Sir: You might think that our rich maritime heritage defined something about Britishness, but if so why is the British Government in such a state of muddle about its attitude to the underwater cultural heritage ("The treasure of the oceans", 29 October)?
Although it has ratified the European Archaeology Convention and says it is committed to the annex of the Unesco Underwater Cultural Heritage Convention, both of which ban "archaeology" for commercial gain, the Government's profit-sharing deal with the treasure salvors Odyssey to recover and sell off bullion from the supposed wreck of the Sussex makes it look like a mere speculator – especially since the wreck's identity hasn't been confirmed yet. A couple of years ago it allowed bullion recovered in UK waters in a similar deal between the Dutch government and a UK salvor to be exported and sold on the New York antiquities market.
It is not all gloom, though. The Government has outlawed trading in looted antiquities, it has negotiated a quadrilateral treaty to protect the wreck of the Titanic from commercial exploitation, it is trying to reach similar safeguards for some other UK wrecks overseas, and it is strengthening heritage law and introducing marine planning for UK waters.
At one stage the Government was proposing to reform the antiquated salvage laws that allow treasure hunting – it sought expert advice and consulted widely, gaining much support – but now it says it is not going to tackle this after all. Meanwhile, the legalistic reasons for refusing to sign up to the Unesco Convention look increasingly thin, and with only four more countries needed to bring it into force the UK is going to miss out on the crucial stage when countries that have ratified it define how it will be implemented.
So much for Britannia ruling the waves. Instead of being in bed with treasure speculators and sending out mixed messages, the UK should wholeheartedly join Spain and others with a consistent policy to safeguard the international underwater cultural heritage, as befits one of the world's great maritime nations.
Chair, Nautical Archaeology Society Oxford
Some lawyers take home less than GPs
Sir: Dr Mark Oliver (letter, 2 November) is completely in error when he compares the hourly profits of GPs to that of solicitors. As a local "high-street" solicitor, we do charge private work at an hourly rate of £150 per hour, but this is not profit. Out of this comes all the costs of running a legal practice. The profit element is at best a third of this figure.
On legal-aid rates, of course, we recover much less. Qualified solicitors working in the equivalent of general practice typically take home less than half the GP salary at best and often much less. The reality is that lawyers in legal-aid and high-street practices are fighting for their survival amid the Government's intended changes to the legal-aid system and the onslaught on conveyancing practices through the misconceived Hips legislation.
The GPs have been extremely fortunate in benefiting from the Government's incompetence, whereas other professionals have suffered badly because of that same incompetence.
Iraqis helped to plan Basra redeployment
Sir: Your article on the British military redeployment from Basra Palace to Basra Air Station contained a number of misconceptions ("US 'delayed' British withdrawal from Basra", 16 October). As a US State Department Foreign Service officer seconded as deputy head of the British-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Basra from June 2006 through June 2007, I was involved in or privy to conversations between both governments concerning the departure date from Basra Palace.
Your assertion that British forces were "prevented from pulling out" by the US does not accurately reflect the process that took place. US and UK military, diplomatic and political officials communicated and coordinated for many months about this important decision, with discussions taking place at many levels in Washington, London and Baghdad. We also kept other coalition members with personnel in Basra, including Denmark and Australia, involved in the deliberations. The redeployment date was decided jointly and after careful evaluation of a number of critical factors, one of which was the time required for the US to construct secure facilities at the Air Station to relocate its Regional Embassy Office.
The most glaring error in the article was your omission of Iraqi participation in the process. Another major factor in deciding the date of the redeployment was the capability of Iraqi army and other security personnel to protect the palace facilities on the British military's departure. Only when the Iraqi government was confident that its personnel were sufficiently trained and equipped to take command of the facility was the redeployment given the go-ahead. That Basra Palace remains secure today is due in no small part to the careful planning that took place on all sides.
James E Donegan
First Secretary US Embassy, London W1
Babies should sleep on their backs
Sir: Simon Carr usually provides funny and cutting comment on the state of society and I can only agree wholeheartedly with his comments about the many and often contradictory TV experts and the value – or lack of – in paying attention to their recommendations (29 October). Unfortunately, on this occasion he makes two points that reveal, depressingly, that his opinion is of much the same standard as theirs.
First, in his justifiable pride in his son's achievements, he fails completely to understand that causative factors do not have the same effect in all individuals – everyone knows someone whose grandad died at 97 having smoked 60 a day, and yes, his son has attained a PhD despite his mother's "toxic" diet, but who knows what he would have achieved without it.
More importantly, his crass inclusion of the recommendation that babies be put to sleep on their backs alongside the opinions of television "experts" cannot go unchallenged. The research behind this recommendation is robust and the Back to Sleep campaign propagating this message has been associated with a fall in the sudden infant death rate from more than 1,300 to fewer than 300 a year, saving around 1,000 babies' lives annually in the UK alone.
Dr S Grant
Consultant in Obstetrics & Fetal Medicine, Crossways House, Bristol
Communal benefits of universal taxes
Sir: Dominic Lawson goes too far in claiming that it is hypocritical to support higher levels of compulsory tax for all while not making additional voluntary tax payments oneself (2 November).
In fact, there are many areas of life in which it makes sense to be influenced by what other people do. For example, I might wish to play football, but only if others will play too – football with one is rather limited. If no one else is available and as a result I don't play, that doesn't show that I'm a hypocrite who didn't really want to play football at all.
Likewise, in the case of tax, it is the potential social impact I seek, not the effect of my pittance in isolation. That requires the participation of others, and the reality is that compulsion will be needed. I will then be more than happy to play my non-hypocritical part.
Urban foxes need humane treatment
Sir: In "Hunting ban has done little to cut deaths among our fox population" (2 November), you wrongly stated that I "specialise in the humane removal of foxes from urban areas": "humane", yes, "removal", no.
The removal of foxes, either by shooting or by capture and dumping elsewhere, is both cruel and pointless. "Relocation" sounds good, but in fact relocated foxes rarely survive long in a strange territory, where they come under attack from the resident foxes and thus don't have the time necessary to learn about local food resources, or dangers such as fast roads and free-ranging dogs. Their vacated territory, meanwhile, will be rapidly filled by a neighbouring fox family, eager to explore and extend their patch without facing competition.
There are plenty of pest "controllers" who earn good money killing or relocating urban foxes, but they never advise their clients that the foxes will soon be replaced by others. It's more "pest con" than pest control.
My work with foxes involves introducing environmental changes to prevent or mitigate nuisances such as fouling, digging in gardens, and jumping on cars, while allowing them to keep their territories and their lives.
Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence, Tonbridge, Kent
The Scottish origins of the guillotine
Sir: No 38 in your list of 101 gadgets that changed the world (Saturday Magazine, 3 November) was the guillotine, which Simon Usborne wrongly credits to Joseph-Ignace Guillotin in 1792.
If Mr Usborne pays a visit to the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, he will find displayed a useful and convenient labour-saving device called "the Maiden", which was the chosen means of beheading recalcitrant Scottish noblemen during the 16th and 17th centuries. Both the Marquis of Montrose and the Duke of Argyll benefited (if that's the word) from the Maiden's ministrations during the Wars of Religion of the mid 17th century.
The Maiden is a guillotine, and it's the original device that gave M Guillotin the idea for his own pirated version 150 years later.
Rev George M Donaldson
Airdrie, North Lanarkshire
Sir: Simon Usborne writes of Gore-Tex: "Hard to believe that, in 1924, Edmund Hillary set off for Everest wearing a tweed jacket and plus fours." It is indeed hard to believe, given that Hillary was only five at the time. I think he means George Mallory.
St Georges des Agouts, France
Sir: Surely a glaring omission from your list of gadgets is the jet engine, which has revolutionised travel so that nowhere on earth now need be more than 24 hours away. Another omission is the rocket engine, without which we would still be earthbound, up to a height of around 20 miles.
Hale Village, Halton
Try Victorian values: have a Bertie for tea
Sir: I was delighted to read Joan Bakewell's column ("What a waste! Why can't we all be more thrifty?", 2 November), which responded to Philip Hensher's earlier "As long as food is cheap, we'll go on wasting it" (30 October)
I can pre-date Ms Bakewell's wartime thriftiness, as I was brought up by a Victorian father, born 1879, and long before the war, we always had "Berties" – that is, delicious meals made from leftovers. It never occurred to me to question this name until bringing up my children, and now my grandchildren, on Berties.
I believe that it arose from when Albert married Victoria and was so appalled at the extravagance and wastefulness at Buckingham Palace that he introduced the concept of using candles and soap more than once and not throwing away food that had been left uneaten at one meal. My grandmother, born 1857, would have been a child at that time and must have been brought up on his excellent, green principles. Albert, we need you again!
Little Baddow, Essex
Sir: I am alarmed by your report (1 November) that the police are keeping records of petty crime for decades. I was fined five shillings (25p) for cycling past a stop sign in Swindon in 1944. Fortunately, they may not easily identify this hardened criminal as the perpetrator of the next heinous crime I commit, as it was done under my maiden name and I was later married abroad. Still, there is always Interpol, and they do say your sins will find you out.
Sir: If the late King Faisal once asked, "What can be more democratic than a citizen having free access to his sovereign?" (letter, 1 November), how about the citizen being able to elect his sovereign?
Director Federal UnionLondon SE1
Sir: In Picture Post on Annie Leibovitz's photograph of Roger Federer as King Arthur (1 November), you confuse the Sword in the Stone (shown) with Excalibur (not shown), a different sword, which Arthur got from the Lady in the Lake.
MICHAEL GROSVENOR MYER
Sir: I fear that Timothy Beecroft is too late when he suggests his old school motto for Gordon Brown (letter, 3 November). Gordon (and Tony) have already found mine. Rochdale Grammar School for Boys (deceased) had "Aude et Praevalebis", which we boys translated as "Have enough cheek and you'll get away with it".
Sir: As Principal of Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College, the successor to Brighton Hove and Sussex Grammar School, may I point out that the grammar school's motto was "Absque Labore Nihil". The ambiguities in its English form – "without labour, nothing" – could, of course never possibly have entered the heads of the scholars.
Principal, Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College Hove, East Sussex
Sir: Have some of the supermice you describe escaped into the wild ("The mouse that shook the world", 2 November)? Recently, the bait-wells in the mousetraps under the bonnet of our motor home have been cleaned out without the mice stepping on the trigger plate. Have they developed the ability to grip overhead cabling with their hind legs while licking the Cadbury's Dairy Milk out of the traps?
Sir: Banksy is more than welcome to come and paint on our house (The Big Question, 1 November).