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Thursday 1 November 2007
Letters: The West Lothian Question
The West Lothian Question provokes an ironic answer
Sir: It is ironic that Harriet Harman has accused the Tories of threatening to destabilise the Union with their proposal for an English Grand Committee to provide "English votes on English laws". Does she not realise her own party has done far more to jeopardise the Union with its botched partial devolution that gave rise to the West Lothian Question in the first place?
It is even more ironic that the most sensible response from any major politician to this recent Tory proposal for England's governance has come from Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, who suggested that there should be a fully fledged English parliament parallel to that of Scotland.
Indeed, if the Union is worth saving at all then its best prospect for long-term survival is likely to be in the form of a federal UK with a devolved English government alongside those of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and with the British Government restricted to dealing with UK-wide matters. How long is it going to take for the supposedly Unionist Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties to wake up and realise this?
Sir: Malcolm Rifkind's revival of the West Lothian question may seem "opportunistic" to Professor Simpson (letter, 30 October), but it does ultimately require an answer.
Parliamentary democracy depends on the idea that MPs are accountable to their constituents on matters which concern those who elect them. Create a system where some MPs are returned by citizens whose lives are entirely unaffected by how their representative votes on, say, health or education or hunting, and you have, essentially, a form of arbitrary government.
Sir: Rifkind's notion of a committee to govern England is ludicrous. And the Speaker will decide? What spineless chumps our English MPs must be even to consider such a measure. No,the only just and fair way to redress the democratic imbalance is to have an English Parliament for the nation of England and a Federal Parliament for the "United" Kingdom. Frank Field is right, but who else speaks for England in the Commons?
Saudi breeding ground for terror
Sir: The Saudi Arabia Dr Aaber Salim (letter, 30 October) describes – reformed or otherwise – is the society that has been conveyor-belting suicide bombers to Iraq for the past three years.
The poisonous Wahhabi doctrine, propelled by petro-dollars, has infected dispossessed Muslim youth the world over. Afghanistan and Pakistan have become the playground of suicide bombers and their handlers.
The sons of Saud had it in their power to put their money into educating Muslims the world over in modern sciences and arts for the benefit of humanity. Instead they chose to squander it in setting up madrassas for the propagation of the Wahhabi creed among the poor and ignorant, on pleasure palaces for themselves and military hardware.
M A Qavi
Sir: Robert Springborg (letter, 31 October) complains that The Independent's condemnation of the Saudi king constitutes ungracious treatment of a guest; and he likens this to the insulting reception given to Iran's President Ahmadinejad by the President of Columbia University.
The two cases are completely different. The President of Columbia had invited President Ahmadinejad to speak, and should have behaved like a gracious host, instead of toadying to local opinion. The Independent did not invite King Abdullah to the UK, and was under no obligation of hospitality, as the Government was. The Independent would have been remiss in its first obligation, to truth, if it did not give an accurate portrayal of this tyrant.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Sir: As an Englishman who lived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over two decades, circulating on all levels of society and living among the local population (not in a western compound), I was appalled to read your commentary of 29 October.
Women in the Kingdom are protected but not confined. I have known Saudi women in all the professions except accountancy. Trade unions are obviated because the Ministry of Labour arbitrates all labour disputes and I have heard no valid complaints from any of the Saudi people. King Abdullah is particularly loved by his subjects for reducing inflation and subsidising utilities.
You quote claims made by Mr Sandy Mitchell. Among friends during my residence in the Kingdom were many western diplomats, some of whose responsibility it was to visit their nationals in prison. Without exception, those prisoners complained about nothing more than not liking the food, even when interviewed without supervision.
Whilst it is true that capital punishment is by public beheading, it is not true that it is without adequate safeguards, because no one can be convicted of a capital crime solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Furthermore, it is not done in a cruel way. I have witnessed beheadings and can assure you that it is so swift, with such expert wielding of a razor-sharp blade, that the deed is accomplished in a fraction of a second.
Only the ignorant would allege lack of religious freedom in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. All foreigners are allowed to practise their religions in private. The absence of churches is simply because all Saudis are Muslims.
The repeated use of the term dictatorship is particularly unjust because every citizen has the right of audience with the king with less formality and delay than the average citizen of a western democracy has to endure to see his member of parliament. As the late King Faisal once said: "What can be more democratic than a citizen having free access to his sovereign?"
N F Parker
Sir: In deference to a foreign despot Gordon Brown dons white tie and tails, a British tradition he has previously steadfastly refused to acknowledge when dining in the City of London, as a matter of principle. What does this tell us about our Prime Minister's priorities?
Lower Quinton, Warwickshire
Scandalous waste of cheap food
Sir: Philip Hensher is right to speak out about the scandalous waste of food in many British households (Opinion 30 October). However, we are not all like that.
I had roast chicken last weekend. I made the stuffing from old bread, rosemary and thyme from the garden. I put the peelings and unwanted leaves in the wormery, where the worms are now turning them into plantfood.
I had some more chicken the next day and some for sandwiches. I then turned the rest of the meat into chicken and mushroom pie, some of which is in my freezer for the future. I boiled the remains for stock. One day I will get a Green Cone, which will digest the remains of the carcass in the garden, without attracting rats or foxes.
None of this takes as long to do as many readers may think. It simply requires a little organisation. I could have got five main meals and sandwiches by buying five sets of frozen meals and some sandwiches. However, doing this and warming them up would have taken longer than many people realise. They would also have had loads of cardboard and plastic packaging around them.
Sir: With the usual sound of banging stable doors, after the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, Defra forbade the use of waste food for feeding to pigs. Traditionally ,of course, the cottager's pig had been fed in this way (and then recycled completely except for its squeak) and commercial herds had been supplied by army canteens and the like.
Not now. If I feed so much as a stale crust or a faded cabbage leaf from my kitchen to my pigs I am liable to be thrown in jail for two years. So into landfill, or maybe in some enlightened circles into compost, waste food must go – and there always will be some waste.
Of course the animal feed manufacturers have benefited hugely from this diktat. The organic pig nuts I buy have soared in price and are likely to go on doing so as the price of grain rises irrevocably. I think the public will soon begin to notice that cheap bacon butties and Philip Hensher's £3 chicken are things of the past. Which is probably good, but doesn't solve the landfill problem unless councils are able to set up composting facilities for all biological waste.
P A Reid
Sir: Philip Hensher is not the only one who does not want to see chickens in supermarkets at "under £3 a pop". The farmer who produces the chicken (assuming it is British) has been struggling to satisfy the ever-increasing demands of the retailers to sell food at low prices to the point now where it is becoming impossible to make any sort of profit.
This has been an ongoing trend for all food production. During the last 20 years food has become 20 per cent cheaper in real terms. Sixty years ago, the average British family spent more than one third of its income on food; this has now dropped to one tenth.
I am not suggesting that we go back in time, but the pressure on prices has got to end. Retailers have to recognise that if they want to satisfy the consumers' desire to "buy British" (and, to be fair, some do) they will have to sell chickens at a sustainable price.
Poultry Board chairman, National Farmers' UnionStoneleigh, Warwickshire
Two newspapers on a shared platform
Sir: Just because you keep repeating something doesn't make it true. Stephen Glover's "tale of Shakespearian jealousy" – essentially the same piece re-hashed twice now (25 and 29 October) – is a fantastical mishmash of gossip and wishful thinking.
Since GMG bought The Observer in 1993 and saved it from a merger with The Independent on Sunday, more than £150m has been invested in supporting and developing The Observer.
What is being proposed now, in terms of collaboration between The Guardian, The Observer and the joint website, goes no further than what has already occurred at the Independent titles and what is currently being put in place at the Telegraph titles – not to mention media groups around the world.
According to Donald Trelford, editor of The Observer for 18 years, it is precisely what he thought should have happened to The Observer when The Guardian bought it in 1993.
It is childish to imagine that such major restructuring – examined and approved by two boards and the Scott Trust – would have been entered into on the basis of jealousy over rival circulation figures (which Mr Glover, in any case, misrepresents).
The Observer's long-term print future is assured – with a separate identity and voice. The new arrangements will secure its digital future on a shared platform, with access to a larger journalistic resource through more efficient news-gathering.
At the same time as achieving success in print (we are happy to compare full-price sales with all our rivals over the past three years) The Guardian has achieved dominance as Britain's leading newspaper on the web, with 16.7 million unique users in September, up 28.7 per cent on the previous year. An inconvenient truth, perhaps?
Chief Executive, Guardian Media Group, London EC1
Public art with brilliant humour
Sir: The decision to keep the mural in Bristol took the 97 per cent of us who voted in favour about half a second (Picture Post, 31 October). Intuitively, we recognised that good quality public art adds immeasurably to a city and can draw visitors from all over the world.
Banksy brilliantly subverts and transforms drab ugliness with life-enhancing humour and I wonder how much money is spent around the world trying to manufacture the kind of feel-good factor he is giving for free? Which bit of that do Tower Hamlets councillors not understand? Does this obvious disdain for their built environment extend to other aspects of their decision-making?
Turn over an old leaf
Sir: In his defence, Arnold Schwarzenegger (report, 29 October) says of marijuana, "It's not a drug, it's a leaf", as if to suggest that it couldn't be both. We might respond in the same way by paraphrasing Monty Python's Life of Brian: "He's not the Governor of California, he's a very naughty boy."
Time for a vote
Sir: Another topic that is very suitable for a referendum (letter, 31 October) is the crying need for a dignified exit for the failing elderly. High time that responsible adults were actively encouraged to make advance plans, in which voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide were available as positive alternatives to years of senile decrepitude in costly, undignified long-term "care".
Health and safety myth
Sir: Alexei Sayle (Motoring, 30 October) condemns the proliferation of onerous health and safety legislation. This is one of the great modern myths. In fact, the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act abolished the highly prescriptive Factories Acts, and gave employers the freedom to run their businesses without burdensome safety legislation. All that they were required to do was to assess risks and control them as far as was "reasonable and practicable". However, everyone and their insurers panicked at the thought of being sued, and tied themselves up in cocoons of cotton wool.
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Sir: A low blow by Simon Usborne, who accuses grannies of over-boiling their vegetables ("Are you getting enough?", 30 October). I don't, nor do my friends and acquaintances, who are mainly rather health-conscious and have been meekly eating their greens for years without making a song and dance about it (and we don't put bicarb in them either, before you ask).
Sir: So Stevenage council is planning to name a street in honour of our new Formula One hero. Suitable options include "Lewis Hamilton Drive" and "Lewis Hamilton Close (but no cigar)".
St Albans, Hertfordshire
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