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Thursday 26 January 2012
Letters: Tories must uphold rights code
Let me start by saying I found the European Court of Human Rights' decision on Abu Qatada baffling; I firmly believe a country's borders are the responsibility of that country and that country alone. However, David Cameron is right to demand reform and must reject knee-jerk calls to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.
The convention was founded following the atrocities suffered by millions during two world wars. Britain and Churchill were the driving forces behind the convention and it was drafted by British lawyers and based on British law. There is nothing controversial in the convention. The right to life, liberty, security, fair trial, privacy, expression, property and free elections are ones we all subscribe to.
We read about the court only when we feel the hand of judicial activism or controversial, baffling decisions; but the same can be said of our domestic courts. Yet we would not dream of abolishing them.
The convention is separate from and predates Britain's membership of the EU. I am convinced this issue is being blurred because many people wrongly think the court is part of the EU.
The convention is written to allow member governments plenty of scope for national interpretation; it is a loose framework, not a prescription. Such basic rights, upheld by the judiciary, are commonplace in most western democracies. They address a weakness of majoritarian government, whereby its executive can easily wear down civil liberties.
Yes there have been mistakes, yes the judges, may on occasion in the eyes of many, exceed their brief and this risks undermining the founding principles of the court. But the convention has done much that is good and has done much to safeguard our freedoms. Without it our freedoms would have been eroded long ago.
Sajjad Karim MEP
Conservative Legal Affairs Spokesman, European Parliament, Brussels
Why honesty went out of fashion
As Darwin showed, all living species are essentially selfish. So perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that in Britain people are becoming less honest ("Britain facing boom in dishonesty", 25 January).
However, evolution has – at least in the case of humans – given us a capacity for compassion and sharing. The reason these characteristics are out of kilter is that back in the 1980s greed was legitimised in the markets-know-best philosophy of Reagan and Thatcher.
What we are now seeing, of course, is that extreme wealth at the very top of the capitalist chain creates abject poverty at the other end. Is it any wonder, then, that people are increasingly out for themselves? If the business and financial elite can screw the system, why shouldn't those less lucky?
Morality is not a God-given characteristic; it has evolved through the simple need to get on with one other. Only by curbing the excesses of the few ( through social pressure rather than legislation) will greater fairness and honesty be readopted by the majority.
Is "Britain facing a boom in dishonesty"? Maybe, but there would be no way of knowing from the University of Essex study, at least as you've reported it.
People weren't asked if there were circumstances in which they themselves would feel justified in acting dishonestly. They were asked if, in general, they felt acting in such a way could be justified.
So it would be perfectly possible for example for someone who would never make up something in a job application, or avoid paying a fare on public transport to be able to envisage a situation where such acts might be justified. This suggests a society that exercises not less honesty but greater tolerance than that implied by the rigid moral code the University of Essex would appear to want us to live by.
I told a friend who is a graduate child psychologist that I have never known my wife tell a lie in 47 married years. She seemed to think it was a clinical condition, presumably treatable. This was such a surprising reaction that I contacted three other people whom I would trust to always be honest.
One, a Methodist minister, said that she had once lied in Year 6 and felt so dreadful afterwards that she never wanted to do that again. Another, a lady of over 80, said that she also had lied once when a child also aged about 10, and recounted the circumstances with amazing detail. She also never did it again. The third decided to disqualify herself if I included "white lies".
Bridlington, East Riding
Haven't young people always been more tolerant of dishonesty than older people? As with friendship, it takes experience fully to understand the value of integrity.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
A deal for the Falklands
If the Falklanders wish to remain British, that is a very reasonable request to be supported, as says David Cameron (19 January). But I thought the underlying issue was about the minerals under and the fish in the oceans around the Falklands.
As the Falklands are neither heavily populated nor heavily industrialised, they probably need only a small proportion of the off-shore wealth for themselves in order to remain sustainable and to continue their British lifestyle.
So why can't we come to a friendly agreement with Argentina about keeping the Falklands British but sharing its off-shore wealth with Argentina, which as a large and growing country must have greater need of resources?
In any case it must make more logistical sense to harvest this wealth in conjunction with mainland Argentina, rather than trying to do it all from faraway Great Britain.
H Trevor Jones
As the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war approaches, two things are abundantly clear: Argentina will never relinquish its claim to the islands and the islanders will never willingly cede sovereignty to Argentina. A possible solution to the impasse occurs to me.
There are two main islands; East and West Falkland, the majority of the population reside on East Falkland around Port Stanley. Why not give control of West Falkland to Argentina with the population of this island being given the option to re-settle on East Falkland which would remain as a self-governing British Overseas Territory? An agreement could be reached sharing mineral and fishing rights for the whole area with a UN resolution ensuring compliance.
I am not suggesting that Argentina has a legitimate claim to the islands, but if a solution is not found another war remains a possibility; the last one cost more than a thousand lives and we must ensure that it is not repeated.
Jim La Bouchardiere
This 'leak' was just drivel
My old friend Stephen Glover (Media Studies, 23 January) implies that I have form for leaking information, but there was no question of leaking information about Theresa May, since the YouTube recordings comparing her speech with the UKIP leader's similar attack on the Human Rights Act were already on a news website. The first accusation that I had leaked Cabinet information was in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday last week, compounded by a vituperative piece in the same paper by Cristina Odone.
On Saturday, the Telegraph completely accepted that the articles were wrong, apologised to me, and particularly regretted the offence caused by Ms Odone. As Mr Glover knows, it is rare for a newspaper to admit error quite so fulsomely, and the reason for their speedy retraction was simply that I was able to prove that the leak could not have been from me.
Mine is simply a belated attempt to stop the sort of bilious drivel written by ill-informed columnists, usually in the Tory press, who never seem to check their facts, but do not let their ignorance inhibit their invective. It may not be very Christian of me – pace Ms Odone – but I decided no longer to turn the other cheek.
Chris Huhne MP
House of Commons
Women and children last
"Women and children first" regularly pops up after passenger ship accidents, as it has in the case of the Costa Concordia. However, it is a recent principle in the overall history of seafaring, only marking its 160th anniversary this year from the troopship Birkenhead disaster of 1852 – hence, also, "the Birkenhead drill".
Sixty years on, loss of the Titanic in 1912 also saw it widely followed and finally ensured the carrying of adequate lifeboats for all on board (as Titanic did not).
In the wider age of sail, no ships had lifeboats as such, and the "law and custom of the sea" was that in extremis the few working boats carried were usually taken by those with the skills to escape in them: men of the crew, not passengers of any sort, albeit with exceptions. AWB Simpson's splendid Cannibalism and the Common Law (1984) provides chapter and verse.
Pieter van der Merwe
National Maritime Museum
How we learn gender roles
Julie Bindel's article on gender neutrality (Opinion, 24 January) resurrects the ill-informed opinions of late 20th-century feminism. It's about time some knowledge of genetics informed these attitudes.
This does not mean that humans are "hard-wired to be masculine or feminine"; but to suggest that gender is "socially constructed... a set of rules laid down to benefit males" is laughable. The fact that a behaviour is learned does not imply a lack of genetic basis.
I doubt if boys are hard-wired to prefer blue and girls pink, but there is no doubt a strong genetic drive to learn gender roles. We need, as a society, to be careful about the gender roles on offer but we also need to avoid the simplistic rejection of traditions.
Phone cut off
Mary Dejevsky seems surprised that the folk in Ambridge don't reflect the rise of mobile phone use above landlines (Notebook, 25 January). Obviously she's never lived in the country, where mobile signals are as fickle as the wind. In my house I can send and receive calls easily but a mile up the road poor reception makes you sound like the comedian with a broken microphone.
With reference to cinema sound (letter, 23 January), I've often wondered why local cinemagoers mill around in the foyer until the big film starts. That is, until recently, when I sat through the adverts with my fingers in my ears. I'm not deaf, but I soon would be if I sat through that noise too often.
Our 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 war cemeteries have been universally respected by local inhabitants (letters, 25 January). Unhappily, this might not be true of more recent conflicts.
The Republicans of South Carolina, where I used to live, have put their "family values" party in an ironic dilemma: they will now have to choose between a Mormon and a polygamist.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
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