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Friday 22 May 2009
Letters: The oldest mother in Britain
Why a 66-year-old is wrong to become pregnant
Janet Street-Porter (20 May), discussing the case of a 66-year-old woman who is set to become the oldest mother in Britain, argues that it is hypocrisy to discriminate between men and women who choose to become parents very late in life. For adoptive parenting there is no legitimate basis for different treatment of men and women. There is, however, a crucial distinction between older male and female biological parents.
Reports suggest that the child is a product of in-vitro fertilisation using a donor egg and sperm, which would eliminate age-related genetic risk. It is still the case that the mother is the developing child's life-support system for the 40 weeks of a normal pregnancy. A pregnant 18-year old will have better circulation and better liver, lung, kidney and digestive function than an older woman; a 66-year old woman is less biologically fitted to support a foetus through pregnancy than a young woman.
There are strong ethical arguments against people becoming parents at an advanced age – these apply equally to men and women. No amount of feminist rhetoric, or appeals to equality, can hide the fact that there are compelling biological reasons why it is profoundly undesirable for an elderly woman to become pregnant. These biological reasons explain why no infertility unit in the UK would assist an elderly woman to become pregnant; it is to be regretted that any medical professional, anywhere, was willing to ignore the interests of the child to satisfy the desire of this woman to become pregnant.
After the Speaker, who is next to go?
The resignation of the Speaker is only the first step. Setting up an independent external body to control MPs' salaries, expenses and pensions is only a second step. Confidence will only start to return if all those MPs whose expenses cannot be shown to have been solely essential for the proper performance of their parliamentary duties have also resigned.
There is no longer any credence for the excuses of abiding by the rules, repaying expenses or saying sorry. Unless they resign or are forced out then the electorate will take their revenge. MPs are our servants, and must answer to their masters.
Mr Brown and Ms Harman are predictably attempting to reframe the problems of parliamentary behaviour and rules in class terms by reference to parliament as a "gentleman's club". The demise surely has more to do with the creation of "sofa government", the disrespect shown to Parliament by the Government since 1997 – all in all the inability of the new Labour regime to behave in any way approaching the qualities and values of a "gentleman".
The disgrace of expenses is small beer when held alongside the governmental dishonesty, manipulation and bullying over the Iraq war. This will be its true legacy in terms of the corruption of the democratic process.
The treatment of the Speaker was shabby and distasteful. Here is a man who has given 30 years' service to Parliament; he never had the educational opportunities of many of morally bankrupt fellow MPs. He defended MPs out of loyalty and because he did not know any better, and Parliament made him a scapegoat.
We must have an election as soon as possible.
Some people seem concerned that the Speaker of the House has been made a scapegoat over the expenses scandal. I don't agree. Martin was firmly against expenses reform, going way back to his own mini-scandal around taxi expenses and shopping trips.
When asked about bringing the police in to investigate what looks like tax avoidance and/or fraud he launched an aggressive and completely inappropriate personal attack on the woman concerned, proving himself to be a barrier to overhauling the expenses system. He had to go.
Martin only becomes a scapegoat if his is the only head to roll. As long as the police do their job and investigate and prosecute those who have broken the law (regardless of whether they have cheerily waved a large cheque in our faces and muttered an apology) he will simply be one member of the political elite being held to account.
In the wake of the expenses crisis, David Cameron is touting for an early election and the Lib Dems want a complete reorganisation of government including, of course, proportional representation. Not since the early Hollywood movies have so many attempted to jump off a decelerating gravy train onto an accelerating band wagon.
St Breward, Cornwall
You wrote in an article on MPs' expenses (20 May) that I had spent £286 on Christmas decorations, implying that this was public money. That is not correct.
I paid for Christmas decorations and a claim back was made in error and properly declined. It is important, I think, in the current heated situation, to emphasise what public money has been spent and not what has not been spent by MPs, and to add balance to your article.
Further, you suggested that my constituency party had scheduled a meeting, on Friday, "so the MP could explain herself". In fact, Friday's meeting is the regular monthly one, and most of my members are aware that I can't be there because I am flying to Italy in an attempt to help save Redcar steelworks.
Vera Baird MP (Redcar, Lab)
House of Commons
During the latest revelations, what seems to have been largely unreported is that, alongside "mortgages, moats and manure", some MPs also claim salaries, from the public purse for family members they employ in their offices.
Were these positions advertised? If so, where? Were the jobs open to anyone with the necessary qualifications? Or was the overriding criterion that the successful applicant had to be related to the employer? Have any UK or European employment laws been broken or circumvented?
Newsnight recently had three prospective parliamentary candidates commenting on the MPs' expenses debacle. All three were determined to clear up the system when they were elected. So far, so predictable.
What struck me was that the Tory was a black community worker, wore a casual open-necked shirt and seemed to have radical tendencies; the young Labour woman seemed like she was trying to be a late aspirant to work for Sir Alan Sugar and didn't want to change things too much anyway; and the Lib Dem was immaculately dressed in a suit and seemed to speak in logical sentences.
In this rapidly changing world even my comfortable stereotypes are being rocked – or is it all just image?
Is the retirement of a 71-year-old MP (Sir Peter Viggers) enough punishment?
It is a well-known fact, when any misdemeanour occurs, that women must be a primary factor. Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 18 May) demonstrates this with ease in the case of MPs' expenses. He does leave his readers in a quandary though. Since "old-fashioned wives" are a disappearing species and "today's girls are more demanding" – why, some are MPs themselves – what are good men to do?
Professor Gabrielle Parker
Now that we have been made aware of the many necessary expenditures that our MPs must incur in order to properly run this country, I trust that those people over 80 years old who are disgruntled at their 25p a week age allowance will now be more appreciative of this nation's priorities.
MI5 blackmail is no surprise
The "revelation" that MI5 have attempted to blackmail Muslim community workers into becoming informants is very unpleasant ( 21 May). However, I'm not sure it qualifies as a revelation.
Are we to believe that the security services normally achieve their ends by writing tactful letters and appealing to one's sense of decency? The security services, by definition, use methods which would otherwise be illegal or immoral.
The fact that Muslim community workers are being targeted like this is a symptom of the Home Office's illiberal and counter-productive attitude towards the Muslim community, and this "revelation" is not in the least bit surprising.
US must reclaim the high ground
You say that President Obama is right to oppose the release of photos that depict American military personnel abusing captives in Abu Ghraib (leading article, 15 May). He is not. Nor was he right to shield from criminal prosecution CIA officers involved in "enhanced interrogation techniques".
The United States will not reclaim the moral high ground in the fight against terrorism unless it breaks with the terrible abuses of the recent past. Those responsible for such abuses must be punished. The full details of their crimes must be exposed. Otherwise, the United States will fail to admit guilt for what happened and its denouncement of torture under the Obama administration will be proved empty rhetoric.
Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos
Lecturer in Law, Brunel Law School (London)
Immigrants into the RAF
Your correspondents have missed a further irony in the BNP's use of a Spitfire in election leaflets. A close inspection of this picture reveals that this Spitfire is a Mark Vb, a version developed too late to serve in the Battle of Britain.
Further examination reveals the insignia of the Polish Air Force on its engine cowling. The letters RF indicate RAF No 303 Squadron, a Polish squadron which fought with great distinction. This particular aircraft is RF-D EN951, flown by Squadron Leader Jan Zumbach, a Swiss who enlisted in the Polish Air Force, and fought both in France and in the Battle of Britain, ending the war with 13 "kills" to his credit.
Gurkhas took the job
What is all this about Gurkhas? They took on a job which had certain terms attached as to pay and perks. If residency in the UK was not one of these conditions, why is it to be retrospectively granted? Perhaps those pensioners who have decided to live in Europe should have their pensions increased to compensate for the fall in sterling.
Briton in space
Major Tim Peake may indeed become the first UK astronaut to fly into space (report, 21 May), but the first UK citizen to undertake astronaut training was my erstwhile boss, (then) RAF Squadron Leader Nigel Wood. Between 1984 and 1986 he trained in the United States as payload specialist for the STS-61-H space shuttle Columbia mission planned to fly in June 1986 to deploy a number of communications satellites including the UK Skynet. The mission, and Nigel Wood's involvement in the astronaut programme, was cancelled in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster.
Secret of the past
If the recently unveiled fossil, Ida, does indeed turn out to be as significant to our understanding of human history as it is being suggested (The Big Question, 21 May), then what does that say about the morals of its previous owner, if he knew that his discovery had the potential to be hugely significant, but kept it from the scientific community for 26 years.
Lisburn, Northern Ireland
Obstacle to peace
Reading your list of obstacles to Middle East peace, ("Israel goes cold on plan for regional peace deal", 20 May), I saw no mention of the main obstacle to a solution to the conflict: namely, the barrage of rockets and mortars fired upon Israeli towns and villages over the last eight years. How can the Israelis negotiate with an enemy, who subordinates every ambition of its own people to the destruction of the State of Israel?
"A Hollywood movie can often teach me as much about life as Shakespeare or an art-house film." Discuss? What a stupendous exam question Veronica Lee's assertion (Opinion, 21 May) would make.
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