Sir: Dr Anthony Seldon is correct that the attitude of governments in the past 60 years is the cause of the drift apart of the state and private sectors of our education system ("Enough of this educational apartheid", 15 January). However he is wrong about the remedy. No charitable attitude on the part of the private schools is capable of addressing the problem fully, even if founding academies etc becomes their means of retaining charity status.
The state sector needs to be equally attractive to the best teachers (not only in salary terms) and have the funding to provide the facilities, equipment and smaller class sizes enjoyed by the private sector. Unfortunately the great British public would not tolerate the required increase in taxation.
Sir : The core problem regarding the status of public schools is the colossal gap that has been allowed to open up between an over-paid few and the rest of society. As a result, many middle-class parents, in a desperate effort to secure quality education for their young, are laying siege to the remaining grammar school places.
Independent schools, meanwhile, are steadily turning into "international" academies, providing top-class English-language-based education for a global elite, the benefits extending to entry to our best universities. To argue that the British tax system should continue to accord charitable status to this process is ludicrous, while offers to provide monetary support to a few poorer, but carefully chosen, entrants is almost an affront.
There is also something disgusting in the spectacle of our finest teachers – who are, pro rata, modestly paid – dancing attendance on the needs of the super-rich. This situation is not the public schools' fault but that of successive governments around the world who have failed to stand up to the extortionate demands of an undeserving plutocracy. In so doing, they have reversed much of the egalitarian progress of the early 20th century in a manner that is tragic.
Sir: Deborah Orr (16 January) points out that the obvious argument in favour of private schools losing their charitable status is that they deprive local state schools of the brightest and best (as in Pimlico) and perpetuate a largely unnecessary class divide.
However, this is mitigated by the financial savings to councils, such as Westminster, of not having to provide comprehensive places for those private pupils. It seems rather unfair that a parent who sends his or her child to a private school, often at great personal expense, should prop up the local comprehensive. Has the parent not already contributed towards the state school through taxation?
Asylum seekers denied health care
Sir: As an organisation working with rejected asylum seekers, the Red Cross understands the opposition of doctors to government proposals to further restrict health care to rejected asylum seekers ("Doctors rebel over plan to prevent treatment for failed asylum seekers", 16 January). Daily we see the impact on people's lives that current restrictions already have.
Ben, originally from Algeria, was shot whilst serving in the army, and had his leg amputated. As a member of the armed forces he was targeted by groups opposed to the government, and had to flee the country.
He fled to the UK. He urgently needed a new prosthetic leg – the one he had been using was old, deteriorating, and causing him discomfort.
While his asylum application was pending, Ben received some treatment on the NHS – though he was refused psychological support – and a new prosthetic leg was made. However, when his asylum application was rejected, the NHS refused to provide him with the new leg that had been specially made for him.
Without the money to buy one, he is forced to rely on a deteriorating prosthetic leg almost a decade old. It is painful when he walks and he is often housebound. His thigh is now infected and extremely sore, problems compounded by periods spent sleeping rough when he was unable to clean the prosthetic.
These are the very real human consequences of restricting health care. We fear that further restrictions will only increase the number of stories like this we hear. Like a doctor's Hippocratic Oath, the humanitarian imperative under which we work compels us to ensure vulnerable people in crisis like Ben receive the help they need, regardless of their immigration status.
Head of refugee services, British Red Cross, London EC2
Sir: The government proposal to withdraw the right to free health care from failed asylum-seekers is not only, as medical experts have pointed out, foolish and unethical. It is also a breach of the United Kingdom's obligations under international law.
There is a human right to health care, most importantly expressed by Article 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a covenant the United Kingdom has both signed and ratified.
Among other things Article 12 demands "the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness."
It is clear that the provisions of the UDHR and the Covenant are intended to cover all who fall within the jurisdiction of a state, whatever their status. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights made this clear in 2000 in its General Comment 14, when it emphasised that the human right to health is a legally enforceable right under international law.
It stated that the legal obligation to respect the right to health means "refraining from denying or limiting equal access for all persons, including prisoners or detainees, minorities, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, to preventative, curative and palliative health services".
The denial of free access to secondary care in 2004 means the United Kingdom has already breached its legal obligations to failed asylum seekers and other "irregular" migrants. The added exclusion from primary care would be an act of moral brutality unworthy of a nation that considers itself to be committed to respect for human rights.
Dr Phillip Cole
Reader in Applied Philosophy, Middlesex University, Hitchin, Hertfordshire
Sir: The news about Ama Sumami, who was refused continuing medical treatment for cancer when she was deported to Ghana, is another example of the potential inhumanity of our deportation policies.
Among the different group of foreign national prisoners there are less newsworthy but equally troubling cases of people with chronic mental illness, who may have lived in the UK for most of their lives, subjected to deportation despite needing continuing support from our mental health services and their families after release. Such care may be unavailable or in doubt in the jurisdictions to which they are sent.
Deportations in these cases should be stopped, not just for compassionate reasons, but to comply with the Government's own policy that mentally ill prisoners should receive the same standards and continuity of care as others with mental illness in our communities.
University Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychiatry, Cambridge
Nuclear problem is just politics
Sir: Your leader writer (11 January) is confused by the problem of nuclear waste. It is a political problem, not a technical one. Successive governments have been dodging this issue for decades.
There are two parts to the problem: disposal of legacy material, and that arising as a result of current and future decisions. The former has to be dealt with, whether we build new nuclear facilities or not. The incremental cost of providing for future waste facilities would add relatively little to the overall cost.
UK power reactors, both those already shut down and remaining in use, are, with the exception of Sizewell B, of earlier designs based upon large graphite structures, whereas Sizewell and similar designs are much more compact. Future designs would not produce the same volume of waste.
Your reference to the Chernobyl disaster gives the impression that a modern design is only a little less dangerous than this early Soviet design. This is emphatically false and amounts to low-level scaremongering.
You also trot out the warnings about the long life of radioactivity, perhaps not understanding that the longest-lived materials are inevitably of low activity.
Which modern European state has the lowest CO2 emissions per capita? This is clearly France, which relies on nuclear generation for 80 per cent of its electricity production, with the balance largely from hydro sources.
If nuclear is so dangerous, why does the UK import so much power from France? If the objection is based upon moral arguments, should we not disconnect ourselves from the EDF system?
Sir: The Government is strenuously insistent that nuclear power is an essential and healthy component within a diverse portfolio of energy sources for the country's energy needs. If this is so self-evidently true for Britain, why not for Iran?
Call of the muezzin over Oxford
Sir: As one of those trying to get the minaret of Oxford's Central Mosque operational, I would like to respond to two points raised by recent correspondents, as echoed in your Letters ("Call of the muezzin amplified into a nuisance", 16 January).
The Call to Prayer lasts for two minutes and consists of a simple chant in classical Arabic. Those who have objected to the possibility of being "preached at" from on high are unlikely to be too bothered by the message; even if it might appear to some as an obvious bait for the leading Oxonian Richard Dawkins.
As for potential nuisance, contrary to a lot of the fears being expressed about intrusiveness, the proposal to Oxford City Council explicitly stated that the Call was requested for Friday Prayers once a week, with a decibel level kept under review.
All the Muslims I have spoken to are at pains not to cause any problem for the general public. Many of those who know the burgeoning, cosmopolitan life of East Oxford will rejoice at the sound of the Prayer Call. Many of those who treasure the sound emanating from the city's Christian bell-towers should find this beautifully chanted call in their midst no problem; maybe it will even be an enhancement.
As for those who would banish all calls to worship, regardless of message or source, well, that's another cause and argument.
Canon David Partridge
Keeping terrorism behind the fence
Sir: Jack Downey paints a vivid picture (letter, 11 January) of the unfairness of having your neighbours erect a fence in your own garden, controlled by soldiers. The picture changes, however, if you add that you have been dispatching terrorists to your neighbour for over 80 years and suicide bombers for the past 20 years.
He forgets that Arab anti-Jewish terrorism predates the establishment of the State of Israel and also the occupation, let alone the construction of the Security Fence. If the Islamist terrorism would stop, there would be no need for the fence, which has been the major factor in severely reducing the number of Israeli lives lost in these horrific attacks. I well remember the early days of the Occupation when there was no fence, no Army posts and an open border.
Israel recently evacuated civilians and Army from the Gaza Strip. Their reward has been an average of five rockets per day landing on Israeli cities. We can well imagine what would happen if Israel vacated more land on the West Bank.
Bet Shemesh, Israel
Bad form, Mr Hain
Sir: Surely the Minister for Work and Pensions should have completed a 32-page form to apply for the benefits he received? Alternatively, maybe it was a Crisis Loan, in which a similarly lengthy form would have been required.
Sir: Retired cleaner Mike Cleverley (letter, 15 January) says he doesn't have a choice about whether to buy free range or battery chicken because of his low income. He certainly does have a choice: he can choose not to buy chicken at all. It will save him money, be good for his health and the environment and give him the peace of mind that he is not contributing to millions of birds being killed and hacked to pieces on a daily basis for human taste.
Cost of flying
Sir: Michelle Di Leo (letter, 15 January) welcomes the fact that only 2.76 per cent of readers have stopped flying, and suggests that the 99 per cent who think recycling is important have a better grasp of the causes of climate change. In fact, not flying is the single biggest step an individual can take to reduce their emissions. A family of four flying to Australia will have the same climate impact as heating their house for a decade. Recycling is popular because it's painless: if you're seriously concerned about climate, you have to go much further.
Black good manners
Sir: I read with interest Mary Dejevsky's comment that Barack Obama's "speech, manners and culture" mark him out as more white than black (8 January). She obviously does not know very many black people, either here or in America. Barack Obama's speech and manners are standard among his generation of black Americans who are college graduates. And since when were good manners a specifically "white" characteristic?
Diane Abbott MP
House of Commons
Sir: The saga of Northern Rock can be viewed as a metaphor for life itself. Many of its shareholders will have received free shares at flotation: wealth created from nothing. It existed for a while and now it is gone. Ashes to ashes.