Letters: Shareholders' demands

Shareholders should insist on tougher rules and realistic bonuses
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The Independent Online

The excesses of international financial markets have led to economic consequences affecting us all, and large bail-outs by taxpayers. In pieces on 10 September, Hamish McRae ("The start of the long haul back") and Jeremy Warner ("Outlook") address possible responses to this problem by governments via tighter regulation of financial institutions. This is a vital debate and some change in regulation seems appropriate. But neither item mentions a potential second, complementary, line of attack which might help curb future excesses: shareholder activism.

The boards of financial institutions pursue hubristic strategies, trade in unfathomable instruments, receive huge bonuses based on short- term outcomes and stay in their jobs only because the business owners – the shareholders – allow them to. The more thoughtful, long-term owners will realise that what happened in their businesses has not been in their interests, nor in the interests of society. These people should be encouraged to act (and voting against perversely structured remuneration packages would be a good place to start).

Unfortunately, there is a structural problem in bringing effective shareholder pressure to bear: most shares are held on behalf of their beneficial owners (us, one way or another) by investment managers running pension funds, other collective investment vehicles and discretionary portfolios.

The FSA should develop policies which will force investment managers to consult their clients, to vote the shares they hold and to justify publicly their actions in discharging their ownership responsibility on behalf of their clients.

Shareholder activism won't prevent future financial crises but, together with appropriate regulation, it could help to ameliorate them.

George Galazka

London SW19

Migrants bring mixed blessings

Your leading article (9 September) asserts that immigration is a boon and that immigrants give back far more than they take economically. At one level, this may be true. They keep wages low, thus making the UK more competitive, and their economic output increases the UK's GNP and the tax take for the Government.

But this is simplistic. The benefit to the country's balance of payments is not so great since immigrants' remittances to their families at home are significant. And the benefit of keeping wages down may not be so obvious to those who are low-paid. Nor is it necessarily good for developing countries that we should entice their skilled workers to come and work for us.

Discussion of immigration usually becomes clouded by accusations of racism. The crux of the problem is not that immigrants are foreign, it is that they are having a major impact on the size of our country's population: it is not GNP growth that matters, but the growth in GNP per head of population.

The existing population's high standard of living is, to a great extent, the result of the capital base built up over centuries in terms of housing, roads, railways, hospitals, schools and other public amenities, and the carefully preserved countryside. Before it can be said that immigrants give back more than they take, it must be shown that they contribute a significant amount to the necessary expansion of the country's infrastructure. Even if they did, the proposed 25 per cent increase in population will inevitably result in a significant reduction in quality of life for existing inhabitants, simply because of the higher population density.

If you are basing your case on some concept of moral duty to share our patrimony with those countries which suffer from excessive population growth, you should say so openly. But I doubt that most people now living in Britain (whatever their racial origin) would willingly accept the dilution of their present quality of life which will inevitably result from an ever more densely populated island.

Graham Moore

Guildford, Surrey

The Home Office's announcement that employers will now not be able to look beyond Europe to recruit doctors, social workers and carers is absurd, with the UK's elderly having to bear the brunt of this decision. How can the committee in charge of migration put a greater emphasis on bringing skilled ballet dancers into the UK above ensuring the best care for the elderly?

At Nightingale, the largest care home in the UK, we already find it extremely difficult to recruit the right people to look after our 250 residents. Of 100 applications, it is not uncommon for us to find only one person suitable to work with us.

The care sector has to deal with the stigma of repeated criticism of elderly care in this country, and surely these new migrant rules are only going to make it more difficult for those care homes that struggle under the present funding system to find staff and ensure that residents are well cared for.

The negative perception of care work in the UK is one of the reasons we have always needed to recruit from overseas. Unless the status of the job is elevated in the UK, this country's elderly are going to suffer a huge shortage of high-standard care, particularly now the Home Office has banned recruitment from outside Europe.

Leon Smith

Chief Executive, Nightingale, London SW12

I heartily agree with Ian Birrell's column on migrants (10 September). I am the parent of two severely autistic young men who live in a residence. Fifty per cent of the workforce there seem to be migrants, predominately from southern Africa, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Uganda. They are all, by and large, wonderful, with good senses of humour; reliable and hard-working. They also have to support their extended families back home, which is a matter of life and death for those from Zimbabwe.

If the decisions of the Migration Advisory Council are allowed to go through, social care organisations will be forced to increase their charges to local authorities. A lot of these authorities do not pay the total amount required of them at present, because of their financial restrictions. Further increases may result in more care homes closing because of costs and the quality of life for my sons and other residents being put in jeopardy. I cannot understand how the MAC came to the decisions it did.

Louisa Spivack

London N4

Your trenchant leading article (9 September) on the contribution of immigrants mentioned that ministers should "outline funding for more immigrants to improve their English". Such a resource exists already in the form of English by Radio. This used to be broadcast by the BBC World Service for years, and millions used to learn English this way.

This method should, ideally, be supplemented by formal lessons here or abroad, but this is not an ideal world. Everyone has a radio. The programmes should go out on the home channels and on the World Service as well. The BBC should get out the old tapes and get on with it.

W R Haines

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Morality triumphs, not fear of disease

Maybe Thomas Sutcliffe knows something I don't, but his quote from Stephen Green (Opinion, 9 September) appears to say just the opposite of what Sutcliffe claims. Sutcliffe lays into the Christian Voice spokesman for his "contempt for young women, the conviction that the only thing that lies between our daughters and a life of splay-legged promiscuity is the fear of fatal disease".

On the contrary, Green says that it is those promoting the vaccine against cervical cancer who appear to assume that all young women are sexually incontinent. He explicitly claims that self-respect and morality, not fear of disease, will dictate a Christian girl's lifestyle. Perhaps Green is too optimistic: not all Christian girls marry as virgins (though many do). But he certainly doesn't show the contempt for girls' moral qualities of which he is accused.

Revd Paddy Benson

Heswall, Merseyside

Maps on paper and on the internet

You reported on the British Cartographic Society's comments on the lack of landmark and heritage detail in internet maps, when compared with the traditional Ordnance Survey paper maps (29 August).

I was delighted to know that people still have a fascination with traditional mapping. Ordnance Survey is committed to maintaining and updating its paper maps, but our most detailed mapping is now purely digital and contains more information than paper maps ever could.

Digital map data from Ordnance Survey is used throughout government and business but also across the internet. The detail is still there, but the interface is interactive and the user must define what they want displayed.

Nicole Perry

Head of Public Affairs, Ordnance Survey, Southampton

Creating a storm over creationism

The proposal from the Royal Society to teach creationism in schools (report, 12 September) should not only raise howls of protest from scientists about bad science, but also from most mainstream religious leaders for privileging bad religion.

Fundamentalism, in effect, says that you must read the Bible in one particular way, as a literal report of what happened. This is not the mainstream way of reading, either of religious or even secular texts.

Every Beano reader recognises the truth about the Bash Street Kids' boredom with lessons, or the companionship between Dennis the Menace and Gnasher; it doesn't need to be literal to be true. Even the Catholic Church got over that one with Galileo.

Sean Barker

Bristol

Your articles about the teaching of creationism in schools only serve to show how education has become compartmentalised for the purposes of exams rather than a preparation for life.

However unlikely or preposterous it may seem, even Richard Dawkins cannot legitimately dismiss the idea that some sort of supernatural entity might have played a part in the creation of the universe and living organisms. Therefore, creationism is a legitimate theory, which means that natural evolution is only a theory too. It is the duty of education to allow pupils to make up their own minds, on the basis of the evidence and through discussion.

That discussion should happen in one class, rather than one half of the debate doing religious studies and the other half engaged in science lessons.

Hugh Dower

York

Professor Reiss wants creationism to be taught in science lessons, claiming "Just because something lacks scientific support doesn't seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from the science lesson". Surely that is a good reason to omit it from science lessons. Otherwise, why not teach astrology or non-biblical creation myths as well? Or is it just that these equally unscientific theories lack a similarly noisy and well-funded political lobby?

The professor is concerned about putting children off science because of their creationist beliefs, but what about all the kids who want to learn real science in their science class? Where else are they going to learn it?

Chris Webster

Abergavenny, Gwent

I should like creationism to be taught more widely, not just to schoolchildren. That way the people, not those with a religious agenda, could see once and for all what a vapid, illogical, conjuring trick of an idea the whole thing is.

Robert Smith

Merstham, Surrey

What about fathers?

You report that pleasure nerves seem to be sensitive to the type of stroking and cuddling provided by a mother for a child (11 September). Does stroking and cuddling of the type provided by a father have a different effect?

Duncan Fisher

CEO, The Fatherhood Institute, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

It's an unfair cop

The reaction of the Foreign Office and Devon and Cornwall Constabulary to an off-duty policeman appearing as Bin Laden in a carnival beggars belief. There is a long tradition at rural carnivals of entries dressed as villains and foreign leaders. At our summer carnival, "President" Mugabe was soliciting yet more votes for his already stuffed ballot box. The two sensible policemen on duty joined in the fun and did not even notify the Special Branch or Foreign Office.

John Tricks

Crediton, Devon

Apostrophe atrocities

John D Anderson's proposed obliteration of the possessive apostrophe (letters, 11 September) would result in monstrosities. Just imagine how "Dorien Thomas's letter" would look. If you're going to tinker with English norms you have to do it with panache, as in the hand-drawn sign that recently held me transfixed to my high street pavement: "Leggin's". Now that's classy.

Dorien Thomas

Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taff

Terror's our fault

Your leading article "The right way to fight terror" (11 September) misses one important point, that the threat to this country emanates from foreign policy misadventures. I would have thought that the right way to fight terror is to stop attacks on Muslim countries. When will the media and the government learn that bombings and killing people overseas is a sure way to make the world an insecure place? Why cannot this country follow France and Germany and keep a distance from America's wars? Will this country support an American attack on Iran?

Shaikh Mohommad

Croydon, Surrey

Crunch time for piety

Dr David Harper (letter, 11 September) complains that, with Radio 4's Prayer for the Day and Thought for the Day, he and other humanists "are subjected to two doses of piety over our cornflakes". Since Prayer for the Day is broadcast at 5.45am and Thought for the Day some two hours later, I can only conclude that humanists must eat vast breakfasts. And very slowly.

Edward Collier

Gotherington, Gloucestershire

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