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Thursday 22 February 2007
Letters: Nuclear weapons
Government's Trident plans ignore moves to limit nuclear weapons
Sir: A Parliamentary vote on a decision to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system should, at the very least, be delayed ("Not in our name", 15 February). The Government's White Paper on defence fails to make a case for it, lacking in analysis of the international situation.
Not only does it offer merely the vaguest of assertions of future uncertainties to support the need for a renewal of the nuclear-weapons system, but there is no consideration of recent multilateral efforts to control nuclear-weapons proliferation.
I refer in the first place to the agreement on a nuclear weapon-free zone in Central Asia reached in September last year; and second, to China's agreement to sign a treaty to establish a nuclear-weapon free zone in South-east Asia in October. Now with the latest breakthrough in the north-east Asia six-party talks, we have a practical step towards a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Given these initiatives, a decision to replace Trident could be seen as a retrograde move, one which may reverse instead of enable these as yet fragile yet encouragingly positive trends. What the Government should be doing is working out how it can help to strengthen such trends to prepare for a successful outcome on disarmament at the next review conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2010.
CND NATIONAL COUNCIL MEMBER, MANCHESTER
Sir: Your report on the campaign against Trident ("Not in our name", 15 February), is welcome. Your readers may like to know a national demonstration is being organised for next Saturday afternoon, 24 February. The march will be from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square under the banners, Troops Out of Iraq and No Trident.
Appalled and angry at banks' behaviour
Sir: I am appalled with the high street banks' unlawful overcharging. Last year, my account was overdrawn due to my perfect wedding day. I had phoned Barclays and warned them I would be overdrawn. The lady I spoke to was very nice and suggested I increase my overdraft which I did. Unfortunately, I didn't increase it enough and was charged £90 for three transactions.
I know this was my fault and was quite prepared to pay the £30 overdraft fee but not to be ripped off for £90. After a very nasty phone call to an equally feisty male, he finally agreed on my payment of £30.
I would suggest to anyone who has been issued with these ridiculous charges to phone their bank while they are still angry and be honest in how you feel. Do not put the phone down until you have the outcome you want. Remember the person you are speaking to has personally nothing to lose or gain from reducing your charges and may be happy to get you off the phone so he can go home.
I have been with Barclays since I left school and I now have a very-soon-to-be-dead account with them. Good riddance to greedy banks for me.
Sir: Where exactly is all this free banking you talk about? (report, 21 February) And can I have some please?
Aside from the questionable practices you are rightly drawing our attention to, such as the charges for unauthorised over-drafts and the like, shouldn't we also be thinking about the opportunity cost of our current account banking?
Put simply, the average wage-earner on something about £30,000 will be taking home, or rather, putting into their current account, about £22,000 over a year. Assume for the moment that they spend it all (without going overdrawn) over the month, week or whatever period they're paid over, then the bank will be running an average balance of some £11,000.
Now even if that were to be invested at the lower levels available it would generate something like £440. Isn't this the true cost or perhaps more fairly reasoned, the quid pro quo for the banking services we use?
A hefty sum for so called "free banking". Perhaps the question should now be, "Do we get good value for that money?"
Sir:In your leading article on banking (20 February) you sensibly advise customers to move accounts if they are dissatisfied with a bank's behaviour.
But what happens when a bank has failed as a trustee and the option to transfer your custom elsewhere is not available? My grandfather had appointed Lloyds Bank, now LTSB, as the trustee of his estate when he died in 1970. My 99-year-old step-grandmother is the life tenant of the estate trust and my 90-year old mother is the residual beneficiary.
Two years ago, a property held in the trust was sold for the proceeds to be invested to provide income for the 99-year-old life tenant to fund her care-home fees.
To our horror, we found LTSB had invested 70 per cent of the money in equities. LTSB's explanation was: "The life tenant was 96 when we invested and, as she was not reported as being in particularly bad health for her age, it was considered reasonable to expect some growth based on the Government GAD tables which give a life expectancy of 2.8 years."
We learnt from this that LTSB Private Banking does not understand equity markets can shrink as well as grow. The FSA advises that investments such as equities should be for a minimum of five years. By good luck, the stock market rose during the six months that the trust was heavily invested in equities.
The ombudsman was (eventually) persuaded that some distress and convenience would have been caused by LTSB setting the equity content of the trust fund at that level. He awarded £300 for distress and inconvenience.
He did not suggest the bank should formally apologise; he left that to LTSB, because "there was no evidence that there was any intention to harm, or any maliciousness in their actions".
We rejected the derisory award. My grandfather is long dead and therefore unable to modify his choice of professional trustee. We are still waiting for an apology from LTSB.
Don't blame Marx for family problems
Sir: Dominic Lawson blames a 19th-century political philosopher for family breakdown in south London (Opinion, 20 February). It's an interesting theory, but rather like Mr Lawson's musings on climate change, it bears little relation to reality.
A research group that conducts surveys among faith groups in the United States found only 19 per cent of North-easterners have divorced, compared to 27 per cent of people in the South and Midwest, hardly hotbeds of fervent Marxism. These surveys also revealed that the divorce rate among conservative Christians is much higher than for other faith groups.
Twenty-seven per cent of born-again Christians have been divorced, as opposed to 24 per cent of other Christians, and only 21 per cent of atheists and agnostics.
Mr Lawson might instead consider the impact Britain's long-hours culture has had on our families - a phenomenon his political tribe brought about - instead of blaming long-dead writers.
Organic study data based on theory
Sir: The Defra study by the MBS (report, 19 February) is full of errors and is not a comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts of organic farming.
While the energy-use data is reliable, the data on overall carbon emissions of organic farming was based on a theoretical model of an organic farm, which does not reflect true organic farming. Normally, crop and livestock production is integrated in organic farming, but the model assumed crop production without livestock and had a third of the land left uncultivated. This difference amplified nitrous oxide emissions from the soil (a main source of agricultural greenhouse gases) and increased the land area used by about 50 per cent.
UK organic farming is typically 30 per cent more efficient than non-organic farming, using 29 per cent less energy for growing wheat crops and 38 per cent less energy for milk production. Organic farming also builds up soil carbon, removing it from the atmosphere and reducing the risk of flooding and drought.
We accept that energy use is worse for out-of-season glass-house vegetables, because of the need for heating. But, the article confuses the energy-use data for tomatoes: organic "long season" tomatoes use 30 per cent more energy, not 90 per cent as stated.
For a climate-friendly and animal welfare-friendly diet, we encourage people to enjoy food that is organic, seasonal, local, unprocessed, and to eat less, but better quality, organic meat.
SOIL ASSOCIATION, BRISTOL
A small but brave step for Australia
Sir: They took the Ashes back off us after the briefest of reigns, they humiliated us last time we played them at football, and if recent shows are anything to go by, then the Webb Ellis trophy will also be headed back to antipodean shores soon.
And now, to really rub salt in the wounds, the Australians have taken the monumental step of banning incandescent lightbulbs(report, 21 February). We may have shunned them for not signing up to the Kyoto agreement, but when you compare their carbon footprint to that of the Americans, the other major western power to refute the agreement, then its a minor fault within the country's leadership.
Australians know more than most the effects of global warming and the increasing hole in the ozone layer, and have slowly learnt to adapt to it. The nationwide droughts are reaching greater and more frequent levels with many states having near-permanent water shortages.
It is a small step but at least they are brave enough to make one, although we should ask why their inhospitable desert areas aren't filled with wind turbines or solar panels, and where are the nuclear power plants? But maybe it's time we learnt another lesson from our cousins Down Under, and one that doesn't relate to sport.
BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX
NHS owes debt to immigrant doctors
Sir: I welcome your report on the consequences of the recent High Court ruling on changes to employment law affecting immigrants from outside the European Economic Area (19 February).
The NHS owes a considerable debt to these doctors who have, in the past, travelled to the UK to receive medical training in this country; in many cases they have made this decision despite significant sacrifices to both their family lives and careers in their home country.
The new regulations mean doctors from outside the EEA can now be considered for jobs only if there are no appropriately qualified doctors within the EEA. The major problem is that this ruling was implemented with so little warning; many overseas doctors resident in the UK find they are unlikely to be able to complete the training programmes they have started, making their considerable sacrifices worthless.
The NHS owes a great deal to the many international medical graduates who have travelled to work in this country; these new regulations show them little respect.
DR DARELL TUPPER-CAREY
CONSULTANT ANAESTHETIST GREAT YARMOUTH, NORFOLK
Sir: Having recently read about George Lakoff's idea of "cognitive activism" - that debate can be framed and influenced through using particular phraseology - can I suggest that everyone who opposes present US plans regarding the use of force against Iran uses the expression "Operation Armaggedon", so we can keep the possible consequences in mind?
In praise of feng shui
Sir: Thomas Sutcliffe (Opinion, 20 February) provides a nice vignette of the multicultural predicament. On the one hand, he claims illegal immigrants know far better how much life can cost while, on the other, he belittles the Chinese philosophy of feng shui. I couldn't possibly proclaim on the cost of life but, from my time in San Francisco, I know that feng shui already contributes to the formation of public space in California. Indeed, I look forward to the time when feng shui determines the sightings of trees, tables and public toilets in this country.
ALTRINCHAM, GREATER MANCHESTER
Sir: Miles Kington's "Literary labelling" piece (20 February) reminded me of my time as a very junior hospital doctor in the 1950s. One of our very few perks was the small fee for being a medical signatory on the special certificate required if a deceased patient was to be cremated. It was paid in guineas and the custom was that one kept the pounds and the shillings went to the mortuary staff. Our term for this modest supplement to our meagre income was, I am afraid, "the ashcash".
DR E A FRENCH
Police state warning
Sir: While defending the compulsory fingerprinting of the entire UK, and the right of the police to search the resulting database, Joan Ryan, the Home Office minister responsible for the identity card scheme, said: "Surely no one would suggest we should put obstacles in the way of police investigating crime and bringing offenders to justice?" In the face of such comments, it's no wonder people are starting to believe we live in a police state.
Sir: After the Government's announcement of yet another benefit of ID cards in securing convictions for a backlog of 900,000 unsolved crimes, are estimates for the cost of the scheme inclusive of the extra prison places required?
Sir: I was delighted and touched to read Pieter van der Merwe's fond memory of correspondence with my father, Esme Gordon, at the Royal Scottish Academy (letter, 19 February). The miracle to me is that he could read his handwriting at all. None of the family could. My father was furious one year when my brother Giles and I suggested we give him a typewriter for Christmas.
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