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Tuesday 28 February 2012
Letters: Lords reform
Mary Ann Sieghart's negative article on Lords reform ("A fight that Nick Clegg will never win", 27 February) needs a response. Constitutional governance may be a boring subject but poor governance, if ignored, can have devastating results (such as the French Revolution).
The UK's constitutional problem is threefold: the Royal Family, perpetuating class distinctions; the House of Lords, perpetuating privilege; and our voting system, disenfranchising the majority of people because only voters in marginal seats can affect the outcome of an election. All are interlinked.
The second chamber should not act as a rival to the first but as a check on its otherwise unbridled powers. A fully elected second chamber sounds a good idea, but paradoxically may not be the right answer. Who wants more of the same? The second chamber needs legislators who can debate on non-party lines and who have acquired valuable experience and knowledge of different walks of life. This suggests that some proportion, perhaps even a large proportion, of the second chamber should be appointed for a fixed term by some independent body, rather than being elected. The present House of Lords, however creakily, does perform this checking function quite well, as evidenced by its recent stance on the NHS reforms. But this comes about by happy chance.
The Government's mantra, "We are all in this together," does not apply to our constitutional set-up. The elite and the few rule us. We do need Lords reform.
Handed over to US 'justice' – and no questions asked
The process of extradition was developed in order to return potential criminals for trial to the country where a crime might have been committed. Few British people can understand why our countrymen are being "extradited" to the US for a dubious trial when any crime that has been committed has been committed here in the UK, if at all.
The process appears to be that the US makes unsubstantiated demands and "Blair's Poodle", the British Home Secretary, complies. There is no test of where the events took place, no protection afforded by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, no protection from the Human Rights Act 1998, no habeas corpus, no Magna Carta, just nothing.
The victim is forcibly sent to prison in a foreign country to incur vast legal expenses with foreign lawyers. A crime with a substantial "lifelong" penalty is alleged and then a "plea bargain" is offered with a relatively short sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
No rational person can run the risk of prison for life and hence they "confess" to a crime that was never committed and certainly never committed in the UK – otherwise the individual would have been charged and tried.
As Christopher Tappin said before his extradition the foreign-born national Abu Qatada has more rights than a law-abiding, British-born citizen.
Great Malvern, Worcestershire
When abortion is morally wrong
In your article (23 February) regarding abortion on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child, Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, is quoted as saying: "Sex selection is illegal and it is morally wrong."
Unfortunately it is far from clear that abortion on sex selection grounds is illegal, since the issue is not covered in the Abortion Act 1967. I agree with Mr Lansley that the procedure is morally wrong but question why abortion on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child should be regarded as "morally" wrong while abortion on the basis of disability of the unborn child, or the personal convenience of the mother is regarded as legally and morally acceptable.
As Director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, I represent nurses, doctors and health service workers who are pressurised to participate in abortion. Health workers are repeatedly told that they cannot "impose their morality on others" and that the woman's "right to choose" is absolute. In that context it is hardly surprising if abortion doctors are willing to perform abortions solely based on the sex of the unborn child.
Now that Mr Lansley has opened the issue of morality in relation to abortion it is to be hoped that society will have a broader debate on the 188,000 babies who are killed each year in abortions.
National Director, Thomas More Legal Centre, Warrington
Andrew Lansley says it's "immoral" to abort either girls or boys. How about aborting both girls and boys? No objection.
No logic or compassion either.
Dr Christopher Shell
Business beyond regulation
Andrew Clifton claims that "successive governments have failed in their duty of regulating businesses" (letter, 27 February). I am tempted to agree, but there is a major problem.
Many financial institutions are dealing with products that are immensely complex and opaque. So much so that it is evident that many of the players themselves don't fully understand them. And judging by events of recent years, neither do some of their bosses. How then could it be possible to regulate these activities? Even if it were feasible to have one regulator peering over the shoulder of every trader, every day, it would still be incredibly difficult. And of course it is often in the interests of the players to keep the regulators in the dark.
As far as I can see, the only way forward is to introduce penal rates of tax on incomes of over, say, £50,000. This would remove the greed motive and encourage people to do socially constructive work, rather than that which offers big money.
EU attack on affordable drugs
JPG Bolton's critique (letter, 14 February) of Sir Elton John's stand against the EU's attack on affordable medicines is wrong on many counts.
Drug companies are not simply trying to enforce their existing rights. Criticism of Big Pharma and the European Commission has been so fierce because they are trying to use the free trade negotiations to arm-twist India into accepting a rewrite of intellectual property (IP) law.
However flawed the current system is, it accepts that the poverty in many parts of the world, combined with health crises such as AIDS, requires a more humane approach to IP controls. This is reflected in flexibilities built into the regulations.
Drug companies fund new research using their big profits from developed countries, not from the countries across Africa and Asia where the flexibilities are in place. It is therefore wrong to say that protecting those flexibilities and the millions of lives they save will prevent pharmaceutical innovation.
Finally, in the same way IP on medicine is waived in certain circumstances because the cause is so important, Sir Elton has similarly waived his copyright on many occasions. An example would be the "Candle in the Wind" single after Princess Diana's death – the most successful charity record ever – for which all royalties, taxes and performing rights were waived by all parties to generate some £34m for charity.
As important as Elton's music is, the world needs affordable, life-saving medicines even more. He is absolutely right: the EU's attack on affordable medicines must be stopped.
Chair, Stop AIDS Campaign
German past, British obsession
John Walsh's account of current German attitudes to the Third Reich succeeds in conveying the opposite of the truth ("Will Germany ever be allowed to feel that its past is not its present?", 23 February).
The institutionally-driven German notion of the working over of the past (Vergangenheits-bewaltigung), promoted for more than 50 years now, far from being "a way of absolving themselves from the past", is roughly its opposite: an open confrontation with past realities.
Again, the Finns were from May 1941 to September 1944 the allies of "their tormentors", the Nazi regime, from whom they secured massive military aid against Russia.
And however sympathetic one feels to the economic plight of Greece, it is outrageous to use this as a springboard for sub-racist innuendos about its being coerced by Germany into "digging its own grave".
Such bigotry tells us less about the attitudes of the people under discussion than about a national obsession – but a British, not a German one. Since the days when Margaret Thatcher so fiercely opposed German reunification, I suppose that the eurozone crisis has given the first "acceptable" opening for expressing this old British obsession.
Trouble at the border
I spent many years working as a front-line immigration officer within and outside the UK. I have worked beside a lot of very professional and dedicated people but have been witness to some dire changes.
Over the years my old department's name has morphed from HM Immigration Branch to HM Immigration, to UK Immigration Service, to UK Border and Immigration Service, to UK Border Agency, and now to UK Border Force. At a time when even conventional police forces have become police services why is "Force" being retained? Less of the machismo, please.
Sorry, that'll never work
Paul Martin (letter, 27 February) suggests that under the Get Britain Working programme jobseekers' options should be restricted to those offered by government or local council initiatives rather than by commercial organisations. But isn't the whole point that they should benefit from experience of real work?
East Molesey, Surrey
It is entirely wrong for us taxpayers to subsidise employers, relieving them from paying a decent wage and throwing their responsibilities on to the public purse.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Name and title
Populist reference to the Duchess of Cambridge as Kate may or may not be right (Terence Blacker, Notebook, 24 February) but one thing she is not is a Katherine, as Mr Blacker claims, or even a Katharine. In fact, she is a Catherine. OK?
Your article on Reece Witherspoon (24 February) reported: "As an infant, her father worked as a surgeon with the US military in Germany." Good heavens, what a prodigy Mr Witherspoon must have been.
Lorraine M Harding
Steeton, West Yorkshire
Spread the word
I have an answer to J Matthews' question about the safe disposal of a copy of the Koran (letter, 27 February). Leave it in a drawer in a hotel bedroom.
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