Letters: UK Border Agency

Britain shamed by heavy-handed border controls
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The Independent Online

Like Sally Simon (letter, 12 June), I am shamed by the actions of the UK Border Agency – their daily procedures, not just their big, one-off errors of judgement.

I travel regularly through Durham Tees Valley airport. At this small, unpretentious location those entering the UK are routinely subject to one agent "controlling" the "crowd" and two officers mechanically checking passports, all guarded by a further two besuited heavies behind them, scowling at members of the public. All this in an area full of notices about what must and mustn't be done, with never a "please" or "thank you".

Contrast this with Amsterdam Schiphol, where, in the face of many thousands more travellers, Netherlands officials are smiling, pleasant – even jocular – and not apparently in need of bouncers to protect them. Every time I re-enter this country I feel ashamed of the message given to our friends from overseas.

Andrew Bennett

Thoralby, North Yorkshire

The cruel refusal of the UK Border Agency to grant a leave to remain to the Brazilian parents of a British woman, a new mother with aggressive cancer, is likely to shatter the morale of people (friends of mine) who were already struggling to cope ("Dying of cancer – but Home Office expels her parents", 11 June).

There is no good reason for the refusal. Mr and Mrs Carvalho were required to pay a good sum for a visa extension. They have been supplying free childcare for a British citizen. They were here legally. They have been and could be saving this country money (unlike the Home Office suggestion to rely on social services and cancer charities for childcare).

Is it not a basic human right for parents to be allowed to stay beside their possibly dying daughter's bedside? If such compassionate grounds are not enough, then what are? What kind of state can behave in this way towards benevolent visitors who are here in tragic circumstances to give of themselves for a while and to take nothing from the country?

Genevieve Bartlett


Few high hopes for Iraq inquiry

It is a bleak day for democracy when the Prime Minister announces an inquiry to be conducted behind closed doors about a war conceived and planned in secret.

Further, this was a war based on misinformation as to the threat represented by non-existent weapons of mass destruction; a war conducted in spite of sustained opposition from the British public, costing the lives of 179 UK military personnel and many tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, involving an occupation which left Iraq in a desolate state with loss of hospitals, schools and essential services; and the final report "will not set out to apportion blame".

No one who has watched on TV those first horrendous days of the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad or who has read the reports of the siege of Fallujah by Robert Fisk and Dahr Jamail will take much comfort in this news.

Jane Johnson

Exmouth, Devon

Never mind that it "won't apportion blame", is to be "held in private" and will tell us little or nothing until July 2010, at least we're getting yet another Iraq inquiry.

Fingers crossed that this one will at last show – what the anti-war lobby all along hoped one would show – that we were tricked into "illegally" ousting a genocidal, WMD-hungry despot who had invaded his neighbours; repressed, tortured and gassed his opponents; harboured terrorists; sponsored suicide bombers; stoked ethnic hatred and anti-western sentiment; torched oilfields; destroyed marshlands; wrecked his country's economy; ignored UN resolutions; duped and expelled weapons inspectors and hidden weapons programmes.

Let us hope, too, that this (fifth) inquiry will finally condemn George Bush and Tony Blair for attempting to replace blood-soaked tyranny with fledgling democracy when they could so easily have stuck with the UN sanctions that were killing approximately 100,000 innocent Iraqis annually whilst leaving the world's third largest endowment of oil in the hands of an unpredictable thug.

Keith Gilmour


Not since the First World War have so many lies been told to the public about a conflict involving the UK as in Iraq. The decision by Gordon Brown to hold an inquiry is simply a continuation of those lies.

It will be chaired by a Whitehall mandarin and conducted by other establishment yes-men. It will have no power to subpoena documents, no power compel witnesses; it will hear testimony in secret and witnesses (if they turn up at all) will not be subject to the laws of perjury. It will ask fellow members of the establishment if they thought they had told lies in the run-up to Iraq. It will no doubt conclude that there was no deliberate deception.

It is an insult to the memory of those who gave their lives for the lies told by Bush and Blair to steal Iraq's oil.

Alan Hinnrichs


You describe Sir Martin Gilbert, "official biographer of Winston Churchill" and one of the Iraq inquiry team, as a historian (16 June). This is rather like describing J R R Tolkien as an archaeologist. They are both purveyors of myth – the Churchill myth being eagerly appropriated by both Thatcher and Blair.

Gilbert's argument that Bush and Blair might one day be seen as akin to Roosevelt and Churchill does surely disqualify him from membership of any independent inquiry.

The only Churchill parallel that is certain is Gordon Brown's role as a loyal Anthony Eden figure at all times in Cabinet. The late Robin Cook's memoirs make it abundantly clear that if Brown had so much as raised an eyebrow in Cabinet other members would have started asking questions. Adrian Hamilton (Comment, 16 June) is so right – blame is the last thing that ministers or Tory front-benchers want bandied around.

Richard Heron

Wantage, Oxfordshire

Following the logic of Mark Steel's article on the secret inquiry to be held into the Iraq war (17 June), plus sounds of harrumphing from the brass hats tasked with job of obeying American orders, is it not time for the anti-war movement to set up an alternative inquiry? Outrageous behaviour by politicians (such as we have seen on more than one occasion recently) calls for an imaginative response.

Jon P Baker


The government announcement of a secret inquiry into the Iraq war illustrates Britain's serious democratic deficit perfectly. We urgently need a written constitution which will empower Parliament to establish its own inquiries and grant it the authority to subpoena attendance and the surrender of relevant evidence. The executive must no longer be allowed to evade the scrutiny of the legislature.

David McDowall

Richmond, Surrey

Lib Dem supporter looks for new allies

As a regular Lib Dem voter in Norwich, I have been very tempted to change allegiance to the Greens but have so far stuck with my first-choice party. Although I'm sure there are policy disagreements, there are a considerable number of common areas: both are very attentive to local issues, both are pro-Europe and both have strong environmental credentials. Both parties also seem to listen to their supporters and the public generally.

Unfortunately, both parties are likely to take votes from each other and allow the two Norwich constituencies to either retain their Labour MPs or, even worse, swing right to the Tories. I believe that a pact to fight one of the constituencies each and to back the other party in the second one could allow each party to provide one MP and this could well be a model for other parts of the country. Why not try it out in the forthcoming Norwich North by-election?

Of course, it would require an agreement now that would have to carry over to the general election, and they may need advice from Tony and Gordon about how this is managed. I would dearly like to see grown-up behaviour that leads to a strong third grouping.

Michael Worthington


Let MPs vote in public for Speaker

The forthcoming election of a new Speaker for the House of Commons has engendered more interest among the public than any previous such election. Of the recent barrage of criticism aimed at Members of Parliament, secrecy is the one least able to be defended and the most easily corrected.

How strange then, that for the first time the public will not know which candidate their Member of Parliament supports. There surely cannot be a more inappropriate time to introduce a secret ballot for MPs. I intend to make my choice of candidate public and I hope colleagues will do the same.

Graham Stringer MP (Manchester Blackley, Lab)

House of Commons

How we know Iran poll was rigged

Muhammad Badr Badu (letter, 16 June) writes that there is no evidence of vote-rigging in Iran. While it is far too early to gather evidence of specific individuals or of systemic abuse, there is one howler which does prove electoral fraud.

How on earth could the "result" be announced within three hours? Iran's population exceeds 70 million and turnout was 85 per cent. It may be that Mr Ahmadinejad did in fact get more votes, but I suspect we will never know for sure.

The voting figures may have been concocted out of panic, or to humiliate the opposition, or to make a run-off unnecessary. In time, this might become known.

Christopher Brandt

Sevenoaks, Kent

Last in the queue to see a doctor

I'm not sure I agree with Terence Blacker's view that men are second-class citizens when it comes to health (16 June), but I do believe the NHS could make its services more accessible.

Like it or not, men are more likely than women to be in full-time employment and therefore find GPs' opening times unhelpful; most are limited to weekdays, with mid-morning starts and early evening closing. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has to book a half-day holiday to attend an appointment, assuming I can get one. Too many surgeries won't allow bookings beyond a couple of days ahead and most employers expect at least a week's notice for leave – hence many men will only get to see a doctor once they are obviously ill and can call in sick.

Quite rightly, the NHS is free to those who need it, but it should also be available for those who pay for it.

Mark Blackman

London SE14


Restless natives

I was amused by the use of the phrase "native British European people" in the letter from the self-confessed BNP supporter Mark Erickson (17 June). I presume he included the word "European" to make sure he was safely included, as his forebears were obviously immigrants.

Jan Cook

South Nutfield, Surrey

Farewell, Dad

I chuckled when I read Jonathan Hartman's article about his bloody-minded dad (16 June), because my siblings and I have also been agonising about what to put on our equally bloody-minded father's gravestone. In the end, we opted for "One of a kind". We felt it would intrigue passers-by and capture the rather complicated nature of the relationships we three had with him, and, more importantly, he would have loved it.

Judith Wardle

London SE1

Foreground music

Can correspondents on the subject of music on television accompanying speech and or pictures please come up with a more truthful term than "background" music? That suggests that it plays a lesser role, whereas in fact it has equal prominence for the viewer or listener, who receives a two-dimensional palette of music, speech and pictures. In fact would either "palette" or "jigsaw" do?

Peter Green

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Share the pain at BA

If BA's management really want to share the risks of getting through the economic downturn with their workforce ("Struggling BA asks its 40,000 employees to work without pay", 17 June) they should compensate staff for that risk in the conventional way. If the company issued new share options to its staff, they would get a bonus each time the company is profitable and retain the option of recovering their lost salary later by selling their shares when the market recovers. Share the risk: share the benefits.

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff

Sheffield Business School

Sheffield Hallam University

Round numbers

John Allan (letter, 16 June) asserts that Roy Askew has problems with mathematics. Unfortunately, he seems to be unaware that it is bad practice to round up numbers, as it produces a bias. In numerical analysis, it is standard practice to round to the even, though one can also round to the odd – as meteorologists do with temperatures, for example.

Graham P Davis

Bracknell, Berkshire