Sir: It is not the case that the Department for International Development is a "champion of privatisation in developing countries" ("The war dividend", 13 March).
We do not have, as claimed by Corporate Watch, a policy to push British firms as lead providers. Every contract for which we invite tenders is subject to strict competition rules and is open to companies from other countries.
The use of private contractors in Iraq is essential, given the varied skills and expertise required over a substantial period. Above all, this is about recognising the value of private-sector investment - not privatisation - as hugely important to help kick-start failing economies. Growth means jobs for local people and food for their families.
Decisions about Iraq's future and its development are being made by the Iraqi people. To whom they go for help, advice and expertise is a matter for them.
Iraq has already come along in a short time but there is a huge job to be done to change it from a dictatorship to a democracy. That's where we are helping. Our support is helping to build a political system so that people can vote and manage their own affairs; providing advice on how to rebuild the economy, which is based on massive state subsidies, and providing specialist expertise to help train people to install power and water systems. The UK, through its assistance to Iraq, is providing support where it can - including through private sector contractors - so Iraq becomes prosperous and stable.
For instance, UK aid has helped to seal 4,880 leaks in water pipelines across the south-east of Iraq and has repaired electricity transmission lines from Hartha power station to Basra city, securing electricity supplies for 1.5 million residents. The UN, with UK support, has distributed education kits to more than six million students in more than 17,000 schools and has trained 2,000 health workers.
SECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, LONDON SW1
Baby MB and the right to life
Sir: I have the greatest admiration for Dr Livingstone and his colleagues, who care for children with debilitating incurable illnesses, but I am unable to see how the verdict in the case of MB prevents him from practising "good (or human)" medicine (letter, 17 March). Does this mean that he does withdraw treatment from patients who are not in a persistent vegetative state but whose life he considers not worth continuing?
To take active steps to end a life is illegal and it would seem to many - within the medical profession and without - to be a curious way of doing one's best for a patient. Removing treatment from a child with cognitive function (as MB seems to have) in the certain knowledge that the child will thereby die is certainly not a step to be taken on the basis of one clinician's opinion.
If we are to deprive children such as MB of treatment, then by what criteria are we to decide that his or her life is so intolerable that it cannot continue? The decision must at least involve the parents of the child, and must surely have the support of public opinion, which is at present best expressed through judgments by the courts.
PROFESSOR TONY WALDRON
CONSULTANT PHYSICIAN, LONDON N11
Sir: Johann Hari's article (9 March), and Wednesday's High Court ruling highlight an important debate on the quality of life of people with physical disabilities. This debate needs to encompass people with mental health issues and learning disability as well.
Turning Point welcomes this ruling, which puts into practice underlying values of the recent Mental Capacity Act. The Act stresses that medical decisions regarding those who lack capacity must be taken in consultation with any family and friends and in their best interest considering their values and beliefs.
Decisions to withdraw life-saving treatment are very difficult and need finely balanced judgements. A person's quality of life cannot be judged solely in terms of good health, material wealth or long life. We must also take into account their lived and emotional experiences.and the joy they bring to family and friends. Those closest to the person are best placed to make that judgement.
Some people may need support in every aspect of their life, but that does not mean their lives are less valuable, as the ruling has confirmed. There is no reason to assume that people with very high support needs, such as baby MB, "enjoy" their lives any less than those without disabilities.
Turning Point hopes people with disabilities are not automatically assumed to have a poorer quality of life just because they need a high level of support.
DIRECTOR OF POLICY, TURNING POINT, LONDON E1
Sir: Johann Hari comments that it is sugary sweet and comfortable to talk about the sanctity or right to life, and that it is sometimes better to end the life of someone who is suffering.
As a severely disabled person, I totally disagree with what he says. It is not sugary sweet nor is it comfortable when living with or caring for someone who is very ill and suffering. Nor is it ever justifiable to intentionally end such a life.
If I became acutely ill and had to go into hospital, I would expect to be fed and cared for until I died, not have my life ended because some do not think I have anything to offer any longer. We are human beings and we all have a right to life, care, support and dignity.
Our part in shame of Guantanamo
Sir: As details of "Britain's shadowy role in the Guantanamo scandal" (16 March) emerge, I hope legal action or media exposure will succeed where political pressure has so far failed, in forcing the British government to live up to its international obligation to act for the nine British residents still imprisoned at the camp.
I and others have repeatedly lobbied the Government over the past few years to provide assistance to these men. Jamil al-Banna, Bisher al-Rawi and Omar Deghayes, who have decades of legal residence in the UK, are my constituents. The official reaction is that the UK cannot take responsibility as they are not British citizens and furthermore, that their right of return to the UK, once free, cannot be guaranteed as it would be subject to a renewed visa application.
The fact that MI5 was complicit in the abduction of Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi explains the British government's unwillingness now to protect these men. But their assertion that international consular law prevents assumption of responsibility for legally resident non-nationals is disputable.
Last year, the parliamentary assembly of the human rights watchdog the Council of Europe, demanded that European governments do all they could to ensure "the release of any of their citizens, nationals or former residents" detained at Guantanamo, and that detainees "do not suffer detriment to their rights or interests as a result of being held in unlawful detention, especially in regard to immigration status".
In reply, the Committee of Ministers, including the UK, expressed "the determination of the member states to ensure that the rights of persons released and returned to their jurisdiction are fully respected".
Although until very recently Tony Blair thought it was only an "anomaly", Guantanamo violates just about every international legal instrument or norm of civilised behaviour by democratic states. It is a disgrace that EU states have failed to present a determined and united front to call for its closure, and to oppose rather than collude with other illegality in the "war on terror". For that, Tony Blair bears considerable personal blame.
BARONESS SARAH LUDFORD MEP
(LIBERAL DEMOCRAT, LONDON) LONDON N1
Sir: If the story (16 March) about two of the British-domiciled detainees at Guantanamo is to be believed, and I have no reason to doubt its accuracy, the sheer callousness and cynicism of our present government and our security services are mind-blowing. How can a country which claims to be civilised behave in this way and, as important, what can and should an ordinary citizen such as me be doing to attempt to right these grievous injustices?
THE RIGHT REVD RICHARD LLEWELLIN
Go vegan and help to save the planet
Sir: The benefits of a vegan diet extend far beyond human health ("The joy of being vegan", 15 March) or a way of keeping slim. Not only are there huge moral and ethical considerations, but there are also major, and quantifiable, environmental advantages.
Recent work by Eshel and Martin from the University of Chicago shows production of food for a vegan diet for one person is responsible for 0.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide (the most important greenhouse gas) per year less than for the "average" American diet, and 0.8 tons per year less of carbon dioxide equivalents of other greenhouse gases, including methane. Thus individuals can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for by the equivalent of 1.5 t/y carbon dioxide by changing to a more healthy, and ethically justifiable, diet.
To quote from Eshel and Martin: "These results clearly demonstrate the primary effects of one's dietary choices on one's planetary footprint, an effect comparable in magnitude to the car one chooses to drive."
State funding would mean more sleaze
Sir: It is worth asking why Labour has come to rely on sleazy deals for its working capital. In large part, its problem stems from its rapidly declining membership, which in turn is due to the actions of the very same Prime Ministerial elite arranging dodgy loans.
As usual, they quickly say the answer is state funding. We must be clear about the grave dangers of this proposal. State funding would protect the party elites further from the wrath of their memberships. Theoretically, it could allow the parties to retreat completely into their Westminster bubble, more isolated and arrogant than now.
State funding would reward, not end, sleaze. The taxpayer would be entering a bidding war with the super-rich, which we cannot possibly win, for the favours of our own government.
State funding would mean greater expendable income for parties which have served us extremely badly in opposition and in power; money they would use on questionable activity: meaningless manifestos, bogus election photo-shoots, consultation bereft of outcomes, and glitzy, politics-free, conferences.
When nearly half of us fail to exercise our democratic right to vote, even in general elections, it is clear the public does not like party politics. I am at a loss to understand why we should be made to pay for it.
Sir: Perhaps the Blair government could show its principled nature by introducing cut-price peerages for those on low incomes?
Sir: May we know how and when the party loans will be repaid?
The dishwasher is all washed-up
Sir: Come off it, Jenny Davies (letter, 14 March). No one would wash up a plate, bowl, knife, spoon and mug on their own. Even if you "hand wash-up" four times a day as she suggests (I find three times adequate), you are still using far, far less water than one cycle of a dishwasher, plus the water used "getting the worst off" before you load it.
There is nothing economical about a dishwasher as far as the amount of water used. They are just time-saving, and we have not run out of that yet, have we?
Sir: If Jenny Davies ate her Pot Noodles out of the container like everyone else she would not need a dishwasher.
Got our measure
Sir: The Independent has long been a bastion of obsolescent units of measurement - in contrast to the progressive image you like to cultivate - but you have excelled yourselves. On page 13 (15 March), you published a vegan recipe with the dry measures in grams and the liquids in fluid ounces. You certainly know how to please nobody.
Out of the picture
Sir: Keith Sharp (letters, 15 March) wonders if he can now expect an apology from Sir Ian Blair for using CCTV cameras to record his image without permission. What about the hundreds of peace protesters whose images have also been captured, without permission, by "forward intelligence" police photographers? Can we now assume such intrusive and intimidating tactics will not be used at Saturday's anti-war demonstration in London?
Sir: In the Thirties, a rather genteel neighbour called the tasty product "Marmeet" in the French fashion (Thomas Sutcliffe, 17 March). I always thought this an affectation until I looked closely at the label where is depicted Une p'tite marmite. So perhaps we shall adopt the French pronunciation. After all, the makers of the product we call "Nessells" milk are given the benefit of the final accented é, even here in plebeian Croydon where they have their British HQ.
Sir: The most worrying question concerning reports of the teaching of creationism in UK schools should be: where are they finding the biology teachers? When I was a science teacher, my response to the suggestion that I teach mythology in a science class would have been a sneer of derision followed by the word "No". Have intellectual integrity and professional regard among teachers of biology now fallen so low that they do not respond to similar suggestions in a similar manner?
R A HOLDEN
There's no sanity clause
Sir: The Independent (16 March) reported that six prison officers were awarded £1m for having witnessed a cruel scene in a jail cell. When reading this, I was knocked over and lost my belief in sanity. To whom may I send the bill?