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Tuesday 22 July 2008
Letters: Registrar's freedom of conscience
Registrar must be allowed to exercise freedom of conscience
I am disturbed by the eagerness of some of your correspondents (15 July) to label Lillian Ladele as homophobic. Repellent and perhaps illogical as they may find her religious beliefs, they are no doubt sincerely held.
As a Christian, I have no difficulty at all in believing that God rejoices in the loving union of a same-sex couple, but that does not stop me from respecting those who see it differently.
Do your correspondents not understand what it means to have a conscientious objection to something? Do they have no sympathy, for example, for those who refuse military service, and accuse them of gross cowardice? We should be ashamed of our country if we cannot excuse Ms Ladele from a duty which she could not have foreseen when she took her job and which, for religious reasons, she finds repugnant.
Freedom of conscience is indivisible, and we seek to restrict it at our peril.
In an attempt to get publicity for their cases, both Christian fundamentalists and gay-rights campaigners have missed the actual issue in the case of Lillian Ladele. This was a workers' rights issue. As an existing employee, when new civil partnerships came in, there was a change to Ms Ladele's working conditions, which she didn't have to accept. Had she been a new employee, she would have had to accept the new duties or refuse employment.
As I understand it, it is on the terms of "changes to working conditions", not Christian fundamentalist views on gay partnerships, that this case was won. It says nothing about the legitimacy of civil partnerships, and recognition of gay or lesbian lifestyles has therefore not been downgraded.
The bird-flu threat is real and growing
Your report on the concerns of the House of Lords Committee over influenza pandemic planning (21 July) is timely.
The H5N1 bird-flu virus threat to humans grows. A key component of normal seasonal influenza infection roughly shares the N1 part of the virus with bird flu and is rapidly proving resistant to the anti-flu drug, Tamiflu. The same mutation to the virus that causes that resistance is found in the H5N1 bird-flu virus.
The H5N1 virus continues to mutate in other ways, so that even if the capacity to produce vaccines was adequate, they potentially would be poorly effective. In fact, production could probably cover only 10 per cent of the global population and, because of the rate of current manufacture, will be too late anyway.
The maximum human deaths from H5N1 are occurring at present in Indonesia. There, the sizable number of limited human-to-human infections, which promote progression to a pandemic, is hidden in figures which prevent embarrassment to them and the World Health Organisation. The WHO, and governments, have in general proved "dysfunctional" on the issue as the Lords conclude.
However, in addition to better screening, which they recommend, we need to organise existing production capacity to produce already clinically trialed new vaccines, with their greater capacity for speed. Otherwise, we will just monitor the catastrophe better.
Peter Dunnill DSc FREng OBE
the Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering,University College, London WC1
Government blind to nuclear dangers
Another U-turn for New Labour, and one for grave concern (report, 14 July). It seems that no lessons have been learnt from the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
Most disturbing is the manner in which new nuclear plants will be fast-tracked by the introduction of the Government's new Planning Bill, which will remove the rights of citizens to protest. Instead, an unelected Government quango will be able to force through large infrastructure projects, with little debate or resistance. This Government seems to have lost all accountability to the people it should be serving.
With a working life spent in the design, construction, operation, repair, maintenance and management of public electricity supply, I am delighted that Gordon Brown has set "no limits on the number of reactors".
I wonder which way the Conservatives will jump. They might criticise him for favouring this invention of the devil, or for delaying too long, thus risking the blackouts the South Africans have had, continuing for three years to come. It's not just no telly: industry is impaired, with unemployment, civil disturbances and international capital going elsewhere.
The CEGB planned three sisters of Sizewell, to provide reliable power, to take advantage of the benefits of replication, including the consolidation of UK competence in this field, in view of the export markets that would arise. Unsurprisingly, the private sector wouldn't take the risk of investing billions when the Greens, having no responsibilities for the nation's power, would employ any delaying tactics.
Thus, in the queue at the doors of a few suppliers, including France, we are now behind two dozen-plus nations who are already building or planning nuclear.
I'd criticise Brown for not taking the de Gaulle 1974 approach: five or six new reactors every year. Today we are buying two million KW from France. And a British resident complains his EDF bill has risen by 12 per cent, while his father in France has had his EDF bill increased by 1 per cent
I see that Gordon Brown is to "fast-track the building of at least eight nuclear power stations to cut Britain's dependence on oil". According to the Government's own energy statistics, more than 70 per cent of our electricity comes from burning coal and gas, but only 1 per cent comes from oil.
New nuclear power stations may help decrease our reliance on imported coal and gas in the future, but they will do nothing about our reliance on oil.
Dr Lawrence Clark
Pay rises for teachers are in the offing
"Teachers told: 'No pay rises until more quit' " (16 July) is misleading. The Government has accepted our recommended increase of 2.45 per cent from this September, with further indicative rises of 2.3 per cent in September 2009 and September 2010.
My letter to teachers' representatives was about whether we should reopen the current two-year pay award (from September 2006 to August 2008). Teachers have already received uplifts of 2.5 per cent in each of the two years, and it is STRB's view that there is no compelling labour-market case for revisiting this award.
To report this as saying that teachers should not receive a pay rise is simply not true. It is also wrong to say that the review body "has ruled out any reconsideration of their three-year pay deal". Our pay recommendation for the three years starting in September was conditional on there being a review during the period, and this was accepted by the Government. Indeed, we have now received a formal remit to undertake such a review early next year.
Bill Cockburn CBE TD
School Teachers' Review Body, London SW1
America: land of shameful inequality
"American inequality highlighted by 30-year gap in life expectancy" (17 July) exposes the shame of America, and its failure to deliver on its basic social contract: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. The nation that is, in many respects, the richest on earth is, in others, one of the poorest.
The widespread prosperity in the US, that stretched from the end of the Second World War to the early days of the first Nixon administration, is a fading memory in the minds of aging baby boomers. Instead of a political consensus and a tax code that reflect the value of having the richest people and businesses help the poorest, we've been given policies that robbed the poor and gave to the rich.
If the Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson years saw the greatest expansion of a middle class – and widespread equity in income – the world has ever seen, then the Nixon-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years will be remembered as the period when America squandered its inheritance for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.
Israel's defences are not apartheid
I was profoundly dismayed to read Donald Macintyre's story ("This is like apartheid", 11 July), regarding the recent visit by a South African delegation to Israel and the West Bank. While the report detailed the impressions of delegates concerning the conditions of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, it failed to deliver a balanced account of this extremely complex situation, and lacked historical context and background.
The article neglected to explain that the security measures applied by Israel in the West Bank, including the separation barrier, are a necessary response to constant threats posed by terrorist organisations to the lives and safety of Israeli citizens. Between the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000 and the completion of the first part of the barrier in August 2003, Israel was the victim of 73 terrorist attacks which killed 293 Israelis and wounded 1,950.
During 2003, West Bank-based Hamas operatives conducted several suicide bombings, killing 79 Israelis. But, since August 2003, when the first part of the barrier was completed, Israel has had a dramatic reduction in attacks. Between August 2003 and the end of 2006, terrorist organisations based in the West Bank committed 12 attacks, killing 64 Israelis and wounding 445.
Your comparison of the situation in the West Bank to apartheid in South Africa demonstrates the lack of historical context in the article. Israel's security measures are a necessary response to the unique terror threats it faces, and do not arise from any theory of racial segregation.
By comparing the establishment of Israel to a colonial enterprise, the historic Jewish connection to the land of Israel is eradicated, and the legitimacy of Israel's existence is negated.
Embassy of Israel, London w8
The Union Jack can be flown anywhere
Sir: I'm afraid Mark Hobbs has fallen victim to an urban myth (letters, 21 July); the terms Union Jack and Union Flag are interchangeable.
From the Flag Institute: "It is often stated that the Union Flag should only be described as the Union Jack when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. From early in its life, the Admiralty itself frequently referred to the flag as the Union Jack, whatever its use, and in 1902 an Admiralty circular announced that Their Lordships had decided either name could be used officially. Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 when it was stated that 'the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag'."
Thomas Sutcliffe's piece (18 July) about architectural failure when it comes to bike-parking spaces missed the worst aspect. Architects may forget this in designing new office space. But it's more unforgivable that secure bike storage is completely overlooked in the design of most new city homes. Where do you keep a bike if you live in any of the new apartment blocks?
Can't see the wood ...
Re "The Tree of Life" (17 July); although Adansonia digitata is the botanical name of the baobab in mainland Africa, as well as Madagascar, the uniformly smooth and straight trunks illustrated can only be Adansonia grandini, one of five species found only in Madagascar. A. digitata has a far more uneven trunk.
Beverley, East Yorkshire
It's only 2p
I am perplexed why it appears to be so important that Mr Darling delays the imposition of an extra 2p per litre of petrol. In most cities, the variation in pump prices between the highest and lowest is around 4p or 5p, but drivers still fill their tanks at the highest prices. If a 2p difference really mattered to people, the highest-priced forecourts would all be deserted.
The female brain
The authority of a piece by Michael McCarthy ("Women's brains are different from men's – and here's scientific proof", 18 July) is not enhanced by your choice of "experts" for comment.
In what scientific sense are Rosie Boycott, the founder of Spare Rib magazine, Judi James, a body language analyst, and Natasha Walter, a feminist author, experts? Surely the expertise demonstrated in the article by abstracts from learned journals is sufficient.
It's wrong. Period
Your correspondent's example of the absent colon is very amusing (letters, 19 July). What I do not find so amusing is the way some of your columnists are very sparing of punctuation, so much so that I have to read certain pieces two or three times in order to make out what is meant – I am dyslexic and punctuation helps in my reading.
When I was a young boy of about 10, growing up in Leigh in Lancashire in the Fifties, I won the junior 60-yard sprint at our church summer fete. My prize was a gleaming penknife, a treasured possession (letters, 16 July). How times have changed.
Guisborough, North Yorkshire
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