Letters: Zero tolerance of prostitution

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Zero tolerance of prostitution will only oppress sex workers

Sir: The Government's 2004 Green Paper on prostitution, Paying the Price, resulted in over 800 responses. However, the Government has now closed down consultation with the recent pronouncement that there will be zero tolerance on those who buy sex instead of publishing those responses. Is it because those responses involved a more complex, liberal view of sex work than the Government was prepared to tolerate?

The Government's idiosyncratic attention to the evidence base neglects the vast body of research which shows that Sweden's policy of criminalising buyers of commercial sex (letter, 2 January) is not progressive but rather that it is retrogressive, dangerous, unworkable and expensive, as shown in the June 2005 issue of Criminal Law Review.

Since October 1999, when I and other researchers were invited to the Home Office to discuss prostitution policy, the Government has refused to repeal laws which label and discriminate against sex workers, and maintains practices which impinge on sex workers' human rights. There has been extensive lobbying by the police for greater powers, and this insidious trend has resulted in coercive statutes against sex workers such as the Police and Criminal Justice Act, the Sexual Offences Act, and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

The Government now links any help to sex workers only to leaving sex work, and ties policy to Christian morality and righteousness; the unrealistic aspirations of the abolitionists, whose Canute-like belief that they can halt the ingrained commercialisation of sex in our culture with greater police power and campaigns against purchasers of sex, are ill-advised.

What is needed are admissive statutes that place the onus for safety on to those who are engaged in commercial sex such as brothel owners, advertisers, etc, and the progressive use of labour law, contract law, and human rights law such as those implemented in Europe since ECHR. It is one of the signal failures of New Labour that it has done nothing about sex workers except oppress them further. I call on the Government to publish the responses to its Green Paper so that a sensible workable policy can be discussed and developed.

DR BELINDA BROOKS-GORDON

LECTURER IN PSYCHOLOGY BIRKBECK COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

No opposition from Cameron's Tories

Sir: With the wisdom of his well-nigh two score years the Leader of the Opposition announces a brand-new policy on the NHS: virtual conformity with the programme of the existing government.

So we can look forward to little debate in this area, although it can be argued that the improvements in NHS services delivered by the present government are only modestly impressive in view of the huge expenditure. Other options, such as the introduction of a French-style insurance-based healthcare system, will be ignored.

What other bits and pieces of policy will the boy David adopt in the coming months? It is extraordinary that the development of his party's programme appears to be largely a matter of incorporating whatever whimsical notions take his fancy.

STEVEN TURNBULL

TORQUAY, DEVON

Sir: David Cameron's New Year message to his troops was fascinating. How to say nowt in 121 words (report, 31 December). How long does Mr Cameron think he can go on saying nothing before the public penny drops that, really, he doesn't have anything to say? What a waste of an expensive education.

STEPHEN JACKSON

BEXHILL ON SEA, EAST SUSSEX

Sir: David Cameron likens Gordon Brown to a speak-your-weight machine ("I'm no prisoner of Thatcherism, says Cameron", 2 January). To many people, Cameron looks and sounds just like a Knightsbridge estate agent. With a speak-your-weight machine, at least you definitely get an answer.

NORMAN EVANS

EAST HORSLEY, SURREY

Costs incurred by Duchess of Cornwall

Sir: I am writing to correct inaccuracies and misrepresentations in Robert Verkaik's 3 January article, "Camilla costs £566,000 a year as price of foreign trips soars".

The Duchy of Cornwall's profits received by the Prince of Wales are fully subject to tax. The Prince's financial arrangements are not "complicated and opaque". He is probably the only individual in the UK who publishes annual accounts detailing how he spends his private income, and the Duchy of Cornwall's accounts are subject to scrutiny by independent auditors and the Treasury.

The article implies that an increase in the Prince's personal staff from 17 in 2003 to 29 in 2005 was evidence of "the growing financial burden of supporting" the Duchess of Cornwall. This is not the case. The number of listed personal staff rose from 17 to 29 primarily because estate workers at the Highgrove Home Farm were added to the total for the first time in 2004. Today four personal staff work for the Duchess, and their costs are met by the Prince from his personal income.

The article estimates that £25,000 additional costs were incurred because of the Duchess's presence on the recent US tour. There were no additional travel costs incurred because of the Duchess and her staff, and additional costs in terms of accommodation and meals were relatively minor.

The article quotes a figure of £180,000 for the costs met by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for hotels, meals and "entertainment of staff" on the US tour. There was no cost for the entertainment of staff. The bulk of that figure refers to the cost of entertaining the prominent and influential Americans and other guests who were invited to official functions and events during the tour.

The article implies that the difference between the cost to the FCO of £86,000 for official overseas tours in 2004 and £180,000 for the US tour in 2005 was somehow linked to the presence of the Duchess. This is nonsense. The main reason for the difference is that on many of the 2004 overseas visits the costs of entertaining guests at official tour events were borne by the host government, whereas in the US the costs were borne primarily by the FCO.

Finally, the figures quoted under the sub-heading "The bill for a Duchess" are in many cases, based upon guesswork. In particular, the author has decided that the Duchess accounts for 5 per cent of all the costs incurred by The Prince (including, for example, £62,000 for "wear and tear" of Clarence House). This is an assumption which has no logical basis.

PADDY HARVERSON

COMMUNICATIONS SECRETARY TO TRH THE PRINCE OF WALES AND THE DUCHESS OF CORNWALL, CLARENCE HOUSE, LONDON SW1

Delusions about the EU constitution

Sir: Your article "Deep divisions betray a union in name only" perpetuates the idea that the French and Dutch "no" votes on the constitution had little to do with the contents of the treaty (2005 The Year in Review, 30 December).

This delusion is exactly what led the two governments to defeat in the referendums. The French people don't want to replace their own society with an Anglo-Saxon model and don't want 70 million Turks to be able to live in France. That is why they voted "no". The Dutch are tired of paying the highest per capita share of the burgeoning EU budget, and of seeing power slip away to Brussels.

If you and other "yes" proponents continue to delude yourselves as to the real reasons for "no", you will continue to get the same response from the people. Why not try it with a UK referendum on the EU constitution?

PETER MCCONNELL

HORNING, NORFOLK

Church of England's financial clout

Sir: Roy Thompson (letter, 29 December) says that the Government should give more money to churches so they can open during the day.

The Church of England website reveals that Church Commissioners achieved a return of 13.6 per cent on their investments in 2004, and as a result of above-average performance over the last ten years, the asset value of the fund now stands at a handy £4.3bn. The investment performance alone means that the fund has been able to distribute £37m more each year to the Church, than if the investments had performed only at the industry average over the last 10 years. I fail to see why an organisation with this sort of financial clout should receive any more money from the taxpayer, when there are much higher priorities for public spending.

ALISTAIR MCBAY

METHVEN, PERTH

We are all fat-cat shareholders

Sir: The first sentence of Anthony Bicknell's letter (3 January) asserts that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's description of shareholders as fat-cats demanding ever-increasing returns is "just plain wrong". Unfortunately the rest of his letter goes on to show why Ms Alibhai-Brown is broadly correct.

The justification for his opinion is that the interests of shareholders broadly represent the wealth of the nation. But, of course, we, as a nation, do continually demand ever increasing growth. All politicians, with the exception of the Greens, promote growth in GDP as the aim of their economic policies and they treat us exactly as people who can never be asked to reduce our greed.

So whilst the target of the accusation may be broader than intended, the assertion is quite correct.

DEE QUINN

YORK

Patients have less choice than ever

Sir: We are told that patients are to have a choice of whom they see for hospital appointments (report, 2 January). I have been a GP for 25 years. When I started in practice I could refer patients to wherever I wished in England. After 1990 I was limited to my local hospitals, with a few exceptions with whom the health authority had a contract, but I could choose which consultant I thought was suitable for my patient.

Over the years I have come to know which consultant is good at certain aspects of their job, which ones are wise with certain complications, which ones give me particularly sound advice, which ones will go the extra mile. I would discuss to whom I thought a referral should be made with my patient and if they disagreed they could choose another consultant.

I would suggest that there is now less choice than ever as I now have to refer to a generic consultant such as a cardiologist, gastroenterogist or urologist rather than a named consultant. I have therefore no idea how to advise my patient and cannot see how this is a step towards choice.

DR JENNY YOUNG

NORTH LANCING, WEST SUSSEX

Money supply and a nation of debtors

Sir: Young people should be taught how to avoid debt traps (letter, 4 January) but equally older people should not be allowed to set them. Our current monetary system restricts the amount of debt-free legal tender in the economy and encourages banks to expand credit to fill the gap.

This situation could be easily reversed if the Government re- introduced strict guidelines for fractional reserve ratios. When these operated in the 1950s and 1960s, debt levels were far lower. It is no surprise that we are a nation in debt when most of our nation's money supply is created as debt.

MARK HARMS

CLARA VALE, TYNE AND WEAR

Policy for British ports is shipshape

Sir: Michael Harrison's recent article on ports was all at sea ("Prescott lacking a ports policy", 23 December). The Government already has a ports policy. My colleague Alistair Darling will conduct a review of it this year.

He also wrongly accuses my office of "slipping out" the Bathside Bay port decision. The decision was issued after 5pm because it could have affected share prices. The decision on Bathside Bay, like Dibden Bay before it, was not made by me, but by the Secretary of State for Transport, in line with the recommendations of an independent planning inspector.

JOHN PRESCOTT

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER LONDON SW1

Power of the media

Sir: So Rebekah Wade assaulted her husband but the press made less of the story "after a frantic round of calls among the power players in the media village" (The Year in Review, 30 December). Makes you proud to be British! The truth will out!

MICHAEL BOR

LONDON W2

Gays on film

Sir: Johann Hari's article on Hollywood's one-dimensional portrayal of homosexuality is well observed ("To Hollywood, gays must be tragic or sissy", 3 January). But what strikes me, as someone who works in film, is that given the huge make-up of homosexual people working in the industry, it is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that they too should take some responsiblity for the projection of such an image.

EUGENE O'HARE

LONDON SE17

Liquid assets

Sir: Do environmental groups really believe that meters will prevent a water crisis (report, 2 January)? Our local price of about £2 per tonne, supplied, and disposed, is not a great incentive to half-fill the kettle. For the cost of a meter, installed, the water company could install a replacement economy flush in every loo in the house, saving 4.5 litres per flush, every day, for ever. And instead of reading a meter once a year, send the man round every few years, to replace leaky washers.

BILL HYDE

OFFHAM, KENT

Judging a book

Sir: Philip Hensher (4 January) argues that the undeniable mediocrity of many published novels (especially, one might add, at the level of style) proves that the so-called "slush pile" on which publishing is now turning its back must contain even worse material. Might the reverse not be the case: that the aesthetic judgement of the people choosing what we read is the problem and that the good stuff is simply not being yanked out of the pile because these arbiters no longer know how to recognise it?

NICHOLAS MURRAY

KINNERTON, POWYS

Beatle-bashing

Sir: In common with many commentators over the years, Miles Kington is sniffy about Ringo Starr (30 December). To me, however, as a lad growing up in the 1960s, Ringo was by far the coolest Beatle, regardless of his supposed lack of talent.

PADDY LOGGIN

HINTON-IN-THE-HEDGES, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE

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