Sir: Congratulations to Oliver Duff for a timely article on the rising use of vegetable oil as a greener fuel and the obstacles that the supposedly-green Tony Blair and Gordon Brown put in its way ("Food (and fuel) for thought", 23 January). We're just planning to convert our car, and want to add a couple more hoops that have to be jumped through if you want to be less of a drain on our battered planet.
Our first quest has been to find an insurance company that had the vaguest inkling of what we were talking about, didn't run a mile and offered a sane price.
Next has been finding a fuel supply. A company in Wolverhampton will sell us 1,000 litres of used, filtered oil, with duty paid, at 75p a litre. That's great, but it's a hefty price to pay in one go. A few phone calls to HM Customs reveals that we can register to fill out our own fuel duty tax return. Simple, we thought, until we found out that it means almost the same level of bureaucracy as having a garage forecourt, with visits and inspections and VAT returns. And then you still have to pay the full 47p fuel duty on a "fuel replacement", unless you send a sample from every single container of oil away to a lab to verify that it is a biofuel and therefore liable for a reduced rate of 27p. A biofuel is one made up of more than 98 per cent vegetable composition. Does the Government not know what sunflowers are? Or not know what sunflower oil is made of?
We still intend to do the conversion, despite the hurdles, by joining forces with others to buy in bulk co-operatively. This way we support fledgling businesses in this vital sector of the energy industry and, hopefully, build political pressure for change. But it's not easy to persuade others to declare their greeness, when it costs an extra 20p a litre to do so. Come on, Blair and Brown, put the dark green money where your measly pale green mouths are.
Sir: If I was to make myself a steam-powered road vehicle, fired it with wood from my garden, and used water from my rain butt for the boiler, would the Chancellor tax me on the wood, the water or both?
End this grotesque Hughes witch-hunt
Sir: I was shocked to read the vilification of Simon Hughes in Friday's paper. I live in his constituency and, though not a Liberal Democrat, have voted for him for many years. He is an excellent MP and has worked tremendously hard for the local area and spoken out on issues of social justice and racism. Would that there were more MPs like him.
This witch-hunt over his sexual identity is grotesque. How many of your readers would like to discuss their sexuality in public? And is there anyone out there who can say they have never told a lie to protect themselves or their family? Please can we get back to the issues that matter, such as education, housing, global warming and the Middle East.
This appalling attack on a much-respected MP has to stop.
Sir: The recent situations involving Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes show that people in public service should either be honest or refuse to answer questions regarding their personal life. I don't care whether either of them did what they now both admit. What concerns me is if they initially denied claims that were true. If you choose to hide the truth about matters that are potentially embarrassing, then you are not only dishonest but also open to being blackmailed.
Sir: When straight people know what it is like to be stigmatised for heterosexuality, to risk hostility and violence by revealing it, and to be grilled constantly about it by strangers who believe it is somehow their business, then perhaps gay people will be prepared to take lectures from them about how and when to come out of the closet.
Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith does not seem to be an expert on sexual orientation or on lying ("Lies, damned lies and Simon Hughes", 30 January). Simon Hughes denied being gay. He might with equal honesty have denied being heterosexual. A bisexual is neither straight nor gay.
HADDINGTON, EAST LOTHIAN
Closures threaten freshwater biology
Sir: Headlines on environmental issues in The Independent have stimulated much correspondence. Letters about the proposals to close several renowned laboratories by NERC's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have rightly protested about the damage that would do to this country's capacity in the environmental sciences, particularly in ecology. We are especially concerned about the prospective impact on freshwater biology.
The decline in this field began long before NERC's recent announcements and has been going on for at least 25 years. During the last five years, CEH scientists have been removed from two key sites - the Freshwater Biological Association's River Laboratory (on the river Frome in Dorset) and the Ferry House Laboratory on Windermere. The latter offered unrivalled access to research sites in the Lake District and long-term records that are proving invaluable in documenting the impact of climate change.
When CEH scientists were moved from the River Laboratory in 2001-2002, they were relocated at a brand new, state-of-the art laboratory at Winfrith four miles away. This facility, provided at considerable public expense, is now among the four CEH sites to be closed. Those scientists who are retained will be asked to move, yet again, to remaining CEH sites. Access to key field sites at the River Laboratory will be gravely impaired, and this must threaten freshwater ecology within CEH.
NERC-CEH's withdrawal from the laboratories owned by the Freshwater Biological Association has left our organisation as a small and essentially unfunded charity that owns irreplaceable national research assets. Unless NERC policies change or new sources of support are found, these facilities are under threat. Yet NERC has a statutory duty to fund freshwater science and its responsibility to support the FBA is acknowledged on its website. NERC policy (and indeed policy wider than NERC) in this area is extremely difficult to fathom and members of the general public must be particularly incredulous that news of such closures and threats to unique environmental facilities coexist in the pages of the national press with dire warnings about environmental change.
SIR MARTIN HOLDGATE
PRESIDENT, FRESHWATER BIOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION PROFESSOR ALAN HILDREW CHAIRMAN, FBA COUNCIL AMBLESIDE, CUMBRIA
Euphemisms for mental disability
Sir: When my daughter was young, she was labelled "educationally subnormal (mild)" and I worked within an education system for people labelled "educationally subnormal (severe)". A generation before, they would probably have been labelled "imbecile" or something like that. This generation's euphemism becomes the next generation's insult.
Behind the waffle of politically correct language, however, lies the very serious situation of people like Dr Brook (letter, 26 January), no doubt labelled by someone or other as a "family carer". There is now a minor industry among charities for carers, which lumps all sorts of carers under one misleading label. Families of people severely mentally handicapped from birth have a very different life from people who find themselves looking after an elderly parent with dementia. Yet I have heard senior people in the field claim that, because they are caring for their dear old Mum, they know all about caring.
We have a two-tier system , and the bottom tier is hobbled and invisible. As Dr Brook points out, "able and articulate people with disabilities (albeit susceptible to manipulation)" now have a disproportionate share of publicity and resources. Certainly recognition for them as capable human beings is long overdue. It took my late husband and me about two decades to find adequate support so that our daughter could live independently and hold down a job. But their problems and those of their families cannot be equated with those of people with very severe disabilities from birth.
Sir: I share some of Dr Brook's concern about the terms "learning difficulties" and "learning disability", which he seems to think of as euphemisms for "mental handicap". As a teacher, I have always preferred the former term, but it has become a source of confusion, because it is nowadays used in a number of different ways.
First is the use to which Dr Brook draws attention, in referring to those who in another time were, and in some countries still are, referred to as being "mentally handicapped" or "mentally retarded". However, "learning difficulties" has also become a kind of bucket term for children in mainstream schools whom teachers find difficult to teach. Reasons could include poor attention span, problems in grasping a mathematical idea, behavioural problems, or even the fact that their first language is not English.
The confusions is further exacerbated by the common use of the term "specific learning difficulties", or even simply "learning difficulties" to refer to learning problems such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyspraxia.
PROFESSOR OF ETHICS AND LANGUAGE LEEDS METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY