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Wednesday 28 October 2009
Letters: Secret inquests
Ordinary people will be the victims of inquest secrecy
You report on plans to hold inquests into controversial deaths in private (22 October). How is this compatible with democracy and government for the people as well as of them?
All of us, including legislators, ought to be on the side of openness, transparency, accountability and honesty. After all, we all want a peaceful and just system, not one that denies us knowledge about the circumstances in which our fellow citizens meet their deaths.
The case for secrecy is not made. No disastrous incident can be laid at the door of details revealed at a coroner's inquest held in public. But the converse is most certainly the case: there is plenty of evidence of official error, poor decision-making and of disastrous, humiliating incidents of mistaken identity.
For just once, could decisions be made in the interests of the ordinary person? To deny him/her full information about tragedies suffered by loved ones victimises us all.
If you knew what we know, you would know why we want to have secret inquests as in the Coroners and Justice Bill. If you knew what we know, you would agree that we need to have a nuclear weapons arsenal for the next 50 years (2006 White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent). If you knew what we know, you would support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. If you knew what we know you would know why we don't want you to know what we know.
Nation demoralised by bank bonuses
At a time when public-sector employees are having to accept pay freezes and job losses, despite being busier than ever as a direct result of the recession triggered by the banks, I am astounded that bankers have the audacity to award themselves huge bonuses. I am also amazed that the Government had not foreseen that they would do precisely this unless measures were put in place to ensure that they didn't.
Underneath the public fury is huge disappointment that a Labour government, which has been exhaustive in putting into place measures to check on the work of those involved in the caring and vocational sectors, seems to have no means of doing the same in the financial world.
We are a demoralised nation. It is frightening to think that we taxpayers are relying on MPs to get the banks to do the right thing at a time when they have been demonstrably proven not to be doing so themselves. We have the morally blind leading the morally blind without the self-awareness to even recognise that this is the case.
Jane van den Broeke
People ask if it is fair that bankers will again pocket vast bonuses. Well of course it is not fair, but then capitalism is not intended to be fair. It is intended to be a successful economic system, which on the whole it is. In the years leading up to the present banking crisis, bankers and high-earners generally have managed to retain vast amounts of their earnings thanks to a tax regime designed to be easily manipulated.
What do the bankers do with all this money? The answer is that they spend a good deal of it with small companies such as my own. I then pass a good deal of it on to subcontractors, employees, suppliers and the tax man. This is what makes a buoyant and vibrant economy. So let's not be too quick to condemn bankers' bonuses as the root cause of economic evil.
In "A million frozen out of mortgage market" (20 October) you report that mortgage lenders will have to check the income of people granted mortgages. I don't see a problem with this if it reduces the kind of risky lending that led to the credit crunch. Wasn't it "sub-prime" lending in America that started the financial crisis off?
The harm done to those who can't get a mortgage is more than offset by the benefit of not having another credit crunch with millions thrown out of work worldwide and very difficult borrowing for all.
If a million people can't buy homes is this important? Owning your home is a social custom in England, but in much of Europe most people are happy to rent. I rent myself.
Why do bankers need the incentive of automatic bonuses in addition to a sizeable salary in order to ensure they "perform well"? Most people are expected to work conscientiously and to the best of their ability in return for their wage or salary and without further inducement.
Is it perhaps that the "value" of bankers' performance is easily measurable in financial figures, whereas the value of, say, a nurse's or teacher's work defies such easy computation? Or do we really value bankers' contribution above that of any of the rest of us?
Excessive payments in the financial sector, often for socially useless activities, create major distortions in the economy. For example, talented graduates in science and engineering, whose services are greatly needed in those sectors, go instead into finance. Huge bonuses are used to purchase second homes and apartments as pied-à-terres at inflated prices, so raising house prices to the detriment of ordinary buyers.
This structural imbalance needs to be tackled by direct intervention such as limiting access to central bank liquidity for those institutions paying excessive remuneration, and/ or the tax system.
Anyway why do we need to pay huge remuneration packages to attract the "best" people when this model brought the banking system to the verge of collapse? Perhaps some pedestrian operators would do better.
Lord Myners says he is asking banks why they are paying such large bonuses. The honest answers would be "because you are printing money like confetti", and "because it is not our money". Responsibility only arises out of personal ownership, and City bankers are not equity owners, merely capital administrators.
The entire system must be reformed to allow capital to stay with the entrepreneurs, communities and local savings institutions where it originated. Because, unlike in the City of London, it really is their money.
A yoga class that meets my targets
Your correspondents (letters, 21 October) complain about the malign effects of government targets.
I attend a yoga class run by my local education authority. I have an "individual learning agreement", which contains a number of "learning outcomes", which have to be measurable, and met by the end of the course. My tutor is assessed as much on the quality of this paperwork as on the (excellent) quality of the class. I understand that the paperwork is essential to secure government funding for the class.
For me, this yoga class is a life-saver. It is a small oasis of peace and tranquillity away from my life as a 24/7 unpaid carer. It helps to keep me supple and strong for juggling wheelchairs and bedpans, and allows me physical and emotional relaxation in a safe and quiet environment. Unfortunately, none of these are measurable.
Too much GMT, not enough BST
Among the seasonal discussion as to whether Britain should adopt Central European Time throughout the year (letters, 24 October) could I point out that the periods of GMT before and after the winter solstice are unequal. This winter there will be 57 days of GMT before 21 December and 96 days after. If we are to have GMT in the winter we should be changing back to BST in mid-February, not waiting until the end of March. Ideally Europe would change the clocks on the same date, but it would not be disastrous if we differed by a month or so, as was the case in the 1980s.
You report Professor Gaskell, the new vice-chancellor of Queen Mary, University of London, as saying: "We want to be in a certain group of research-led universities nationally" (22 0ctober).
In other words, the principal focus of concern, the priority given to resource allocation, and the criteria for staff assessment and advancement, will be driven by the ambition to climb the research-assessment ratings.
The result of this will be that the staff time, effort and resources dedicated to teaching undergraduates will be less than optimum. Nor do good researchers necessarily make good undergraduate teachers.
I advise potential undergraduates at "research-led" universities to raise the apparent conflict of interest with those who interview them.
Professor Frank Fahy
Keep big business out of food science
The UK must come up with viable scientific solutions to provide a sustainable food supply: funds must be poured into the necessary research ("Double food output to stop world starving", 21 October).
Using the latest advances in genetic science, such as Marker Assisted Selection, the crops of the second green revolution will have complex traits for improved yield and environmental tolerance. What we must not do is disrupt the healthy coherence of the living plant with artificial DNA.
Unfortunately, if we let the government and the biotech industry have their way, these new crops will have a man-made gene or two added just to make them patentable, profitable and commercially controllable.
Moir and Gately
Stephen Glover (Media, 26 October) defends Jan Moir's right to free speech in her article about Stephen Gately's death, but seems to bitterly object to others exercising the same right of free speech to criticise her. It is plain that Glover finds the ability of the public to show their disgust at Moir and others of that ilk quite threatening. Perhaps, just perhaps, it will make arrogant columnists like Moir, Littlejohn, et al. a bit more sensitive to the views of their fellow citizens.
Pope Benedict has made it clear that in future no one of a homosexual disposition, whether expressed or not, will be allowed to proceed to ordination. Will those Anglican clergy now being invited to throw in their lot with Rome over the issue of women bishops be tested for sexual orientation before being allowed to practise their ministry? Or is a vastly greater tolerance of homosexuality one of the Anglican traditions they will be able to hang on to in the special section that the Roman church is planning to set up for them?
The next census will ask how many bedrooms we have (report, 27 October). Will it clarify the definition of a bedroom? A room with a bed in it is presumably a bedroom, but if that same room had only a settee in it would it be classified as a sitting room? What if the settee is a put-you-up, for occasional use as a bed? This obsession with the number of bedrooms seems to be a particularly British trait. Surely all that is required is to know how many rooms the house has, and how many occupants.
Palm oil policy
The imagination does its Great British Boggle at the removal of protection to tropical forests so that they can be destroyed to produce palm oil (report, 26 October). The people responsible for this policy do not seem able to understand that we live in a real world, that global warming is not an academic problem put on the table to keep them busy, but an emergency which will mean life or death for millions of people.
Kenneth J Moss
The ups of Down's
What prospective parents of children with Down's do is 100 per cent their choice (report, 27 October). However, I urge anyone who is looking to make an informed decision to go to www.the-specials.com to see a number of young adults, mainly with Down's Syndrome, sharing a house together in Brighton and having the time of their lives. I'm looking forward to a day when my eight-year-old son Stan, who has Down's, enjoys an independent life, contributing to society and developing friendships.
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