Letters: Perspectives on the countryside

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The case for a tax on land

I believe Harriet Walker's column ("What about some land for the poor", 11 November) makes a wrong assumption. The kind of "landowners" she mentions may be from families which have occupied the land for centuries, but in theory most no longer have ownership, which is usually vested in a complicated trust in a murky foreign tax haven. The people regarded socially and in other ways as very wealthy owners are not so for tax purposes.

This country has enough tensions at present without any polarising allegations of "Mugabeism" which would be raised against sharing the land out as she suggests. A more productive approach would be to tax land more directly.

An average of £2 per acre on the undeveloped value of the land in Britain would bring in about £12bn per year. Mayfair acres would be charged more than moorland ones and exemptions could be set at any level you like so that average householders and hill farmers are not unduly hobbled. We already have a Valuations Agency, so introducing such a tax would be relatively simple. It would be payable by the owner, not the renter, and collecting in one lump from the owner of 50 farms is obviously easier than collecting individually.

The proceeds could be used for reducing debt or taxes which discourage productive effort, or preserving capabilities such as sea power or services such as hospitals, but the twin advantages of a land tax are that it is reliable, which would please bond-holders, and it is unavoidable, even for oligarchs, sheikhs, other monarchs and those who regard themselves as the backbone of the country, except where taxes are involved.

It would also be fair in that it would be an asset which has been greatly increasing in value with no effort by those who benefit, and which will continue to do so, because of public subsidies and the ever-increasing demand for food. Lastly, it might help demonstrate that we really are all in this together.

John Kennett, South Warnborough, Hampshire

Right trees in the right places

Although her praise for the deal the UK government won in Nagoya is most welcome, I feel Joanna Waddy (Letters, 3 November, "Save the forests and sell them off") has misunderstood what we're trying to achieve on forestry.

One of the main motivations behind the Government's approach to England's trees, woodlands and forests is the need to enhance biodiversity, and we are encouraging more planting of the right trees in the right places in order to increase woodland cover.

But this does not necessarily mean ownership or management by "Big Government", so we're looking to give individuals, businesses, civil society organisations and local authorities a bigger role in protecting their natural environment. Existing tree-felling regulations and rights of way and land already dedicated for access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act will remain in place, thus preserving the environmental and public benefits that woodland provides. Around 70 per cent of England's woodland is under private ownership, and a large number of these owners are already participating in woodland schemes that maintain these benefits.

In looking to the future, we will ensure that improving the environment, enhancing biodiversity and combating climate change are at the heart of any new approach to the ownership and management of our state-owned forests.

Caroline Spelman MP, Environment Secretary , London SW1

Student protest looks like the first of many

At just gone midnight I received a knock at the door from two local policemen inquiring if this was where my daughter lived, for bail purposes. As I later learnt, she was one of over 100 students arrested on the demonstration against the cuts to higher education.

It was with pride that I learnt that my daughter and her fellow students had picked up the baton which we had dropped in the fight to retain the principle of equal access to higher education, irrespective of means.

The invasion of Tory Party headquarters has done more for the campaign against student fees and cuts to higher education than all the leaflets and briefing papers of the National Union of Students. The passion of NUS President Aaron Porter, in his denunciation of the "violence", showed that the priorities of NUS leaders hasn't changed. Those who led the NUS when I was young were part of a government that implemented the abolition of grants and the massive increase in tuition fees under New Labour.

Let us hope that the demonstration against fees is the first of many against this wretched Coalition that is causing poverty in order to bail out a failed capitalist system and its bonus-addicted bankers.

Tony Greenstein, Brighton

As you suggest in your leader of 11 November, Wednesday's student protest may well be the start of a "winter of discontent". And it will hardly be surprising.

The millionaires' club that is our government is blind to the bleak future that our young people are facing. After leaving university with debts of £30,000 they face finding about 25 per cent of the cost of a house to get a mortgage (even now, the average age of a first-time buyer is 38), and all the while put aside a not inconsiderable sum for their pension.

The average annual salary is about £23,000 and only about 10 per cent of the workforce earn more than £40,000 a year. You don't have to have a mathematics degree to work out the implications. There will be real divisions and inequalities, as further education becomes the preserve of the rich elite.

Norman Evans, East Horsley, Surrey

At long last, the UK government is learning that there is a limit to citizens' tolerance.

We have put up with wanton foreign wars; stood by while our hard-earned wealth was squandered bailing out bankers who brought us to the brink of bankruptcy; we have listened to incomprehensible arguments about securing our safety by creating arsenals that can destroy the world.

The students, like the country's poor, are being asked to pay for all this. The students' taking to the streets is, I strongly suspect, just the start.

Jim McCluskey, Twickenham, Middlesex

While our PM is over in China lecturing their government on democracy in front of an impeccably-behaved and articulate student audience, back here we're being treated to scenes of intolerable and dangerous antisocial behaviour enacted by students who have abused their democratic right to demonstrate.

This shameful behaviour, which will be watched with glee by China's leaders, is by thugs who bemoan any rise in tuition fees but who frequently, when buttonholed by the media, appear to be too inarticulate to justify the nation's further investment in their education.

Paul Dunwell, Alton, Hampshire

Am I alone in thinking that the body politic has gone mad?

Students appear to take the view that the taxpayer has a duty to subsidise their education. They are wrong. Students are subsidised because of the belief that it benefits the country to educate as many people as we can afford to. When money is short, retrenchment is inevitable.

Voters complain that some Lib Dems have broken their "promise" not to increase the cost to students. There can be no such "promise". The candidate says what he intends to do; but with the knowledge which he then has. Now, as an MP, he knows what a dreadful state our finances had been left in and duty requires him to do what seems best in the light of his altered knowledge.

The Coalition is doing a wonderful job of trying to achieve what is nearly impossible. Lots of people seem to think that life can go on as usual. They are wrong.

Stephen Gratwick QC, Sevenoaks, Kent

There is nothing new in students protesting. Even the unfortunate violence is familiar to those of us who were students in the 1960s and 1970s.

Alan Johnson introduced fees; but why should we be surprised that they would have to rise? Other prices and services have.

A significant number of UK independent schools and tertiary institutions have spent the past decade or more enticing students from overseas in very large numbers, particularly from Asia. These were charged at least double the UK fees. As Asian universities are growing very quickly, taking in more students with the former potential to study in the UK, resources from their enrolments have dropped considerably. Not too hard to work out the equation is it?

Richard A John, Lavenham, Suffolk

Graduates could cut their debt by a third if universities offered two-, instead of three-year courses.

In most subjects it would be possible to cover the same syllabus in two years if the course were efficiently structured and taught, if the students spent enough time actually studying and if the university vacations were shorter. It would also increase the number of people able to go to university, as throughput would be speeded up.

Government departments, hospitals and businsses are all urged to be more efficient and save money: should universities be exempt?

Doraine Potts, Cheltenham

Your leading article on student protest (11 November) says the only way to secure decent funding for higher education is student fees of £9,000 a year. I profoundly disagree.

The approach you endorse will mean that British students will on average be paying almost three times as much to go to university as students in any other country. It will also mean that the British government will be providing substantially less financial support to our universities than any other developed country.

I can see no reason why our government's approach should be so dramatically out of line with others. The best approach would be for the Government to maintain most (or all) of its investment in higher education, which would then mean that there was no need for extortionate tuition fees. What's wrong with that?

Michael W Eysenck, London SW20

Had they been paid by Government agents to do it, the rioting students could not have done a better job of damaging the legitimate cause of the peaceful protesters. How smug and self-righteous Mr Cameron must be feeling.

Eileen Noakes, Totnes, Devon

I was interested to note the Prime Minister's condemnation of the students "who were intent on destruction". Does his admonishment include the Bullingdon Club?

Phil Budden, Watford, Hertfordhsire

Big bonuses for failure

David Prosser (4 November) comments on fund managers' anger about proposed FSA regulations regarding their bonuses. Greater regulatory focus on fund managers' remuneration is overdue.

Responsible citizens, many modestly paid, who contribute to pension schemes and save elsewhere for their futures are often poorly served by the UK fund-management industry which, as a whole, delivers poor investment performance while charging substantial fees.

Average fund-management fees have risen over recent decades. Worryingly, the opacity of fee structures is also increasing as fund managers introduce complex additional "performance" fees which extract still more money from clients. Many clients already fail to understand the cumulative long-term drain on their pension and other savings of fund-running expenses.

There is overwhelming evidence that 70 per cent or more of "active" fund managers fail to out-perform their chosen benchmark. The cost drag of high management fees and other expenses is a primary reason for this.

In short, there are many fund managers paid very well who deliver mediocre or downright poor performance. Perhaps this helps to explain why, as shareholders, fund managers are so reluctant to vote against "payoffs for failure" at investee companies?

George Galazka, London SW19

Welcome to the Tea Party

If Derek Clark MEP identifies so closely with the Tea Party (letter, 11 November), perhaps he could tell us exactly which of their views and strategies he shares?

Will he soon be spreading rumours that David Cameron is a radical terrorist not born in the UK? Does he deny evolution, climate change, the age of the Earth, and any other scientific facts that conflict with his beliefs? Will he oppose and obstruct all new legislation, regardless of its merit, until the UK has a far-right leader he approves of?

The American Tea Party thrives on utter detachment from reality, and has the rare effect of making UKIP look sensible by comparison. Perhaps that's what Mr Clark is aiming for?

Dr Richard Milne, Edinburgh

Muslims and Jews at war

Martin Sugarman (letter, 5 November) tries to justify the dispossession of the Palestinians by the actions of a tiny minority who feared losing their homes to European Jewish immigration, a fear that was clearly well-founded. Perhaps we should be grateful that at least he recognises that Palestinians did indeed live in Palestine, something many Zionists continue to deny.

The only Nazi-occupied country where the number of Jews increased during the Second World War was Muslim Albania. Here not a single Jew was handed in by a Muslim; instead Jews were provided with false identities to keep them safe. Compare that to what happened in France and Holland.

It is as well to remember, particularly at this time of Remembrance, that in the Second World War something like 800,000 Muslims fought against fascism, most coming from what is now Pakistan.

Supporting Israel by demonising Muslims is a dangerous game. Those who hate Muslims today will direct their hatred towards other minorities tomorrow. Dr Mujahid Islam, Edinburgh

I hesitate to question a museum archivist, the most precise of people, but when Martin Sugarman says 30,000 Israeli Jews served in the British forces in the Second World War, hasn't he got his dates a little muddled up? British, German, Polish Jews perhaps, or maybe Palestinian Jews, but hardly Israeli before May 1948. So his argument for Israel tobe represented at the Cenotaph fails.

Chris Beney, Bushey, Hertfordshire

Whilst Khalid Haneef (letter, 5 November) acknowledges that there were Palestinians who collaborated with the Nazis, his attempt to include Yitzchak Shamir among the guilty is insidious.

Prime Minister Shamir may have survived the Holocaust, but he lost his parents and two sisters. The fact that he then spent the next part of his life working tirelessly to track down Nazis as a senior member of the Mossad displays the large disparity between the truth and Haneef's allegation.

Amir Ofek, Media Counsellor, Embassy of Israel, London W8

How we let down Iraq's Christians

The slaughter of Assyrian Christians in Baghdad, and the subsequent call made by their Archbishop in London for the departure of Christians from Iraq, are a key achievement of the Bush-Blair policy (report, 3 November).

Our leaders then could only see the east in terms of total evil and therefore perceived it as fit only for total punishment. So they neglected to consider the fate of the Christians of the East, and pushed them out of mind. In this way the psychotic virtues of "Western Judeo-Christian civilisation" are upheld, by confining goodness to Europe and America.

The splitting of the known universe into distinct categories of total good and total evil is paranoid.

Christopher Walker, London W14

Gays in Jordan

Julie Burchill (11 November) is obviously right to say that Tel-Aviv is broad-minded towards gays, but she is wrong to say that Tel-Aviv is the only metropolis in the area which tolerates them. I stand ready to take her to Amman, the city of my birth, to introduce her to gays who lead normal, worthwhile lives.

Satanay Dorken, London, N10