.
I am left with a draughty, un-eco-friendly, expensive to run but absolutely beautiful house – which will not stay that way much longer, as the heating bills are eating the capital I had planned to use for maintaining this national monument.
I do not disagree with English Heritage. I do love the look of English cities and countryside and the old buildings and I do think it extremely important that there are some rules to regulate how we can change listed buildings. But it should be done in a reasonable manner, considering the ever more challenging environmental issues. House-owners should be encouraged to do everything they can to make their old houses more compliant to current greener standards without radically affecting the way they look.
Isn't it time the Government took some decisions to overrule this important, but too powerful office, which seems to be holding us back from becoming environmentally responsible citizens? Almost everywhere else in Europe, citizens are given grants to make their houses more eco-friendly, but here we are forbidden from doing so even at our own cost.
Kington Langley, Wiltshire
Sir: I am aghast that Dr Norman Page (letter, 8 October) suggests that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere will help to feed the world's increasing population. If CO2 carries on increasing, it will not compensate for the global decrease in crop yields caused by droughts and increased temperatures. Rice in the tropics is already at a point where further increase in night-time temperature will decrease yields, while decreases in rainfall will affect all crops. Increasing CO2 will further acidify the seas, so threatening marine ecosystems, apart from changes in temperature.
He is wrong to assert that Antarctic sea ice is at a record high: there was more in the early 1970s. The recent non-statistically-significant rise is dwarfed by the decrease in Arctic sea ice.
A similar short-term perspective applies to his assertion that "global warming has stopped, at least for the time being". While it's true that 1998 is the hottest year recorded, this is explained by a strong Niño effect set against a rising temperature trend. This means that most of the years since then have had temperatures almost as high, so what looked like an exceptionally warm year is now just a little warmer than the recent few years.
As your environment editor is aware of the peer-reviewed science, he shows us where our current industrial lifestyles are taking us. How to deal with climate change will require all our creativity, but to suggest that we should carry on as before really would be a catastrophe.
Dr Lawrence Clark
Sir: Your report (10 October) that climate-changing pollution from shipping may be nearly twice as damaging as flying highlights the need for urgent action on both these sectors.
Next month the UK Government is due to introduce a new law to set "carbon budgets" for this country's carbon dioxide emissions. But, rather absurdly, emissions from Britain's share of international shipping and aviation are not included in their current proposals. This is like going on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting the calories in chocolate.
If Gordon Brown's vision of leading the world in developing a low-carbon economy is to become a reality, he must include all sources of carbon dioxide in his proposals for a climate law.
Director, Friends of the EarthLondon N1
France remains a member of Nato
Sir: The 10 October story "France moves closer to rejoining Nato" is not the first to convey the mistaken impression that France is not a member of the Alliance. While General de Gaulle did indeed take French forces out of the integrated military command forty years ago and invite Nato headquarters to relocate elsewhere, France never gave up her membership, any more than Greece did when she absented herself from the command structure for six years in protest over the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
Nato has by design always been as much a political alliance as a military command; detente joined defence and deterrence in the late 1960s as primary objectives. France has to this day been an active partner in allied decision-making on subjects ranging from political responses to Soviet threats to common strategies for dealing with trans-national environmental threats. France rejoined the Nato Military Committee in 1995 and has been involved fully, if not officially, in Nato strategic planning ever since.
One might reasonably suspect the French of seeking to challenge traditional American leadership in matters of Western defence, but proposals for institutional links between Nato and the European Union are unexceptional given that 23 countries are members of both and the fact that both times and threats have changed.
(US Foreign Service, Retired), Bordeaux
The innovators in British music
Sir: Your report, "Major record labels 'stifling creativity' say independents" (5 October), is the same, tired story from these organisations. But they do not speak for all independents: for instance, the BPI, the trade body for UK record companies, has 483 members, of which 380 are independent.
Impala's Helen Smith says it is not in the interests of big companies to be innovative.
Your readers deserve better than this kind of absurd claim. And it's an insult to Universal Music artists such as Amy Winehouse, Klaxons, P J Harvey, Kate Nash, the Fratelli, Kaiser Chiefs,; Scissor Sisters, Keane and Ian Brown, among others.
As a company, we make substantial investments in British creativity, as well as offering employment to hundreds of young, talented people whose sole dedication is to make and market music of distinction. Despite what Ms Smith claims, the consumer does decide , in favour of the originality of our artists.
To take merely one measure: the annual Mercury Music Prize is widely considered to be a reflection of UK innovation, untainted by commercial pressures. Artists signed to Universal Music labels have been winners five times in the past 10 years: Klaxons (this year), as well as Ms Dynamite, P J Harvey, Talvin Singh, and Roni Size/Reprazent.
Universal Music, London W1
Pitiful migrant on the flight to China
Sir: I read with interest your report (8 October) on the decision that XL Airways have taken to stop carrying illegal immigrants back to their home countries.
On 4 October on a Virgin flight to Shanghai, the full plane was treated to a most humiliating experience when the captain announced that an illegal immigrant was about to be carried on to the plane to be taken back to China. What we saw were three private guards carrying a pitiful howling immigrant, who was then accompanied to Shanghai by two of the guards. I have flown frequently and this is the worst experience I have ever encountered on a flight.
David E Gravell
Theology against creationism
Sir: I found Patrick Tansey's letter (8 October) quite hilarious. There was light on the first day of creation, but the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day: how could this be?
Well, I was taught this discrepancy well over 50 years ago in school, by an RE teacher who was himself a Christian; my confirmation classes in church confirmed it, and discussed it. We came to the same conclusion as Patrick, that this part of the Bible is the product of a primitive civilisation which had no conception of science as we know it.
I have believed and taught that way of looking at parts of the Bible in nearly 40 years as a Christian priest. So where's the controversy? The arguments of creationists are childish and fallacious: most Christians have long since grown up.
The Revd John Williams
Chichester, West Sussex
Sir: Much of mathematics is to do with objects whose "existence" in anything other than a purely conceptual sense is moot. But questions such as, "If -1 did have a square root, what properties would such a number have"? have proved extremely fruitful.
Similarly, atheists should not dismiss as "irrelevant" questions such as, "If the universe did have a creator, what would be the nature of such a being"? Would it, for example, create each species from scratch, then go to extraordinary lengths to add "false" evidence of an evolutionary past? Or would it rather create a universe fine-tuned to allow the emergence, and subsequent evolution, of life?
Theology is potentially a useful ally in the struggle against creationist stupidity. Given the rising tide of fundamentalism, I'm not sure that it's an ally which Professor Dawkins is altogether wise to refuse.
Sir: "India's growth could be even better, says OECD" (report, 10 October). True, it could. But India will only be able to call itself a civilised nation when the brick-making child in the photograph alongside the article is in school.
Sir: Many people talk about privatisation as the solution to postal problems, but I fear that it could create problems similar to those on the bus network – an even more fragmented and patchy service with each company playing by its own rules. Royal Mail workers should be careful about how often they strike though, because management will look for ways to automate more of the work.
Choice of dictators
Sir: I have been fascinated by the differing television coverage of two military dictatorships in recent weeks. The Burmese dictatorship, a Chinese vassal state, has been described, quite correctly, as "a brutal military junta" which kills and imprisons its opponents. The Pakistan version, on the other hand, was interviewed on BBC's Newsnight with his elderly mother, who said he was a "good boy" and had "lots of stamina". Could this be related to the fact that Pakistan is a US vassal state (sorry, "ally")?
Back to prison
Sir: David Hanson, Minster of State at the Ministry of Justice, argues that criticism of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) by Deborah Orr is "lopsided" (letter, 8 October). But is it not also lopsided for him to assert that NOMS has "made a measurable impact on the reconviction rate of offending", when prison building has become a priority and the vast majority of those entering prison portals are no strangers to the criminal justice system?
H A Thomas
Lesson in busking
Sir: Busking on the London Underground, formerly illegal and a frequent annoyance, occasional delight, and invariable reminder of the richness, weirdness, and sheer desperation of city life, has been legalised, licensed – and thereby almost entirely eradicated. The few buskers who remain are bland and harmless. Could there be a lesson here for the strategists of the War on Drugs?
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