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Monday 25 June 2012
Letters: Tax avoidance
To beat tax avoiders, privatise laws
Tax is indeed a legal, not a moral obligation (letters, 22 June). Both as a HR director in a City financial institution and now as a retiree, I have long searched for the flaws in tax legislation to minimise my and my colleagues' tax obligations.
Then and now, I have employed accountants to assist me and I believe the civil servants who draft tax legislation are less competent in their work than the staff of the principal accountancy firms who regularly identify flaws for the benefit of Jimmy Carr, Take That! and many others.
The Government should outsource the drafting of the legislation to those accountancy firms, with the proviso that should anyone subsequently discover an avoidance loophole, their lucrative source of government income would be withdrawn immediately.
Matthew Norman's (somewhat contorted) article (20 June) on Jimmy Carr's tax affairs is wrong to refer to Carr as a hypocrite. Ironically, his tax avoidance argues the opposite.
I saw Carr at Brixton Comedy Club some years ago. I thought he was dismal and reactionary and I haven't seen or heard anything since to cause me to revise that judgement.
Crass, right-wing comedy is everywhere, but whether or not comedy corresponds to the private convictions of the comedian is a red herring.
Those comedians who appear to draw on their own political views in their acts, such as Stewart Lee or your columnist Mark Steel, are surely a minority.
The Laffer curve shows that as tax rates are raised above a certain level, the total tax take is reduced. Jimmy Carr has shown how this works in practice. When Carr decided he was paying too much tax, he didn't just take steps to reduce it to what he might have considered a reasonable level, he tried to get it as near zero as he could.
He and numerous other wealthy individuals in effect remove themselves completely from the tax system and no longer contribute to the public purse.
The political debate has been focused on whether the top rate should be 45 or 50 per cent. It might be easier to persuade the wealthy to pay their taxes if they were being asked to pay the same proportion as everyone else. Most of us don't know what it's like to hand over a million pounds to the tax man every year. The evidence suggests we would all try to reduce it if we could.
Cameron blames the jobless, not his own policies
Does David Cameron have any proof that the under-25s he is going to strip of housing benefits are "feckless" or from "feckless families"? Did he, a multi-millionaire, claim Disability Living Allowance for his son? Wouldn't that be feckless? Or what about when he "asked" the taxpayer to fund the utility bills for his family? Does that count? Or is it always those other people on benefits?
Mr Cameron says he is entering into a tough love programme for the under-25s to reward those who do the right thing: stay with their parents before getting married and having children. Thus, council houses will no longer go to the "feckless" because they will have no housing benefits, but to the righteous, married couples. Listening to Mr Cameron sometimes is like being trapped in the moralistic 1950s.
What proof does Mr Cameron have that all 350,000 under-25s claiming housing benefit are parents? What proof does he have that those who do have children live in council houses, especially when there is a severe social housing/affordable housing crisis? How will freeing private rented accommodation assist engaged couples?
What about the youngsters whose parents have thrown them out, those in care who are forced to leave at 16; those who have been abused or those who lose their jobs and are forced to claim housing benefit because they can no longer afford private rent? What about those in low-paid work, but who claim housing benefit? Are they also to be made homeless? Does Mr Cameron think anything through?
Just like Thatcher, Cameron puts the blame for unemployment on the jobless rather than his own policies. The difference this time is that Mr Cameron uses 21st-century self-help-speak to justify his actions. "It's a kindness, you know".
If David Cameron is so set against a "something for nothing" culture, surely it follows that he is against inherited wealth. What did he have to do to be born into a family rich enough to enable him to enjoy the privileges he has been able to take advantage of all his life?
Bishops not paid to attend Lords
Your article (21 June) about the amounts claimed as reimbursement by bishops for their work in the House of Lords points to no wrongdoing but manages to be misleading.
Like other members, bishops are not "paid" to attend the House (as your headline suggests), but are reimbursed for the cost of travel, overnight accommodation and subsistence in connection with their parliamentary duties. Some bishops attend more frequently than others because they serve on committees or hold policy portfolios that require their regular and frequent presence.
Most bishops do not live in London, or within easily commute. Unlike members in both Houses, bishops do not maintain or rent second houses at taxpayers' expense in order to attend parliament. Their primary residence is provided by the Church of England as the working base for the bishop and his staff and no taxpayers' money is involved in their upkeep.
Statistics show that, collectively, the bishops claim far less on average than peers and, as your report concedes, often claim back lower than the amounts allowable under the rules agreed by Parliament.
By all means let us also have a debate about the place of bishops in a reformed House. I would welcome that because we have much that is positive to say about what the Lords Spiritual bring to the life and work of our parliament.
But that debate needs to be about our constitutional arrangements and the place of faith in public life, not one that starts on the basis that you should throw enough mud in the hope that some of it might stick.
The right Revd Tim Stevens
Bishop of Leicester
Convenor of the Lords Spiritual
Pesticide and bee losses
The NFU works on the basis of risk and evidence rather than assumption. For this reason, we remain unsupportive of any knee-jerk proposals for a precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoids such as the move taken by the French Ministry of Agriculture ("Pesticide that kills bees 'must be banned'", 7 June).
A report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has identified gaps in knowledge and made recommendations to improve the risk assessment. It does not in any way provide support for precautionary bans on the use of certain pesticides.
The EFSA does not provide any more evidence of links between bee losses and pesticides; the reasons behind bee population declines remain complex and the causes are still not fully understood. Leading scientists and experts across the world agree that the losses are most likely caused by a combination of factors, among them pests and diseases, particularly the parasitic mite, varroa.
The product, Cruiser OSR, is part of an industry-wide good stewardship campaign which covers handling of the product and disposal of the seed to reduce any potential issues with dusts, a possible concern to bee health.
Dr Andrea Graham
Chief science adviser, National Farmers' Union, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire
Two alternatives to Heathrow
Squeezing more aircraft into a huge airport which is already operating at 99 per cent of capacity is just about as nonsensical as building another airport in the Thames estuary (report, 23 June). There are two existing, international-size runways within easy access.
First, RAF Lyneham, recently closed, is a one-hour drive from Heathrow, one mile from a railway line which goes to Paddington and within a mile and a half of the M5. The approach path and climb-out are over rural areas, not city.
Then there is Bristol Filton, one of the largest runways in Europe, an hour and a half drive from London. There is a major railway line which passes within 200m of the runway and which also goes to, guess where, Paddington.
The airfield is adjacent to the M4/M5 interchange. The climb-out is over the sea. There is urban development on the approach but that would not be as terrible as the plight presently suffered by Londoners.
Let's hope that the Government does not repeat their error in digging up another of the longest runways in Europe which was even closer to London: Greenham Common.
Most discussion of selection in education seems to be an attempt to cope with the fundamental unfairness of life. In fact, being among the brighter portion of the population is a lucky biological accident, as much an unearned privilege as having wealthy parents who can send you to Eton. You could even argue that the unfairness of private education is a perfectly legitimate piece of social engineering. The most important part of selection goes on in the womb. All we're arguing about is the least painful, least socially divisive moment when the less fortunate have to bite the bullet.
When Mr Halfpenny wrote to say that the abolition of the shilling made learning 12 times tables irrelevant (letter, 16 June), the subtext was surely that, until then, primary pupils should have been learning their tables up to 24. I am just pleased that there was no Mr Farthing involved in setting the primary school maths curriculum when I was a kid.
Bucklebury, West Berkshire
Ralph Miliband was Belgium-born from Jewish-Polish parents. In 1940, he fled to England to escape Nazi persecution and become a leading Marxist thinker and academic. Now his son, Ed, leader of the Labour Party, is apparently attacking immigrants and pandering to racists. Shameful.
Bang to rights
NatWest bank customers are apparently going to be even more upset. The bank, on its website, has misused the word "impact", thinking it can replace the word "affect". This means only that these people have been forcefully driven together. I hope NatWest staff are more competent at IT problem-solving than they are at English.
Very interesting article about the England football manager (23 June). What immediately caught my eye was his date of birth. I too was born in 1947, so we are the same age, give or take a couple of months. Later in the article, his age is quoted as 67. Strange that; I'm only 64.
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