Letters: The Mandela test

Terror laws: cross-party campaign fights for the Mandela test
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Far from being silent, as Alibhai-Brown implies, I am part of this coalition, which brings together the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Labour MPs, major trade unions, Liberty, lawyers, peace and environmental activists, virtually every major Muslim organisation in Britain, Sikhs, Christians and many others. It clearly shows that some of the Government's most contentious proposals simply will not command the consensus which the Government has said is essential for the legislation to be effective.

We support measures to tackle terrorist attacks, such as those on London on 7 July, but we oppose measures which would exclude or criminalise people who condemn such attacks and whose co-operation is indispensable to the work of the police. Any new laws must pass the Mandela test - under the Government's proposals Nelson Mandela would have been banned and anyone supporting him would be criminalised.

A public meeting, at which key members of the coalition will speak, is being held at Central Westminster Hall on 12 October to reinforce this message.



Sir: Human rights are not part of New Labour's philosophy. Just consider the attacks on fox-hunting, smoking, drinking, eating improperly, and political incorrectness in entertainment, to realise that freedom of choice is a thing of the past. State-imposed conduct is the order of the day. One can only sympathise with those who look vaguely Middle Eastern.



Mysterious U-turn on energy-saving

Sir: Will McNeill (letter, 3 October) may be naive if he thinks a "nuclear review" will enable government to compare new nuclear plants with carbon-saving alternatives. Moves have been taken which deliberately close off, for instance, opportunities to reduce energy consumption in our buildings - one of the options Mr McNeill favours.

Last year, the Government consulted on changes to the "conservation of fuel and power" part of the building regulations. Among the proposals was one to require all new conservatories to be built to the same energy-saving standards as the rest of the building - most such constructions are used most of the year. Another was that when a building is extended, and hence its demand for energy increases, improvements should be made to the original building so as to avoid extending its "carbon footprint".

Both proposals were well received in that consultation, by consumer groups as well as construction industry professionals. The Government carried out a regulatory impact assessment, which confirmed that the changes were very good value for money. All interested parties were kept au fait with progress by civil servants.

The Prime Minister promised the changes would be made in 2005, and it had been anticipated that technical details would be confirmed before the election. But no announcement came by May. New ministers took charge. Then the timetable became "before the summer recess". But again, nothing was decided. Such unprecedented delay was making it very difficult to begin training professionals on compliance.

Then last month, when Parliament was not sitting, and without any press conference or public discussion, very late one afternoon a set of Approved Documents for building regulations appeared on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Buried in the small print was the statement that energy standards for new conservatories would not apply to any under 30 square metres in size - practically every conservatory. Only extensions to buildings over 1,000 square metres in size would trigger any "consequential works" upon the original construction: find me a home above that size!

Such last-minute volte-faces undermine confidence that government is really interested in the most cost-effective routes to energy, and carbon, savings. Parliament has still to approve these changes. It could demand an explanation from the Deputy Prime Minister. Let us hope that our legislators take up this challenge.



Sir: To Marilyn Warburton (letters, 6 October) I say: ask not "has global warming affected the older generation" but rather "has it has affected the younger generation?"

In the 1960s, at the age of 13, I first sported a "stop pollution" T-shirt and since then have become increasingly aware and active about environmental issues. When my eldest child reached his teens I expected him and his peers to be full of the righteous indignation over the unfairness of life and have a desire to put the world to rights, all of which I thought was part of growing up and becoming aware of the big outside world.

Not much sign of it. I know there are young activists out there, but most of today's young people, whatever their background, are not only uninterested in politics but seem only concerned about self-gratification and getting their hands on the latest gadgets. There's a varying degree of regret over exploitation of human and environmental resources but not enough to to necessitate self-denial. No wonder the older generation are having to keep on protesting.



Sir: I see yet another article about Americans' extravagance with non-renewable resources, focusing yet again on their preference for gas-guzzling cars ("America's U-turn", 8 October).

I agree that this is terrible, but when I think of this problem I can't put out of my mind the fact that many Californians are prohibited by condominium regulations from using drying lines; and that most of the frequently-laundered clothes worn in that warm and benign climate are dried quite unnecessarily by electricity. They have indeed a long way to go in coming to terms with a world of energy shortages.



Flu pandemics from the sky

Sir: The epidemiology of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic that caused over 20 million deaths leaves many puzzles unsolved. It is said to have been "detected in Boston and Bombay on the same day, but took three weeks before it reached New York City, despite the fact that there was considerable travel between the two cities".

Such authoritative statements by Dr Louis Weinstein among others prompted the late Sir Fred Hoyle and myself to suggest in 1979 that an infective component of the virus came through the atmosphere, settling at ground level in a capricious manner. In such a scheme high-flying birds that sample large volumes of air would naturally present themselves as a first reservoir of a new strain of the virus, with humans becoming vulnerable at a later stage.

Fred Hoyle would have revelled at the recently reported discovery that the strain of flu reconstructed from victims of the 1918-1919 pandemic was exclusively avian, not a hybrid of an animal and a human flu virus. The sobering thought is that the next pandemic strain of "bird flu" virus could fall from the skies.



Christian extremism is a global threat

Sir: I commend The Independent for publishing Paul Vallely's incisive comment about the religious forces which shape the world through the White House ("Whether God speaks to him or not, Bush's religious fanaticism has shaped our world", 8 October). Many Muslims have tried to raise awareness of Christian fundamentalism and its doctrine of Armageddon, but these claims have thus far been derided as conspiracy theories. When the truth comes from the horse's mouth - as it were - it seems to carry a more sinister reality.

It is now for the people to decide whether they accept such extremist religious ideas permeating through the model "democratic" state and leading to catastrophe across the globe.



Sir: The West helped Saddam Hussein develop chemical and biological weapons during Iraq's 1980-88 war with Iran, but then made the mistake of using WMDs as a pretext for occupying Iraq after they were long gone.

Now we are supposed to be indignant that Iran may be assisting a Shia insurrection against Western troops in Iraq. Oh, how things come back to haunt the self-righteous in such awfully unjust ways!



Poor pay blights the nation's skills

Sir: James England's letter (7 October) comparing the training and low pay of teachers with gas fitters misses an important point. There is a belief amongst many that university students are able to pay back their tuition fees from high salaries received once qualified.

The starting salary for architects is similar to that of teachers but at the end of seven years' study (postgraduate degree level plus two years' "practical training"), not four. A number of architects of my acquaintance have even left the profession to become teachers because of the better pay and conditions!

There is little incentive for the most able students to enter many professions. Some architects' practices are having to recruit from Europe and beyond since there are more vacancies than there are suitable applicants. Decimating our nation's skills base is, I suggest, not a very good long-term policy for Britain plc.



Home rule for England

Sir: Simon Cowley (letter, 4 October) thinks it unfair that England is the only part of the UK without devolved government. But England has never wanted devolution and until recently seemed unable even to differentiate between England and Britain.

If England now wants devolved government it would be a lot easier to achieve than it was for Scotland. In Scotland we had to wait for England to vote out the Tory government. A federal Britain would solve a lot of problems such as the West Lothian question, but devolution would not itself get rid of student fees and foundation hospitals. For that you would need an English government with the full gear box.



The 'common' way to eat a sandwich

Sir: Will you inform Sholto Byrnes, who wonders why he was was reproved by a prep school master for eating a sandwich with both hands (btw, 8 October), that this method of eating is "common"?

As a working-class lass from an upwardly mobile household in the Sixties, I was given a list of what was "common". Forbidden were such things as wearing white shoes, especially with dark stockings, going to the chip shop with a basin,and pegging one's washing out on Sunday. Smalls were not to be hung out at all if there were men about, and one certainly did not peg up underwear by the gusset.

I am sure there were lots more restrictions designed to keep one's origins quiet.



Ban on smoking

Sir: At last: a move towards pubs having a room just for smoking, leaving cleaner air for the rest of us (report, 10 October). Can we please extend that to a general principle of no smoking in public. That means everywhere, town and countryside, to be free of smoke and smokers' mess. The place for smoking is between consenting adults in private.



Muzzling of the BBC

Sir: The BBC broadcast a report which implied that the Government was exaggerating the case for war in Iraq. This accurate criticism shockingly led to the enforced resignation of the director general and chairman rather than that of a prime minister who misled Parliament and country. I wonder why Andreas Whittam Smith (Opinion, 10 October) finds the muzzling of the BBC "implausible". That the corporation is "deliberately avoiding giving offence to the Government and the establishment" is not "hearsay". It is apparent to anyone who observes its journalists neglecting to ask the difficult questions daily.



Sir: More than any other journalist, John Humphrys embodies the independence of the BBC. Throughout the later Thatcher years, when Labour was unable to provide any serious opposition, Humphrys alone took Tory ministers to task, just as now he calls New Labour ministers to account. In this he does the country a unique service, exposing claptrap as effectively now as he did 18 years ago. Only those ministers could object to his trenchant questions who have inconsistency, inadequacy or incompetence to hide.



No inheritance

Sir: The story by Ian Herbert, headed "Widow in family rift 'cleared' by inquest" (6 October) , seems to indicate that I had expectations of an inheritance from my father's will. I can state that I have never had such expectations, from any of his many wills. I was and am content with that.



Votes for prisoners

Sir: Alan Pavelin (Letters, 10 October) believes that all who are subject to the laws of the land should have a say in what the laws should be. By this logic the vote should be extended to all children old enough to be prosecuted and to foreigners visiting Britain during a general election. Furthermore, if denying prisoners the vote is an infringement of their human rights, as others have argued, then all prisoners should be freed, as liberty is an even more basic human right than voting.



Boots the stationer

Sir: Martin Tither berates his local Boots for describing writing materials as "stationary" (letter, 10 October). Ah, but perhaps the materials in question aren't selling very well, or, to put that thought in marketeer-ese, not moving.