Speed reduction is not enough: we need traffic reduction
Sir: The Big Question (17 October) asks whether the speed limit in built-up areas should be reduced to 20mph. I answer it with a question. How about no traffic in built-up areas?
In parts of Germany there are housing areas where the only vehicles allowed are emergency or delivery vehicles. In these areas children can play in the streets and elderly people can cross roads in safety.
We really need to break our addiction to the car in this country. Public transport must buck its ideas up and be completely accessible to the public, and people must learn to walk again. Cycling is a far more healthy way to get about if you don't have to inhale exhaust fumes.
The Government should be encouraging traffic reduction not speed reduction!
Newcastle under Lyme
Sir: On a frosty Sunday morning in January 2006, 12 members of the Rhyl Cycling Club set off from their homes on a 60-mile cycle ride. There were three generations – grandparents, parents and children. All getting a "high" no illegal drug could ever compete with, and without the aid of a motor vehicle; surely an activity any civilised society should be backing to the hilt.
We now know what happened. Four cyclists died, including a youngster – struck by a car travelling too fast on ice. Messages of sympathy arrived from wide and far.
Would there have been this publicity if it had just been a solitary cyclist? Definitely not. And would a satisfactory acceptance of responsibility have been reached, had it not been for the gritty determination of Coroner John Hughes, to tolerate no backsliding or prevarication? Very doubtful. Society had all the excuses ready for them.
By all accounts a financial settlement for the families has now been reached. But without the attention of the media and the coroner? Unlikely. The families had the prospect of years of litigation ahead of them. What is regrettable is that the coroner was not invited to urge the government to revisit the principle of liability in the event of a collision between an equestrian, pedestrian, or cyclist and to place the burden of responsibility on the driver, rather than on the vulnerable party.
In some European countries, under the principle of "no fault liability", the burden of proof is shifted onto the shoulders of the party likely to cause most damage – ie, the motorist; thereby rebalancing the dynamics of shared space, making it safer for all. Together with reducing the speed limit to 20mph in urban areas, these two changes in the law would do much to encourage and protect the likes of Rhyl CC.
Asylum seekers are in 'destitution trap'
Sir: In "A blemish on our record of providing sanctuary" (Outlook, 22 October) Sir John Waite is right to argue that a solution must be found to end destitution among refused asylum-seekers. Far from encouraging people to return home, destitution has had the reverse effect. The authorities have lost contact with asylum-seekers, who have entered a cycle of fear, hunger, and mental and physical deterioration. They've become caught in a "destitution trap".
A policy that fails to deliver its objectives and causes human suffering into the bargain is entirely unjustifiable. The "Still human, still here" campaign is proposing practical alternatives.
One solution would be for the government to provide ongoing asylum benefits – or permission to work – to refused asylum-seekers until their case is resolved. In return, these asylum-seekers would be expected to engage in a case-resolution process, helping them work through the issues that prevent them from returning home.
As well as reducing the numbers of refused asylum-seekers who become destitute, "disappear" or work illegally, such a scheme would also boost voluntary returns, reducing the costs of forced removal.
This approach has worked elsewhere. At the Hotham Mission in Melbourne, Australia, 84 per cent of refused asylum-seekers who went through a case resolution project then returned voluntarily.
Asylum applications in the UK are at their lowest for 17 years, giving us a unique opportunity to reassess the way asylum-seekers here are treated at all stages of the process.
Chief Executive, refugee ActionLondon se1
Sir: You rightly highlight the appalling hardships endured by a group of people within our own shores ("Asylum seekers 'left to starve' ", 22 October).
As an organisation working with thousands of destitute asylum-seekers every year, their stories are all too familiar.
This is a "no win" situation. Driving people into destitution is not encouraging asylum seekers to return to their country of origin, where they still fear persecution. Equally, it does not safeguard the dignity and well-being of those individuals. There needs to be dialogue between government, charities and those affected, in order to find realistic and humane solutions. Allowing failed asylum-seekers who cannot be returned the right to work, for example, would preserve their dignity and allow them to contribute to their community.
Head of Refugee Services,British Red Cross,London EC2
Sir: Your article "Deportation Abuses 'should be investigated' " (20 October), repeats the allegations of mistreatment that you made in your front page article of 5 October. As my colleague Jonathan Lindley wrote in his letter to you of 6 October, the Border and Immigration Agency expects our staff and contractors to work with integrity and professionalism. Any allegations of misconduct are taken very seriously and investigated by the police. Indeed from January 2008 the remit of the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be extended to cover immigration operations. Such incidents are very rare and the vast majority of our staff are highly professional, committed and caring individuals.
Asylum claims are considered by trained caseworkers, and claimants have access to legal support during initial consideration and while appealing to the independent judicial authorities if they are unsuccessful. We provide support and assistance to help those who do not qualify for asylum to return home. Where people do not take the opportunity to go home voluntarily we will enforce their return. We do so with care, sometimes using escorts and video-recording returns where necessary to ensure our standards are met. Before removing anyone from the UK, we consider whether they are fit to travel and, where necessary, ensure that appropriate medical treatment is available in the country we are returning them to.
Chief Executive, Border and Immigration Agency,London SW1
Amis, Eagleton and professorial industry
Sir: How academic that the senior common room tiff between Amis and Eagleton should mutate into another issue, one of professorial industry (Letters, 15 October). What does Professor Barton think they should be told to do? Write more books, supervise more students, raise more revenue or create more ideas? No, not the latter, because providing stimulus for the mind, a once sufficient academic endeavour, which both protagonists in this dispute may claim to have done, appears to be inadequate effort. For its part, Manchester University is carrying out the traditional role of an academic institution by providing an excellent environment in which disputation and intellectual exercise may flourish in order to forge minds capable of making decisions for themselves.
The Lib Dems have blown it over Ming
Sir: I don't recognise the Ming Campbell described by Johann Hari (18 October). Who called for withdrawal of British forces from Iraq within six months? Who called for a referendum on EU membership? Who proposed a Bill of Rights with the environment at its heart? And who introduced the ground-breaking "green tax switch" which the other parties are belatedly and half-heartedly copying? But the Lib Dems have blown it. The message that comes across now, drowning out all others, is that old and older people don't matter. The Lib Dems have fallen into the oldest of traps. They have stopped trusting the people and started trusting themselves.
Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
Sir: Dr Yen-Chung Chong (17 October) may be partially correct that an element of self-interest among colleagues may have contributed to Mr Campbell's resignation but his analysis of Mr Kennedy's departure and the connection he makes with the Iraq war are way offbeam.
The truth is that Mr Kennedy was firmly planted on his favourite fence over the war until a letter by Donnachadh McCarthy more or less obliged him to attend a peace rally where he placed himself not against the war on principle, but opposed without a second UN Resolution.
The party gained hugely in popularity through its genuine opposition to the war and part of the recent squeeze can be explained by the fact that this is now, wrongly, seen as less of a topical issue in most of the media.
How to deal with the Afghan opium crop
Sir: I used to think like Paul Ganz (letter, 12 October): just buy up the poppies and destroy them. Everyone would be happy and our streets would be almost drug-free. Except, it ain't like that in the real world. The drug gangsters will not easily accept life on the dole. They would offer the farmers double the price we might offer. And double it again if necessary. Addicts always pay.
We need a carrot and stick policy. So we offer a "fair" price to the farmers if they harvest it and hand it over one month early, ie before it's fully ready. If it's still growing past that date we spray it and kill it without further notice. So they have nothing. The enemy (and that's what they are) would respond with real threats against the farmers and their families, unless they sell to the traffickers. This is where our politicians earn their keep and continue to apply the plan in the face of cruel deaths and torture. We know this policy is in the best interests of our country, and we can only do our best to protect the Afghan farmers and encourage them to grow non-lethal crops.
The prize would be the thwarting of the evil people who grow fat on the folly of our addicts and the weakness of our society.
Civil servants should stay slim or lose jobs
Sir: Dominic Lawson's review of Tackling Obesities: Future Choices (Opinion, 19 October), was refreshingly sensible. Instead of providing dubious statistical justification for another state nanny campaign, stigmatisation would be a much more efficient way of making people take control of their own health and economic futures.
It might be an idea for government departments at all levels, from local government to mainline ministries, to show the way. Personal experience of local planning offices, NHS support staff and a six-month stint working for DfID (the department that fights hunger in Africa) revealed large numbers of clerical staff, particularly, who were alarmingly overweight.
If job applicants in the public sector were required to adhere to basic weight-monitoring as a condition for keeping their jobs there would be no need for another "societal approach". Economic self-preservation and avoidance of embarrassment would do the job.
Most large corporations in the manufacturing and financial services industries that I have come into contact with require their staff to pass regular health checks that include weight monitoring. What an opportunity for the relentlessly growing numbers of civil servants to lead by example.
Sir: In your "A-Z of apples" (19 October) you state that the cider apple "Slack-ma-girdle" is now extinct. I am happy to report that I have enjoyed single-variety Slack-Ma-Girdle cider produced by the Hecks family in Street, Somerset within the past year.
The crack of doom
Sir: Doris Salcedo's sculptural crack Shibboleth, currently on display in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, is impressive and symbolic. I have a similar, albeit smaller, crack in my beautiful Victorian house caused by subsidence. There is a fine line between a major art installation and a serious headache.
Recipe for success
Sir: In her review of Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly (12 October), Diane Purkiss queries the use of cling film for baking a tart blind and attributes it to a mistake by "a careless editor". As the editor in question, I should like to reassure her that it is most definitely not a mistake. I tested the recipe and it works perfectly. Cling film, which survives the oven heat without any problem, does the job much better than baking parchment, as it lines the pastry case without crinkling or creasing.
Chef vs food industry
Sir: Prue Leith will need to take on the food industry if she wants children to gain the basic life skill of cooking food from scratch (report, 17 October). The current Food Technology GCSE syllabus is based on the hypothesis, "Let's all pretend we're food technologists", encouraging the idea that processed food is the norm. That is just what the manufacturers and retailers want. Preparing a meal from raw ingredients is only for rare and special occasions.
Fight for a seat
Sir: The case of a broken arm from falling off a chair in a "ladies fashion outlet" (Letter 20 October) probably came about from several accompanying, weary males fighting to sit on it.
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