Iraq: we have a right to the full truth
The lessons of the Iraq war will sadly never be learned as long as Sir John Chilcot is denied the official release of all the key documents. ("Iraq: the last secret", 19 January).
Given that both Parliament and the Crown were deceived by Tony Blair about the justification for Britain's support of President Bush's war against Iraq, and that the war was financed by the British taxpayer, the British public have every right to know exactly how, why and when this disastrous war was allowed to happen.
If Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, is afraid that releasing private memos between Tony Blair and George Bush would increase the risk that either of these former leaders could be prosecuted for war crimes, then he should say so.
What he has no right to do is to confuse "protecting the special relationship between Britain and the US" with the exposure of a criminal relationship between the British and US governments.
Chris Ryecart, Harwich, Essex
I fully agree with Sir Gus O'Donnell that the conversations between Tony Blair and George W Bush, like any private discussion between an employee and his boss, should remain confidential.
Adrian Marlowe, The Hague
Terror: Eisenhower's prophecy vindicated
Rupert Cornwell's timely reminder that "Ike was right all along" (17 January) brought General Eisenhower's prescient idea of the "military industrial complex" up to date. But these days there's an extra element.
The MIC needs war to keep it going, or at least a believable threat of war. So, if I were a keen MIC subscriber, my Christmasses would all come at once if I could stop worrying about where my next war was coming from,
I'm not sure whose idea the "war on terror" was, but the whole MIC certainly owes them a huge debt of gratitude. It's brilliant. It's a war that can never be won. It's a war that goes on for ever. Long live the military industrial complex.
Sean Maffett, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire
In the new health service, we will all be 'customers'
The Health and Social Care Bill has the potential to be a fiasco on a scale even worse than the last Conservative debacle, rail privatisation. It also spells trouble for patients as its "market" philosophy paves the way for patient charging. This already exists for NHS prescriptions, dentistry and sight tests, and it could spread to GP consultations and hospital stays once the reforms are in place.
Under a fragmented, "bottom-up" market model, the burden of propping up the service will fall upon the "customer". With a faltering recovery, falling tax revenues and shrinking funding from central government, there will be irresistible pressure to milk patients to prevent the new GP consortia, with all their set-up costs, from going bust.
Future waves of reforms may not only introduce patient charging but also compulsory private health insurance for all.
The Bill will set back public health by a century and effectively end the NHS in all but name. It is just a first step towards a fully marketised, franchised-out model of public health with only the very poor continuing to receive free treatment. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should not rest easy, as they will be under pressure to adopt the English model or lose future funding from Westminster.
Its greatest threat is to doctors, who will become increasingly de-professionalised slaves to the spreadsheet and focus group and displaced from providing healthcare.
As with rail privatisation, the chief beneficiaries of GP consortia will be the logo designers, fancy stationery printers, lawyers and overpaid (non-medical) consultants.
Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex
Reading about the "reforms" of the NHS actually made me want to cry. This will mean the end of our wonderful and treasured heath service. It is so sad to see this government opening it up to private businesses so they can make money at our expense.
David Cameron is wrong when he says all the users care about is that the service is free. The service is not free; it is paid for by the people who use it, out of our taxes. The idea that private companies will be bidding to take lucrative contracts with the sole purpose of making as much profit as possible, will mean that they will put profit before quality of service. Look what happened when the last Tory government tendered out the cleaning services of hospitals – the hospitals got filthy and MRSA and C difficile have been rife ever since.
Every area that is sacred to the people of this country is now under attack from a government who have no mandate from the British people to do what they are doing. It is a crime nowadays to be unemployed, sick or disabled. Compassion seems to be lost.
Annie Harper, Tighnabruaich, Argyll
It is a myth that our health plans are "revolutionary". Steve Richards (Opinion, 18 January) dismisses this label as hyperbole. The facts have struggled to get heard. So let me give you a few of the facts.
Under the previous Labour Government healthcare spending increased significantly. But where Britain spent big, other countries spent better. That is why Britain has some of the worst survival rates for cervical, colorectal and breast cancers in the OECD; the highest number of deaths per 1,000 live births in Western Europe; and why around one in four cancer patients are only diagnosed when they turn up as emergencies.
Satisfaction levels in the NHS have reportedly never been higher, but if that is truly the case why were there also a record number of complaints made last year?
We are updating the health service by building on the best of the NHS. On Foundation Trusts we are completing the changes started by the last Government.
Under Labour, primary care trusts (PCTs) were effectively left to stand by the supermarket till, holding the credit card, waiting to see what GPs had put in their shopping trolleys. At a time when one in every four pounds we spend is borrowed, we can't afford a go-between. That is why we are abolishing PCTs and giving GPs their spending powers; putting the credit card in the same hands as the shopping list, making sure every pound spent delivers the best for their patients.
The final myth to expose is the idea that patient choice is built on a surplus of good hospitals. It isn't. It is built on choice of care and choice of treatment. Under Labour this option was denied to patients.
The NHS will always be free at the point of use and fair to all who need it. By trusting patients and carers to make the best choices, we will make the NHS focus on delivering high quality.
Paul Burstow, Minister of State for Care Services, Department of health
Under the proposed reorganisation to the health service new opportunities will arise and the following scenario might well emerge.
A local consortium of GPs will form and call themselves Nice Local Doctors Ltd. Finding that they have a need for an experienced administrator they will employ a recently redundant manager from a local health trust, probably offering him 10 per cent above his previous salary.
After a time the consortium will find nine other like-minded consortia and merge, calling themselves Slightly Less Nice Regional Doctors Ltd, whereupon they find that they need 20 administrators who will now be earning 20 per cent more than they were previously earning in a health trust. Assessing profitability, they will decide to close two or three surgeries "because there is no longer the demand".
By now the financial whizz-kids from the City are starting to take an interest. Eventually a conglomerate is formed calling themselves Spivs and a Few Doctors Ltd. The idealists among the doctors will have been phased out by now. The company will be rebranded and given a relevant and meaningful name, like Avevo or Doggeo. They will then decide to focus on the company's core competencies and shut down less profitable surgeries, because there are no longer any doctors on the board, or anyone who knows anything about medicine.
The next step is a takeover by a great American business. A few MPs will raise faint concerns about national interest but the takeover promises job opportunities and the new American buyers have guaranteed that there will be no job losses. The takeover will be completed and one month later the few remaining surgeries will be relocated to Poland.
John Davies, Amersham, Buckinghamshire
Peers fight for the constitution
The extraordinary scenes in the House of Lords involving all-night sittings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill needs some explanation.
There is cross-party support for many aspects of the Bill and there are no barriers to the Government having a referendum on the voting system – we all support that. The problem arises when a government forces through major constitutional changes without the usual all-party support that has characterised previous constitutional Bills in the Lords.
One of the powers the Government is taking to itself is the power to decide how many MPs sit in the House of Commons. Such matters are normally decided by consensus to avoid the danger of incoming governments changing the number to suit their own party political advantage. In the past the Liberal Democrats would oppose such powers being given to governments, but times have apparently changed.
The struggle taking place in the Lords will change the character of the House for the worse. It is not too late for the Government to acknowledge that consensus, not conflict, is a better way of changing the constitution.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Lord McAvoy, Baroness Morris of Yardley, House of Lords
Libel law is a poisoned chalice
Parliament will shortly embark on an attempt to reform our law of libel, which I predict will create more problems than it solves.
In the short term a vast amount of time and money could be saved by reconstituting the Press Complaints Commission and giving it real teeth. This will encourage responsible reporting, as suggested by a practical libel lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson. Deciding how to police the internet and enforce foreign judgments etc will need months, and probably years, of delicate negotiations to achieve international agreement.
In between times, hours will be spent on arguments about shifting burdens of proof, abolishing libel juries, capping costs and awards, freedom from liability for small Twitter-like sites and possibly adopting America's Sullivan's law, which prevents public figures suing for libel unless they can prove malice. This would placate Obama's administration, which currently refuses to enforce English judgments on the grounds that our freedom of speech protection is sub-standard.
Add to the mix that we have to accommodate Articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act, and someone will have the poisoned chalice of putting it all in an unworkable statute. In the meantime we have contempt laws that are unfit for purpose in the modern era and are flouted daily.
Del Williams, Senior Lecturer in Media Law, University of Chester
Raptors thrive on grouse moors
Peter Brown (letter, 14 January) claims that eating wild game meat is not ethical, citing "the extermination of birds of prey on grouse moors".
Yet one of the two raptor species he mentions – the merlin – does particularly well on grouse moors. As for the hen harrier, which he says "now has a very tenuous hold in England", the fact is that there were no hen harriers nesting on the British mainland 100 years ago. Since then, their numbers have grown to more than 800 nesting pairs (mostly in Scotland). Indeed, of the UK's 15 diurnal raptors, all but one – the very common kestrel – are now at or near their highest populations since records began.
By contrast, birds such as lapwing and curlew are in a steep downward spiral, and this really is a cause for concern. Interestingly, a survey by Natural England in 2008 showed that the last bastion of these birds as breeding species in England was the grouse moors of the North Pennines – which are, of course, managed by gamekeepers.
A Mitchell, National Gamekeepers' Organisation, Darlington, Co Durham
Equality in the workplace
At last the earnings of women in their 20s are on a par with their male counterparts, but the income gap returns when women start having families in their 30s and they never manage to catch up (leading article, 18 January).
If women and men shared parental leave more fully, as Nick Clegg proposes, equality between the sexes in the workplace could become a reality and the latent prejudice some employers still hold towards recruiting and promoting women of childbearing age could be stopped in its tracks.
I hope MPs will lead the way in the House of Commons, which remains far too male-dominated.
Rosalyn Gordon, Chair, Campaign for Gender Balance in the Liberal Democrats, Camberley, Surrey
Token gesture on drink pricing
The Government's announcement on a minimum unit price for alcohol is a step in the right direction, but will ultimately not have the desired impact on health outcomes the Government so passionately pursues through its wider reforms of the NHS. Liver deaths have doubled in the past 15 years and to make a real impact on alcohol-related mortality and morbidity a much bolder step is required.
While no policy measure should be taken in isolation, research commissioned by the Department of Health demonstrated that a minimum unit price of 20, 30, 40 and 50p will prevent 30, 300, 1,300 and 3,300 deaths respectively. In response the Government has decided to set the minimum price at 21p for beer and 28p for spirits.
It's encouraging that the Government are willing to take action but unfortunately this is simply a token gesture rather than one that will actually make a real difference.
Professor Jon Rhodes, President, British Society of Gastroenterology
Professor Chris Hawkey, British Society of Gastroenterology
Dr Nick Sheron, Alcohol Health Alliance, London NW1
A clear view of Gauguin
I visited the Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern (leading article, 17 January) on the Friday after New Year, a busy day. Even by the standards of London blockbusters, it was exceptionally informative and enjoyable.
By no means was I "herded through", contrary to the complaints reported in your editorial. I spent four hours viewing the exhibits, and was never hurried.
It is true that the galleries were full, but I cannot recollect any exhibit of which I could not get a clear view. The timed ticket system worked.
Bring on Leonardo, Miro and Degas for 2011!
Frederic Stansfield, Canterbury
Peter Forster's assertion (letter, 19 January) that artworks can be studied and appreciated just as well from a catalogue as "in the flesh" at an exhibition is a sad statement, in line with those philistines who suggest that art and design can be successfully taught online.
There is simply no substitute for seeing the actual artwork if one is to appreciate the size, colour and surface texture of the work. The catalogue is an excellent aide memoire, but absolutely no substitute for the real thing.
Phil Hawks, Reading
Simple pleasures that are no more
John Walsh is dead right about "computer-enabled cheating" (Viewspaper, 18 January) and there are plenty of people throughout history who should be taken to task.
Who invented sound recording, so that no one now enjoys playing a musical instrument? Who invented photography, so that no one now enjoys painting? Who invented greengrocers, so that no one now enjoys growing their own vegetables?
I would go and read a book to find out, but I would only be playing into the hands of that scoundrel who invented writing and destroyed the simple pleasure of listening to the previous generation tell me what they know.
Andrew T Barnes, Bristol