Sir: You report on the National Audit Office research into the cost of "divorce lawyers" (16 October). This is not the first time that the NAO has recommended increased use of mediation to resolve disputes arising out of separation or divorce. Mediation is a more cost-effective and less destructive means of resolving family disputes. Despite promising soundbites, the government has failed to act to ensure that mediation becomes the cornerstone of our family-justice system. While solicitors remain the gatekeepers to family courts, the legal costs of family breakdown will continue to spiral, and incalculable harm will continue to be done to children by our adversarial and conflict-ridden system.
The situation is even bleaker than merely a failure to promote mediation. Because of recent changes in public funding, about 40 per cent of mediation providers, mainly in the not-for-profit sector, are under threat. Meanwhile, at the same time, as your article highlights, private-sector solicitors are free to put profit before their clients' interests.
Most families facing the stress of separation and divorce are not the McCartneys and Millses of this world but ordinary families with limited incomes. Many are increasingly excluded from any means of professional support to help them through such a painful transition.
If the government is really serious about seeking value for money in the legal system and wants to promote a more constructive approach to managing the consequences of family breakdown it could do two things. First, reverse the recent changes in Legal Services contracts for mediation providers. Second, make it compulsory for all families to attend an information meeting about mediation prior to any formal applications being put to the courts. This would ensure that more families considering divorce are directed towards a family mediator.
Let's kill off the fat-cat lawyers and start using public money for the benefit of the public.
Dr Peter Duff
The gene pool is a shared human asset
Sir: We know that white males are more likely to be paedophiles than their black or Asian counterparts ("Africans are less intelligent than Westerners, says DNA pioneer", 17 October). In a society which is now – rightly – trying to reverse the effects of white hegemony, this assertion is communicated without ideological resistance, in the interests of police profiling.
Equally, the medical profession tells us that those of African or Caribbean extraction are more likely to suffer from sickle cell anaemia. This has nothing to do with skin colour, rather the chance genetic history associated with people from a particular part of the world. In the interests of health, it is important to communicate this to those at risk.
There is nothing unscientific about talking of genetic predisposition, and it is largely acknowledged that different genetic groups are characterised by different skill sets. The Kenyans are regarded as fantastic long-distance runners; in the main we do not baulk at this assertion, because it is complimentary. As a society, we need to focus on our strengths.
Geneticists have long cautioned against the dangers of breeding within a confined gene pool. In the interests of a lower predisposition to disease and genetic mutation, together with increased longevity (not to mention intercultural tolerance), it is favourable to breed with those humans most unlike yourself in both appearance and genealogy.
Scientists may discover one day that the chance genetic history associated with a particular skin colour may offer accurate correlations of slightly increased intelligence. But this asset will almost certainly be offset by another weakness. The gene pool is a shared phenomenon and one which we should use, as a species, to our collective advantage.
University of Essex, Colchester
Sir: I feel very let down, as do many of my friends and colleagues, by The Independent's irresponsible front cover of 17 October. I am black and of Jamaican origin and feel that you gave a platform to probably one of the most offensively unfounded statements I have ever seen headlining a newspaper.
The vast majority of people who will have read your headline on the news stands will not have bought your paper; as is the case with all papers where the news stand is positioned in a highly visible area, far more see it than buy it. Those seeing the front page will have been given the impression that there is DNA evidence to support the statement, something you will well have been aware of. Children will also have seen the headline and will not have bought the paper to read the full story, leaving black children feeling even more unconfident in a tide of negative stereotyping.
The genetic argument about intelligence, thankfully, pretty much died decades ago, along with the belief that black people have tails, and that women were less intelligent, having smaller heads than men. You have raked up a raft of dated insubstantial evidence which has slipped into obscurity but for the occasional resurrection by right-wing fanatics. To read the full story is to know the facts. However, as I said, most people will not have read beyond the front cover.
Sir: I was horrified to see your front page of 17 October. By giving this article prominence, all you're doing is reinforcing racist prejudices and making it even more difficult for black people to succeed in this country. Why bother if you're a young black man when you know that many people hold such views?
Chafford Hundred, Essex
Informed pupils eat healthy food
Sir: I was shocked to read the comments made by Ms Prue Leith in your article of 17 October. I am Deputy Headteacher of a large comprehensive in North Yorkshire (1,900 pupils). We have an open-gate policy for our Year 11, 12 and 13 students, so in theory more than 1,000 of them could walk off the school premises at lunchtime to buy junk food. They choose not to.
Six years ago our school opted out of contract catering and directly employed our own catering staff. Today we feed over 95 per cent of the school's population (including 120 staff every day). The meals are prepared by a dedicated team of catering staff, ably led by three commercially trained chefs.
Meals are delicious, containing vegetables from the school's organic vegetable garden and with all ingredients freshly prepared on site and locally sourced. The whole school food policy is guided by the school's dietician.
Children will not learn by indoctrination. Teachers prefer to educate students to take informed decisions about their own health and lifestyles. The results are evident at this school and can be achieved without locking the school gates at lunchtime, which will only result in conflict between the staff and the pupils.
Deputy Headteacher,St Aidan's Church of England High School, harrogate
Chamberlain: the man and the myth
Sir: The image of appeasement and Munich was used by Tony Blair to try to persuade a sceptical public to support his illegal and stupid war on Iraq. It is used by politicians from time to time to justify their warlike aims, but it is an unfair image ("Miliband offended at 'peace in our time' jibe by Labour MP", 17 October).
Being 78, I remember the joy and cheering in the streets when Chamberlain negotiated the ceding of the Sudetenland to Germany and many people thought that Hitler had made a moral and legal argument for this.
Today no one tells the other side of the Chamberlain story. When he became Prime Minister in 1937 he was convinced that Britain had to build a modern and efficient air defence system. He arranged the war loans to finance the supply of Spitfires and Hurricanes to the RAF. He was a supporter of Air Marshal Dowding's construction of the early-warning radar system around our coast without which we would not have won the Battle of Britain, and the Second World War.
So, if David Milliband can separate the real man from the populist image, he would have been paid a compliment. And if there is to be another foolish "foreign adventure", please spare us the slur on the memory of a decent and honourable man who tried to save the peace.
Barnard Castle, Co Durham
My father was not Ayn Rand's husband
Sir: In an article on Ayn Rand (12 October) Leonard Doyle writes that Rand "met and married writer Frank O'Connor". Although she was married to an actor of that name, he was not, to the best of my knowledge, a writer.
My father, the Irish writer best-known for his short stories, was confused with Rand's husband once during his lifetime, while living in Brooklyn Heights. A newsagent with whom he had had many friendly conversations about books one morning almost threw the paper at my father, adding in disgusted tones that there was an article about his wife, Ayn Rand. That mistake was easily corrected, and also easy to understand in pre-internet days; my father had been dreading being confused with Ayn Rand's husband since he heard the name.
Dalkey, Co. Dublin
Rescue package for Amazon rainforest
Sir: As your article (17 October) on the visit to London by Davi Yanomami made clear, indigenous reserves play a vitally important role in conserving rainforest in Brazil. Where your report strays from the truth is in its description of Cool Earth as an organisation that ignores this role and prefers instead to buy chunks of forest to ease the guilt of British consumers.
Cool Earth was created to support rainforest communities by giving them their forest back, and to protect the forest as a carbon resource; more than 20 percent of global CO2 emissions are produced by deforestation. As Davi Yanomami and Survival International point out, land lived in by indigenous people is among the best protected in the interior of the Amazon.
The greatest destruction, however, occurs on the arc of deforestation, hundreds of miles from Yanomani or other tribal lands, which is where privately owned forest certified for logging and clearance is sold to the highest bidder. This is where Cool Earth buys land, and returns it to local communities. The ownership of all land we acquire is transferred to local trusts and free access is ensured for local communities. There are no strings attached aside from that they keep the forest standing.
Our 14,000 sponsors in 15 countries are not romantics who want to own a piece of rainforest. They are savvy individuals who know that putting local communities in control of their rainforest is the only way to protect a unique global resource.
Director, Cool Earth,London W1
Who tells the tale of the Turks' suffering?
Sir: I am disappointed that Anthony McCarthy should believe the stories of some Armenian Turkish students (letter, 16 October). For every story there is a counter story.
I am a Turk from Cyprus, where my mother grew up in the 1920s. Her grandfather, a civil leader, was interned by the British for the duration of the First World War and he used to relate to her stories of what the British did. For example, Cyprus was used as a training ground for Armenian terrorists by the British, who then shipped them across to Palestine and beyond to fight the Turks. Wars are terrible and all sides commit atrocities. To really understand what happened to the Turks you have ask what happened to millions of them who were settled across the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa over the last thousand years.
Their population was decimated and yet there is not a single line written in the west about their plight.
M D Kurt-Elli
Sir: If polymer fivers, "easy to keep clean, waterproof and difficult to tear", were to be introduced in this country (Letters 17 October), would I have to add money laundering to my list of household chores?
Dr Helen Kraus
Sir: I would like to add a couple of comments to the discussion on lowering the speed limit in built-up areas (The Big Question, 17 October). I drive a lot in Scandinavia where there are such reduced limits. Unless one is driving a car with automatic transmission, one is forever changing gear, and hence driving with one hand. Also the engine rpm at 20mph in a necessary lower gear are higher than at 30mph in a higher gear. This increases petrol consumption and emissions.
E V Evans
The state of Uzbekistan
Sir: In his column The Week in Arts (13 October) David Lister talks about "the now Islamic fundamentalist Uzbekistan". This does the Uzbeks a disservice. I travelled widely in Uzbekistan in 2001 and found the people culturally Islamic but broadly secular. Women wore bright, colourful dresses and felt free to laugh and dance in the street. The Uzbeks are fine people brutalised by a paranoid dictator, Islam Karimov, fearful of assassination, who represses any form of criticism whether of artistic or religious origin. Practising Muslims are repressed along with practising theatre directors.
Sit down, if you dare
Sir: On a recent visit with my wife to a ladies fashion outlet in a nearby town, I looked in vain outside the changing rooms for the chair upon which I had patiently waited on numerous previous occasions. A helpful assistant volunteered the information that it had been removed for health and safety reasons as someone had recently fallen off it and broken an arm.
Is it conceivable that, in deference to Health and Safety regulations, all chairs will in future be considered potentially hazardous?
H W Marks
What lies within
Sir: When eating their fruit with pips and eggs with egg, Messrs Nolan and Stapley (Letters, 18, 19 October) should enjoy a bottle of the Bristol Beer Factory's excellent Milk Stout, which, they will be relieved to learn from the label, does not contain milk.
John E Orton