Sir: Why do people talk about the "milestone" of the Queen becoming Britain's oldest reigning monarch, as if it is some kind of achievement? It is dismaying to see otherwise intelligent people fawn over the simple fact that the Queen is still alive.
The question that would be asked routinely if it were anyone else is clear: is the Queen still up to the job and is it time she stepped down and enjoyed a peaceful retirement?
The issue of the succession is going to be controversial. What popularity the monarchy has almost entirely rests on popular views of the Queen, and that affection will not translate to Charles or his two sons. With constitutional reform firmly on the political agenda, and with Commonwealth countries from Australia and Canada to Barbados and Jamaica now moving toward a republican future, surely now is the time to debate the future of the monarchy.
An early retirement by the Queen will open up that debate and allow Britain a free hand in reforming our creaking constitution.
Campaign Manager, Republic, Brighton
Sir: I am a Ugandan male in my 30s. Last month, we were privileged to host Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and other Commonwealth heads of government.
As residents of a big slum called Bwaise in Kawempe Division in Kampala District, we couldn't believe our eyes when the tall, ageing and smart future king, Prince Charles, visited our ghetto.
He jumped over stinking trenches and piles of garbage and passed through narrow dark streets where even our president, ministers or members of parliament have never passed.
That left a great impact on my heart. Thank you, Prince Charles. Truly your heart is full of passion for the poor and the needy. I call on other Britons to follow the example of Prince Charles. We're badly in need of help in all aspects of life.
Prostitution cannot be legislated away
Sir: "Do we think," asks Harriet Harman, "it's right in the 21st century that women should be in a sex trade or do we think it's exploitation and should be banned."
In the 21st century, or any other, prostitution is a trade that requires little training, little investment and can be performed just about anywhere and often is. It brings in good money for many women who don't have many other options.
It also raises public health concerns, which neither our present arrangements nor Ms Harman's proposed changes to the law address.
If we make clients culpable as well as prostitutes it will drive the trade further into the shadows, and if men are not kept from visiting prostitutes by the fear of incurable or drug-resistant infections they will not be kept from them by the lesser terrors of the law.
Nor do I see how this change is supposed to do anything for those coerced into the trade by violence rather than addiction or poverty.
The Government has not given serious thought to the option of legalisation, being, I suspect, fearful of what religious and conservative opinion would do to them. But what is proposed will only make matters worse.
It is a truth that is hard to hammer into politicians' skulls, that there are limits to what making something illegal can do.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Sir: It has become fashionable in recent days for government ministers and columnists to call for the criminalisation of acts they find morally offensive. Deborah Orr (Comment, 22 December) called for working-class men who visit prostitutes to be made into criminals.
But surely, if the state is to intervene in the personal lives of consenting adults, there should be a level playing field. Those convinced of their moral superiority, such as Ms Orr, can therefore have no objection to a thorough examination of their personal lives to see if there is anything there that may be considered morally reprehensible.
Heaven forfend that any offence should be found, but if it is, I am sure Ms Orr would be the first to call for the criminalisation of the offending act, so she can join in the fun of being part of New Labour's gulag of the politically incorrect.
New Labour, of course, has already gone through this process. We are all aware of the lies that led to an illegal war and the resulting war crimes in Iraq. Similarly, we are aware of the illegal donations that certain politicians received as part of their campaigns for the deputy leadership of the party.
Not only has there not been a single prosecution as a result of all this illegality, but not a single minister has found it necessary to resign.
Obviously, causing the deaths of several hundred thousand innocent people pales into insignificance in comparison with the heinous act of consensual sex for money, and we can only hail the courage of those journalists who are prepared to stand up and say so.
Let us all line up behind New Labour and Deborah Orr and give three cheers for the new double standards.
Sir: I find it extraordinary that the Government is proposing to criminalise paying for sex. All the evidence we have from the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Nevada points to the fact that the decriminalisation of prostitution is for the good: safe sex practices, no pimps, no drug culture and the elimination of street prostitution.
David Cameron often says it is time we had an "adult debate" about immigration. I suggest that we also need an adult debate about sex.
Sir: I am ghost-writing a book about a London gigolo's experiences, and I can't help wondering whether Harriet Harman, so keen to criminalise men who pay for sex (report, 21 December), realises that a growing number of women choose to do so too.
Her apparent lack of awareness expressed through her gender bias suggests her response to sex-trafficking is similarly naive and a general knee-jerk reaction to a specific problem within the sex-work industry.
Catherine von Ruhland
Charities greedyfor donations
Sir: I have been fortunate in my life. I have a loving wife, a warm house and a full belly every day. I'm not rich but I have a comfortable pension and am looking forward to a long retirement.
To celebrate my good fortune, I asked my employer if I could continue to work part-time for another year with the intention of giving each monthly pay cheque to one of six charities. To allow the charity to claim the tax from the donation, I have supplied my name and address with each donation.
And each time, I have requested the charity not to contact me for any other reason than to confirm my tax status if required.
Four of them complied and two ignored this request and sent me "begging letters". I complained and both apologised, one rather grudgingly, and they promised not to do it again. Both did after I sent the second donation.
If there is a reluctance to donate to charity, is it that we are all becoming more mean-spirited or that the people who run the charities are becoming more avaricious?
Dr Les May
The silent role ofprison watchdogs
Sir: Yvonne Gunn asks (letter, 22 December), "Where are the comments of the Independent Monitoring Boards?" The Boards are working conscientiously and commenting forcefully to the prison authorities, but the details of what they are doing are not being publicised, for very good reasons.
I am a member of an IMB, and I know it would damage our work deeply if the threat of publicity were to hang over us as we go about our duties. Though we do work closely with both Her Majesty's Inspectorate and the Prison Ombudsman, IMBs are very different from either of these authorities, and our continuous, year-round, presence demands a different sort of relationship with both those incarcerated and those who work there, if we are to be effective.
We do have teeth, but when we use them we would not show them to the press.
Sir: Independent Monitoring Boards are, indeed, appointed by the Home Secretary, and every prison has one. And that, as far as my experience can tell, is as far as it goes: IMB members work hard and devotedly, often to no avail.
The latest IMB annual report for a prison known to me details areas which are a "disgrace", and complains that, among other problems, an important letter to the Home Office received a "most uninformative response" six months later. Overall, this IMB's concerns met with "apathetic responses and no meaningful action".
It seems lip-service is paid by having a watchdog, but neither the prison authorities nor the Government takes the slightest notice when it barks.
Railing at critics of our railways
Sir: The headline "Railway hell" (21 December) is unfair. Infrastructure renewal and other major projects have always been planned at times of the year when there is the least economic activity.
The decision to close London Liverpool Street for major work on the approach lines was not taken lightly. It involves work associated with the East London Line extension. ONE railway have been warning of this closure since January on their website and by other communications. Special timetables are in place on these routes so the rail passenger is being looked after and the result will not be the hell you describe.
Andrew D Hardy
Sir: German railways (Deutsche Bahn) run a full main-line service, to the normal daily timetable, on Christmas Day. This has always been the case.
Some 10 years ago, on a Christmas Day, my German friend asked me to come with her to meet her brother "at the station". She asked why I looked surprised, and told me it was one of the busiest days on the railway, with family visiting relatives. This country has not progressed one iota in such attitudes.
Graham A Feakins
Sir: Your article "Train leasing inquiry to look at DfT rules" (20 December) gives a partial view. The Competition Commission has yet to reach conclusions in this inquiry. But the scope of further work will include examining the "... possibility that prices charged by the Roscos [rolling stock companies] could be higher than in a well-functioning market".
The Competition Commission also said DfT power over the franchising system "is not likely to be sufficient to prevent Roscos setting retail prices that are higher than they would be under conditions of effective competition".
We asked for a market investigation into the rolling-stock market because we believe the present market does not give best value for passengers or taxpayers. We believe Roscos are making "excess profits". A credible estimate is about 175m a year. This would be better invested to deliver improvements for passengers.
Rail Minister, Department for Transport, London SW1
Sir: The train situation at Glasgow Central is worse than simply being closed on 2 January. There are no trains between Glasgow and Paisley from 25 December until 7 January, only a replacement bus. This will lead to significantly increased journey times for us Ayrshire commuters. The First ScotRail temporary timetable bears little resemblance to reality and that's why I have finished work and don't restart until 7 January.
Sir: In "London, capital of the world" (22 December), you say "... even the balmy Mediterranean delights of Israel's capital Tel Aviv". Tel Aviv is Israel's main commercial and financial centre, but it is not, nor has it ever been, its capital. The capital of Israel is Jerusalem.
Dr Yoav J Tenembaum
Tel Aviv, Israel
Sir: Matthew Norman writes about the storm over the use of the term faggot in "Fairytale of New York" (Comment, 21 December). On the radio this week, I heard Holly Johnson (of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) saying he wasn't too bothered by this. He was more outraged that there was no real censure of Chris Moyles earlier in the year for his use of the word "gay" to mean "rubbish". Apparently oblivious to the wonderful irony, he described this as "lame".
Sir: Michael Ames (letter, 21 December) asks: "How can it possibly be the fault of a government minister when a contractor to an agency, DVLA, loses a disk in the USA?" The answer is, "Because the government minister represents an administration responsible for allowing the information to be placed in the hands of these incompetents in the first place". A better question would be: "Why is information like this peddled around the US (and other countries) in the first place?"
Hedon, East Riding of Yorkshire
Thanks to the NHS
Sir: With all the discussion about the advantages of medical treatment in other EU countries, I must set on record the excellent care I have received in this country. Two years ago, I had hip replacement at Harrogate District Hospital. I could not fault the care on every level, from the consultant and his team, the nursing staff and the therapy services. The hospital was clean and the food excellent. The follow-up service by phone and clinic was supportive, close at hand and is ongoing. I am so grateful to have my life back, for free.
Sir: I am tired of complaints about the wrong use of "crescendo" (letter, 20 December). Words go through meaning-shifts when used idiomatically. Besides, since a crescendo has to start somewhere it is perfectly possible to reach one, as Basilio does for example in the "calumny" aria in Act I of Rossini's Barber of Seville. Pedantry is bad enough without being quite so misconceived.