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Thursday 9 February 2012
Letters: Making the roads safer for cyclists
In his open letter to me (3 February) James Moore reminded us that cyclists are "uniquely vulnerable" on our roads. As a fire-fighter, I attended too many road accidents to do anything other than treat road safety and the safety of cyclists as first-order priorities.
Every day more people are taking to two wheels. When you consider that 40 per cent of people over the age of 11 own a bike, and that two in five of all journeys taken in this country cover a distance of less than two miles, then the growth potential is enormous.
Just this week we announced a further £15m for better cycle routes and facilities across the country. We have also established a Cycling Forum to bring together government, cycling groups and local authority representatives to look at how more people can be encouraged to cycle more safely.
After a successful trial of cycle safety mirrors at key junctions in London, councils across the country are now able to use these mirrors to make cyclists more visible to drivers. Improved mirrors on heavy goods vehicles could reduce cyclist accidents, and we are leading discussions on this at European level.
James Moore suggests offsetting the costs of sensors on heavy goods vehicles by a reduction in insurance costs. Personally, I think this is an interesting idea and I shall certainly bring it up in discussions with the insurance industry.
I cycle myself. And so do my two daughters. As Road Safety Minister, and as a father, I am convinced that it's right to invest in the future of cycling and the safety of cyclists.
Mike Penning MP
Road Safety Minister
Department for Transport
We cyclists hate them motorists. Them motorists hate us cyclists. Pedestrians would hate us too, were they not oblivious to our existence except when a minority of us ride on their pavements, often because our lanes are blocked by white vans.
The cyclist who wakes pedestrians from their somnambulism, or is knocked off his bike by their carelessness, is accused of "hurtling from nowhere", the "nowhere" being the direction the pedestrian failed to look.
Simon Usborne rides his black bike on the "Tour de Chance" (Trending, 8 February) dressed totally in black. It might help to cut the number of cyclist killed and injured on our roads if they wore high-visibility clothing even during the day. It amazes me how many cyclists dress in black and ride unlit bikes in the night-time.
No obligation to let dangerous men into our country
Christina Patterson (Opinion, 8 February) mounts a persuasive polemic against Messrs Qatada and Hamza. But she then switches to the wrong conclusion. The price we must pay for our own freedom is not the freedom of these repulsive men to roam our country. The price we must pay is only to accommodate them in secure but decent conditions, even to the extent of (to use Patterson's example) providing taps adapted for the use of a hook instead of a hand.
In general, no person has the absolute right to enter or remain in a country other than their own. That is a privilege available only on certain conditions; and in the present cases, such conditions have not been met.
In principle, the only constraint we place on the movement of such people is inwards, into the UK at large. Otherwise they are free to go to any other country that will take them. If no agreeable country can be found, and if they choose to wait at the gate to the UK, our only obligation is to accommodate them decently, but securely, until they leave voluntarily or can be deported. That is how we uphold our values and freedom, not by giving dangerous men the run of the country.
However long such people stand facing our gate, it will not be opened to them. However, that does not mean that they are being "detained without trial". They may be facing the locked gate to the UK, but behind them are not the walls of a prison cell.
Behind them lies the rest of the world, and the gates to other countries. It may not be immediately feasible to move them on, and the position may be a tiresome and expensive impasse, but there is in principle no breach of human rights in holding such people, securely, on the "outside" of our gate.
As a British-Jordanian who has served in HM Home Office I have great sympathy for Theresa May. Her frustration at what has come from Strasbourg is totally justifiable. Anyone who appears to be condoning killing innocent civilians or extolling terrorism is morally and legally reprehensible.
Concern for human rights should be taken very seriously. The fact that, even after a decade, no clear charges can be brought against Abu Qatada does inject a great dose of sobriety – as a last resort there is indeed an argument for subjecting him to a control order for a maximum of two years.
Strasbourg has argued that Abu Qatada might not receive a fair trial in Jordan and/or be subjected to torture in Amman. This does not take into account the substantial reforms that Jordan has undergone in the past year. King Abdullah has courageously sacked the former head of the Jordanian security services. Jordan has strengthened the capability of its judiciary and has publicly tried many such extremists with full legal representation.
Jordan has sadly had its share of suicide attacks that have even wiped out Jordanian families on their wedding days. Yet the perpetrators received fair trials. Not a single international organisation has voiced any misgivings about such trials.
Dr Lu'ayy Minwer Al-Rimawi
Exodus from Whitehall
The Institute for Government is absolutely right to draw attention to the risks of senior civil servants leaving ("Goodbye, minister: civil service hit by staff exodus", 6 February). The risks are all the greater because the current Civil Service seems incapable of learning from history and from the mistakes (and sometimes the successes) of their predecessors. They tend re-invent the wheel, often in the shape of a rectangle.
A further risk is that because the senior people recruited from outside are not given much by way of induction training or support from experienced civil servants they simply do not understand the importance of maintaining public-service values. Not everything that "Sir Humphrey" did was misguided.
Birchington on Sea, Kent
We all like to feel that we are indispensable, and that the world would stop if we weren't at the helm. We aren't and it won't.
Making space at the top of the ladder means that more of those on the lower rungs could be promoted, making even more space at the very bottom, ready to accept some of those young unemployed.
So what, if the inexperienced don't complete tasks "in the old way"? The new people would find different ways to do the job, and may even do a better job (perish the thought) – but the job would still get done.
Let this exodus happen. Let these civil servants walk away to enjoy their retirement.
Strabane, Co Tyrone
As a long-serving civil servant, I do not accept your view that an exodus at the top would in any way affect the day-to-day business of running the Civil Service. I never had any confidence in the "top". Most of them came direct from Oxbridge with no or little experience of real life.
Mystery of the first bishops
The issue of women bishops comes to a head this week as the General Synod debates the issue.
As regards one of the main arguments underpinning the viewpoint of the coalition of traditionalists, conservatives and Anglo-Catholics that Christ intended men to lead the Church, it should be noted that the real evidence for these early male role models is extremely limited.
Of the 12 apostles, little or nothing is known about the fate of at least eight of them after Christ's death and resurrection. It is not known whether they became bishops or were even active at all in the early Church. They may have been persecuted for their beliefs, or simply gone back to their former lives and kept a low profile.
Of the remaining three apostles, James was killed by a King Herod, Thomas travelled to India, while only Peter, that we know of, became a bishop (as the first Bishop of Rome).
The argument for apostolic succession to maintain the "male line" does not seem to rest on very strong historic foundations in the earliest era of Church history.
Elizabeth J Oakley
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
I've always thought anyone who wants to be a bishop deserves it.
Dickens for children
The defeatism of David Johnstone (letter, 8 February) in thinking that Dickens is not for children is only matched by his complacency.
Of course, quite young children can read attractive classics. It's called aspiration. Long ago, but when 10-year-old minds were no different from 10-year-old minds today, the senior class at Arthur Pease Primary, Darlington, managed it. In the run-up to the 11-plus, we read The Pickwick Papers, Charles Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth and Scott's Kenilworth. I recall them as respectively a warm, funny book, an enthralling adventure story and a thriller – who did push Amy Robsart downstairs?
Thormanby, North Yorkshire
In my interview for secondary school I faked an interest in the pious fantasies of C S Lewis and hid my delight in The Pickwick Papers because I thought a book so hilarious was inappropriate for serious discussion. Like any child, I was eager to know more about the adult world and Dickens' approach of highlighting serious issues by focusing on exaggerated characters was very appealing.
Most of your columnists and correspondents endorse "the right to self-determination" of the Falkland islanders. I don't follow the argument. Are we saying that putting enough people on an island to populate a dozen streets makes that island yours? There are over 50 unpopulated islands in the Outer Hebrides with a good claim on North Sea oil. If I were an Argentine I know what my next move would be.
John Walsh (Trending, 7 February) complains of not understanding "delaminating". Carbon fibre composites are built up in layers (lamina) glued together, so "delamination" means that the glue holding two layers together has failed, which is not necessarily dangerous. The term "crack" also covers failure orthogonal to the layers, which can be more worrying. Every domain has its terms of discourse.
Don't ban "fantastic". I'm passionate about it. It's iconic – although it does have challenges.
West Challow, Oxfordshire
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