The tragedy about the decision to ban mephedrone is that is has been based on the widely held misconception that the only choice lies between a legal "free for all" and a "ban". This simplistic approach overlooks that fact that there is a range of legalising options that could give optimum control without the crippling side-effects of illegal supply, criminalisation and devastation of poorer nations.
Equally damagingly, it leads to a futile and sterile dialogue in which those who oppose a ban, on the basis of 40 years' evidence that prohibition does not work, are characterised as being "soft on drugs", while the prohibitionists claim the moral high ground.
The protection of our young people would be far better served if the terms of this debate were based on a shared acknowledgement that drugs are dangerous (in varying degrees) and that there is an urgent need for a rational investigation into how best to control their supply and use, including measures similar to, but possibly more stringent than, those applied now to alcohol and tobacco.
It simply makes no sense to assume, without detailed analysis of how well the Misuse of Drugs Act has achieved its objective, that the right response to the tragic mephedrone-related deaths is to apply a "solution" that has itself resulted in a sharp rise in deaths from heroin and cocaine use in the last decade. This is no way to win the "war on drugs"; there has to be a better one.
Sex abuse and a celibate clergy
After the massive evidence of child sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy, it is time that the Pope and the Catholic priesthood recognised that the perversion of male sexuality that leads to such horrendous abuse of minors is the perversion of celibacy.
The idea that a man's sexuality can be repressed in the name of godly work and that the two are incompatible is a medieval attitude to spirituality and the flesh. It lends itself to attracting to the priesthood those who attempt to deal with anxieties about sexual orientation by eradicating it, or at worst see the priesthood as a means to practice their proclivities in a secret society that until now protected its own.
The Pope himself has apparently chosen this celibate approach to his own sexual desires. He and his fellow clergy are therefore unlikely to know how to deal with sexual issues. It is the whole notion of celibacy as a method of managing sexual desires that requires exposure. Why shouldn't the capacity to love another adult be the greatest indicator of adequacy to spiritually guide others, rather than be seen as a hindrance?
With the Pope's half-hearted apologies and refusal to stand down in the face of irrefutable evidence that he has played a part in covering up abuse, he should not be welcomed into the UK. This odious man's presence would be a slap in the face to every former victim of child abuse. The Home Secretary has the right to bar undesirables from our shores, and should exercise this right now.
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
The most worrying thing about the defence the Roman Catholic Church presents to the allegations of covering up child abuse is that they do not mention any such allegations being referred directly to the police. They do not even claim a policy of automatically referring any other allegations of illegal activity to the police.
Victims of Islamist persecutions
I have just returned from a short trip to Yemen, so I read with interest your article about the Yemeni Jews claiming asylum from Islamist religious persecution and settling here in London (25 March).
The article suggests, rightly, that the small number of Jews still in Yemen should be offered asylum here. But Islamist persecution of religious minorities is not just a feature of Yemen, it occurs throughout the Islamic world, such as of the Bahai in Iran and the Christians in Iraq. The last group in particular seem deserving of asylum here, since ours is nominally a Christian country and their persecution has been created by our pursuit of the Iraq war.
Although, in the past, Britain has welcomed and greatly benefited from religious asylum-seekers, such as Huguenots and Jews from Germany, the present government attitude seems determined to disregard the plight of these unfortunate and desperate people.
I am slightly involved in supporting an Afghan asylum-seeker who has converted from Islam to Christianity. This, in the view of Islamists, is the worst crime of all, and yet our asylum tribunals seem anxious to deport this young man and send him back to face probable execution by religious bigots.
Leave our natural language alone
I am horrified by Masha Bell's call for us to eliminate spelling "inconsistencies" to simplify English language teaching in schools (letters, 23 March). To suggest that we should artificially manipulate our ancient language, to pander to the notion that some children might find the topic less challenging and therefore learn English more quickly, is naïve and an outrage to those of us who respect the linguistic tradition of natural evolution of language.
We face "dumbing down" in many areas of education these days, but I cannot support the notion that children should be spared the effort of learning that English does not necessarily follow grammatical "rules" in the same way as some other Indo-European languages. In the teaching of history, we do not, or at least should not, remove or ignore key facts to simplify the teaching of that subject and make it less "boring", nor should we take such an approach with the teaching of our language.
If a child finds learning the English language boring because it is difficult, the fault lies perhaps with the teacher or more likely with the child's expectation that everything at school should be fun and delivered in over-simplified, digestible, unchallenging bite-size servings. Leave our language alone and allow future generations of young people the opportunity to appreciate its idiosyncracies.
No real choice over NHS database
Richard Sarson (letter, 22 March) rather misses the point in saying that he thinks that being on the NHS Summary Care Record database is a good thing for him. It's fine if he chooses to go on to it, and considers that the benefits to him outweigh the costs, which might include upward of 300,000 people countrywide being able to access his personal data, the potential for this medical data to be linked into other government databases to provide the authorities with an in-the-round picture of Mr Sarson and his life, or the possibility that his records might be leaked or sold.
I, on the other hand, do not want my records on the SCR, and no one should have their personal data uploaded without their consent, which is what will happen under the Government's characteristically deceitful opt-out scheme. Those who do not reply to a letter within twelve weeks, because they don't realise what it's about, or they're away, or because the letter goes astray in the post, will be deemed to have opted in, whether they have actually given consent or not.
What should be debated is the principle of informed choice to allow the citizen to opt in to a state scheme, not whether or not in an individual case uploading might be beneficial.
Left behind by the digital future
Our charity supports Gordon Brown's proposals for a digital future, but vulnerable groups must not be ostracised further from society as Britain moves towards a more digital age.
Those living in poverty will not benefit from the Government's proposals, because they won't be able to afford their own computers and monthly internet fees. We know, from experience, that some vulnerable groups, such as the disabled, struggle to find funding to access the vital equipment they need to access the internet or don't have the support and training they need to use it, leaving them feeling excluded from the rest of society.
The charity is urging the Government to ensure cheap access to computers and the internet, with training available to ensure individuals are confident in using information technology and can benefit from the introduction of the Mygov interactive website.
Head of Policy & Research, Elizabeth Finn Care, London W6
Yet another flawed general election
We approach a general election, which I wish was truly democratic, but our general elections are corrupt and flawed. They should be fixed every four years, not when government chooses its best advantage, and of course be held under proportional representation so that everybody's vote counts.
It is no wonder so many people do not vote and that we talk about a "wasted" vote; because we do not have the backbone to demand a fair vote system so that everyone's vote counts. There is no point in reducing the voting age to 16, as Labour is planning, before we have a fair vote system; at present, we live in a half dictatorship/half democratic country.
Making sure one can vote may be an issue for some electors in the forthcoming general election (letters, 29 March). Making one's vote count is an issue for all of us.
At the last election I was able to use a website to swap my vote. In my own constituency I voted according to wishes of my "pair" and in their constituency they voted my way. Trust was involved. Each of us felt our vote would be more likely to count and, indeed, one of us helped secure a distant seat by a small majority.
Are there any plans for such a system to be in place in the next few weeks?
Nantglyn, North Wales
Does it really require a staff of over 50 to monitor the expenses of 645 MPs? Surely, once the rules are established then the very fact that the expenses will be seen online will ensure that the claims are justifiable.
The clerical administration of the expenses scheme could be managed easily in a low-cost area of the country by a team of 35 plus an office manager and a deputy, rather than operating from an expensive central London base. I find it hard to credit that many organisations would spend the best part of £10,000 a year administering the expenses of each of its employees.
C M Fisher
The cost of cuts
All political parties may now agree on the need for severe cuts in public spending. However, does anyone believe these can be achieved, knowing how unionised our public sector bodies are, and knowing that there will have to be cuts on manpower numbers in bloated organisations? All we can expect is a wave of strikes – and it has already begun.
Gay but not camp
I agree with Philip Ridley (30 March) when he says that "every gay comedian is camper than Liberace playing Abba, and is happy to be the target of a 'straight man's' gay jokes". In my experience, the risk of comparison with celebrity gay men and ridicule from one's straight peers (and employers) is directly responsible for most "straight-acting" gay men refusing to come out. Let's stop restricting gay stereotypes to camp men and have more gay men of all characters in the public eye.
The latest 3D craze
Despite what Phil Clapp hopefully asserts (letter, 30 March), I predict that 3D in the cinema will be a temporary craze, as it has been in the past. I have a book of stereo pictures of the 1862 great exhibition; techniques of binocular stereoscopy have been around for a long time without becoming the norm like, for instance, colour.
If only Mary Dejevsky (26 March) could see me now, in my faded, shapeless grey T-shirt and jeans which fit in places. I'm off to town in a minute and will blend in nicely with the crowd. Far from being "depressing", I find male British casual dress liberating. It's free from the stuffiness of previous generations, free from the "office" and different from the Continentals. It's good to feel confident that you can spot fellow tribesmen at 50 yards in any foreign place.
Out of the frying pan
Your correspondents have recently been discussing the meaning of "pan-fried". Those on a low-fat diet will find "colander-fried" chicken, etc. a real benefit to their cause.
Homerton College, Cambridge
Could the alternative to "pan-fried" be "mono-fried"?