Sir: While I appreciate that petrol prices have been rising rapidly in recent months I ask what the latest threatened fuel blockades are designed to achieve.
It is not the government's fault that petrol prices have rocketed lately. Given that fuel tax has not been rising in recent years I do not see the logic behind the proposed action. Given that crude oil is a finite resource, petrol prices are destined to rise over the next fifty years regardless of taxation. Would it not be more productive to encourage people, where possible, to work from home one day a week, thus cutting their petrol consumption? How about encouraging the use of LPG and part-electric cars? How about the promotion of cars with smaller engines? How about encouraging use of public transport? All of these offer real long-term solutions to the problem of rising transport costs.
While it is fair to say we pay handsomely for our petrol in Great Britain we do not pay for the full impact that cars have on the environment. The cost of accidents is also not fully paid for by the motorist. Nor is the cost of congestion to individuals or businesses (which would arguably rise if the cost of petrol fell). A cut in fuel tax would mean a cut in government revenue, and so less spending on our roads, public transport, schools and hospitals. Holding the government to ransom seems to benefit no one, least of all the long-term interests of the long-protesting motorist.
By bringing the country to a standstill the protesters could only hope for cheaper petrol in the short term. If there was to be a repeat of the July 7 terrorist attacks in the capital or anywhere else, one could imagine a situation whereby emergency service vehicles from neighbouring regions would be unable to help because they were low on fuel.
Housing shortage and rural heritage
Sir: I was heartened by your positive reaction to the report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England on the effects of urban development on the countryside (Editorial, 9 September).
One of the many depressing aspects of the last election campaign was the almost complete lack of debate on environmental issues. The Government's approach to house building in the South-east of England is misconceived and utterly misguided. If implemented, as the CPRE's report so clearly articulates, the outcome is an irreversible environmental disaster within our lifetimes, the creation of a "homogeneous exurbia".
The Government's objective of increasing housing supply to meet a perceived future demand is underpinned by many fallacies. There is no shortage of existing housing stock, except in London. Owner-occupation is not the solution to all housing needs: the present need for good quality rented housing is greater than it has ever been. Increasing the existing housing supply is unlikely to have any impact on the rate of house price inflation or to improve the availability of affordable housing.
Straightforward fiscal steps can be taken now to help manage the future demand for housing, such as removing VAT from all refurbishment and conversion works, and creating tax relief incentives for the refurbishment of dilapidated or empty properties. We should aim to improve the existing housing stock and encourage the growth of the rental sector, rather than sleepwalking towards the future environmental disaster of scarcely controlled new house building as we are at present.
Sir: The CPRE seeks to dictate the housing density for those of us who live in already overcrowded urban areas. I'd like to reciprocate.
I suggest that England's county councils compulsorily purchase all gardens larger than one acre (primarily found in rural areas) and use the land to build affordable and social housing for local people. Thus, our green fields would be safeguarded. I wonder how many CPRE members would support this idea.
Sir: Your editorial "There are too many blots on our rural landscapes" (9 September), raises alarm that our countryside is at risk from new house building.
Of course we need strong and effective safeguards for the environment and the countryside. Those have improved in recent years, and we are going further. But we also need to build more homes not less if we are to meet the needs of the next generation. Too often in the past hype and misinformation about the countryside has been the excuse for those who want to prevent new house building. We must not make the same mistake again.
No one should be in any doubt about the level of housing need. Over the last 30 years the number of households has gone up by 30 per cent, but the rate of house building has dropped by 30 per cent. Little wonder then that house prices have gone up, that first time buyers are priced out of the market, that we face serious pressures from homelessness and overcrowding. It simply isn't fair if the only people who can afford to buy their own homes are those whose parents and grand parents can lend or bequeath them the money they need.
We need to build more new homes. But we can do so at the same time as improving protection for the environment. Thanks to changes to the planning system, over 70 per cent of new homes are now built on brownfield land, compared to 56 per cent in 1997. And we are building at higher density too. That means it is possible to build the 1.1 million new homes currently planned for the wider South-east on significantly less land than the previous government planned to build 900,000 homes. At the same time new standards are substantially improving the environmental efficiency of development and buildings.
Your leader is right: we do need to think about the impact of our decisions today on the Britain of 2035. Future generations need a countryside to enjoy, an environment to sustain them, and they need homes to live in too.
YVETTE COOPER MP
HOUSING AND PLANNING MINISTER OFFICE OF THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER LONDON SW1
Protect our liberties, or the terrorists win
Sir: I reject out of hand the assertion by Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, that civil liberties may have to be curtailed to combat terrorism. They have already been curtailed far too much and soon we will be expected to queue up to have our irises scanned and fingerprints taken, as if we are all suspects. No more innocent until proven guilty; the government wants us to know that we are all guilty and it is up to us to demonstrate our innocence.
I note that these government mouthpieces are careful to not spell out exactly what civil liberties are being considered for erosion or to what degree, so that the government can generally soften us up and then bring in whatever further draconian legislation it sees fit. It is as if the oppressors within New Labour and its service personnel want
to punish the public for the failings of government. If civil liberties are eroded the terrorists will have scored a win against us.
I thought the whole point of defending a democracy was to remain steadfast in the face of criminal attack. By weakening civil liberties and thereby giving into the terrorists we are not defending our democracy, but offending against it.
MICHAEL D MITCHELL
HOLBEACH ST MARKS LINCOLNSHIRE
Sir: It is reported that the head of MI5 believes that some civil liberties may have to be sacrificed to combat what is referred to as "terrorism".
I, along with the vast majority of sensible people here and across the world, have a better solution. Instead of sacrificing our civil liberties, how about sacrificing the policy of terrorising people in the Middle East, torturing them, invading and occupying their countries, or supporting and financing coups to install puppet regimes on behalf of narrow Western corporate interests?
At the same time we could sacrifice those political and other leaders of our society who adopt and carry out these acts of state terrorism. We, along with those who are merely fighting fire with fire, could then all sleep more safely in our beds.
STOCKSBRIDGE SOUTH YORKSHIRE
A stinker of a spelling mistake
Sir: With reference to your recent correspondence on correct spelling, readers might like to know I was travelling on the M40 alongside a coach to Heathrow Airport, when I noticed a petrol-cap type device on the side of the vehicle officially labelled, "sceptic tank".
S K FINESILVER
Bookings hampered by 48-hour target
Sir: As a GP my number of patients is finite but their illness is not. Jeremy Laurance (Opinion, 8 September) writes: "Common sense tells you ... that if more patients are booking ahead there will be fewer wanting to book on the day and vice versa." This over-simplification is one of the causes of frustration with the 48-hour target. In fact, when early appointments are plentiful, patients attend with more minor symptoms.
In some cases these are minor illnesses which could be managed without seeing a doctor. In other cases they are the very beginning of an illness that may become significant, but another appointment is needed to confirm the diagnosis. Neither situation results in saving an appointment that could then be used by someone else.
SUTTON COLDFIELD WEST MIDLANDS
The influence of Locke's writing
Sir: Any list of the most influential books should include Locke's Two Treatises of Government ("Sex, maths and a spinning machine: the 12 British books that changed the world", 8 September). Locke's repudiation of the divine right of kings and his belief in government by consent were controversial ideas in the late seventeenth century.
Important too was his doctrine of the natural rights of man, summed up as the right to life, liberty and property. For Locke, no ruler could legitimately govern if those fundamental rights were taken away from those who were governed. These ideas influenced revolutionaries in France and America and his thinking about liberty foreshadowed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
Teenagers jived in the fifties
Sir: I was interested to read Janet Street-Porter's article on ageism (Opinion 8 September). However, I wish she wouldn't try to perpetuate the myth that the babies born post-World War 2 became the first teenagers. The first teenagers were, in fact, the bobby-soxers of 1940s America and the first in England were in the 1950s when I was a teenager. We had our own music, rock'n'roll, and Elvis was king.
Teen girls wore many-layered petticoats and jived to the new music. Fashions for teen boys were teddy boy suits. The hairstyle was the DA for boys while the girls copied Gina Lollobrigida's. Finally, instead of binge drinking, the teenagers of the 1950s had coffee bars.
WOODFORD GREEN, ESSEX
Invasion of privacy
Sir: What is the difference between Charles Clarke's plan to keep all our email and mobile phone records and opening and photocopying all our letters? Would he even suggest that? Why are we willing to countenance allowing our privacy to be invaded in this way?
Sanctions on Iraq
Sir: Don't let the current humiliation of the UN over oil-for-food finances distract the world from the basic cruelty, evil and crass stupidity of those leading the economic sanctions. The USA and UK alone insisted on their continuation after 1996. There must be an investigation into what the sanctions did for the people of Iraq. The UN failures are a distraction and a side issue. Who is really guilty of the killing and harming millions of innocent Iraqis? Put them in court.
DR C J BURNS-COX
Duped into a war
Sir: M B Ahmed (letter, 10 September) is clearly under the delusion that Britain joined the war in Iraq to help the Iraqis. The sad truth, however, which must never be forgotten, is that our members of parliament were duped into voting for an illegal war in which countless thousands of Iraqi civilians and conscripts were killed (and are still being killed) in order to help the warmongering Bush administration pursue its own imperialistic ends.
Sir: I was alarmed to read in Saturday's edition of The Independent that Bush links September 11 to the challenge posed by Katrina. Has he not been told yet that Katrina is not an Islamic country?
STOCKPORT GREATER MANCHESTER
Science meets art
Sir: N T Shepherd's letter (8 September) raises the question of the fine line drawn between the science and engineering disciplines in the space field. In my own experience this has been a very blurred line with some scientists preferring to act as engineers and some engineers delving into the science. In general it is expected that one is academic and the other practical but space exploration is not that simple. Indeed, some space applications could be referred to as an art. Artists certainly use engineering for techniques and and subject material, as far back as Turner. Perhaps a revision of the social labels is necessary.
V J G BROWN
A hungry hound
Sir: Robert Paterson (letter, 10 September) was lucky with his Cairn terrier's understanding of human vocabulary. I collected a scraggy Border terrier-cross from Battersea Dogs' and Cats' Home in April, and Muffin believes that every word I utter relates to food. "No!" and "Out!" have only one meaning for him. Even "walkies" sends him flying to the door - of the fridge. So he's filled out nicely.
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