Mark Steel (3 December) highlights James Purnell's vision that "future reform will ensure that virtually everyone has a clear obligation to look for work, or prepare for work" extends to single parents of one-year-old children, but fails to ask why this should not be regarded as work in the first place. Surely one of the most important jobs in society is to parent. Outside James Purnell's transactional view of society, to assume otherwise is insane.
The Labour government continues to pursue a policy to children that is brutal and spiteful. The latest plans will further drive the UK towards a non-parenting society. Contact hours with our children are already shocking. It is little wonder our children are the unhappiest in Europe. Yet again, children are seen as an unfortunate "externality" under post-modern capitalism and the Labour Party – a "cost" that needs to be mitigated.
Professor Gregg (leading article, 3 December) has overlooked the dangers of reducing the unemployment incomes of single mothers and their children by 40 per cent for failing to look for work when they are already 33 per cent below a minimum income standard for healthy living published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on 1 July.
The consequences of such poverty are inadequate maternal nutrition, resulting in low birth weight and the ill-health of children. Mothers worsen their income by desperate borrowing from predatory home credit companies charging £260 interest for a £400 loan to pay the increasing utility bills and provide school clothes and some sort of Christmas.
The Rev Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, London SW1
It cannot be too long before we see a moral panic about out-of-control latchkey kids, as a result of single parents, who do the most important job in society, being forced into wage slavery. What happened to joined-up government?
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Are there really people who think that the world becomes a better place when the single mother of a one-year-old is forced to work in a supermarket check-out while her child is farmed out to a baby-minder?
Police attack our representatives
A W MacQuillan ridicules the "hysteria" surrounding Damian Green's arrest (letter, 3 December), and references to "Police state Britain". This is not hysteria. This is not about MPs being above the law. The police are the agents of the Crown. They have invaded Parliament, arrested one of our elected representatives and ransacked his private office. This is a constitutional issue of the gravest sort.
Whether you approve of our MPs, or think them out of touch is irrelevant. They stand between us and the overwhelming power of the state. You can criticise them for doing a poor job, but do not allow that criticism to undermine the rights and privileges they are given to act on our behalf.
I am no fan of David Cameron or the Conservative Party, but I am appalled by this latest example of what is becoming a New Labour police state, with the arrest, nine-hour detention and searches carried out by the police against opposition front-bencher Damian Green.
This must be the ultimate example so far of the New Labour obsession for control. The misuse of regulations, and especially the Terror Act, is criminalising ordinary people for protesting against government policy, planting flowers on a traffic-island, putting out the wrong garbage, or simply trying to tell the truth. Enough is enough. I hope that the opposition parties and all defenders of democracy and freedom lead the outcry against this action, and insist that these responsible – whether ministers, the Speaker for allowing Green's offices to be ransacked, overzealous police officers, or civil servants – should be held accountable.
Finally, one must ask the cost of having numerous police and counter-terrorist officers investigate an MP for revealing embarrassing information, at a time when we had one of the most serious terrorist atrocities happening in Mumbai. Where is this government's sense of priorities?
If the new rules of the game are that MPs are fully entitled to install a "mole" in any and every Whitehall ministry, and that such persons are free under the Official Secrets Act to report anything concerning the work of government to their controlling MPs, provided the material concerned is "in the public interest", then I should think that plenty of Labour MPs must be salivating at the prospect of being in Opposition.
Poachers destroy elephant herds
I returned recently from a visit to Nigeria, where I spent time in the two areas there where elephants still survived in substantial numbers ("Warning over poachers as ivory is sold legally", 29 October). Conservation organisations in Nigeria have for some time expressed alarm at the opening of ivory sales, however well regulated. Their fears have been amply justified.
A migratory herd of approximately 250 elephants existed in Bornu, north-eastern Nigeria, spending much of the rainy season in Sambisa reserve. Elephants were killed for their meat and numbers remained more or less stable until the decision was announced to open up ivory sales. Since then, there has been organised poaching on a professional basis, with reports of up to 20 elephants killed at a time, exclusively for their ivory.
During my recent visit to Sambisa, the staff there reported that, last year, a mere five elephants had spent the rainy season in the reserve. This year, none did so, which means that this elephant herd has been annihilated (some may have survived by escaping to Northern Cameroon, but we have no evidence of this). Local specialists are of the view that the opening of the ivory trade was a direct cause of this extinction.
The second large (300-plus) elephant herd in Nigeria is to be found in Yankari Reserve (Bauchi State, north-eastern Nigeria). There has always been sporadic poaching of these elephants, mainly for meat. Hunting pressure within the past four or five years has increased markedly, with up to 15 elephants killed very close to the core areas of the reserve, exclusively for their ivory.
I cannot comment on the small relict populations in other parts of Nigeria, but there is no doubt that the opening of the trade, however restricted, has encouraged poaching of elephants for their ivory all over Africa outside South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It is a tragedy that, for relatively insignificant sums of money, these animals are being hunted to extinction in the greater part of their western, central and eastern African ranges.
War of words in the Middle East
Janet Green (letter, 28 November) has let the cat out of the bag and confirmed what I had always thought. When Palestinians and their leftist sympathisers in Kentish Town accuse Israel of attacking children they mean anyone under the age of 18.
Their Orwellian use of the word "children"' is meant to conjure up images of five-year-old girls playing with their dolls or ten-year-old boys enjoying a game of football in the school yard. In reality, these "children" are often enough teenagers shooting Kassam rockets into Israeli civilian communities. In this country the press usually refers to their equivalent, the young hooligans who terrorise our run-down urban estates, as "feral youths".
In their Newspeak, these communities are always called "settlements" which they do not always call illegal because everyone (nudge, nudge) knows that this is meant. On the other hand, the Palestinians are always said to live in "villages", as though they were sleepy law-abiding hamlets snuggling in the equivalent of the Cotswolds.
By this manipulation of language Israel is demonised.
The little-known treasures of Syria
I was in Damascus at the same time as David Miliband, and I agree that the V&A's ceramic exhibition now showing there contributes far more to Britain's attempt to raise its influence and strengthen ties with Middle Eastern countries (Philip Hensher, 1 December).
Syria seems to have suffered from neglect by other British institutions: little mention is made of Syria, a vital site of Byzantine heritage, in the "Byzantium" exhibition at the Royal Academy. Islamic art is relegated to a smallish area at the back of the British Museum.
Syria is a treasure trove of archaeological and historical sites, ranging through Greco-Roman and Byzantine to Islamic eras. It is safe for a woman to explore and people are courteous and friendly.
When the wind does not blow
It is all very well for Michael Meacher to call for a higher proportion of electricity to be supplied by renewables (Letters, 3 December) but he ignores the main objective of the supply industry: to provide low-carbon electrical power continuously, on demand.
Wind is intermittent and variable. The "cube law" is hardly ever mentioned. (When a 30 mph wind falls to 10 mph, the power output falls by 96 per cent.) The deficiency usually has to be made up by gas or coal generators. Other countries do not have to rely so heavily on carbon credits. The Scandinavian countries have available hydro-electricity. Germany can import electricity from up from up to nine countries. We have one cross-channel cable.
Professor Charles Hughes, FREng
The outrage that drives terrorists
R S Foster (letter, 3 December) is right to draw attention to the extreme form of Islam which demands the restoration of all former Muslim lands to a new Caliphate. But the sense of outrage which drives these terrorists comes not from medieval history but from Palestine and Kashmir today.
These two areas of gross injustice are the source of the hate which sweeps aside normal feelings of compassion, and much of the teaching of the Koran. We have to get across the idea that Muslim terrorists are bad Muslims. That should be shouted from every mosque. Silent "tut-tuts" are not sufficient.
Steve Richards ("Who is accountable for the police?", 2 December) needs to widen his scope. Asking "How are those in charge held to account?" generates rather more worrying answers when applied to the private sector and blows the mind when applied to banking and insurance.
Small businesses do face very tough times (letters, 1 December). I am not the owner of a small business but a former teacher, and I strongly object to the large banners hanging on the walls or railings of innumerable junior schools, announcing that the school is collecting vouchers for one supermarket chain or another. Schools are demeaning themselves by allowing themselves to be used as advertising hoardings, and schools should not disadvantage parents who are the owners of small businesses, by giving the impression that supermarkets are the obvious place to shop.
Heads on stamps
If Steven Dodding (letter, 1 December) wants his stamps to lose the head in the top right hand corner it would surely be good if he realised that this is not "the Head of the Church of England" as he states – who is Christ, the head of the Church Universal – but the image of Her Majesty The Queen, who is the Church of England's Supreme Governor. There is quite a difference.
Canon Chris Chivers
Taxing the poor
In the pre-budget report, the Chancellor reduced the rate of VAT from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent with effect from 1 December. At the same time, he increased the rate of duty on wine from £1.46 to £1.57 per bottle. The overall effect is that cheaper wines now cost more, and more expensive wines are cheaper. The neutral point is a bottle costing £5.95, where the saving in VAT directly offsets the increase in duty. A fine Christmas kick in the teeth for the less well off.
Surely the most equitable, and inoffensive, way to leave the loo is with both seat and lid down (Jeremy Laurance, 2 December). What's the problem?