Sir: Your report (28 March) on the appointment of administrators at Dewhurst, the butchers, does not come as any great surprise. Whilst shopping in Tesco today I saw whole chickens, priced at £2.99, being sold on a buy-one-get-one-free offer.
Pricing policies such as this must raise serious questions about the tactics used by the big supermarket chains, particularly in relation to their ability to cross subsidise products. It also raises questions with regard the quality of the meat. When whole chickens are sold at just £1.50, it makes you wonder just how many corners have been cut to strip out cost. The interests of the farmer and the poor chickens cannot be well served by such pricing. In the long run, the consumer won't benefit either.
Sir: Asda's decision to move towards selling only fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council is very welcome news (report, March 28). Credit too must go to WWF and Unilever for their foresight in setting up the organisation 10 years ago. Will Tesco, Britain's largest food retailer, now too give an undertaking to buy fish only from sustainable sources?
Environmentalists increasingly recognise the need to work with big business. Fortunately there are plenty of industry leaders who recognise that protecting the long-term interests of their companies requires a long-term approach. You cannot sell fish if there are no fish left in the seas.
We politicians do too little and do it too late. These days the European Commission talks conservation every time it talks fish but then words are cheap. Government Ministers continue to put the short-term interests of fishermen before the preservation of stocks, and the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy still encourage huge quantities of non-quota fish to be thrown back dead into the sea.
CHRIS DAVIES MEP
LEADER, BRITISH LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MEPS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, BRUSSELS
Immigration is not all good for the UK
Sir: The pro-immigration view of your front page of 31 March is economically naive, and conflicts absolutely with your stance on climate change.
Yes, rescuing people from those who exploit them, closing the grey and black economies, and increasing the tax take, would be a good idea. But while illegal and legal immigrants may appear to benefit the economy of the south east, they don't. Employers use the unending pool of cheap labour in order to pay less in wages, thus maintaining all of us in relative poverty. This means that the tax system, through family credit, subsidises employers who might otherwise need to pay people enough to live on; so much of your claimed benefit from tax would be transferred as a net benefit to employers, not to the economy as a whole.
Immigrants have continually transformed Britain for the better; no one wants to return to the horror of the early 1950s. As individuals, all are welcome. But not if there is a net increase in the human population. In the south east there are water shortages, with massive political pressure to build houses, but no plans for new reservoirs. Motorways and trains are full, and the Treasury will not fund new railways or light rail schemes. More illegal immigration - which will follow an amnesty as night follows day - will mean more demands for housing and more pressure on transport, education and health services, and more environmental degradation including the release of more greenhouse gases. Sure, Bournemouth and Southampton can grow - let's clear the New Forest and they can meet in the middle.
What we need is a population reduction target, and a set of policies which will meet it. Now.
Sir: It was refreshing to read Johann Hari's piece (27 March) about John Stuart Mill and our politicians' obsession with increasing the Gross Domestic Product rather than Gross Domestic Happiness. All week too, The Independent has been campaigning against the reckless pursuit of economic growth at the expense of the planet's health. Then on 31 March your lead story is "Immigration - the facts we are never told": an entirely economic case for the advantages of illegal immigration. That illegal immigration can improve the tax-take has never been in question; the issue is the divisions, stresses and conflicts it can introduce. It adds to people's unhappiness and fears and causes them concerns about their quality of life. And your response? A steamroller of statistics on the economic benefits. I suppose being independent means you can pick and chose your logic as it suits.
Sir: You repeat the bosses' old canard, that immigrants "generally fill the jobs deemed too menial or too hazardous by UK nationals". It is not the job, but the fact that the employer wants it done cheaper, that determines who takes it. The recent mass sackings at Gate Gourmet are just one case in point.
To many free marketeers, a pool of extremely cheap labour, and a cheap servant economy is the next best thing to slavery. It is illegal wages, not illegal immigrants, that should be got rid of.
No choice for public sector workers
Sir: May I add to the letters responding to your leading article (29 March) on public-sector pensions. When I joined local government in 1971, all staff over 18 were required to join the Local Government Pension Scheme. It was a non-negotiable condition of service that we do so, as was the condition that we pay 6 per cent of our salary into it. There was no choice about joining the scheme, nor about the contributions. Nor were we allowed to join any other scheme instead. If I had refused to join the scheme, my contract of employment would have ended.
In exchange, I was promised the pension deal outlined by Unison. By the 1980s the Thatcher government decided that this was restrictive and all employees should have the choice of joining a private scheme, even to transfer their previous contributions to it. In common with most employees, I stayed where I was.
This meant I was still entitled to the pension deal outlined by Unison. I have kept my part of the deal, the deal which I had no choice but to accept, for over 30 years. It is insulting enough that the pension promise is being broken; that local government staff have been singled out in this way, when teachers and civil servants have not, makes it more so.
Sir: The argument put forward by the Tory-led Local Government Association that honouring local government pension conditions will lead to an increase in council tax is disingenuous. There is no correlation between the two; the hypothesis is simply being used to set public opinion against the workers.
Women make up three quarters of local government pension scheme membership; their average pension is £31 per week. These workers deliver essential services for very little financial gain. They deserve to be treated like their colleagues in the male-dominated areas of the public services. The civil service, uniform police service, fire service, NHS and teaching profession have all had their pension conditions preserved for existing members.
The government needs to honour the terms and conditions of these low paid, front-line workers. Any other course of action would be morally wrong and socially unjust.
M R O'KELLY
SOLIHULL, WEST MIDLANDS
The moral grounds for abortion
Sir: I was left a little puzzled by the article "What kind of society routinely aborts its girls?" (31 March). Can I take it that Joan Bakewell believes that the termination of pregnancy on the grounds of sex is discriminatory but termination on the grounds of handicap is different and not discriminatory?
Furthermore do I understand correctly that she believes it is morally permissible to terminate a perfectly normal foetus (which may be female) because the mother does not wish to be pregnant (for many understandable reasons) and that this is morally distinct from terminating a perfectly healthy female foetus because the mother does not wish to have a girl? If this is the case then the critical moral issue determining whether abortion should be permitted becomes the reason behind the mother's request for the abortion. I am interested to know what reasons a woman should be permitted to give? For example, is wishing to space your family morally superior to not wanting a girl, or is wanting to complete your university education unencumbered by a baby an ethically preferable request to choosing the sex of your child?
CONSULTANT OBSTETRICIAN AND GYNAECOLOGIST THE CHELSEA AND WESTMINSTER HOSPITAL, LONDON SW10
Sir: The damning report on the NHS's treatment of the elderly is a blow for Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. But the real blow for the over-50s happened two years ago when Hewitt was at the Department of Trade and Industry. There she succumbed to the pressure of the CBI and agreed to water down the Age Discrimination Legislation so at its passage in the Commons on 27 March, it all but excluded the over-65s from the protection of the legislation. The UK government also refused to extend the scope of the EC Directive beyond employment to goods and services, such as health care.
Sir: Regarding Dr David Oliver's thoughtful letter (29 March) "We need a revolution in thinking about care for older people" may I suggest that the first step would be to stop calling older people "core clients of NHS hospitals".
Sir: In his response to Johann Hari's article about rape, Derek Murray (letter, 31 March) uses a false analogy. If I take advantage of your open front door to make off with the stereo, you may be a fool, but I'd still be a burglar. Mr Murray's analogy would only hold true if the magistrate subsequently let me walk free because you were drunk when you neglected to lock up, thereby giving me to understand that you didn't mind.
Sir: Your report on the Deepcut inquiry (30 March) does not explain how at least three recruits were found to have taken their own lives within a "culture of intimidation" and "foul abuse" but were not found to have been "bullied to death". Has the inquiry found evidence to suggest that they committed suicide, within a relatively short time of one another, for some other reason? If not, why has it not concluded, on a balance of probabilities, that there was a causal connection between the bullying and their deaths?
Sir: Your correspondent's comparison of Norman Kember with an environmentalist standing in the middle of the M1 (28 March) is less apt that that of someone who patiently, if riskily, seeks to replant an ugly, volatile and dangerous tip with trees, flowers, shrubs and a new chance for the proliferation of natural life.
Sir: It's unfortunate that Philip Hensher was "bluejacked" on a recent train journey (29 March), but surely the remedy is simple - keep your phone switched off on public transport. If bluejacking deters people from using their phones on trains, it may not be an entirely bad thing.
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