Letters: Time for a change in drugs policy

'The Wire' comes to the English seaside
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The Independent Online

I was sitting outside a pub with my wife last Friday enjoying the evening sun when a car pulled up at the adjacent traffic lights, the window opens and a voice erupts with "I've got it ." Next thing we know, a guy jumps up from the next table, runs to the car and is handed a sizeable bag of white powder. The dealer gives me a quick glance but makes no attempt to conceal the bag; he's quite happy to hand it over in broad daylight in front of a small audience.

From then on, there's a mass of activity as the guy in receipt of the powder disappears to the toilet and then heads for the pub opposite. I remark to my wife that the scene we've just witnessed is straight from The Wire except we are not in Baltimore; this is Swanage, a beautiful family orientated seaside town in Dorset.

What strikes me next is how unethical and short- sighted it is that the supply of drugs is not controlled and taxed by a government agency in the same way as alcohol. If there is such a blatant disregard for the law that dealers are operating openly in broad daylight in a sleepy seaside resort, then the current system of law-enforcement is clearly ineffective and time-expired.

Surely if the supply of narcotics was brought "overground", the Government could tax it in the same way that it taxes alcohol and the revenue could be used for much-needed drug education and rehabilitation. I doubt very much that anyone in authority will seriously consider such a radical common-sense approach but, believe me, after what we witnessed last week, its time for a change.

Trevor Hards


What the NHS has to teach America

I was appalled at Katie Brickell's advocacy of the private healthcare system operating in America (report, 14 August).

When she states "I would say to anybody in my situation now that if they had the money, they should go private," does she not realise that millions of poor Americans do not have the money? More to the point, they do not have access to NHS-type care either. So what does Katie suggest for these millions of people unable to access any healthcare at all in America?

Janice Jowett

Ormskirk, Lancashire

President Obama wants to introduce healthcare reform. To me, used to receiving treatment free at the point of delivery, but not for free, it seems strange that people can favour a system that only the better off can afford.

A recent message from a former colleague who moved to New York was an eye-opener. She wrote that not having public healthcare meant "you see people walking about the streets who couldn't afford to fix simple things like a broken leg. Way too many people have tales of life-long debt from an illness that they can't afford. It's between $400 and $500 a month to get the cheapest healthcare insurance, and you still have to pay for charges on top of that."

It may have its faults, but I'm grateful for the NHS.

Clive Goozee


I expect NHS staff all over the country are waiting with gleeful anticipation for the day when Daniel Hannan pitches up in their A&E department.

Linda Rifaat

Maidstone, Kent

I very much support the NHS and what it represents, but I thought your readers would be interested to know about the latest "efficiency" that has been introduced.

My GP referred me to Charing Cross Hospital ophthalmology department for a check on my eyes. I received an appointment letter for a date I cannot make. This letter quotes the Choose and Book Appointment Service if I need to change the date or time.

I was asked by the Choose and Book Appointment individual on the telephone for my unique booking reference number, which I gave; and the hospital number, which I also gave. I was then asked for my password. I said I did not have one and did not understand what she meant. She informed me that my GP would have given this to me, when making the referral. I replied that my GP made the arrangement with me over the telephone and never mentioned a password.

So I contacted my GP. She is not there, neither is any of her staff (this is 4pm on a weekday). Getting desperate by this stage, I contacted the ophthalmology department at Charing Cross Hospital direct. This department confirmed my original appointment date. They informed me that I had to contact the Choose and Book Service to change the appointment date and would have to give them my password, as they cannot change it themselves.

Is this another example of the use of computer systems by the NHS to improve its efficient delivery of service?

Terence Thorn

London W4

Simple checks for volunteers

In response to Mary Wakefield's comment article, "I want to help but I'm not allowed to" (8 August), I believe your readers would welcome some reassurances.

You refer to a new "souped up" Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) being launched next month. This is not the case. What is being launched on 12 October by the Government is the new Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS). The VBS, which will be delivered through a partnership between the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) and the CRB, is not about "seeking out any glimmers of public spirited decency" but will enhance current levels of protection to children and vulnerable adults, provided by CRB checks.

Far from your correspondent's assertion that a CRB check is "tedious" and "expensive", a CRB application is simple and straightforward, with costs for standard and enhanced checks having remained at an inflation-busting £31 and £36 respectively, for the past four years. For the first time we are actually reducing fees, with a standard check costing just £26 from 1 October.

To recognise their contribution to society, we offer volunteers free checks and this will remain the same with the introduction of the VBS. This is a valuable contribution to the sector, with organisations saving £27m last year. Umbrella bodies, which ensure that smaller organisations can gain access to its valuable public service, may charge an additional fee but the CRB encourages them to keep any costs to a minimum.

As a result of our checks the CRB has prevented around 98,000 unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults in the past five years. The staff here at the CRB are proud not only of the work they do, but also the accuracy of the service that they provide, which considering the millions of checks performed each year is extremely high at 99.96 per cent.

Steve Long

Interim Chief Executive,

Criminal Records Bureau

London SW1

Who will pay for all these primaries?

Michael Brown's enthusiasm for the Totnes by-election primary venture seems to be running away with him ("Open primaries have revolutionary power", 11 August). About 11 per cent of the electorate voted for Sarah Woollaston and about 15 per cent voted against her. About 74 per cent didn't bother, although it was a postal vote, which is usually thought to be the most voter-friendly process. Hardly evidence of political and democratic success.

His solution to the costs question is to limit the primaries to "the dozen or so safe seats where the present MP is standing down". Why would the voters in safe seats be the only ones to benefit from this "most revolutionary by-product to emerge from the debilitating events in Westminster" and then only when the sitting MP is standing down?

Should the Tory and Labour parties be the only ones to adopt this scheme? How about the Lib Dems, the Greens, UKIP, Respect, SNP, Plaid Cymru etc? Should they all join in so that each party has the candidate the electorate wants to stand and, if so, does Mr Brown think the turn-out would remain "remarkably high" and would the Chancellor be happy to foot the postal bill?

Mr Brown is, however, spot on when he says that "Mr Cameron has stolen yet another march on his rivals by appearing to extend the democratic process." Yes, he is truly a smoke-and-mirrors PR man.

Geoff Harris


Take the Olympics back to their roots

The IOC Executive Board is recommending that golf and rugby-sevens become Olympic sports. Rather than extending the Olympic programme, which will have 28 sports, is it not time for the Olympics to get back to their ancient Grecian roots, and restrict the number of sports to the traditional ones of running, jumping and throwing?

The Olympics have become too big and unmanageable – at least, financially speaking, with the costs of staging them ever spiralling into the stratosphere.

There is also an argument for the Olympics having a permanent venue in Greece, their natural home. This would not only save costs, but add credibility and integrity, which they are in grave danger of losing.

Professor Ian Blackshaw

International Sports Law Centre

The Hague

Importing food could be green

While asking many of the right questions, the Government should not focus new food policies solely on production at home ("GM crops set for a role in Britain's food revolution", 1(12A)ugust). Devoting more land to farming will leave less for wind farms and other green energy schemes, and for the new homes the Government wants to build. And growing out-of-season crops here can generate more emissions than producing and shipping seasonal food from Africa.

The UK has invested large amounts in the farming sectors of poorer countries. Emissions could rise and jobs could be at risk if we import less.

Dr Mick Blowfield

Senior Research Fellow

Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment

University of Oxford

Return those library books

Your story of Maria Lavalle being denied her degree by the University of Winchester for alleged non-payment of rent (13 August) reminds me of my experience as librarian at the University of Ghana. I had problems with students failing to return books once they had completed their studies, until I read the university regulations more closely.

Among the conditions for being granted a degree were "being of good character and having no outstanding debts to the University". The Registrar agreed with me that this included the non-return of books to the library. Absence of one's name on the university pass list, coupled with a recommendation to consult the university librarian, had the desired effect.

J Michael Walpole


Cycle menace

After another pedestrian fatality, your article "Cyclist jailed for seven months after fatal crash" (13 August) once again raises the question as to why cyclists aren't prosecuted for cycling on the pavement before accidents rather than after.

David Wallas

Newcastle upon Tyne

Massive bonuses

James Moore refers to proposals for changing the way bankers' bonuses are paid (Outlook, 13 August). I suggest they be paid in fivers, rather than by cheque or bank transfer, to provide the following benefits: for everyone, to get more fivers into circulation; and for bankers, to get them to realise the magnitude of the payment when they need a sack to take it home.

H Trevor Jones

Guildford, surrey

MP's trust abused

I was appalled by the way in which some MPs appear to have abused the expenses system, although I do not think Alan Duncan's claims ranked among the most excessive. However, Heydon Prowse's shoddy journalism was an abuse of trust by someone who had been invited to the House of Commons by an MP. Mr Duncan's comments may have been misjudged but he seems to have believed that he was having a private conversation. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would ever take the risk of meeting Mr Prowse for drinks again.

Rita Hale

London N1

Job for Chavez

I have suffered abuse from golfers for many years while using rights of way across land that is actually publicly owned. As the police and local council have failed to act, we should invite Hugo Chavez to cure the problem once and for all by shutting down this and the many other bourgeois golf clubs in this country.

Dr Clive Mowforth

Dursley, Gloucestershire

No to gay marriage

It may surprise David Lawson (letter, 14 August) to know that, as a gay man, I regard heterosexual marriage and a gay partnership as two different things – different but equal. Marriage carries a lot of traditional baggage that means nothing to me. For that reason I am quite happy to be in a civil partnership.

Nick Chadwick