Letters: Perspectives on police powers

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The Independent Online

Clegg and the Great Reform Act

Nick Clegg promises "the biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy" (19 May).

This shows profound historical ignorance. The Act of 1832 was far from a "great enfranchisement", as it merely doubled the suffrage from a very low base. From 1829 until May 1832 there was a mass movement for manhood suffrage that included both working-class and middle-class reformers. After the "days of May" in 1832, when even the middle-class radicals were considering withholding taxes and obtaining arms, an act was proposed that would carefully make sure that the working class remained disenfranchised, the movement split and the middle class, for the most part, withdrew.

The working class carried on the campaign, and there were dozens of riots at the "Reform Election" in December 1832, for the most part in manufacturing towns. These were often brutally put down, six being shot dead in Sheffield for instance, and a cavalry charge with sabres in Frome killing still more. A huge riot in Bolton (the inspiration for the riot in George Eliot's Felix Holt) had to be quelled by the military. The campaign for the vote went on, with the Chartists, the Reform movements of the 1860s (including John Stuart Mill), and the suffragettes. Britain arguably did not become a democracy until 1928, when all adult women received the vote on the same basis as men.

Brian Collier, Shipley, West Yorkshire

Lord Grey's "Great Reform Bill" was little more than a cynical ploy to retain political power for the landed classes and his own party. Indeed, many poorer persons, who voted in certain constituencies where the franchise was remarkably open, lost their right to vote. After 1832, the franchise was tied to land ownership with some rights for well-off tenants.

What was the result of these political changes? Almost immediately the infamous workhouse system was created by a middle-class parliament anxious to avoid the burden of the poor rates. That was the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Draconian measures against workers were implemented and the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sent to Australia for attempting to form a union. Within two years the working man was busily organising a defence through the agency of the Chartists.

The desperation and determination of these men, excluded from the political process, led to extreme tension and violence. The year 1842 was the most violent year in 19th-century Britain. These events sprang from Lord Grey's measures of 1832.

It was not until 1867 that working men in the urban areas obtained voting rights and nearly 20 years before the rural worker followed. Meanwhile the Whigs had been swept out of power by 1841 in a Tory resurgence, so Grey's action was hardly rewarded with a generation of political power.

Nick Clegg – do not use Lord Grey as an inspiration for "political reform". You too may be remembered simply as a tasty cup of tea.

Michael Weaver, Woodbridge, Suffolk

Smears and abuse of al-Qa'ida suspects

The Pakistani students accused of a terrorist plot have been spared deportation to torture, but they have been subjected to more abuse by the British state (" 'Al-Qa'ida operative' must not be deported to Pakistan, says judge", 19 May). As a present-day star chamber, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) has again accepted racist stereotyping of Muslims as terrorist threats, based partly on secret evidence which remains unknown to the accused and their defence lawyers. This character assassination is a substitute for a criminal trial, with its guaranteed procedures for testing evidence. SIAC colludes with MI5 and the Home Office in this attack on democratic rights.

Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), London NW5

The decision forced upon Mr Justice Mitting, by the Human Rights Act, is unacceptable to the vast majority of those whom I know. We have every sympathy with those who come to us for asylum. But we expect them to respect our laws and customs. If, after coming here, they engage in activities which are hostile to us, the statute should allow the Court to deport them regardless of any risk to them of torture or death.

The quid pro quo for our protection ought to be the obligation not to abuse our sanctuary.

Stephen Gratwick QC, Sevenoaks, Kent

Let family members foster children

That there is a shortage of over 10,000 foster carers in the UK is deeply concerning (report, 17 May). Children in care are likely to have experienced a very difficult childhood to date, and the absence of a suitable, stable foster placement adds further to their trauma, with potentially devastating consequences.

However, the solution doesn't solely lie in recruiting more unrelated foster carers. We know from our work that significantly more could be done to enable children to live safely within their families, for example with grandparents, aunts or uncles whom they already know and love. Too often we get calls to our advice lines from such relatives, who have been overlooked by children's services.

Then there are the cases of other relatives, who, despite being willing to make many sacrifices for the children, are just too impoverished or living in overcrowded accommodation, to be able to take on their upbringing without help from the local authority, which isn't forthcoming.

The child-welfare system in many parts of England is facing extraordinary pressures at the moment. Rather than paying tens of thousands of pounds keeping more children in care, we need to consider how the right help can be provided to give children love, security and stability within their families.

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group

Lynn Chesterman, Chief Executive, The Grandparents' Association, Harlow, Essex

In the London Borough of Newham we have received a record number of enquiries from prospective foster carers following a recruitment campaign launched last year.

The borough had a severe shortage of foster carers, resulting in children being looked after by private and voluntary agencies. This costs considerably more than placing with our own in-house foster carers. Newham Council set out to tackle this situation head-on with a totally integrated recruitment campaign which utilised a range of media.

Research through focus groups revealed the majority of foster carers in the borough were over 50; the average age profile of foster carers throughout the UK. Many younger residents were unaware they were eligible to foster and that the best homes to foster children are those where people have children and a spare room. With this insight, we decided to target mums and dads of all ages with families.

The campaign was launched in November 2009, and used social and digital media as well as advertising on targeted websites. It captured the attention of potential foster carers by using the questions a child might ask, for example, "Is this my room?" and "Please can I have a hug?"

The result was nearly 400 inquiries in the first four months of the campaign, a number that is still rising. This compares to 269 received in the whole of 2008.

Councillor Quintin Peppiatt, Executive Member for Children and Young People, Newham Council, London E16

Stop wasting UK cash on overseas aid

M Riaz Hasan believes that: "Two-thirds of the planned cuts of £6bn can be made at a stroke by withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan. The war is both unwinnable and unpopular" (letters, 18 May).

Yes, but what financial (and other) cost would be incurred by clearing up the mess caused by Islamic terrorists whose plots against the UK are left to fester in Afghanistan? To ignore this reality is irresponsible and short-sighted.

But I do agree with Mr Hasan that we need to save cash by not wasting it overseas, so how about stopping all government aid to India and China? That alone will save £2bn. If we stop sending ineffective foreign aid to corrupt countries, we'll have saved £6bn in no time at all.

Edwin Webb, London SE10

No confidence in voting analysis

Andy McSmith (18 May) joins the list of commentators who have misunderstood the "55 per cent dissolution vote".

It is not, as he alleges, a raising of the threshold for a no-confidence vote; this remains a bare majority. But it constrains the sole right of an incumbent prime minister to request from the Queen a premature dissolution.

This is, in one form or another, a common feature of all fixed-term parliaments. If a vote of confidence were passed, there would presumably then be, as in Scotland and Wales, a period of a month in which to form a different government, failing which there would be a dissolution.

Philip Goldenberg, Woking, Surrey

Protests over TV abortion ad

If those who fear greater awareness of post-conception services ("Campaigners vow to stop Britain's first TV ad for abortion services", 20 May) were more accepting of the benefits of a comprehensive and early education in all aspects of sex and relationships, they might find that the UK's relatively high combined termination and pregnancy rate for teenagers dropped to a much lower level.

In Holland, where this process begins by the age of 10, the rate is 7/1,000. In the US a comparison between abstinence-based programmes and permissive harm-reduction models showed a clear advantage to teaching teenagers how to use contraception.

Perhaps the utter disbelief should be that moral certitude from religious groups prevents young and vulnerable women from being taught how to control their fertility better.

Dr M E J Wise, London NW6

Human victims of palm-oil industry

You report "Online protest drives Nestlé to environmentally friendly palm oil" (19 May).

While the plight of the orangutan victims of the palm-oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia gains headlines in Britain, don't ignore the fact that humans are also at risk from consuming the palm oil hidden in processed foods. Palm oil is a saturated and cheap fat, so it finds its way into many processed foods but it pushes up blood cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

In Mauritius in the 1990s, a survey demonstrated that the island's inhabitants had levels of cholesterol as high as those in Scotland, contributing to the epidemic of heart attacks. A policy of making imports of soya oil to Mauritius cheaper resulted in a switch to 90 per cent soya-oil use with a residual 10 per cent of palm oil, reversing the previous pattern. Following a repeat survey, the level of blood cholesterol in the population at large had declined by almost 20 per cent – equivalent to everyone taking a cholesterol-lowering drug. Nestlé and other food producers must be laughing up their sleeves as Greenpeace activists miss the major victims of their profit-driven activities.

Let's save the orangutans and stop deforestation, but let's not forget about the harm being done to humankind too. A worldwide restriction on the use of palm oil in processed foods is long overdue.

Shah Ebrahim, Professor of Public Health & Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London WC1

Rehabilitation for Ashley Cole?

In offering footballer Ashley Cole the opportunity to take part in a community speedwatch event ("Not-so-smart endorsement", Pandora, 4 May) I was not seeking his endorsement of our scheme, as your report suggested. Instead, I felt Mr Cole's participation would show him the error of his ways.

We believed community Speedwatch, run by Surrey County Council with Surrey police as part of our Drive SMART campaign, would hammer home the potentially devastating consequences of speeding through Surrey's roads at 104mph and show him the impact that anti-social driving has on his local community.

This is an opportunity for Mr Cole to rehabilitate himself and set a good example to others by taking up my offer.

Dr Andrew Povey, Leader, Surrey County Council, Kingston upon Thames

VAT madness

Nigel Tuersley (letter, 19 May) argues that a VAT increase to 22 per cent would increase the cost of a £850 television set by only £38 pounds and is therefore a low-impact way of reducing the national debt. What he fails to recognise is that most of us purchase hundreds of taxed items in the course of a year and so an increase in the VAT rate of the scale he proposes would have a massive effect on our purchasing power with serious repercussions for the economy.

He might as well evaluate the effect of an income-tax rise by telling us how little we would lose from one hour's pay.

Jonathan Wallace, Newcastle upon Tyne

Long-hours culture

In your profile of Adam Boulton (15 May) you suggest that he often works a 20-hour day and that Nick Robinson works a 16-hour day.

I assume that these long hours contravene the European Working Time Directive, so I wonder how their employers have managed to circumvent these regulations.

The Medical and Surgical Royal Colleges struggling to oversee the training of junior doctors, and hospital managers wrestling with difficult on-call rotas based on a 48-hour working week, would, I am sure, be keen to learn their secret.

Andrew Johnson, Haskayne, West Lancashire

Title fight

I hope that, should anyone offer the Deputy Prime Minister the stately title suggested by KP Poole (Letters, 19 May), Nick Clegg would quote Winston Churchill and reply that he was neither a lord, nor a privy, nor a seal.

Jenny Bryer, Birmingham