Sir: In the current discussion about conviction rates for rape, one aspect is not widely understood. For most offences, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) used not to prosecute unless there was at least a 50 per cent prospect of conviction. Thus, if the CPS was accurate in its assessments, conviction rates took care of themselves.
However, for rape cases the CPS some years ago appeared not to follow the same practice, believing that apparently genuine cases should be put before the court, even if there was a less than 50 per cent prospect of the jury convicting. The current test for all types of case is that there must be a "realistic prospect of conviction". However, many observers think that in rape cases there remains a tendency to prosecute even in cases in which a jury is unlikely to convict. The conviction rates usually cited, in the sense of convictions compared with decisions to prosecute, have, not surprisingly, fallen.
The practice of the CPS is understandable, given the very small fraction of complaints that are prosecuted. The policy has disadvantages, not least for complainants who often see an acquittal as a finding that they have been telling lies.
However, the conclusion should not be drawn that juries have become less likely to convict in comparable cases. Several useful, and some less useful, changes in the law of evidence have been made in the last few years. And my own experience as a trial judge, until my recent retirement, was that juries have become more, not less, ready to convict in the kind of case where the two people knew each other and the issue is consent – the great majority of cases. What has happened is that some cases are being prosecuted that would in the past not have been prosecuted.
It does of course remain true that the rate of conviction, as compared with the number of complaints, is very low.
Ways out of the welfare dilemma
Sir: Your editorial (15 November), emphasising the urgency of action against poverty in Britain is welcome. However, your conclusion that a strategy that relies heavily on public expenditure "has reached the limits of its usefulness" is far from proven. An alternative conclusion is that the Government needs to spend more to achieve its goal of halving child poverty by 2010. This is the consensus of a wide range of researchers, think tanks and charities. In particular, government needs to spend more money on benefits.
While skills training and paid work at a decent wage offer an important route out of poverty, not all are in a position to take it, for instance because of caring responsibilities or chronic sickness. Moreover, it is not axiomatic that adequate benefits create a work disincentive. As the Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee has observed, "benefits that are inadequate may lead to the debt and exclusion that work against labour market entry".
Professor of Social Policy, Loughborough University
Sir: One has every sympathy with Laura Macarthur ("Often I don't eat", 15 November), but one cannot help asking why she assumes the taxpayer should support her better. She had a boyfriend; presumably they agreed together to have a child or to continue with the pregnancy. He is the person who should be helping her now, not the rest of us. Has she made any effort to get in touch with the Child Support Agency? Has she looked at the prospect off getting work while the child is left at a nursery? Many mothers do.
This I'm afraid is typical of the lack of responsibility which is so prevalent today. It is her, and her boyfriend's, child, and she should do more than just complain about the lack of help she is getting.
Sir: I would like to bring to your attention an irony in Johann Hari's commentary of 12 November, "Beware the Tories' Wisconsin welfare plan".
Buried beneath Hari's hatred for David Cameron we find Hari's own proposal for welfare reform, which reads like a copy of Wisconsin's original welfare plan: 1) Require all unemployed to take part in the New Deal; 2) Give them well-funded help, advice and training; 3) Enforce cut-offs for the very few who refuse. (Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson referred to this as making the dependents use the ladder government has provided.)
What Hari describes as the "Cameron viciousness" of a two-year lifetime limit on the number of months a family can be on welfare did not feature in Wisconsin's original plan. Time limits were introduced by theUS Congress and signed intolaw by President Clinton in 1996.
The other "vicious" tactic, forcing single parents to take part even if their children are not old enough for school, is absolutely necessary for true welfare reform. To exempt them would create an incentive for the mother to have another baby, so the family has another four to five years of government cheques – and yet another mouth to feed.
Most families and single mothers can get by with subsidised child-care. As a taxpaying woman, I will be working while my children are still babies – why should we expect less from welfare recipients?
Sir: Johann Hari is right when he says that work provides a sense of purpose, but his response to Cameron's plans to introduce a much harsher welfare regime could go further. He also rightly praises tax credits for topping up wages at the bottom of the economic pile, but better would be the Green Party's citizens' income scheme, which will give every individual an unconditional payment at least equivalent to job seeker's allowance, working or not.
Far from being the "scrounger's charter" this appears at first sight, it has the opposite effect of providing a work incentive for those at the bottom of the economic pile, because it removes the poverty trap of means-testing. The CI is Green policy because only by removing the poverty trap can you expect the less well-heeled to think of saving the planet for their grandchildren as at least as important as making ends meet.
Batley, West Yorkshire
Good riddance to British expats
Sir: "Should they all go back to where they come from?" you ask (16 November). Well, no. I don't really want back all those British people whose ties of loyalty and affection to the country they were born in are so weak that they are prepared to desert us for what they regard as their own advantage. Good riddance. And I certainly don't want to lose the friendship extended to me here by many immigrants, mainly from the Caribbean; they have enriched my life, and I am glad they are here.
On the other hand, I cannot share your complacency about current mass migration movements. They are not something to celebrate. On the contrary, it is very sad that so many should feel impelled to leave their homeland, often impoverishing the countries from which they come. Furthermore, the presence of large numbers of rootless people with little real understanding of their new environment can easily become a recipe for a dysfunctional society. I imagine that is so with the British in rural France and the Costa del Sol just as it surely is in our own big cities.
Schools fail to recognise dyslexia
Sir: I welcome your coverage of dyslexia (13 November). Dyslexia is a very broad term and can include dyspraxia, ADD and ADHD. Some sufferers may have symptoms of all of these and some may not, and there are degrees of disability so it is very difficult to compare those affected. Furthermore, many sufferers appear "normal" so the disability remains unrecognised.
Both my husband and I were undiagnosed at school and left at 16 with no qualifications. We were disruptive and underachieving but nobody realised how difficult sitting in a classroom was for us; teachers would admonish us, reinforcing the belief that we were stupid and useless.
We now have two children who have been diagnosed dyslexic and can see the pattern repeating itself, both with them and others who display signs of having the condition. Many will leave school with few qualifications. One in five children leave primary school with poor basic skills – I would bet a large proportion of these are affected by some form of dyslexia.
What sort of civilised society allows this to happen? Successive governments have refused to understand why children underachieve at school. You can throw as much money as you like at education, but until the reality of the situation is addressed our society will remain uncivilised.
The current government's one-time education secretary Ruth Kelly chose a private school to educate her dyslexic child. I think that says it all.
East Molesey, Surrey
Sir: To what degree are problems with dyslexia (Letters, 15 November) exacerbated by non-phonetic English spelling (and pointless apostrophes)?
Memories of student life in Leeds
Sir: Poor Chelsy! Did nobody tell her how bloody grim it can be up North (Letters, 14, 15 November)?
I have some sympathy for her. Many years ago, I remember that my student lodgings in Armley – a shared bedsit – looked out on to the forbidding High Security Prison where, some time later, the Yorkshire Ripper would be held, and, more immediately, a cemetery – a daily reminder, if such were needed, that in the midst of life we are in death. There was even, at the end of the road – I kid you not – a Tetley's pub called The Cemetery. An example of the local wit one of your contributors refers to? On top of this, the landlady's food was appalling and she had a strict policy of no girls allowed. No dreaming spires here! No wonder Barbara Taylor-Bradford wanted to get out.
Was this why I had striven for four A-levels and an S-level? Disillusionment set in early, compounded no doubt by compulsory classes in Anglo-Saxon literature and logic.
Chelsy ought to persevere, however. I did get to hear poetry readings by Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill, a wonderfully exciting lecture by Isaiah Berlin, Pink Floyd, Cream, Led Zeppelin and much else besides. Hang on in there Chelsy!
K G Banks
Zut alors! Protect us from these poets
Sir: As a place I would often walk to when in need of air and inspiration, I am appalled at the idea of 8 Royal College Street being turned into a cultural centre with absinthe bar, kabballa room and live poetry space (Letters, 17 November). As disgusting as it would be to see it redeveloped into a series of tiny flats, I find it equally disgusting that any time in the future when I want to take in the magnificence of the building's beautiful degradation, I'll have to shimmy past a bunch of poets falling over themselves to act out a lifestyle that they have merely read about.
Why can't the new owner use the building as it was used by Rimbaud and Verlaine; as lodging rooms for those in need. What London and most writers need is a place with cheap rent where they can keep their heads down and do some work, not another cultural centre where the inept will gather in celebration of themselves and their limp, pointless scribblings.
The idea of the garret of the building being rented to "deserving" poets is ridiculous and a pathetic cliche. Who will determine which poet is "deserving"? The Absinthe Council? The whole thing smacks of funding and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. To quote Rimbaud more appropriately; "Merde!"
Sir: Idris Francis (letter, 16 November) is wrong to deny that a post-ratification referendum on the Lisbon Treaty would be unprecedented. If the 1975 referendum on EEC membership had voted "no", it would have affected no country other than the UK. If a post-ratification referendum on the Lisbon Treaty voted "no", this would be a veto on what 26 other countries had separately decided.
Sir: Across all media, it is now becoming increasingly fashionable to lambast the public at large for not worrying enough about global warming.
Why aren't we driving less? Flying less? Buying less? Why haven't we transformed our lives based on every apocalyptic utterance of environmental campaigners and climate-change scientists? In short, just where the hell is our sense of urgency? Answer: in check. Like it or not, most of us have now concluded that old technologies got us into this mess and new technologies will get us out of it.
Sir: Dresden's skyline is indeed stunning ("Concrete crossing threatens Dresden heritage status", 15 November), but the proposed new road bridge does not, as your report implies, cut straight across the view Canaletto painted and rail travellers still enjoy. The bridge site is a full 2.5km upstream of Dresden, and the view of the skyline along the river it spoils is a distant one, the buildings in the foreground being solid DDR-era housing blocks.
Shipley, west Yorkshire
Humpback whale plea
Sir: My wife and I climb to a spot near the lighthouse in my small town of Yamba to watch the humpback whales. During our winter we sight them travelling north, and during our spring they head back to the Antarctic with babies in tow. It is a real treat for locals as well as tourists to sight these gentle giants playing. Now the Japanese plan to slaughter these animals for "scientific purposes" (report, 19 November). I urge anyone that cares to please contact the Japanese embassy or your politicians to stop this carnage.
Yamba, New South Wales, Australia
How to say 'difficile'
Sir: I thank Mark Hall for rightly trying to correct the C. difficile pronunciation error (Letters, 12 November). Many years ago, when this microbe was classified with the customary Linnean Latin binomial, I found my microbiologist colleagues who did not remember, or perhaps had never learned Latin, frenchifying the name, which I still find horrid. My small efforts, which included part of a public address, to rectify the error, fell on deaf ears. Tant pis.
Dr James Hutchison