Letters: Later opening hours

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Later opening hours, more drinking and trouble on the streets

Sir: The Government's actions on drinking and smoking defy logic. The belief is that magically, simply by aping the Continent's opening hours we will adopt continental drinking behaviour - contrary to hundreds of years of evidence. The idea that the "binge drinkers" will relax and cosset their glass of rosé for hours on end shows a complete disengagement from reality. Heavy drinkers do not concentrate their dosage in the final minutes before closing: many are drunk well in advance of closing time. Extending opening hours will increase the amount of drinking.

At the same time, pubs are dispensing wine in ridiculously large measures. In an increasing number of places a "large" glass can hold 250ml -- a third of a bottle of wine. The result: quicker turnaround for the pub, fewer glasses used and bigger profits, but increased drunkenness.

The Government claims that by allowing flexible opening hours possible conflict between revellers will be avoided. How so? Groups of people will likely move from early closing bars on to late closing ones, thereby increasing the likelihood of trouble. Or if a late bar proves popular, competitors will delay their closing times. In such an outcome we'd revert to "simultaneous exeunt" - only much later, after more alcoholic consumption and when there is less public transport available.

As regards smoking, what precisely is the Government trying to prevent? Is it death through passive smoking, or the presence of unpleasant smells where food is served? And why are the lungs of barmen less affected than those of waiters?

I have sympathy for those unfortunate enough to live near pubs. The combination of the drinking and smoking plans will inevitably lead to revellers spilling out onto the pavements to have a cigarette - in the early hours of the morning.



Public services back to the bad old days

Sir: Many years ago the provision of education and health care was in the hands of charities and philanthropists. Hospitals for the poor had to beg for money for their institutions and if this was not forthcoming the hospital struggled and the poor it served lost out. Gradually the government quite rightly took over the provision of healthcare and education to provide a service which was universal, free at the point of delivery and reasonably fair.

Now it seems we are returning to the bad old days of locally funded, charitable provision (report, 26 October). Academies will be sponsored by churches, businesses or philanthropists. Inevitably institutions in better-off areas will have more access to money and more articulate parents and patients who will be well placed to get the best of everything for themselves.

Of course the terms used are "partnership" and "sponsorship" but the outcome is the same; any institution without good connections and a committed team of governors can expect to lose out. I find New Labour's drive to return to pre-war charitable provision astonishing.



Sir: There is a yawning chasm between the Emperor's New Clothes tendency, which is in the ascendant in the NHS, and the practical reality of which Martha Lane Fox speaks ("Survival of the richest", 28 October).

The NHS is being managed to death and/or scattered to the capricious winds of the market. So much for holistic care, collaborative networks and rational coherent health provision. At a recent meeting, confronted by yet another skip-load of bumf, a respected and accomplished colleague buried her face in her hands and asked "Does anyone know what all this means?" None replied.

Complexity and inchoate change offer a rich seam to be mined by the numerous chancers and plungers that populate management. Naturally, it is in their interests to keep the pot boiling.

Coherent simplicity, the true path to virtue, needs to be rediscovered urgently. Nor should it be forgotten that the third leg of the healthcare stool is the patients - the users have as much responsibility for the disciplined operation of the NHS as clinicians and management.



Sir: I am astonished by the latest proposals for education. As a teacher, and on half term, I would have thought that they would have given us some time off the constant changes and so-called innovations in the schools we teachers ply our trade in.

Why don't they let the teachers teach, and the parents parent? The idea to let parents interfere in the school curriculum is barmy. Would you let a passenger on a plane choose flight paths and advise the pilot? Would you let patients advise doctors and dentists?

What it really is is an attack on the teaching profession. For someone who has taught for over twenty years it further demoralises me. What is Ruth Kelly doing about that?



Sir: Why do you persist in misrepresenting the Government's Education White Paper as relevant to the whole of Britain? Your headline (24 October) claimed the debate to be "The Battle for Britain's schools" and your editorial (26 October) stated that it is "high time that the hold of local education authorities over Britain's schools was broken". The White Paper has no relevance in Scotland and Wales.



Gay man's fear of Christianity

Sir: Stephen Boswell (Letters, 26 October) says that as a gay man he would be liable to the death penalty under any genuinely Christian regime. However, as I understand it, Christians are those who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. Jesus both spoke and acted against bigotry. Indeed, he made it quite clear on a number of occasions that violence of any sort, including the death penalty, was unacceptable, while the case of the woman taken in adultery gives a clear indication of where he would have stood on any proposed execution for supposedly moral reasons.

I find it very sad that so many of those who claim to be Christians are ignorant of what their leader taught and often adopt ideas directly opposite to those teachings. How, for instance was that noted listener to God, George W Bush, able to sign death warrants when he was governor of Texas, let alone launch a pre-emptive war that has claimed thousands of innocent lives ?



More to do in fight against poverty

Sir: Your leading article "The merits of healthy scepticism" (28 October) was right to take a measured stance on the outcome of the Gleneagles summit, and world poverty.

In unprecedented numbers this year, the public all around the world expressed solidarity with the world's most vulnerable children and demanded action. The story of the year though is that leaders have shown themselves unwilling to do all their citizens want on trade, debt and aid. And whilst world leaders have recognised the need to make primary schooling free they have only just begun to recognise the need for free essential health care.

Free schooling and health care must be supported by enough resources and the right policies to lift a generation of children out of poverty. For instance Uganda was able to make health services free in 2001 with the support of increased funds from donors, resulting in a 117 per cent increase in outpatient attendance. Citizens of the rich and poor worlds need to continue to put pressure on their governments to break the cycle of poverty. World leaders have the opportunity to turn things round at the WTO meeting in December. We will be at the mass lobby of Parliament on 2 November, calling for trade justice.



Sir: When the Africa Commission Report was published in March this year it said: "Liberalisation must not be forced on Africa though trade". Two coalitions, the Trade Justice Movement and Make Poverty History, had asked Bob Geldof to champion the right of poor countries to not have free trade imposed upon them. The Live8 organiser agreed with our concerns and made sure the report could not be signed off without including such a statement.

Recently, the Secretary for Trade and Industry, Alan Johnson, has given an assurance that this "no forced liberalisation" policy is his priority for the World Trade Organisation (WTO). We welcome the Government's new policy but need to see evidence of it in practice.

Stuart Hodkinson is wrong to imply that Make Poverty History has somehow gone away ("It this history?" 26 October). On 2 November we will stage the biggest lobby of Parliament this year. Around the world an unparalleled mobilisation of hundreds of millions of ordinary people is under way. Their voices are demanding that Tony Blair and other world leaders make radical changes to the way world trade is currently managed so it benefits poor people and not just the rich and powerful. The spotlight in this country should now be on whether the UK and the EU will remain obstacles to trade justice or urgently drop the aggressive stance of our trading bloc in WTO negotiations. If our political demands are not met then the blame should fall on the politicians that hold the power to make poverty history, not the activists - famous or otherwise - who are still calling for urgent action .



Lighter mornings lift northern gloom

Sir: Returning from holiday through France on Saturday, we picked up a copy of L'Est Republicain, a newspaper circulating in eastern France. At the bottom of the front page we read "Demain a 3h retardez vos montres d'une heure" - "Put back your watches by one hour at 3 am tomorrow morning."

L'Est went on to tell us that France and the countries of Europe except Estonia and Lithuania change to wintertime this weekend. A short item inside the paper further informed us that Portugal, Great Britain, Ireland and the Canary Islands are one hour behind France, while Greece, Finland and the Baltic countries are one hour ahead.

Later that day, we collected The Independent at Maidstone services and read in your leading article that this "irritating and obsolete practice" is carried on in the UK too!

When will you learn that the world is spherical, with resulting changes in the disposition of daylight over the course of each day and year. While not changing the clocks might suit those living around Canary Wharf , it is a different matter clearing ice off the car, never mind getting children off to school, in pitch blackness on a winter's morn further north.

Our present arrangements are a compromise to suit our country's geographical position on the globe.



Threats from Iran and from Israel

Sir: Like Tony Blair I too was appalled when the leader of a sovereign state with nuclear ambitions called for attacks on a rival sovereign state.

The difference being that I was appalled back in November 2002 when Ariel Sharon told the New York Post that he would "push for Iran to be at the top of the 'to do' list" after Iraq had been dealt with.

This was while Tony Blair was still telling the country that war with Iraq was far from inevitable and he was doing everything he could to "give peace a chance". Should we now expect Mr Blair to work for the same sort of "peaceful" outcome in Iran and if so on what timetable?



Sir: Talking of "wiping countries off the map", where is Palestine?



Sir: Iran has blotted its copy-book when it comes to a future invitation to join the EU.



Old pals' act

Sir: The Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor might be excused for considering the reaction to President Bush's abortive nomination to the Supreme Court somewhat harsh and unfair. Harriet Miers was able to demonstrate her legal qualities in the course of acting for 10 years as counsel for the President. Had she merely shared a flat with him, that would be quite a different matter.



Lack of enforcement

Sir: Alexander Dow complains of swearing by football players and writes that the rules need sorting out (letter, 31 October). The laws of Association Football are quite clear: under Law 12 a player is sent off and shown a red card if he commits any one of seven offences of which one is "using offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures". The laws are adequate - the referees are inadequate.



False paper trail

Sir: The allegations by US senators that George Galloway accepted money from Saddam Hussein bear a strong resemblance to the claims that Iraq had bought uranium ore from Nigeria before the Iraq war. A "paper trail" was adduced as proof of Saddam's guilt but was later shown to be a forgery. However, by then it had served its purpose in providing an excuse for the attack on Iraq.



Cramped library

Sir: Is the London Library's quaintness at risk, asks Jay Merrick (26 October). Am I the only member to wish it were? The collection is first-rate, and the staff are magnificent, but the building - from its crepuscular and uncomfortable reading rooms to the labyrinth of staircases and bookstacks - is a shambles. Rather than attempting yet again to compress a quart into a pint pot, however quaint, Howarth Tompkins should design an entirely new, modern building to fit the purposes of the foreseeable future.



Not given a chance

Sir: Kevin Houston declares (letter 31 October) that women would be equally "crap at running the world". I wonder, how could he know?