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Letters: Visa bungles hamper Britain's good influence


Your report (1 November) about the "betrayal" of the gallant conservationist John Kahekwa in his efforts to get a visa to collect an award in London shines a spotlight on a growing trend with dire repercussions for conservation organisations.

This week I was due to meet Dr Bibhab Talukdar, a highly esteemed Indian environmentalist who runs the Aaranyak conservation NGO in Assam; he had to cancel our appointment, having run into a similar visa delay problem. Since these episodes I have unearthed other examples of this "visa virus" hitting conservation groups.

Little NGOs need these foreign trips as a fund-raising strategy, without which they would be in dire trouble: these are the people who are working, sometimes in difficult conditions, to save the ecology we all want to assist. Conservation could be limited to a few "multinational" groups like WWF whose long-standing profile makes them "safe" in the eyes of the UK Border Agency.

My understanding is that UK Border Agency has contracted out the vetting process to private "securocrat" companies who do not trust their staff with independent action; so they have instituted a rigid approach that only really allows in people with a strong traceable background, which obviously a lot of conservation bodies do not have; also, some work in countries with a dubious security background (of which there are many).

Regarding security, a "fortress" approach that has no proper flexibility to take into account all the circumstances of a case will breed both resentment and hostility in both Britain and abroad, with the results we are all sadly too aware of here in the Department of War Studies. In the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with Africa on the rise, Britain needs to win friends if it is compete with the likes of China.

Why John Kahekwa should be considered more threatening than all those politicians with a dubious human rights record who visit Britain is something else to ponder.

Jasper Humphreys

Director of External Affairs, The Marjan Centre for the Study of Conflict and Conservation, Department of War Studies, King's College London

Sandy's message for the US and the planet

John Crocker rebukes the British media for paying too much attention to damage caused by hurricane Sandy in the US (letter, 1 November). Whilst agreeing with the feelings behind the letter, I cannot agree that this major hurricane was not an important news item for the whole world. The loss of life may not have been great, but the damage and disruption to people and property certainly were.

I agree that the election campaign undoubtedly exacerbated its "newsworthiness", but, unfortunately, the US is still the largest world power, both militarily and economically, although this may not be so in 20 or 30 years' time. The real fault was that too little attention was paid to the damage and loss of life in the Caribbean, and particularly in Haiti, the poorest nation in the world. No doubt the US election was more important!

As regards the associated letter from Dr John Cameron, I hesitate to argue with an apparent expert, and I agree that one single event cannot be attributed to global warming, but these events seem to be becoming more and more common and increasingly ferocious in their effects all over the world. To a mere amateur like me this does seem to suggest an increasing instability in weather patterns, which would be consistent with global warming.

Peter Giles

Whitchurch, Shropshire

The letter from John Crocker regarding hurricane Sandy was both selfish and mean. I live in Long Island, but I am visiting my sick father in Kent. The only connection to my family back home was through the excellent TV coverage in Britain. There are real people behind every disaster and real stories, even in the richest nation on earth. It's not about the UK versus the US.

Andy Skitmore

Stony Brook, New York, USA

More time is needed by Dr John Cameron to construct a model of the obvious on climate change. Asking for more time is not credible. When you're in up to your neck, you don't need to be told to start swimming.

Peter Treadgold

London W5

A strategy to keep the gas bill down

Mary Baines inquires whether it is more economical to leave her gas central heating on all day, or switch it off in the morning and put it on again in the afternoon (letter, 30 October). How fast heat energy is lost from her house depends on the temperature difference between the house and the outside. Thus the warmer the house is kept the more heat the central heating system has to supply to maintain the target temperature.

In the "switch it off, switch it on" scenario the temperature in the house is always below that achieved with the "keep it on all day" policy, so with "switch it off" less heat is lost to the outside, and the central heating will have supplied less energy when the target temperature is regained. That means less gas is used.

How far the temperature falls, and how long it takes to recover to the target temperature, depends on the insulation of the house, and the "switch it off" policy might lead to an uncomfortable house in the afternoon. The answer is better insulation if at all possible, rather than more use of gas.

Professor Guy Woolley


Parents have a right to choose

Christina Jones (letter, 31 October) asks if anyone has a better solution than Barry Richards (30 October), who advocates abolishing private schools.

Yes. The solution is for the Barry Richards of this world to accept that parents have an absolute right to pay for private education if they wish, and if they cannot comfortably afford it, it is their decision whether they wish to scrimp, as many do. Presumably Mr Richards makes decisions over buying a Porsche or a Ford, and he would object to anyone seeking to challenge his decision-making.

The point he avoids, which Mrs Jones concedes, is that while many state schools are excellent, with dedicated and very hardworking teachers, they cannot offer the overall breadth of education of good private schools, which do not simply concentrate on academic achievement, but instil values and turn out well-rounded individuals.

We have experience of both systems with our children. Until state schools can do the same, the politics of envy cannot dictate change, or if Mr Richards had his way it would be dumbing-down instead of aiming higher towards the standards and objectives of private schools.

R L Davey


Holy places desecrated

Reading Jerome Taylor's report (29 October) on redevelopment of the second most holy site in the Muslim world, which requires bulldozing of the two 1,400- yea-old structures associated with Abu Bakr and Omar bin Khattab in Madina, I felt unease and discomfort.

How come we Muslims are so quick to whip ourselves into a frenzy of mayhem and carnage at a film and video but remain passive at the piecemeal destruction by the self-styled "Custodians of Two Holy Places" of the very roots of Islamic heritage?

Is it because the pocketfuls of petro-dollars keep the scholars of Al Azhar and other non-Wahabi institutions quiet at such desecration, which if committed by the "infidel" would have brought down their murderous wrath on the heads of the innocent?

Allah knows, of course, these hypocrites are also His creations.

M A Qavi

London SE3

Please, no more of Jimmy Savile

Even in his prime, Jimmy Savile seemed silly and creepy. That he is now almost certainly going to prove to have been a seriously unpleasant and dangerous man is a terrible indictment of a popular culture that can lionise such people, with or without knowing what lay behind their TV antics.

These investigations could take many months; are we really going to have to be confronted by his grinning visage daily for a year or more from every news bulletin and even the front pages of serious newspapers? By all means publicise the final outcome, but this running commentary is intolerable. And, please, no more photos of him.

Gavin Turner

Gunton, Norfolk

Love and gay marriage

Magda Hannay (letter, 29 October) is completely wrong when she writes that today clergymen risk jail for refusing to marry homosexuals in church. Any changes the Government does makes to allow same-sex marriage will not force any religious congregation to perform same-sex marriage rites on their premises if that is not their wish.

It also troubles me that she can move on so easily from a general discussion on child abuse, to singling out the acceptance of homosexuality in modern day Britain as an example of "swinging from one extreme to another". Ms Hannay is right at least right on one point: things haven't changed that much since the 1970s if someone can casually display such open prejudice against gay men and women.

Michael Contaldo

London W4

It is far from being a "self-evident reality" to most of us that same-sex love is, by itself, a sufficient reason to justify same-sex marriage. Dr Daniel Emlyn Jones (letter, 22 October) considers that anatomy and legal definitions are irrelevant. If love is to be the sole criterion in determining marriage, what is to prevent a man from marrying his dog?

C M Rogers

Ipswich, Suffolk

Autumn break?

Halloween is not everyone's cup of tea, but the tide of pre-Christmas spending at this time of year has risen in the last decade and shows little sign of receding. An Autumn Bank holiday in the UK, coinciding with half-term in schools and colleges, could contribute to the economic recovery.

Anthony Rodriguez

Staines, Middlesex

Prescott's punch

Fascinating article by Dominic Lawson about Prescott the pugilist (30 October). Sadly, "two-fists" Prescott, like his erstwhile boss "Teflon Tony", seems to have joined that happy band of ex-ministers to whom nothing tainted ever seems to stick. Could it be due to the facial grease applied, no doubt liberally, during his early boxing career?

Dick Penfold

Fetcham, Surrey

Benefit doubt

Question to Iain Duncan Smith: what should be done if the second child turns out to be twins?

Gillian Spencer

Bolton, Greater Manchester