Sir: I chair a group attempting to keep open the railway between Oxford and Bicester. The Department for Transport, having liquidated the Strategic Rail Authority, is now setting about closure of lines and stations all around Britain. It is doing this, in good New Labour fashion, by deceit and stealth.
First you cut services. Then you make sure the remaining ones are timed so that no one can use them. The last round saw ten trains reduce to seven, with the number usable by commuters reduced from three to one, morning and evening. The next round, hidden away in the Invitation to Tender for the Greater Western Franchise, sees just two trains a day, one after 9am, the other before 5pm. Next step: closure.
You might think that we are spoilt affluent types expecting service to our tiny quiet villages. In fact, Bicester is a sizable satellite town of around 15,000, having doubled in size over the last decade or so, and where most depend on travel to reach work. The A34 connecting Bicester with Oxford is saturated. The bus takes twice as long as the train and merely adds to the congestion.
This situation is replicated all around the country, especially where Labour votes are few. The biggest cuts since Beeching are under way. While road transport fails to pay for its massive costs in pollution and congestion, only rail is able to answer rising demand. Subsidy for bus and rail is comparable, yet bus use is falling, while that of rail has risen 48 per cent over the last decade. Road-use charging will be pointless without an alternative.
Meanwhile, the whole of Western Europe continues to invest in new high-speed rail. In France, TGV repaid its construction costs in less than a decade and is now considered an indispensable economic asset, faster door-door than aviation for inter-city travel. Continental nations are in the process of forming a rail internet - a true transport "broadband". Given that Britain will be stuck up a branch-line all its own, we had better hope that the nascent Greater Europe will prefer to keep such things open.
DR IAN EAST
Divine mandate for invasion of Iraq
Sir: I was reassured to learn from your front page article of 7 October that President Bush is directly in contact with God. There can now surely be no questioning the morality of his decision-making, given the status of his chief adviser.
I am now curious as to whether our own Prime Minister is in direct contact with the Almighty, or if he requires regular briefings from Mr Bush regarding divine intent.
Sir: What is the difference between George W Bush's claim that God told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden's that Allah was behind the "blessed" attacks on New York and Washington?
Sir: So Bush talks to almighty God, Blair talks to Rupert Murdoch, Brown talks to Greenspan; but alas, who's there to listen to the British people?
TUCSON, ARIZONA, USA
Sir: "Bush: God told me to invade Iraq." Well that explains it then! I'd mistakenly assumed that Bush went to war on behalf of his rich, power-crazed, influential friends - when all along it was because of his imaginary one.
Sir: The true instigator of the invasion of Iraq has now been named by George W Bush, and there can be little doubt that Osama Bin Laden would confirm the accusation. There is just one problem: exactly how is God now to be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity?
CHURCH KNOWLE, DORSET
Sir: As I recall, the late Pope condemned the invasion. Perhaps the President has a hotter line to heaven.
Sir: The accusations that Iran is supplying ammunition to insurgents in Iraq wouldn't, by any chance, be based on intelligence, would they? And as for destabilising Iraq, we all know that the responsibility lies closer to home.
Sir: Tony Blair now says: "There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq." At last, he admits it!
Sir: Please God, if You do exist, tell Bush not to invade Iran and tell him to resign instead. Thank you. Amen.
Where are the new frontiers of 'Europe'?
Sir: Your enthusiasm for Turkish accession to the European Union takes no account of geography. Now that "Europe" extends into Kurdistan, do you wish it to drop its historic geographical meaning altogether, and become a purely socio-economic term, embracing potentially Morocco, Singapore, Uruguay or Ghana? Or if there are still limits, where are they?
There are unresolved and interlinked problems affecting the current EU, notably budget priorities (no budget), financial accountability (no audit clearance for 10 years), decision-making (no constitution), limits to the permissible areas of collective EU decision-making (if any), the French and Dutch referenda (no agreement on their meaning), and above all the nature of the institution (where on the free trade area versus superstate spectrum).
Then there is legislation. The EU is not a "club"; it is a legislative body already making between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the laws governing us. How many of us really want each Anatolian to have as much say as each of us in framing 60 per cent of our laws? Indeed, how many Europeans want other Europeans to do so?
All the polls I have seen suggest that most Europeans don't want Turkey in until they have some agreement on these issues; and our leaders do keep promising to "listen to the people".
Safeguards on EU arrest warrant
Sir: In response to the letter from Stephen Jakobi ("EU arrest warrant is deeply flawed", 27 September), the European Commission would point out that it is most definitely not the case that the European Arrest Warrant is being implemented without safeguards.
There are a number of safeguards built into the text of the European Arrest Warrant and with which member states must comply, such as the right to a lawyer and an interpreter. This is an improvement on the previous situation whereby extradition proceedings, which the European Arrest Warrant replaces within the EU, were excluded from the definition of criminal proceedings under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Commission hopes that a person subject to a European Warrant will shortly have more specific safeguards put forward by the Commission in its proposal for a "framework decision on certain procedural rights applying in proceedings in criminal matters throughout the European Union", currently being discussed by member states. We hope it will be adopted by the end of this year. This measure confers rights including the right to a lawyer, the right to interpretation and to translation of documents, a "letter of rights" and the right to communicate the fact of detention.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of the European Arrest Warrant is its impact on courts considering an application for bail on the part of a defendant who is a national of another member state and who wants to return home pending trial. Courts are more inclined to accede to these requests since they are aware that if the offender fails to return his or her attendance can be secured simply by issuing a European Arrest Warrant.
FRISO ROSCAM ABBING
EUROPEAN COMMISSION LONDON SW1
Bright future for mixed cricket
Sir: I appreciate the concerns of the new MCC president, Robin Marlar, about boys and girls playing alongside and against each other, (report, 3 October), but he is certainly behind the times.
Many of the female players in our county squads play for men's or boys' club teams, and that pattern continues across the country. It is one of the ways they can get more games, since there are relatively few women's and girls' teams competing (though the number is growing). Wellingborough School boasts a very fine girl player in its first XI.
I encourage our county players to play with the men, since it improves their game - and they will often make high scores or take economical wickets, much to the chagrin of their victims. Girls' teams are also allowed to join boys' leagues, though normally with an allowance of up to two years - that is, under-15 girls play against under-13 boys.
CHAIR, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE CRICKET ASSOCIATION FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS OLNEY, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Mystery of modern footballing injuries
Sir: I note with much sadness that yet another footballer has a serious foot injury ("Injured Cole to miss England's week of World Cup destiny", 5 October).
I wonder why this happens so often. Is it because of the boots used in the modern game? I remember watching football in the Sixties and Seventies when the team was almost the same each week. I continue to watch football today and the team changes constantly, largely because of injuries.
Maybe our players today are softer, or more protected by the sophisticated scanning equipment that picks up every problem. They are certainly protected by referees who will not allow any physical contact, unlike in the Sixties and Seventies when every team had a "Chopper" Harris or Norman Hunter style player. Perhaps a study should be undertaken of the equipment used by the players.
Injecting insulin is easy and painless
Sir: As a diabetes research nurse, I was horrified by the image of a syringe and large needle on your front page article about diabetes (6 October).
This size of needle is never used to inject insulin; in fact it is many years since syringes were routinely used to give insulin. Pharmaceutical companies have now developed easily managed insulin "pens", incorporating an insulin cartridge and a small fine needle, nothing like the one shown.
When patients need insulin to control their diabetes, they are often put off by the thought of giving themselves injections. This sort of image only exacerbates their fear. Most patients who start insulin are amazed how easy and painless it actually is.
HOLYWOOD, CO DOWN
Well-ordered cities are dull places
Sir: We see the regular appearance of surveys claiming that this or that worthy and no doubt pleasant city is top of the international league for quality of life. The latest one (5 October) puts cities in Canada, Australia, Austria and Switzerland at the top, with London 47th.
Well, good luck to them, I say. No one disputes the scope for improvement in London's facilities and services. But the world divides into those who like their cities small, well-ordered but essentially dull, and those like myself who are willing to trade a degree of convenience for the buzz of living in a truly great, exciting and dynamic city, like Paris, New York, Beijing, Mumbai ... or London.
BARONESS SARAH LUDFORD MEP
(LONDON, LIB DEM) BRUSSELS
Shoes that don't fit
Sir: I was grateful for the advice on ethical shoes from Sally J Hall (4 October), but I'm afraid none of her selection would suit me. The assumption behind the piece seems to be either that men are not interested in ethics or that they are not interested in shoes. I'm not sure which offends me the more.
Sir: Several correspondents have advocated spelling reform. Children have little difficulty spelling Thierry, Eriksson or Mourinho, because they read these names often. Wrongly-spelled words simply look wrong to the experienced reader, however irregular their spelling may be. Let's concentrate on turning our children into keen readers, and good spelling will follow.
Sir: Steven Ford (letter, 6 October) suggests saving cheap overnight power with storage batteries to reduce the cost of electricity (Letters, 6 October). Well maybe, but aren't his own batteries subsidised by a Clear Skies grant for the solar PV system? More to the point, this is not eco-friendly. Battery efficiency is 60 to 70 per cent, so each unit of night-stored electricity will "cost" an extra third in CO2 emission.
DR JOHN ETHERINGTON
Sir: Would someone like to explain why being called "coloured" is now offensive ("Phillips's challenge to ethnic minorities", 5 October)? Of all the racist names I was called at school that was not one of them. If it is offensive to term anyone "coloured", could someone also explain what this means for the future of that august American organisation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?
Missing the target
Sir: Sam Little's letter (7 October) recommending the use of an air rifle to kill a pheasant is more than a little alarming. The suggestion may have been meant as a joke, but let us hope that no one tries it. It would take an expert marksman to achieve a head shot guaranteeing a clean kill. In any case, pheasants are rarely accomodating enough to keep their heads still.
Sir: Not only should prisoners be allowed to vote, as the European Court of Human Rights has ruled, it should be made compulsory. An obligatory prerequisite should be to watch every party political broadcast made during their period of incarceration. That would have the dual benefit of increasing the franchise and reducing the rate of re-offending at a stroke.