Letters: Political protest

T-shirt was too political for the parliamentary police
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The Independent Online

Sir: On Wednesday, I accompanied my sixth-form students on a tour of the Houses of Parliament. As we entered to meet the tour guides, I was taken aside by a police officer for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "1967-2007 - End Israeli Occupation" on the back. I was not given a reason, but told that unless I wore my coat to cover it up, I would not be allowed in. I complied. Nevertheless, I was later approached by another police officer for my name, address and details.

Once through the security gates, another police officer warned me, on pain of being made to leave, to keep my coat buttoned up, because the small Palestinian Solidarity logo on the front could just about be seen.

One of the first things the tour guide announced was: "This is the people's Parliament." A student queried: "Why then can you not show the T-shirt?"

The incident provoked much interest and discussion among the students. I was able to draw attention to the debate which took place the previous day in the House of Lords, headed, "Palestine: Occupied Territories", which was published in Hansard and given to us by our guide.

Launching the debate, Lord Dykes, "as an enthusiastic friend of Israel", unambiguously stated that Israeli occupation of the West Bank was illegal and criticised the international community for failing to make Israel comply with international law. Baroness Tonge stated: "The injustice which is Palestine is one of the major causes of the rise of terrorism in this world. Ever since 1948, Palestine has been used as a propaganda weapon for Islamists worldwide."

It is difficult to understand why one is stopped by the police for carrying a message on a T-shirt which is the same as that expressed by members of the House of Lords. After the question-time session we had with our MP, John Pugh, I asked what rules stated that I should not show the PSC logo. He replied with amusement that there probably were not any, but if the police say something, the best thing is to obey.

Are we now a police state? Do we have arbitrary policing?



Sir: Recent events in London and Glasgow airport are frightening reminders of Blair's legacy. And by maintaining a high profile in the Middle East, he will be doing his bit to ensure that that legacy continues to flourish.



Planning laws keep housing costs high

Sir: Averages can hide a lot and the reality of the housing market in the US has eluded Hamish McRae ("Be prepared to wait a decade for housing to become affordable again", 5 July) .

While overall housing costs have risen in the US, a two-speed market has developed, with affordable housing remaining in some places and being lost in others. The difference is simple. Where there are over-prescriptive planning regulations, as in the UK, housing costs have risen rapidly relative to incomes. In such places it does not matter that there is much land because public policy will not allow it to be built on.

In other areas, where more liberal regulation applies, housing costs remain affordable, such as in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, the three fastest growing large urban areas in the high-income world. Housing cost inflation has been minimal in many US and Canadian markets.

The Barker reports got it right. Planning is the problem. Housing will not be affordable even in a decade unless Britain's destructive planning laws are materially reformed.



Sir: Hamish McRae provided an interesting analysis of the current housing crisis, which has been brewing over a number of decades. However, in outlining the measures required he fails to mention buy-to-let and second home ownership.

In my town on the Surrey-Hampshire boundary, single bed flats now start at £180,000 and two-bed properties list from £250,000. Few younger public sector workers can dream of acquiring a home, when they are competing with the affluent buy-to-let investor.

In building more housing, will we be providing more properties for someone's property portfolio or meeting the need for homes? There is no doubt that increased house building is required, but how much of this demand is driven by the buy-to-let and second home sector? If we are going to sacrifice valuable farmland and fragment wildlife habitat then let us at least do this with social justice and equality of opportunity as its prime justification.

In addition to the "minor adjustments" suggested perhaps it is time to regulate the acquisition of residential property and place housing for homes above housing for profit as the key objective of housing policy in this densely settled island.



UN food aid for the hungry in Somalia

Sir: The UN World Food Programme would like to point out that much of your report "UN food aid 'causing chaos and violence' in Somalia" (22 June), is based on accounts completely at odds with what local authorities, our partners and our own staff report.

The area has been classified as a humanitarian emergency for the past few years because of below-normal rainfall, and now again is predicted to suffer from a near-total crop failure. Problems occasionally occur at distributions in Somalia, but this was not the case in Marere in June. If a community decided that food assistance wasn't necessary, we would be the first to listen.

Contrary to your talk of "chaos and violence", our partners and local authorities say the June distributions of WFP food in that part of Somalia were uneventful. The distribution of WFP food went ahead because that area had not received WFP food in April and May - the height of the "lean season" when food from the previous harvest runs out. There was distribution of WFP food in March and it was also uneventful.

In addition, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Food Security Analysis Unit Somalia reports that cereal prices in the Juba Valley region had markedly increased from February to the end of May. FSAU are also warning of crop failure or a below-average harvest in rain-fed areas of south and central Somalia.

Even the unhappy farmer quoted in the story admits that the food assistance will benefit people without money, which is precisely what WFP aims to do through targeted distributions that reach the most vulnerable, especially women and children, who cannot afford to buy any food on the open market.



Silver Ring Thing ignores reality

Sir: Dr Hall's letter about the chastity ring controversy (3 July) would have been stronger if he had portrayed the Millais School girl's stance as a public health nightmare.

The abstinence movement, exemplified by the Silver Ring Thing, promotes abstinence yet without providing either prophylactic advice or support - Just Say No, without any understanding of adolescent sexuality.

Studies have shown that when abstainers lose interest (as, being teenagers, they will, once the novelty has worn off), they are prey to far higher levels of STDs and pregnancy than the usual rutting teenagers, and more likely to try and have an abortion. Those who decide to keep the baby face all the problems of a single mother, in addition to parental disapproval.

Abstinence campaigns target those who, on account of their age, are least likely to stay the distance. Teenagers are pack-creatures: to be the odd one out at school or in a group is to be terrifyingly alone.

Alas, one person's sexual decadence is another's personal freedom. Those teenagers who do engage in sexual intercourse within a relationship at least use birth control measures, showing a maturity that is starkly missing from this debate. Adolescent sexuality is a reality of life: we would do better to engage with all the issues than use Victorian attitudes to cover our disapproval.



Sir: Chastity rings are not about liberty, morality or religion; they are fashion accessories. Pupils who want to deviate from school uniform on religious grounds should be required to produce a note signed by their God.



The James Gordon Brown mystery

Sir: R N G Stone (letter, 6 July) notes that our new PM uses his middle name, Gordon, and not his first, James, and speculates why. Perhaps it is to differentiate himself from that other James Brown, known as "the Godfather of Soul".



Sir: We should not assume that the Prime Minister's use of an alias is related to criminality. He, like many others, probably has a perfectly innocent reason for not wishing to use his given name. When regular identity checks become a feature of British life, however, James Gordon Brown will have some explaining to do.



Better government for rural England

Sir: Over a decade ago, the then Local Government Commission ran a consultation process on abolishing district councils and replacing them with unitary county councils with power and responsibility devolved to local communities.

This perceived threat to district councils was seen off and the only casualties have been local tax payers, who have spent the last decade paying for an unnecessary tier of local government in rural England.

But, better a decade later than never. The Department of Communities and Local Government has just completed a consultation process and proposals to establish unitary counties in Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Durham, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, Shropshire, Somerset and Wiltshire with a combined population of some 4.25 million. The final decision now lies with the government.

Unitary councils proposals provide a much needed opportunity for the counties concerned and the local NHS to achieve public spending parity with similar areas in Wales and Scotland and will enable the counties to take back control of their own economic development as well as the future of their local post office network. On top of that, savings of £1.25bn a year could be generated which will be available to spend on local developments and initiatives.

This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to make local government in the counties concerned fit for purpose for the 21st century. It is greatly to be hoped that the new government will look through the political self interest of district councillors and bogus polls that would shame a banana republic.



Despite Iraq, he was right about a lot

Sir: I differ from Mr Williams' accusation (letter, 2 July) that a "recently retired" politician (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) did not keep "faythe".

He was right about Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Afghanistan; since 1997 unemployment has fallen by 43 per cent; in my own experience, the NHS has improved hugely; schemes to alleviate crime and child poverty have begun; moreover, inflation has been unprecedently low and growth high. Yes, Iraq is a big minus, but sometimes I wonder whether its opponents - of whom I am one - may have one day to eat our words.

Oh, and by the way, I feel entitled to disagree with Mr Williams because his school motto, "Rather Deathe Than False of Faythe", was mine from 1942 to 1947.



PM's debut

Sir: Much of the comment on Gordon Brown's first Prime Minister's Questions appears to indicate that the "feral beasts" would now much rather have a consummate thespian, peddler of falsehoods and knighthoods and master of fraudulent charm. Do they now regret clamouring for a return to more sober and reflective times?



Unusual punishments

Sir: Joan Bakewell (Opinion, 6 July) again trots out the example of parents who indiscriminately beat their children as justification for outlawing the occasional disciplinary smack. Would she also wish to use the cases where children have been locked in cupboards or cellars for lengthy periods as a reason for banning sending a child to his/her room?



Fruit from afar

Sir: At the height of the British strawberry season, my local Sainsbury's was this week selling strawberries imported from the USA. So much for their green credentials; so much for their support of the British farmers and growers. By going elsewhere, we had the choice of fruit "imported" from Kent or Herefordshire.



Sectarian labels

Sir: I have followed with interest the argument that has been raging in the letters page suggesting that it is unfair to use the term "Islamic terrorist" because the IRA were never referred to as "Catholic terrorists". During the Northern Ireland troubles, media and government frequently used the phrase "Protestant paramilitaries" without any suggestion that this was somehow unfair to the rest of the world's Protestants.



Revenue raiders

Sir: The proposals to give tax officials the power to raid bank accounts (Business, 6 July) may have the opposite effect to that intended. They could easily encourage the self-employed to deal in cash, and there is a risk that overall tax receipts would actually fall. Trust in the banking system may also be diminished, with serious consequences for business growth. These counterproductive measures, which also represent yet another extension of state power, should therefore be opposed.



Ne plus ultra?

Sir: Seems more like ad nauseam to me.