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Tuesday 1 July 2008
Letters: Protecting children
Attempts to protect children that defy common sense
Sir: I run a residential school study centre and had exactly the same experience that Dominic Lawson describes (Opinion, 27 June). A boy of nine could not get his suncream on the back of his neck. The nearby teachers did nothing to help so I put it on for him. When this was done I asked the teachers, "I suppose you wouldn't dare do that?" They confirmed my supposition, even though this was in the open with lots of children and staff around. Daft.
Of more concern is what I was told by friends who were keen to go into fostering. Having successfully reared five children of their own, and with plenty of spare rooms, they offered their home to a few children with serious problems. However, they were told that there was no question of being able to cuddle these children, even very young ones who might have fallen over and hurt themselves.
There are obvious limits to what is appropriate, depending to some extent on age and sex. However, if you have jumped through the hoops that fostering agencies demand, does there not then have to be some common sense? It strikes me as positively harmful to the wellbeing of an infant if they cannot be given physical comfort when in distress.
Sir: Dominic Lawson told only half the story: one police check isn't always sufficient. My experience last year may be typical.
I offered myself for two separate, voluntary, charitable works, helping with a children's play scheme and as a hospital escort. Surprisingly, I needed two police checks within a month. Previously having worked as a foster mother for eight years, which required at least three police checks, the expense that I have incurred must be enormous.
I visited my MP to point out this problem, but got the usual response – I'll pass your complaint to the relevant office.
No simple answers to loss of liberty
Sir: Reluctant as I am to criticise a woman who went through a terrible ordeal, Jill Saward's attack on David Davis simply doesn't stand up (report, 27 June).
Mr Davis has lambasted the abuse of DNA and CCTV and how council snoopers and government ministers have conspired to use these tools as a way of allowing the state to take away our privacy and freedoms.
Her suggestion that everyone should be on the DNA database looks like a desire for simplistic solutions to major problems, and she is quite prepared for people to give up their privacy for the greater good. This is exactly why David Davis has resigned, as it is exactly the same attitude of contempt for civil liberties that New Labour has displayed ever since it got into power.
Sir: May I say how pleased I am to note that Jill Saward is contesting the Haltemprice and Howden by-election for the "liberty to walk the streets of our towns and cities without fear of violence". At last a candidate in that election is fighting for real liberty, not the liberty of a pseudo-liberal middle class to scaremonger about the alleged surveillance society.
John Roger Tardif
Sir: Hopefully, David Davis's heroic support of Magna Carta may have prompted people to read it. They will realise that the concessions made by King John to the barons only apply to "free" men. Given that most of the population were serfs, this didn't do much for our cherished liberties.
And Magna Carta did allow people to be held without trial:
41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water . . . free from all illegal exactions . . . . This, however, does not apply in time of war to merchants from a country that is at war with us. Any such merchants found in our country at the outbreak of war shall be detained without injury to their persons or property, until we or our Chief Justice have discovered how our own merchants are being treated in the country at war with us. If our own merchants are safe they shall be safe too.
I look forward to the headline "Gordon Brown defends Magna Carta".
Diploma will fill skills gaps
Sir: The CBI seems confused on the Diploma ("Scrap diplomas and go back to the drawing board, urges CBI", 23 June). We, like thousands of employers across the country, have volunteered our time to support the development of the qualification because we see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break down the pernicious and damaging divide between academic and vocational educational routes, and to build employability skills into the curriculum.
We support the Diploma because it has been developed with employers, and will involve employers at the heart of its delivery, to better prepare young people for work. The Diploma will help fill skills gaps across industry including in science and languages. It's good news for young people and good news for UK plc in a fast-changing world.
Sir Alan Jones,Toyota
Elton Boocock, Urban Media
Will Butler-Adams, Brompton Bicycle Ltd
Tony Cohen, Nsure Group Plc
Chrissie Dunn, chair of the Manufacturing Diploma Development Partnership
Simon Hogg, Scanlaser Ltd
Andy Puttock, BT
Douglas Oakervee, Crossrail
Steve Roberts, Fripp Design
Mike Stapleton, Compass Group Plc
Gary Thompson, C2M (UK) Ltd
Stephen Tilsley, Metsec Plc
Diploma Employer Champions Network, London WC1
A country dying of climate change
Sir: Johann Hari ("The cruel sea", 20 June) draws attention to a global injustice – Bangladesh and its people living with and dying from climate change. This is a wake-up call to all of us about the consequences of the developed world's dependency on fossil fuels.
In this most vulnerable country, climate change and its effects are not some future eventuality. They impact on people and livelihoods now. On average floods inundate 20.5 per cent of the country and can reach as high as 70 per cent during extreme conditions. One of the poorest countries in the world cannot be held responsible for the CO2 emissions that are the cause of the disastrous climate-change impacts. Bangladesh accounts for only 0.3 per cent of the world's carbon emissions.
During a visit to Bangladesh in 2004, we witnessed another consequence of climate change – flash floods from increased melt in the Himalayas which engulfed the rice crop in the Sunamganj district only a week or two before the harvest. During a boat journey to assess the impact on schools and families in the town of Sulla, it appeared that fishermen were hard at work – it turned out that they were salvaging their rice crop from beneath the floodwater. The "rotten rice" harvest provided only about 20 per cent of the potential yield.
If climate change is not addressed urgently, there will be environmental migration on a massive scale, or do we wish to be accused of "climatic genocide"? The developed world needs to help Bangladesh mitigate the impacts of climate change as well as find appropriate adaptation techniques. But more fundamentally, can we find ways to compensate the people of Bangladesh for the damage we have already caused?
Professor Stephen Martin
South Littleton, Worcestershire
Finest hour for our greengrocery shop
Sir: Several correspondents have commented on traders who trust customers to help themselves.
My parents had a greengrocery and general shop at St Leonards-on-Sea. In 1940, with the fall of France and the fear of invasion, much of the population of Hastings and St Leonards was evacuated, including the assistants in the shop and most of the customers. My mother had to find a job elsewhere and my father managed the shop on his own. I had just left school and in the mornings served such few customers who came in, while my father delivered to the rest. In the afternoons hardly anyone came.
The weather was sunny that summer, and behind the shop there was a cliff giving us a grandstand view of the Battle of Britain, so my father and I generally spent our afternoons there, reading between aerial dogfights. We never shut the shop, and would occasionally return to find a small pile of coins on the counter with a note of what they were for. There was never any evidence that anything had been taken without payment, nor of anyone raiding the till.
Cutting sale of drink to young people
Sir: Philip Hensher's attack on supermarkets is the type of simplistic response criticised in the leading article of the same edition (17 June). He claims that the bar trade is watched closely while the off-trade, including supermarkets, is not. This is untrue. Both the on- and off-trade participate in the same Challenge 21 campaign that has dramatically reduced sales of alcohol to young people. Research shows that young people think they will not succeed in buying alcohol from supermarkets, contrary to Hensher's claims.
Hensher's proposed ban may increase the pubs' nightly take but he gives no answer as to how it will change the culture around drink. He ignores the fact that consumption is actually decreasing. Instead of passing new laws on drinking, we could see some additional progress by the police and licensing authorities using the powers we have.
Chief Executive, Wine and Spirit Trade Association, London EC4
British criticism of Mugabe is useless
Sir: Criticism of Mugabe from Britain plays into his hands, allowing him to call us "neo-colonialists" and making it harder for other African leaders to condemn him. Archbishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela and the President of Zambia have spoken out, opening the way for other African leaders to follow.
The crisis in Kenya was not defused by pronouncements from Downing Street, but by another African, Kofi Annan. Having lived and worked in six African countries south of the Sahara from 1953, I have two words of advice for British politicans: shut up.
W R Haines
Sir: The description of Robert Mugabe as "the only president Zimbabwe has known" (report, 30 June) suggests amnesia in your writers on that sad country. The first president of Zimbabwe was Canaan Banana (1980 – 1987).
NHS: ask patients what they think
Sir: The Conservative policy of abandoning NHS process targets and focusing on outcomes (report, 24 June) is to be welcomed for national policy. Locally, smaller numbers may limit the validity of this approach.
A humane health service should deliver high-quality clinical outcomes in a way that is sympathetic and convenient to patients. Evaluation by patients would be an appropriate local complement to a national emphasis on clinical outcomes.
The simple expedient of asking patients what they think would be a refreshing alternative to monitoring what a focus group thinks they should think.
Professor C J Hawkey
Dismay at finding Mussolini souvenirs
Sir: I read with concern your article on the neo-fascist influence of the Italian Northern League's Interior Minister in Berlusconi's new government (27 June).
A few weeks ago, I was in the small town of Bellagio on Lake Como (Northern League territory) and visited some stalls in the town's square. To my dismay, there was one stall almost exclusively devoted to Mussolini memorabilia; medallions, photographs, images on tiles etc – and people were buying these things!
Admittedly, Mussolini was not quite the monster that Hitler was, but a stall like this in Germany or Austria would have the owners in court before you could say "Sieg Heil!" It is a worry that the government of a fellow member state of the EU depends upon people like this for its authority.
Force for no good
Sir: Violence can solve problems (Letters, 26 June) but only for a very short time. Violence begets violence. War begets war. As a species, we must start to take the long view.
Sir: With the recent deaths of three TA soldiers, it has been brought home to us just how valuable are the reservists in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, there is an important difference. On their return home, TA soldiers disperse all over the country and go back to their civilian jobs. They don't have, as regular soldiers do, the support and comfort of others around them who have also served.
Sir: But what is leadership, Mr Owen? (Letters, 28 June.) I am grateful that in Rowan Williams we have an archbishop who does not go in for headline-grabbing, glib and simplistic statements pretending to be "revealed knowledge". He allows the Church of England to continue to value church tradition and God-given reason alongside scripture as it has since the 16th century. It is that mix the conservatives seem to be trying to destroy.
CANON KEITH HUGO
US 'activity' in Iran
Sir: Anne Penketh (30 June) reports on US attempts to topple the regime in Iran. Forgive me for asking, but isn't there a word for "covert activities" including the "authorisation of lethal force" with the aim of "trying to undermine the government" of a sovereign state? Isn't that word "terrorism"? Just because these activities are carried out by the US does not mean The Independent should not call a spade a spade.
Men who do dishes
Sir: Men do wash up all the time (letters, 30 June) but prefer to do it without the use of rubber. To ensure that I don't get wash-day hands, I prefer to use the liquid that leaves my hands as soft as my face.
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