Sir: I work in the drugs field and have done for many years. I am now working with people in police custody, seeing addicts and drug users who are arrested.
I have always defended cannabis as being a relatively harmless drug. However I do agree that it is increasingly becoming a problem particularly for the younger generation (The Big Question, 6 February).
Skunk is a mix of the indica and sativa plants, which does produce a stronger crop (with more THC) and thus does increase the risk of mental health problems. However, I would argue that the main reason is that the vast majority of the crop is grown in this country under the wrong conditions, which has led to growers spraying the crop with methadone, cocaine, morphine and any other drugs which increase the effect and appearance of the crop. This means that the drugs being used bear little resemblance to the cannabis that was imported (and grown in proper conditions) from abroad.
All of the above is a huge reason to legalise, grow, and test cannabis and educate people on its effects. This is the only way to reduce harm to our children and the next generation of cannabis smokers. To reclassify the drug as a class B or A would only serve the purpose of increasing the strength of the crop and thus the damage to people who smoke it. When any drug is illegally grown its potency is always higher than its legal counterpart, in order to maximise profit.
Name and address supplied
MPs' lax wayswith public money
Sir: In all the discussion about MPs' expenses, I have seen no comparisons made with other organisations accountable for public funds.
For many years I managed a registered charity, a citizens advice bureau funded by a combination of local authorities. Regardless of whether we had an eminently suitable internal candidate for a paid job, we were obliged to publicise and recruit in an open and fully documented manner, precisely because we were publicly funded and required to comply with Equal Opportunities legislation.
Any expense claim had to be accompanied by a receipt or detailed justification. The practice apparently common among MPs of, for example, four people travelling in one car lodging four separate mileage claims is an utterly repugnant deceit which would not have been tolerated for a moment. Indeed we had a volunteer retired from the Civil Service who tried to claim mileage although he used his bicycle. Our monitoring system gave him short shrift.
It seems that Parliament has a well established and disgraceful culture of implicitly legitimised dishonesty and venality.
Sir: After the delegation of budgets to schools neither I, as head, nor the members of our senior management team claimed expenses for daily car journeys in support of home visits, medical visits, local authority meetings, educational visits, weekend activities or sports fixtures. We believed this allowed a greater proportion of the budget to be allocated to the children. Members of staff often gave items of new footwear, bought additional clothing for needy students and subsidised school residential visits.
We need either Diogenes and his lamp, or a new Guido Fawkes.
Wigan, Greater Manchester
Sir: The 27th and latest amendment to the US Constitution reads: "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives [held every two years] shall have intervened."
The reason for making an election of the members of the House of Representatives, who represent the people, a condition for the implementation of increases in compensation is the same as in another provision of the US Constitution. This states: "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate [which represents the States] may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills." That is, it is the people's money that is "raised as Revenue" and paid as "compensation" for Congressperson's "services".
However, the Amendment was first proposed in 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights but was not ratified until more than 200 years later, in 1992. Does this mean that we are going to have to wait a similar time for a similar restriction on implementing "variations" in MPs' "compensation"?
D A Reibel
Sir: Does anyone else find it amusing (or should that be amazing?) that Members of Parliament can claim £250 expenses without having to produce a receipt, while the basic old age pension has just gone up to £90.70 per week?
A J Byrne
Building a more cohesive society
Sir: Deborah Orr may well mock aspects of acronyms and bureaucratic speak but she displays a major misunderstanding of the work she talks about ("Farewell to multiculturalism, welcome to community cohesion", 6 February). The process she makes fun of is exactly the type of thing that is helping public authorities deal with the pressing issues they face on a daily basis.
The Institute of Community Cohesion does indeed play a leading role in the policy debates over multiculturalism and integration but it, uniquely, does far more. We have an ambitious research programme, dedicated to understanding the dynamics of population change and diverse communities.
We also deal with issues at a local level, recognising that for all the debates we can enjoy, it is communities across the country who are on the frontline of building a more cohesive society. That is why we aim to learn from their experiences, share good ideas and spread what works.
The communications toolkit mentioned is a very good case in point. Rather than simply joining the ranks of those railing against the vagaries of the local press giving an unhelpful perspective of the diversity of their neighbourhoods, the toolkit actually gives practical advice, based on experience in other parts of the country, on how to work with the media to change their behaviour. This is just one example of the way in which we do this work.
The Government does not get everything right on cohesion, but the renewed emphasis upon identifying local solutions must surely be welcomed. Cohesion is a big enough challenge without this kind of misrepresentation and cheap shots.
Director of Policy, Institute of Community Cohesion, Barnet, Hertfordshire
Sir: Deborah Orr's article is absolutely brilliant. She summed up the Government's approach to local councils over the past 20 years in one wonderful sentence: "The Government does recognise that cohesion can only be promoted at local level, and being a centralising government it is eager to put in place mechanisms whereby it can control from Whitehall this need for local change."
For "cohesion", substitute any part of a council's remit, and you can add in the NHS and the police for good measure. Ironically, First, the Local Government Association's magazine for local councillors, welcomes each of these initiatives in truly Orwellian style by claiming that the Government is devolving power and responsibility to local councillors. We are not fooled.
Councillor David Pollard
First task of doctors is to be available
Sir: Once again, in the letter of Professor Walter Holland (5 February), a member of the medical profession implies that the demands of the public are unreasonable. The problem with all our health services, public and private, is access. The one point of entry is through the general practitioner. Minor problems are dealt with by him and others referred on. He, or she, is the gate keeper to the whole service. In desperation, minor but urgent complaints flood hospital accident and emergency units.
I have needed medical treatment in recent years in France, Spain, Germany and Taiwan. In all cases I had access to treatment almost immediately, even in two cases with a consultant. Other health services recognise this requirement and have created wide avenues of access through medical centres, telephone consultation, hospital units and the internet as well as general practice, all of this on a 24- hour basis. The trick is to make access an end in itself and not confuse it with the generality of local medical care and treatment.
There are still private practices in Britain where such a service is available and I am fortunate to be able to use one such. But it is the exception. We in Britain seem incapable of realising that the first task of our medical practitioners is to be available and the second is reassurance. Nobody expects doctors to work excessive hours. But we do expect there to be arrangements for immediate access round the clock. If other countries can do this, why not here? The answer is that our medical profession tends to concentrate on sickness and not people. The provision of open access is not a question of money, but of attitude. Over to you, Professor.
Sir: I read with incredulity the letter from Linda Elliott (7 February) complaining about the difficulty in obtaining an appointment at her local surgery at a time convenient to her and her employers.
If the world of work has reached such importance in our lives that we either fear our boss's reaction to a surgery visit or consider that our careers are more important than our health then I think it's time we all took a hard look at where society's priorities lie.
The high price of two incomes
Sir: I was interested to read Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's views (4 February) on the Nigella Generation, and widening the choice between doing paid work and domestic activities.
The driving force behind the two-income family has shifted from women's liberation and personal fulfilment to housing costs – especially mortgages. If the finance industry were to revert to the regime of the 1960s – to lend against the income of only one family member – within a few years house prices would drop.
Yes, this would require a reversion to the sort of regulatory framework that has not existed since the early 1980s. It would certainly bring down the wrath of the "financial services" industry, who make so much money from the present arrangements, and who would complain that such a measure would be "anti-competitive" and "difficult to police". But we seemed to manage to house ourselves as satisfactorily in those regulatory days as we do now. And as long as the demand for land continues to exceed supply, pumping more money into the market can only result in price rises. The answer is to take money out.
Even if only a small percentage of the workforce, relieved from mortgage payments, were to opt out of the daily travel-to-work routine, that would reduce the number of vehicles on the roads and would probably also raise the number of parents walking their kids to school. The only people to suffer would be those of my generation who would doubtless moan that the inflated "value" of our houses would drop. But then their heirs would pay less inheritance tax.
Peter D Brown
One law for all, including Muslims
Sir: Although I generally find the Archbishop of Canterbury thoughtful and illuminating in his political and ethical observations, I cannot accept his contention that Sharia law is "unavoidable" in the UK.
It is true that many people in this country, not just Muslims, are disaffected with our legal system. But whatever their grounds for despising existing laws or the manner of their enforcement, allowing people to submit only to laws which they respect is a dangerous precedent. It would weaken the authority of the law, and far from bringing communities closer together and increasing equality, it would serve only to reinforce social divisions and exacerbate inequality.
Everyone should be equal before the law, regardless of race, colour, creed or anything else. Applying different laws to different people, whether or not they choose them, clearly defeats this object.
Sir: After the retinal burn of a Friday night, back-to-back DVD session that included the King Kong remake ("When unreality bites", Review, 1 February), a friend announced he'd come down with a bad case of "CGI-tis". Should we, the digitally dissatisfied, adopt this as our clarion call?
Alien approach to sport
Sir: As if the headline "Capello won't tolerate losing" wasn't enough to make any decent Englishman choke on his cornflakes, we then have to endure a disgustingly elegant man getting emotional when the opposition score. Some core English values are at risk here. Oh for the days of the catatonic McClaren under his umbrella, or the sartorial accident that is Allardyce on the touchline. I suggest Capello be invited to spend a quiet and rational weekend with Tim Henman and his parents. That way he will understand how sport should be approached in this country.
Sir: I suppose one could abolish private schools, as some recent correspondents have suggested. However, it would only drive private education underground and generate more private home tuition. The market does not go away just because some people might want it to.
Thomas F Maher
Director, British Home Tutors London SW6
Sent to the workhouse
Sir: Housing minister Caroline Flint's suggestion that those unable to find work might be denied social housing has inevitably drawn unflattering comparisons with the days of the workhouse. Such comparisons should be resisted since, in addition to offering accommodation and sustenance, the workhouse provided employment to all able-bodies inmates. They were not required to go out and find a job in an increasingly difficult labour market as a condition of residence.
Sir: We must all sympathise with your correspondent Ralph Walker (7 February). Should not your series on the Great Philosophers carry a health warning: "Caution: too many isms can seriously damage your sanity?"