Sir: Step by step, we are getting nearer to a full-scale inquiry into the Iraq conflict.
On 24 January the Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown said in a debate I led in the House of Lords that the Government accepted the case in principle for such an inquiry. Your welcome report (17 March) confirms that this is the Prime Minister's intention.
The crucial question that remains is just when this inquiry will take place. Gordon Brown suggests that if it were to take place now it would "divert attention" away from efforts to support Iraq's development. This argument should not be accepted.
The public interest is best served by holding an inquiry when memories are reasonably fresh. As for diverting attention, we should remember that the First World War inquiry into the operations in the Dardanelles was set up in 1916 with Britain directly threatened.
Above all, there is the position of more than four million refugees from the conflict either displaced internally or in exile in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Their conditions are often appalling and any inquiry must examine whether Britain is doing enough to help them. They should not be told that they will have to wait until the Government consider the time for an inquiry is ripe. Five years after the start of the conflict is time enough.
On Thursday 20 March there is a further debate in the Lords on Iraq. It gives the Government the opportunity to reconsider its position.
Lord Fowler, House of Lords
Chinese misdeeds around the world
Sir: In your paper of 17 March, all the most disturbing reports seem to concern the cold-blooded activities of one regime, the Chinese.
On pages 7 and 36, we read that China has banned climbers from Everest; on page 22, readers were reminded of China's refusal to act on Darfur; on pages 27 and 39 was the latest news on China's cruel repression of the Tibetan people, now spreading beyond Lhasa to neighbouring Chinese regions. Finally, on page 28, comes the distressing news about Janjaweed militia funding their atrocities in Sudan by killing elephants for ivory, for which the main market is China.
How many people recognise that, in buying Chinese exports, they are indirectly subsidising these and other activities that represent China's attitude on human and animal rights and the environment?
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Sir: The Chinese government has pledged its allegiance to the Olympic Charter, which calls upon it to "create a way of life based on . . . respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" and states that the goal of Olympianism is "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity".
As recently as 2006, a UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, identified that many factors contribute to the continuing practice of torture in China, including flawed judicial rules of evidence, excessive detention without charge, the absence of a presumption of innocence and restricted rights to defence counsel. All this he identified as aggravated by the lack of a free press, independent human rights monitoring and fair courts.
Against this backdrop, the Chinese government is calling for the people of Tibet, who are bravely risking their lives so that the world might hear their voices, to hand themselves in. Sadly, they have already been handed in by the world's lack of attention to the plight of a people who, since 1959, have had their language, religion, traditions and freedom of speech eroded, and largely destroyed, by a military might that continues to deny them their basic human rights.
So when the world watches the enormous opulence with which no doubt the 2008 Olympics will open, will it remember that this year the world's sporting heroes will stand upon podiums of broken Olympic promises? And more to the point, will we do something about it?
Deputy Chair, Free Tibet Campaign, London N1
Sir: It is a mistake to view the suffering of the Tibetan people as merely a "human rights" issue – it is far more than that.
As a matter of international law, the position is unambiguously clear: Tibet is an independent sovereign nation under illegal foreign occupation. China committed an act of aggression in invading Tibet in 1950, and has remained there ever since in occupation against the wishes of Tibetans, governing the country with all the characteristics of an oppressive colonial administration. By any definition, Tibetans are a "people" under international law, and are therefore entitled to the right of self-determination. The 1993 London Statement, issued by dozens of independent international legal experts, is definitive. The legal, and ethical, case on behalf of the Tibetans is beyond doubt.
The cultural genocide that has systematically occurred is a blot on humanity's conscience. The world has stood by and allowed Tibetans to become an insignificant minority in their own country and to suffer unimaginable brutality. It is shameful that it takes violence to bring this issue to the world's attention. If our values gave real priority to non-violent means and to upholding international law consistently, and with integrity, then the recent tragic deaths in Tibet could have been avoided.
Sir: Saddam Hussein claimed (rightly) that Kuwait was part of what is now Iraq in ancient history and only the Ottoman Empire separated it. He invaded and the UN went to war to put him out.
Milosevic claimed (rightly) that Kosovo had been a part of Serbia for 800 years and sent his army in to protect Serbs living there from KLA terrorism. Nato went to war and put him out.
The Chinese dictatorship claims that Tibet (rightly) has been a province of China for 800 years and sends the army in to subdue its people. The world – does what?
Beauty of English landscape in peril
Sir: It is clear from Sir Martin Doughty's defence of Natural England's habitat management policy (Letters, 12 March) that Natural England, from the top down, neither knows nor cares about landscape aesthetics. The appearance of landscapes that have been given the Natural England makeover is invariably appalling and remains so for many years.
It may be true that the biodiversity of England's lowland heaths is enhanced by management, but it does not need to be the kind of management that creates an aesthetic wasteland. Natural England has a duty to care for the aesthetic values of our landscapes. Here in Bristol, we are fighting proposals that are supported by Natural England that will degrade the aesthetic and visual amenity value of the Avon Gorge.
They need to get a grip on this issue and develop a policy for landscape aesthetics if we are not to see this famous landscape altered for the worst.
Avon Gorge & Downswatch Bristol
Missing hospital appointments
Sir: Like Craig Orr ("Why were we waiting so long?" 11 March), I too "missed" an appointment for a scan that I didn't know had been made. When I was rung a couple of days later and asked why I hadn't turned up, the fact that an expensive machine had been left idle for an hour seemed of greater concern than that the start of my cancer treatment had potentially been delayed by a month.
On the follow-up assessment form – "Were we on time?" "Were we reassuring?" etc – after the eventual scan, I suggested there should be a reply requirement in appointment letters, confirming receipt and accepting the appointment; if a reply was not received at the hospital by, say, four days before the appointment, then a telephone inquiry to the patient should be made. That way, there would be time for the patient to take up the appointment or otherwise for the slot to be allocated to somebody else.
I have no idea whether or not the suggestion was taken up or even considered.
The family business of tax evasion
Sir: Xavier Gallagher asks (Letters, 15 March) which activities by members of a family business I believe should not be rewarded. He is misrepresenting the issue. If members of a family are genuinely sharing in the running of a business then they should have no problem in showing that they are doing so, and thereby justifying the collective tax reduction they achieve. The government proposal, now regrettably postponed, was merely that in future they should have to produce evidence of this before pocketing the tax reduction.
Under the proposals, business people who are sharing the work would still have been able to spread their business income and reduce their tax, but those whose families are not genuinely involved would have been forced to stop claiming that they are.
Collapsing markets and Armageddon
Sir: As everybody knows that the whole of the capitalist world is built on greed and fantasy money, it has been of concern to me how easy it would be for a terrorist organisation to infiltrate and cause a market collapse of Armageddonic proportion.
For instance, if they were to organise a system whereby building societies that used to lend prudently were deregulated, thus enabling lending to people who couldn't afford the repayments, then this could cause lack of confidence throughout the market
For the terrorists, this method of bringing down the West and its decadent ways would be far easier than all that messing around with bombs; they could just sit around and watch the greed machine self-destruct.
Of course, I know that we are far too smart for that to happen but would hope that the authorities are keeping an eye out for any warning signs.
Sir: The American banking system has recently created conditions that will affect most of the people on the planet in some way, almost entirely to their disadvantage. Bankers bought mortgages at high risk knowing that there was little possibility that they would be paid off. These mortgages were then put into packages that were sold and sold on. On this basis, the bankers lent or borrowed money from each other knowing they were falsifying their assets. They lied to the world.
We have for the past 10 years or so had a financial boom, but it could not go on for ever. In the last few years these bankers ignored history and common sense. They represent stupidity (and avarice) in the highest degree. They paid themselves grandly, based on assets they knew were overvalued.
When Garry Bushell met Joe Stalin
Sir: I was amused at my inclusion, along with lesser thinkers such as David Mamet and Mussolini, in your recent article "From left to right" (15 March). However in the interests of accuracy, I should point out that the séance where the medium Nella Jones apparently channelled the spirit of Joe Stalin took place in 1987, and not, as stated, 1983. At the 1983 election I foolishly urged the readers of Sounds to vote Labour.
Are "left" and "right" useful terms any more? The real political division today is between those who value freedom, democracy and national independence and those, including this authoritarian "Labour" government, who seek to make England a memory.
'Daily Star Sunday', London EC3
Winter fuel: who pays?
Sir: While I applaud the rise in the amount of winter payment for the over-60s in the Budget, I fail to see why this has to come out of taxpayers' pockets. With utility companies making record profits and giving huge pay rises to fat-cat tycoons, I think the British citizen would prefer the winter fuel aid to the elderly to come from the utility companies.
Sir: Hanne Stinson of the British Humanist Association writes (Letters, 15 March): "The Catholic Bishop of Lancaster's demand that books critical of the Catholic faith should be banned from school libraries is a perfect illustration of the reason why churches and other religious bodies should not control schools in the public sector." Can we infer from this that Humanists would ban nothing from school libraries? If so, this is a perfect illustration of the reason why secular Humanists have never been given control of schools anywhere.
David E Flavell
Sir: Your report (15 March) that BA and BAA insist they "have done everything within their power to reduce impact on the environment" of Heathrow Terminal 5 beggars belief. The final comment that excess energy on-site is re-used and cuts 11,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year does not reveal how many tonnes are emitted. If the damned building wasn't there in the first place, there would be zero emissions to concern us.
Graham A Feakins
Sir: It's a pity Charlotte Cripps (Traveller, 15 March) didn't get beyond her luxury hotel in her "search for signs of literature" in Mauritius. If she had, she might have found reading material more representative of a complex, multicultural nation than the books entered for a competition between non-Mauritian writers. For instance, Lindsey Collen's disturbing, prize-winning novel, The Rape of Sita. Or Toufann, Dev Virahsawmy's mischievous Creole reworking of Shakespeare's The Tempest – pleasurably readable for anyone who can manage French. Or Sedley Assonne's sombre poems reflecting the island's slave history, Le Morne.
Sir: Might I suggest that before those claiming incapacity benefit face any new qualification tests, Ministers and MPs should first undergo them. The necessity and urgency of this appears to be reinforced by Dominic Lawson's report (14 March) that two Cabinet Ministers were unable to walk a distance of 150 yards.
WIGTON, CumbriaReuse content