Letters: Oil development in the Falkands

Chavez attacks the rights of the Falkland islanders
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The Independent Online

Venezuela's President Chavez has described the British presence on the Falkands Islands as a hark-back to empire (report, 24 February). But he makes no attack on French possessions in the Caribbean or French Guiana (quite close to his own country), nor on various Spanish territories, of which the Canaries are the best known.

So there is an element of Venezuelan self-interest at work here: Venezuela needs to keep what friends it has, while hopefully acquiring more in Latin America. The UK of course can be written off as a Chavez supporter because of its close relationship with the US (not reciprocated, unfortunately, by Obama's neutral stance on the Falklands issue).

So it would be a mistake for the UK centre and left, which normally support Chavez, to take up a pro-Argentinian position as many blundered into in the 1980s. Nevertheless the charge of "colonialism" should be addressed head-on and not simply dismissed.

The history of the Falklands is similar to many island territories in the "new world" where there have been competing claims of sovereignty by Britain, Spain and France since discovery. Although the islands appeared on Spanish maps in the 1520s, the first recorded landing was by John Davis, English explorer, in 1594. But the UK's claim should not be based on such a chequered history but on a very simple and modern concept: the right of self-determination. Ironically, it is the threat from Argentina which keeps the Falklands a colony instead of opting for independence.

The UK should take a far more active role in the Falklands case. We should take out large adverts in South American newspapers explaining that the UK's presence in the Falklands is entirely at the democratic wish of its inhabitants and that if anything it is Argentina's desires which are colonialist. We should also point out to Argentina that its stance means that it is likely to lose out on refining and port facilities in the coming oil development.

To Venezuela we should point out that self-determination was exactly the rallying call of Simon Bolivar, on whose principles Chavez claims to base his own regime.

Phil Nicholson


NHS watchdogs sorely missed

For three decades until 2003 there were independent local statutory bodies composed of lay people with powers to visit health-service facilities. Most of them provided an independent complaints service in shop-front premises. They had to be consulted about substantial changes proposed to services.

They were called Community Health Councils. They were not perfect, but it seems inconceivable that even the most lackadaisical of them would not have spotted what was going on in Stafford Hospital earlier than the Healthcare Commission did.

There was a case for either reforming Community Health Councils or replacing them by something better. However the Blair government did neither. Instead it introduced in their place a set of arrangements and bodies which were expensive, fragmented and ineffectual, much of which had to be scrapped within a few years.

Donald Roy

London SW15

Although clinical staff at Stafford Hospital failed to make simple observations regarding patients' wellbeing, the persistent problems are rooted in the culture of the organisation. The inquiry revealed that staff were not appraised, supervised or adequately trained. Morale was poor due to constant, poorly managed change.

Bullying and a lack of trust in the hospital's management team contributed to this culture of neglect, which affected both patients and staff. What happened at Stafford Hospital is a prime example of what can occur when leaders lack the professional skills required to carry out their jobs.

Ruth Spellman

Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute, London W1

Belgian evidence backs euthanasia

On the subject of euthanasia, Gordon Brown has said: "The risk of pressures, however subtle, on the frail and the vulnerable, who may feel their existences burdensome to others, cannot ever be entirely excluded. And the inevitable erosion of trust in the caring professions, if they were in a position to end life, would be to lose something very precious." These fears are largely contradicted by data from the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon, where doctor-assisted death was legally regulated several years ago.

Abundant evidence from Belgium shows that the drive for legal doctor-assisted death can promote the development of palliative care. This was documented in the British Medical Journal last year. Among countries surveyed in the Eurobarometer, Belgians have the highest confidence in the medical professions.

Since the legalisation of euthanasia in Belgium its incidence has changed little, but the care with which it is carried out improved markedly. In the Netherlands, the incidence of administration of lethal drugs without the patient's explicit request has decreased to the same level as in the UK, and these instances have been found to be compassionate and ethically acceptable, almost always in extremis in patients who had become incompetent.

It is true that adequate palliative care can prevent requests for euthanasia. However, in many cases it does not. In one quarter of euthanasia requests in the Netherlands, palliative options were still available. After they were applied, 54 per cent of the patients maintained their request.

If, in the future, there were to be evidence of anyone requesting euthanasia because of a waiting list for palliative care, there would be an outcry.

There is reason to think that legal euthanasia is one more safeguard against the health-care system failing to offer optimal care at the end of life. People here want to live and live well as much as anywhere else, but they have more confidence that they will also die well.

Jan Bernheim

Emeritus Professor of Medicine

Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Richard Hawkes of Scope argues that disabled people are afraid of the legalisation of assisted suicide (letters, 25 February). In fact, they, and everyone else, should welcome it.

Most people could end their own lives, if they wished to do so, but some are physically incapable of doing so without assistance, and, currently, anyone who helps them risks being prosecuted for murder. Legalisation of assisted suicide would effectively give people with physical disabilities the same right as everyone else, something that Scope would normally support.

Scope's concern is presumably that disabled people might be placed under pressure by relatives or doctors, but legalisation would actually make this less likely, not more. Recent well-publicised examples show that assisted euthanasia already takes place, but because it can't be done openly, we can't be sure that the person is making a fully informed decision.

I cannot predict how I would feel were I to end up with a disability or terminal illness that was going to lead to severe pain or mental deterioration. Possibly I would want to live as long as possible, or I might want to die. What I am sure about is that I would like to be given the choice.

Richard Mountford

Hildenborough, Kent

Why don't we all get bonuses?

Amid the latest, perfectly justified, outrage over bankers' bonuses ("RBS posts £3.6bn loss for last year", 25 February), one question rarely seems to be asked: why do bankers get bonuses anyway?

In any other field, if you do your job well, you might be lucky enough to be kept on, or promoted; if you do it badly, you'll be sent for retraining or be dismissed. You don't get a bonus simply for successfully doing what you are employed to do. A nurse doesn't get a bonus for tending to a patient. Refuse collectors don't get a bonus every time they collect your rubbish.

The rest of us are going to be told constantly in the next few years to accept pay restraint, tighten our belts, and be grateful if we've still got jobs. Why can't this advice be given to bankers too?

Pete Dorey

Cardiff University

Not bitter, just daring and honest

Readers of The Independent would have had to have had extraordinary powers of perception to be able to remember seeing me "with a placard, protesting against conceptual art, when I was part of the Stuckist group", as I left the Stuckists in 2001 and never attended a single demonstration (Visual arts, 24 February).

As to my supposed bitterness, it amazes me that people take my honest and open engagement with the shadow aspects of my past, childhood sexual abuse and family alcoholism, as a challenge to their own emotional stability and project negative motives on to myself where quiet acknowledgement of my daring, grace and spiritual engagement would seem more appropriate.

Billy Childish

Chatham, Kent

Depressed by the state of the nation

The more one reads about the state of the British economy, the more depressing it becomes. Hamish McRae reveals that our national debt, government, corporate and personal, has rocketed in the past decade and now stands at nearly five times our annual GDP (12 February). This makes us one of the most broke nations in the world. Sean O'Grady then speculates as to the possibly disastrous consequences should our national credit-rating be downgraded from its current AAA status (Opinion, 23 February).

That we are in this sorry state is an indictment of the gross mismanagement of our economy by both political and financial leaders. Apart from ignoring the dangers of our escalating debt, they have failed to address two other major economic issues: our high labour costs in a competitive global market and our hideous over-reliance upon fossil-fuel energy.

It has been apparent for decades that Britain's economic prop, North Sea gas and oil, would start to run out. It has also long been evident that energy costs would escalate as world supplies diminished. Now is the time to move rapidly towards a low-carbon society, for the sake of the economy as well as the environment.

Keith O'Neill


Sean O'Grady asks where all the real jobs have gone (18 February).

A few years ago manufacturing was losing up to 25,000 jobs a month, while the public sector was expanding remorselessly. At the time, it hardly attracted a headline in the press, never mind government action. The alchemists in Canary Wharf were busy turning fresh air into gold and manufacturing was considered by many to be an outdated concept. The job losses were mainly in small and medium-sized companies. Who cared as long as wealth was being created?

It is no coincidence that the countries first out of recession are the ones that have nurtured their manufacturing sectors.

Ian Macdonald

Stourbridge, West Midlands


Embassy upgrade

A moat is a good feature to have near Westminster, but the addition to the new American embassy of a duck-house, a pergola and some flowering plants would be a diplomatic masterstroke.

Martin Lovell-Pank

Sturminster Newton, Dorset

Fair for whom?

The Labour Party's election slogan "A future fair for all" is a laudable aim, but why has no progress been made over the past 13 years? And further, the notion of fairness doesn't seem to apply to Equitable Life policy-holders, who continue to be cheated of rightful compensation by a foot-dragging Treasury.

T J Oates

Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Curling mystery

In "Something for the Weekend" (20 February), Matt Fleming assured us that curlers "the world over" use stones of granite from north Wales. The following day in your sister paper, Alan Hubbard claimed those same stones are hewn from the "rare blue-toned granite of volcanic Ailsa Craig". Is this a new sort of home-nations contest? Might the Irish discover chunks missing from the Giant's Causeway? Or is there a little man in Essex who'll knock you up a set of stones from left-over M25 hardcore and superglue?

C Sladen

Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Karzai outrage

One of the biggest problems facing Gordon Brown is not the prattling over bullying at No 10 but the outrageous fait accompli served up by Hamid Karzai that he will henceforth appoint all members of the Electoral Complaints Commission. The last election was little more than a joke. We many of us know why our boys are there, but are they dying for a de facto dictator?

Henry Page

Newhaven, East Sussex

Bobsleigh vs ballet

Your Quote of the Day from Dan Money (22 February): "This can happen, it's bobsleigh, not ballet dancing", is curious. Apart from requiring considerably more strength in the legs and upper-body than bobsleigh, I imagine ballet involves a broadly similar level of risk of injury or mishap.

Jeremy Q Sleath

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire