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Saturday 24 March 2007
Rubbish: the more you create, the more you should pay
Sir: I was surprised at the headline "Household waste may be taxed to encourage recycling" (22 March). What is proposed is not a "rubbish tax" at all, any more than paying for metred water is a "water tax", or, indeed, electricity or gas bills are energy taxes. It is simply a proposal to give councils the power (not a duty) to take the cost of household waste out of the general council's budget as an average, fixed amount per household, and add it in as payment for a utility, in proportion to the amount thrown away.
Just as water metering results in measurable reductions (on average about 10 per cent) in water usage, so this sensible measure should help to reduce the amount of rubbish households throw away by making people more aware of the amount of packaging they purchase, paper they don't recycle and food they throw away. In short, for those who are not already environmentally motivated it will help to concentrate the mind on what will minimise their waste. It will help the UK to achieve its targets for reducing landfill and give impetus to producers and retailers to respond to customer demand to cut out unnecessary packaging. It will reward those who take environmental stewardship seriously and cost the least affluent in society less than the better off, who consume and therefore throw away more.
At the moment, the UK is the only country in Europe that doesn't give municipalities the power to charge households for waste management services in proportion to use. Where "pay per throw" is allowed, there is little hard evidence that it increases fly tipping and none that public health is harmed.
The response to the proposals by Caroline Spelman (shadow Local Government Secretary) is both populist and ignorant, pandering to the section of the population that still believes that it has an inalienable right to have as much rubbish as it chooses to leave out every week collected free of charge at the point of delivery. It leaves a significant dent in the Conservative Party's pretensions to be a party with green credentials.
THE REV ANDREW CRAIG
Ambivalence of left towards Zimbabwe
Sir. Peter Tatchell's question "Why does a black tyrant murdering black people merit less outrage than a white tyrant murdering black people?" (Opinion, 22 March) seems to me to sum up very precisely the ambivalent nature of the left's attitude to human-rights abuses in Southern Africa particularly.
This present government in Britain has many prominent people who in their younger, more idealistic days, stood shoulder to shoulder with the ANC to protest against the evils of apartheid. When freedom eventually came to South Africa, no less a person than Nelson Mandela himself thanked the Anti-Apartheid Movement all over the world for its contribution to the downfall of the apartheid regime.
Yet those same people are now strangely silent, unwilling it seems to condemn the excesses of a black leader presumably because in so doing they will be labelled "racist and colonialist" by Robert Mugabe whose opinion seems to strike fear into their left-wing hearts.
This was brought home to me very clearly at a recent ACTSA - formerly the Anti-Apartheid Movement - demonstration in Trafalgar Square where the focus of discussion was Zimbabwe and the suffering of the people there. One of the speakers, a white trade unionist, said very clearly, "I don't care about the white farmers' suffering". I have lived in Zimbabwe all my adult life and I know very well what the majority of the white farmers stood for in people's minds and for the most part that perception was correct. Nevertheless, I still find it abhorrent that the British left, to which I am proud to belong, can so callously dismiss the deaths and brutal torture of any human being, black or white. Perhaps the left here, including the government itself, should be reminded that white men and women in Zimbabwe are a part of the MDC's non-racist and non-violent struggle against the horrors of Mugabe's regime.
The answer to Peter Tatchell's question is perhaps that the so-called left here is more interested in hiding behind outdated notions of race and "political correctness" than honestly acknowledging the issues of injustice and bad governance in Zimbabwe. And in this is it possible that it has taken its lead from the Prime Minister himself?
The CAP and the Communist hordes
Sir: Like others before him, Mr Denis MacShane claims that if Britain had signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 we would have had "no Common Agricultural Policy on French terms" (Opinion, 21 March). A most dubious assertion. Although seldom admitted, the inspiration for the CAP was more political than economic, the chief objective being to prevent impoverished French farmers from abandoning their inefficient small holdings to drift into the big cities, there to swell the already massive Communist vote.
It could of course be argued that the costs arising from the distortions and extravagances of the CAP were a price worth paying to prevent the emergence of a Communist-dominated government 20 miles from our shores, at a time when the menace of an expansionist Soviet empire was all too real.
HOUSE OF LORDS
Sir: Reason number 23 to love the EU (21 March): "Europe's single market has brought cheap flights to the masses, and new prosperity for forgotten cities." Shame on you. Cheap flights cost the earth.
An official report by the CAA in November last year revealed cheap flights are the preserve of the rich, who are using them to make ever more frequent and frivolous trips, often to second homes abroad. Aviation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases,and its extraordinary growth must be stopped to avert climate catastrophe.
If you care about "the masses", then consider the world's poor - those already existing on a subsistence level, who are worst affected by climate change as flooding and desertification increase.
Judge students on their own merits
Sir: The absurdity of vetting individuals for university places by their parents' educational achievements might well be demonstrated by a quick summary of my family.
My grandfather (whose own father ran away to sea aged nine to escape a grinding Orcadian peasant life and went on to become a decorated hero in the First World War) had a degree; his wife, my beloved grandmother, who was born in 1901 and never even aspired to swim or ride a bicycle, did not.
My father had a degree, my mother, whose father died when she was young leaving her family in relative poverty, does not.
I have a degree, but my children's mother does not; yet she is a firefighter, resolutely determined, and a fine mother. Like the other women mentioned here she is intelligent, resourceful and hugely competent.
How then will UCAS judge my three children? As the offspring of some bloatedly over-educated third-generation lawyer; or as the descendants of three generations of women who have achieved great things (with bonus points for the present Mrs Moodie's willingness to charge into a burning building and pull the assessor or his children out)?
Every potential student is an individual: judge him or her on merit, not by what Dad or Mum happens to have achieved.
MAGNUS K MOODIE
Flaws in the mayor's green accounting
Sir: It's good to see the mayor of Richmond upon Thames doing his bit to combat global warming - as he slides his backside off the luxury leather seats of his Daimler into the modern saloon that is the Toyota Prius, courtesy of council tax payers. Is there no end to his self-sacrifice?
However the "green accounting" fails to add up. It would take many years for the rather heavy fuel consumption of the Daimler to offset the manufacturing "carbon footprint" of the Toyota (not to mention the use of raw materials) - indeed the Toyota will have reached the end of its life long before this happens unless the mayor does a very high mileage.
Stop the pejorative use of 'gay'
Sir:Rarely can anyone have missed the point as spectacularly as Julie ffrench (Letters, 21 March). When ffrench's daughter uses the word "gay" about anything that irritates her, she is not employing value-neutral language. She is using a metaphor which relates her negative feelings about the cancellation of a hockey game to the despised status of homosexuals. She may not actively despise gay people, but her use of the word (and her mother's tolerance of it) promotes that despised status as normal.
It is tiresome to have to point this out, but I can't really see anyone writing to The Independent defending the use of the word "Jewish" as a synonym for "miserly", and then telling anyone who complains that "they cannot, Canute-like, hold back the tide of our ever-changing language".
Charities are the Budget's big losers
Sir: As the Chairperson of a small UK-registered charity (Sponsor a Nurse) providing health care and education to some of the world's poorest people in rural Africa, I was dismayed by the Chancellor's lack of provision for charities to make good the losses they will suffer from the loss of Gift Aid revenue consequent to the 2-per-cent fall in the basic rate of income tax. Confident that the Chancellor meant what he said about helping poor people during his much publicised visit to Africa, I scrutinised the entire budget document searching for such provision, but alas, in vain.
For Sponsor a Nurse, in real terms, this will mean a fall in our predicted income of around £2,000 per annum. Perhaps the Chancellor, with all his fiscal experience, might like to advise the trustees as to which cuts in our expenditure would be most expedient in order for us to balance our books? Should we perhaps cut the funding of a nurse's salary in rural Uganda in the next financial year? Alternatively maybe we should remove 10 orphans from the 250 cared for in our Aids-orphan sponsorship scheme. Perhaps instead we should no longer fund medicines for psychiatric patients who are too poor to buy their own, with the result that their psychotic illnesses would recur and they would once again be restrained by their fellow villagers in manacles and chains, as was the case before these medicines were provided.
All UK charities, large and small, will be hit hard by this significant funding shortfall, and will be forced to make hard choices as a result. Surely this is the meanest of all the stealth taxes?
DR HELEN SMITH
SPONSOR A NURSE, PURLEY ON THAMES, BERKSHIRE
Sir: I must question Simon Carr's assertion that he's not on drugs if he does actually believe that people earning less than £24,500 receive back all the income tax they pay in benefits and credits (The Sketch, 23 March). As a certified member of that particular collective entity, and earning slightly less than £19,000 annually I most certainly make a net income-tax contribution of about £230 per month, and would indeed feel somewhat selfish if I didn't, being by no means the most poorly paid working person in this country.
Sir: The proposed removal of the 10p tax band would seem to fall foul of sex-discrimination legislation. The majority of lower paid and part-time earners in this country are women. Consequently this change in the tax system would affect women more than men and so is discriminatory.
Sir: Perhaps in response to recent correspondence, this week's Ten Best Handwashes (22 March) seem to be aimed at the mass market. Amazingly, I could not only afford the budget bottle but, at £14, I could actually stretch to the luxury buy! Could it be that you're washing your hands of consumer elitism?
How Welsh is Hopkins?
Sir: Mike Campbell (Letters, 23 March) is a bit late in promoting Mr Anthony Hopkins's Welshness. He became an American citizen many years ago, but not, however, before he got a knighthood which he no longer has any right to use. He supposedly did it because he's lived in the US for a long time. I've lived in England for over 20 years but am still happy to call myself a Welshman.
Sir: Anne Klausner (Letters, 22 March) seems bemused as to why Arab nations have no wish to compete in sport against Israeli competition. Is it at all possible, the illegal occupation of Palestinian land might just have something to do with it? In November of last year the Israeli authorities prevented the Palestinian national football team from playing an Asian Cup qualifying match against Singapore, by barring team players from travelling out of Gaza. So much for the hand of friendship.
The Proton vote
Sir: Following news (The Verdict, Motoring, 20 March) that Proton expect to sell their new Satria Neo to customers from social groups, C1, C2 and D, I'm positive that the next election will be fought over the hearts and minds of Proton people.
Sir: There is an up-to-date excuse that tradesmen have added to their armoury of reasons for arriving late for an appointment. A chap called the other day about an hour later than expected. He claimed that as he had just got a new car and the Satnav wasn't fitted yet he couldn't find us. Brilliant.
Sir: Another ambiguous notice: "Smoking seriously harms you and others around you". Whereas smoking lightheartedly does nothing but good?
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