Letters: Police powers

Our ineffectual police force must not be given further powers
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The Independent Online

Sir: I have been considering whether I feel more under attack by criminals or by terrorists. I hadn't added it all up before, but over the past 10 years, our family has suffered two burglaries, one case of being run into by an uninsured driver, two lots of criminal damage, one (minor) assault, one confidence trick, three attempted fraudulent items on my credit card and an attempt to terrorise my son into handing over his pocket money. Total losses were, I suppose, a couple of thousand pounds. Against this, I can put: perpetrators detected by the police - none.

The Prime Minister is not going to get me excited about a remote possibility of my being affected by terrorism when I clearly face an absolute certainty of regular attacks from criminals, and where equally clearly, the police are going to be able to do nothing significant either to protect us or to catch the people involved.

There seems little point in giving the police further powers in the face of the kind of results they achieve with the powers they already have. As far as paying taxes goes, I am starting to wonder whether protection money paid to organised crime might not come cheaper.



Sir: While having the sincerest sympathy with Mr and Mrs Wise (and with any other person held without trial in any country anywhere in the world) I am perplexed as to why the full might of the British Foreign Office swung into operation to free them. After all, the same Foreign Office stayed completely silent on the cases of UK citizens held without trial for more than two years by the US at Guantanamo Bay. There is excellent evidence to show that the Guantanamo prisoners were tortured to obtain information whereas Mr and Mrs Wise, although quite justifiably terrified, finished up in a five-star hotel. If one is unfortunate enough to be arrested and held without charge, it seems that there are far worse places than Iran.



Sir: I was unutterably depressed to see a Labour Prime Minister arguing so passionately for a 90-day detention bill. Perhaps Mr Blair needs to be reminded of a fundamental principal of parliamentary democracy: it is the duty and function of the police to uphold laws decided on by Parliament. It is emphatically not the function of Parliament to pass laws decided on by the police!



GPs will resist call for extended hours

Sir: I understand that the Health Secretary now wants General Practitioners to open their surgeries in the evenings and at weekends to facilitate patient access (leading article, 12 November).

Some two years ago, GPs signed a new contract with the Department of Health which radically changed the way we worked and subjected our working patterns to far greater scrutiny than had previously been the case.

One of the main reasons that the profession accepted this contract was that it put a clear limit on what was expected to be "in hours" work: ie, 8am till 6.30pm, Monday to Friday. This was not offered out of the goodness of the Government's heart but on the clear recognition that there was a crisis in GP recruitment that required a change in working practice to reflect a change in expectations of new doctors.

I worked regularly overnight and at weekends for my first 21 years as a GP and have no intention of doing so again. In four years I will be able to retire, although I could work longer. I think that there will be a stampede of GPs in their 50s leaving the profession if this comes to pass.

Coupled with the fact that the Government is happy to see paramedics as the first line of response for GP out-of-hours care, recent statements make me wonder if the Government would actually like to see general practice in the UK wither and die.



Sir: You are absolutely right to support the move for GPs to offer more flexible hours to meet the needs of their patients.

The Men's Health Forum has just completed a study to find out why more men do not visit their family doctor. We asked men what one thing they would change to make it more likely they would visit their GP, and most of them suggested extending surgery hours, particularly in the evenings and on Saturdays.

We are now looking to the Department of Health to listen to the specific needs of men, who are currently not using primary- care services effectively. We need to develop services that men will find accessible and attractive so that they do not delay seeking help while their health continues to deteriorate. GPs must change to meet the needs of men, because the current failure by surgeries to reach out to men is actively contributing to the poor state of male health.



Sir: Patricia Hewitt's claims that GP's opening hours are "inconvenient" are suspect. Evening surgeries are more inaccessible with reduced public transport, fewer pharmacies open and are less family-friendly. There will be no more clinic sessions due to the limit on working hours, thereby GP availability will be diluted. Overhead costs will mount as support-staff numbers increase.

It is accepted that some parts of society who need services most often under-utilise the NHS. The chronic sick, disabled, elderly, parents, carers, children and other groups may not be best served by the subsequent reduction in daytime GP availability. Ill health is unfortunately inconvenient; Hewitt's intentions will lead to a more stretched service, abuse of the nursing role and higher costs to benefit a small section of society.



Sir: Why does your editorial assume that doctors are motivated solely by a selfish desire to preserve our "closed shop" in raising objections to nurse prescribing? I for one have nothing against unlimited nurse prescribing, as long as they're adequately trained to make an accurate diagnosis, understand the pharmacology of the drug and its side-effects and possible interactions, can decide which drug is appropriate for that particular patient, and then deal with the consequences if it all goes horribly wrong; I estimate this should take about five years.



Sir: I am a hospital doctor and would strongly suggest that many people's health, fitness and enjoyment of life would improve if more emphasis was placed on shorter, more efficient working days. Perhaps employers could put more value on the health of their workforce, which would include employees being able to leave work to attend a doctor's appointment. It might even improve productivity.



UK biofuels and carbon savings

Sir: Dr Righelato (Letter, 9 November) is correct in saying that biofuels won't make car driving completely carbon neutral. However, he is wrong to suggest that using wheat, sugar beet or oilseed rape for fuel rather than food damages existing carbon balances. It is also misleading to make an automatic link between biofuels and poor biodiversity: as with any form of farming, if a biofuels farmer is to follow the new CAP rules then they must adhere to set standards. We are delighted that more than 1 million hectares are now included under environmental stewardship schemes.

A legitimate concern would be the need to consider the effects of importing biofuels rather than developing a domestic supply. The CLA and others are actively lobbying government at UK and EU level to ensure a measure of environmental assurance on imports is factored into biofuels policy. We are confident, following a number of UK and EU whole life-cycle carbon-accounting studies, which include all the emissions arising from use of fertiliser and cultivation of the crops and processing, that UK-sourced biofuels will deliver significant carbon savings compared to fossil fuels, and will furthermore contribute to security of supply.



The ethics of pupilteacher relationships

Sir: You report that the Sheffield academic Pat Sikes has written a paper in defence of teacher-pupil affairs (11 November). It is of course the most natural thing in the world for teenagers to feel sexual urges, particularly towards those with whom they have personal relations, such as teachers. Teachers on the other hand, not only have a professional responsibility to refrain from interfering with their students but also an ethical duty to withhold their primal urges. There is no hypocrisy in recognising that children will always have fantasies about adults, while condemning those adults who form relationships with children.



Why not have a poppy wristband?

Sir: Could the explanation for low poppy sales to young people be associated with the obvious fact that the British Legion poppy is not designed to be attached to modern clothing, but to a suit buttonhole?

During four decades of office life, I always wore a poppy during the season of remembrance. During the past three years, which I have spent less formally attired, I have tended to avoid the poppy tray for want of a bright idea as to how to attach it without accidentally drawing blood.

For this reason I think the wristband as an alternative, perhaps carrying some sort of poppy symbol, would be a good idea. It would also bring the important tradition of remembrance into line with current fashion and serve as a connection between the generations.



There's no place for 'belief' in science

Sir: John Lyons (Letter, 12 November) states that Richard Dawkins believes that all living things are descended from a single common ancestor. I would not presume to speak on behalf of Mr Dawkins but I suspect that he is far too good a scientist to believe any such thing.

The scientific process is one whereby a theory is tested exhaustively until it can be trusted confidently. A worthy scientist, however, always recognises that that trust is contemporary with the current information. All theories, no matter how well tested, must be regarded as subject to modification or abandonment should fresh data arise. This is not belief. Science does not involve or condone any such process.



Sir: Focusing the debate on the tolerance of atheism on one person, Richard Dawkins, is pointless. Consider the Jacobins. In a short time these secularists murdered 250,000 people in the Reign of Terror. One of their leading figures, Le Maitrie, having just proclaimed that religion causes all wars, unleashed the infernal columns, bands of armed atheists upon Catholic France. These "tolerant" people went through Catholic villages, burning churches and intimidating peasantry. We might also think of the atheist persecution of the Catholic church in Mexico in the 20th century. Add this to the appalling behaviour of the Communists and we do not get a picture of universally tolerant atheists. While I am aware that not all atheists are intolerant, I simply ask them to be fair in their judgements and accept that there can be intolerant atheists and tolerant believers.



BA's many destinations

Sir: In your article "Easy does it" (9 November), you state that easyJet's main hub is now Gatwick from which it flies to more European destinations than British Airways.

British Airways flies currently from Gatwick to 28 destinations in Europe, while easyJet flies to 26. With UK domestic services, that figure rises to 36 destinations for BA and 29 for easyJet.

In addition, BA's non-European services bring the total number of destinations served by the airline to 51. Our franchise carrier, GB Airways, flies to an additional 21 destinations, mainly in Europe.



Cotswolds' commerce

Sir: Those who accuse Lady Bamford of bringing "unwanted and inappropriate commercialism to the Cotswolds" (report, 12 November) have forgotten their local history. William Morris, C R Ashbee, Gordon Russell and Robert Welch all enriched the Cotswolds by bringing their specialist skills and commercial acumen to this glorious part of rural England.



Smoking ban

Sir: In your article about the smoking ban (12 November), John Ramsden is quoted as saying that "if the Government is going to ban smoking, why not ban drinking - and sex while we are at it?" Does he not realise that having sex in public places actually is banned and drinking in public outside licensed premises is also highly controlled.



Whither the weather?

Sir: Roger Payne's letter (12 November) suggests that forecasts of a bitter winter and balmy temperatures in October and November are incompatible. The reason they are not is because our temperate island climate is usually stabilised by warm air from the Atlantic Ocean. With climate change, the winds are now predicted to come more frequently from the direction of continental Europe rather than the Atlantic, hence warm autumn becoming severely cold winter. Apparently illogical forecasts then become logical!



Sir: Roger Payne wonders why "forecasters have warned us of one of the bitterest winters for decades". The short answer is that they haven't. Roger has obviously been taken in by the front page of The Independent on 22 October. The Met Office forecast that there was a 67 per cent probability of a colder than average winter, and that it may be the coldest since 1995/6 - ie the coldest for a single decade, not decades.