Families born to rule Britain
It is not surprising that Harriet Harman's attitude towards the Royal Family has mellowed since the Prince of Wales's wedding ("A Crazed zeal for inheritance and fame", 18 November). Her husband's election to the House of Commons earlier this year suggests that she herself has now become quite contented with dynastic politics.
One only needs to recall the succession crisis within the Miliband family to appreciate that she is hardly alone among her Labour colleagues. The victor of that fraternal struggle has created a Shadow Cabinet replete with those who appear to share this concern for families, whether it's the husband and wife pair who bestride the home and foreign portfolios, the inimitable Eagle twins or Hilary Benn, whose father took such pains to disclaim his hereditary title in order to become an MP.
While some Labour MPs might, as Steve Richards suggests, be closet republicans, just as many seem wedded to the traditions of the ancien régime.
David Gelber, London SW10
Privileges of office
John Prescott's protestations about his silver service and his indoor flora – "In my time we were worried about more important things than pot plants" (report, 18 November) – would be more convincing if we had not seen the pictures of the croquet party or heard about the activity over the office desk. Or remembered the other flat in Admiralty House, council tax paid by us (until the "mistake" was corrected). Or remembered Blunkett's hanging on to his Belgravia pad for four months after losing office (again).
In case we are now to believe that Labour ministers had time for nothing other than assiduous duty, let's not forget Liam Byrne's famous 11-page memo stipulating exactly when his soup, then his coffee, should arrive.
New Labour had a faintly fin de siècle feel about it from around 1998 onwards.
Colin Standfield, London W7
Farmers want their animals to thrive
As a farmer who reads The Independent ("The great animal rights betrayal", 13 November), allow me to shed a little light from the producers' perspective. I have kept 12,000 free-range layers for the past seven years, along with other livestock enterprises for much longer.
In common with the vast majority of farmers, animal welfare matters hugely to me: firstly, because I respect animals and like caring for them; secondly, because animals kept in poor conditions do not perform well and fail to make the profit on which my livelihood depends. In addition, I also spend what amounts to almost a full working week every year preparing for and receiving inspectors to monitor my activities.
Regarding beak trimming; this causes negligible distress to the birds and is done for very good reasons. Chickens are not known for their caring attitude to others and weak birds (for whatever reason) can be appallingly cannibalised by others with sharp beaks. This can happen in any size of flock, even a small group kept as pets in a garden.
I once kept a non beak-trimmed flock for a premium supermarket but reluctantly had to give up the contract because I could not tolerate the injuries seen in some of the birds. In describing this practice as "beak mutilation" rather than beak trimming, your writer was using inflammatory language which has no place in a serious debate. Would you describe the trimming of a child's fingernails as mutilation?
We farmers do not engage in such practices for sadistic pleasure or sport but for sound reasons born of experience.
Philip Abbatt, Devizes, Wiltshire
Defra Minister Jim Paice writes that he bases his animal-welfare decisions on facts (letter, 16 November). Yet his assertion that Animal Aid illegally obtained footage of brutality at six slaughterhouses is untrue. Our footage was obtained through common trespass, which is a civil matter, not a criminal one. We do not break into properties, we cause no damage and we leave unnoticed with our evidence.
There are cases that come to court using covert surveillance, but Jim Paice's department chose not to take the risk and pulled the plug before a judge or magistrate could decide. Among the activities we covertly filmed was a slaughterman indulging in sadistic brutality against pigs. Mr Paice is, in effect, saying that no matter how appalling the content of our future undercover exposés, no prosecution will follow.
Andrew Tyler, Director, Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent
Your articles "The great animal rights betrayal" (13 November), and "Outcry after loss of measures to protect animals is revealed" (15 November) read as untreated spin from the animal-rights movement and suggest, wrongly, that it was for political reasons that Defra elected to abandon its prosecutions of abattoirs for alleged cruelty.
The cases had originally been brought on the basis of "evidence" which had been obtained illegally by Animal Aid – a highly political organisation which seeks to advance the "animal rights" agenda.
As anyone involved in this area of law knows, the practice of subbing out illegal, intrusive and covert surveillance has been discredited and outlawed for some time. Such unlawfully obtained evidence is almost invariably inadmissible in our courts. Honest prosecutors do not continue with cases that they cannot prove. An example of this principle is seen in the Leadbeater cases, which resulted in criticism of the evidence presented by the Crown Prosecution Service, in January of this year.
One of the benefits of the Leadbeater decisions was that the CPS rewrote its operating procedures to ensure that it does not bring cases based on unlawfully obtained surveillance.
It appears to me (and I have been involved as an advocate in hundreds of animal-welfare cases), that Defra's decision reflected its application of the law rather than some "higher" political agenda.
Your articles suggest that the Coalition government somehow has a "pro-cruelty" agenda and that the decisions not to prosecute abattoirs were products of some sort of political intervention.
In fact these decisions were transparently the result of honest applications of the principle that cases which stand no prospect of success, and are not in the public interest, should not proceed.
Jonathan Rich, London, EC4
It is naive to suppose that attacking British food producers (with whom I have no connection) will result in any net improvement in animal welfare. Production will simply migrate to even less fastidious jurisdictions, making more rural Brits jobless.
However, urban animal-rights activists will see this as a price well worth paying – by someone else – to sooth their tender consciences.
J McBroon, Birkenhead, Merseyside
With reference to the response from Jim Paice regarding your excellent front-page article "The great animal rights betrayal", could he please inform us how he intends to collate evidence of cruelty in abattoirs without the use of CCTV cameras?
Jill Deane, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Cleveland
Illegal harvesting of organs
The Sellafield report on the illegal harvesting of organs (17 November) mentions some of those involved as being "profoundly ignorant of the law", and believing they could act with "carte blanche to remove tissue and organs for whatever purpose they saw fit". It also reports the view that bodies were treated as "commodities" to assist in research.
This culture and approach raises suspicions that organs have not only been removed following postmortems but also when a postmortem has not been carried out. If death occurs in hospital and its cause is known, obviating the need for a postmortem, but the organs could provide vital research information (eg new drug use during unsuccessful treatment prior to death), then why not remove them? Indeed, might it be irresponsible not to? How widespread is this type of practice?
John Whelan, Liverpool
It is not pathologists who remove and retain organs and bones from deceased patients. This work is done by mortuary technologists, under instructions from their pathologist. These NHS professionals are not currently regulated and despite the Department of Health's intention to introduce regulation (10 years ago after Alder Hey), they have not. Mortuary technologists are expected to carry out instructions, without question, that they themselves sometimes feel go well beyond the understanding and consent for autopsy, given by the relatives or indeed the coroner.
Respect for the dead and the bereaved must be the absolute priority, and were mortuary technologists registered with the Health Professions Council, thereby open to scrutiny and accountability, they would be in a much better position to police autopsy procedures and prevent further distress to the relatives.
Robert McNeil, Glasgow
Tyson: a boxer we could admire
James Lawton (18 November) is right; the Harrison/Haye debacle is an embarrassment to the whole sport.
I have been a fight fan since I was a boy. I remember seeing the Tyson/Berbick fight in 1986 and I was left in awe of the speed and ferocity of this boxer. From that fight onwards people paid good money to watch Tyson despatch his opponents in the first round. As Tyson himself said, due to a lung problem that he'd had since he was a child his aim was always to knock his opponents out as quickly as possible because he was unable to go the distance. The punters were fully aware of this and were more than happy to hand over their money to see this happen.
The early footage of Tyson training as a young teenager was fantastic; no heavyweight since has matched his hand speed and body movement. Not only could this boy hit extremely hard, he was also a master at avoiding being hit; 99 per cent of his opponents never saw the punch that caught them and the other 1 per cent probably wished they hadn't.
Haye should have knocked Harrison out in the first round and shown to the world that he wasn't prepared to take any nonsense.
Doug Sibley, Birmingham
Car wars over the M4 bus lane
Stephen Joseph predicts that the closure closure of the M4 bus lane will make things worse (16 November). I drive often into London on the M4 and have a notion of how long the journey should take.
When this bus lane was introduced, I had to increase the time I allowed by 7 to 10 minutes. I was always puzzled why taxis were allowed to use the lane when Heathrow is connected to London by Tube, surface rail and buses, since quite a few are empty of passengers.
Dennis Leachman, Reading, Berkshire
Your leader writer (16 November) has clearly never spent half an hour sitting in the traffic jam between Heathrow and central London on a Sunday evening, watching just three buses, 10 taxis and 20 or more unmarked 4x4s sweep by on the notorious "bus lane". It does not "encourage people to use public transport to the airport". It certainly does nothing to cut "average journey times to the airport". It comes from Heathrow, into London.
Henry Robert Mann, London, W8
I am dismayed that The Independent employs an economics editor who can hold such bigoted views on cars, as expressed by Sean O'Grady, commenting on the M4 bus lane (16 November).
There are many who see the "car war" as one of cars on people. The appalling death and injury toll on our roads in this country is one created almost entirely by motor vehicles. The main single cause of death to people in the age group from five to 40 is motor-vehicle collision.
Charles Brown, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
Do we need so many MPs?
Mary Ann Sieghart ("Why MPs are getting ready for the fight of their lives", 15 November) misses the obvious question "Why do we need so many MPs"?
Even a reduction to 600 is too many; when Westminster is compared with other countries' parliaments it looks archaic. The excessive number exposes the problem that in politics, unlike in almost every other sector, increased technology and improved communications have not resulted in a saving in labour.
If it is down to the "Isle of Wight question", then why not make every constituency the size of that island's electorate? At, say 110,000, that would result in approximately 410 MPs. It would be a more suitable number, producing a tangible cost-saving, and might even mean that decisions could be reached in a more timely and efficient manner.
Andrew Gillam, Ilkley, West Yorkshire
Can some one please explain how it's more democratic for a country with a larger population to have fewer MPs (Andrew Grice, 16 November)? Like a teacher with a class of 30 who is given another 10 pupils to teach, it can only make our MPs more remote from those they represent.
The Conservative-dominated Coalition government is playing pure party politics by removing 50 MPs at a stroke. Let's have equal constituencies by all means, but with electorates of 50,000, not 70,000.
Quentin Deakin, Press Officer, Bradford and District Green Party, Bingley, West Yorkshire
Territorial woes on West Bank
If Maggie Foyer (letters, 17 November) has lived in the West Bank she should know that the issue of building in Jerusalem is a complete red herring. With the assistance of western media and critics of Israel, the issue is being manipulated by the Palestinian leadership as an excuse to hold up progress towards the two-state solution (including a Jewish state) which many of their people want but they do not.
She must know that, as the Israeli Prime Minister recently made clear, the planning that was recently advanced relates to Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem built over the Green Line after 1967; if and when any agreement is reached, these neighbourhoods will become part of Israel in exchange for other land.
It is also known that planning is not only being advanced for Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. A month ago, plans for 1,600 apartments in the Arab neighbourhood of Beit Safafeh were approved
Ms Foyer calls the Israeli settlers "bullies". I do not defend the destruction of olive trees but I am surprised she does not acknowledge that these particular actions may have been carried out in retaliation for the recent brutal roadside murders of innocent civilians, including women and children.
A J Cotton, London SW14
Europe rules the waves – for now
While I can only admire Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaign against the obscenity of the EU's policy on fish discards (report, 18 November), he needs to understand what obstacles he is up against.
Over the past 20 years, there have been many campaigns demanding that the EU Commission change its quota system, but it adamantly refuses to do so.
Because the North Sea is a mixed fishery, any quota system will mean discards. Fishermen simply cannot exclusively target one species.
On the other side of the North Sea, Norway runs her own fisheries policy, under which discards are illegal. In Norway, all fish must be landed, weighed and put to appropriate use.
The Commission's present proposal to land high-quality, over-quota fish, just to turn them into fish-meal, is no more than a policy of discards in disguise. The Norwegian fishing industry is thriving. It is time we took back national control of our fishing waters and adopted similar conservation measures.
Nigel Farage MEP (UKIP, South East England), European Parliament, Brussels
A boring query
I don't find The Independent boring, only wonder in which of its variously published ways I should say so! Not bored of it, or with it, or by it?
Lesley-Ann Milford, Brighton