Michael Ancram, ID cards and others

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The Independent Online

How a Tory MP helped a Colombian architect return to the UK

How a Tory MP helped a Colombian architect return to the UK

Sir: Twenty years ago, while working as a lecturer in a further education college, I became involved in the immigration problems of one of the part-time students, a middle-aged Colombian architect. Having obtained leave of absence for a conference in Italy that when she got there did not take place, our friend decided to return to Edinburgh to continue to improve her English.

At Gatwick she was grilled by immigration. Everything counted against her, including trips to Spain and Italy and her professional status. Her address book was scrutinised, while scraps of paper were read and re-read.

After six weeks of hard work by my MP and his secretary I discovered that the only evidence the immigration service had been able to find that she was seeking employment was an unsigned draft of a letter to the Scottish Tourist Board. This scrap of paper could just as easily have been college homework.

The MP and his secretary in the House did a superb job. Before returning to Colombia my architect friend visited Egypt with an Edinburgh University extra- mural group. On her return to Heathrow, when she asked for one month's visa (actually needing only two weeks to pack bags), she was given six months. Being an open person, she told them all about Gatwick. They shrugged: "We're Heathrow; that was Gatwick." A letter from the Home Secretary explaining her situation - and specially obtained by my MP - was not even needed.

It was later that I learned that immigration law is open, but that immigration practice is secret. There was considered to be "pressure to emigrate" from Colombia, and my student's professional status made her case worse, not better.

My MP at the time was Michael Ancram, now chairman of the Conservative Party.


Dangers for liberty of proposed ID cards

Sir: On the issue of identity cards (letters, 10 April) several things must be considered. The conventional argument of "if you've done nothing wrong you don't have to worry" is naive and misleading. Something "wrong" in the eyes of the government, police or even public opinion does not neccessarily mean something illegal; and even when it is illegal it will not just be what they think you've done, but what they think you might do.

Skin colour, ethnic minority membership and youth are factors of high suspicion to the police and establishment; and it is black people, other ethnic groups, poor whites and young people who will overwhelmingly be ordered to produce cards.

Even if the law does not initially state that cards must be carried at all times, this will inevitably follow later. Those without cards will be held at police stations until cards are forthcoming - and sometimes for longer.

ID cards will do nothing to prevent terrorism or crime. The day they come in forged ones will be manufactured and on sale, strengthening the hand of the malefactor who can show a card.

There must be a readiness to point all this out, and oppose the cards.

London N22

Sir: A system of ID cards will only work if everyone, whether British national, an EU citizen, a foreigner with residency or a tourist, carries one.

I assume that everyone entering the UK will need to have an ID card or passport carrying personal data. Before issue, fingerprints and iris scans will be run against a UK database of millions to ensure an ID card has not already been issued to this person using another identity. Imagine the queue at the airport.

A holder of dual nationality may have different names on each, or different spelling of the same name on legitimate passports. Arabic, Indian, Chinese and other scripts do not readily translate into English. If we accept foreign ID cards or passports as proof of ID then these will need to be checked against a global database before allowing entry into the UK. Checks could involve a visitor spending days in secure accommodation instead of seeing the sights of London.

ID cards may make getting a job, dealing with a traffic offence or opening a bank account easier for the honest, but will do nothing to stop terrorists blowing us up.

Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sir: What will be the going rate for bribing data entry clerks at David Blunkett's national ID database centre?At my local pub we guess the following: removing a bad reference (eg criminal record) from our file, £100; adding a good one (eg academic qualification), £100; adding a bad reference (eg a medical condition to rule out promotion at work) to someone else's file, £500; a card with our details but a false name, £1,000.

How do I become a national ID data entry clerk?

London E11

Risks in life and living

Sir: Far from being "impossible to exaggerate" the threat of terrorism, as Wole Soyinka suggested in his recent Reith Lecture, it is now very hard not to. But a grown-up view of risk remains an actuarial view. It is quantified. It takes account of the fact that, for instance, we kill about 3,500 people per year (10 per day) on our roads; while Americans murder about 25,000 of each other per year (70 per day); and about 12 of us die per year putting on our socks. Life goes on - as it did in British, German and Japanese cities under daily bombardment, with thousands of casualties, a few decades ago.

Above all, we should remember the great if obvious truth that life itself is a sexually transmitted condition which is 100 per cent fatal - and put al- Qa'ida firmly into perspective.

Wells, Somerset

First-time racial abuse

Sir: I am sorry that your correspondent Mazen Khiami (letter, 9 April) was racially abused for the first time recently, but I wonder in how many other countries he would have reached the age of 42 without being the object of a single case of racial abuse. I am about the same age as Mr Khiami and I have been racially abused on several occasions (though never, I think, by a Muslim) and I'm white.

Mr Khiami's prepared reply about Christians murdering various peoples is somewhat selective and confuses race and religion in the same way that he laments in others. Perhaps he, as a Muslim, could enlighten the rest of us on how to resolve the contradictory messages Islam is giving the West; on the one hand we shouldn't judge people by groups, but on the other hand some prominent Muslims are on record as saying that the West is immoral and needs to be conquered by Islam.

London E7

Explicit pictures

Sir: You report the titillating news that 15-year-old girls have been publishing explicit photographs on the internet in exchange for free mobile-phone air-time (In Brief, 10 April). Are we to understand that in modern parlance, the word "explicit" automatically comes loaded with the nudge-nudge, wink-wink implication that the images are of a sexual nature? Surely explicitness, with all its connotations of "clarity", has to be qualified by the word "sexually" if it is to be shocking. Otherwise, perhaps the reason for the publicity-seeking pubescents' abrupt rise to fame is a precocious talent for photography or the increasing quality in the image-resolution to be found in digital-camera mobile phones - as toted by cool adolescent females everywhere.

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Minimum wage

Sir: Your piece on the National Minimum Wage of 3 April ("Five years on, 200,000 workers are paid less than the minimum wage") misses one very important point: employers who do not meet their obligations to pay the minimum wage are now breaking the law. Not only that, there is a stringent compliance regime in place to punish employers who fail to meet their responsibilities.

Your piece also omitted one further vital piece of information: workers earning less than the minimum wage should phone the National Minimum Wage helpline on 0845 6000 678 as they are entitled to backdated wages and paid holiday.

Minister For Employment Relations, Competition and Consumers
London SW1

End of the line

Sir: St Pancras station is indeed a magnificent structure as Michael McCarthy's article says (report, 10 April), but in its heyday it was much more than a "gateway to the cities of the English East Midlands".

This was the London terminal of The Midland Railway which, despite its provincial-sounding name, was arguably the only truly national system in this country before the creation of British Rail. The Midland owned, part-owned or had running rights over lines which enabled it to run services the length and breadth of Britain, and it had more large centres of population on its many routes than any other company.

One could enjoy the seaside air at Bournemouth or St Andrews, at Morecambe or Great Yarmouth. It may have taken a little longer to reach Edinburgh or Glasgow than by the East or West coast routes, but one would have travelled in more comfortable carriages, eaten better food in the most up-to-date dining cars and enjoyed the grandeur of the Settle and Carlisle line. In fact, a favourite joke of the time was "St George for England - St Pancras for Scotland".

The Midland also owned its own docks, with ferries sailing from Heysham and Stranraer to Dublin and Belfast, where one could make use of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway - also owned by The Midland.

Does any of this matter to anybody other than the railway history buff? Yes, it is received wisdom that we need to learn from the successes and failures of history, and the history of The Midland Railway showed rather more successes and fewer failures than the sorry tale of mismanagement of recent years.


Internet holiday

Sir: Simon Calder's article about the decline in popularity of the traditional package holiday (9 April) was interesting. I think, though, he leaves out a key enabling factor - the technology of the internet.

I have never taken a package holiday in my life but my wife and I, who are in our late forties, are about to go to Majorca for the first time. We put our short holiday together in a thoroughly modern way: the flight was bought on-line from bmibaby.com; the hotel was booked through an on-line agency, alpha-beds.com; we arranged car-hire through expedia.co.uk; and car-parking for our own car at East Midlands through that airport's web-site.

A few days before our departure we will buy foreign currency from the bank, on-line. At this point we may actually go the local branch of the bank to collect the euros, as delivery of foreign currency to a branch is free but delivery to our home costs a couple of pounds. If we do collect from the bank, this will be the first face-to-face contact we will have had in the whole process.

I ought to tell you what has prompted this holiday. Our daughter went to Majorca last summer and sent us the pictures she took there - by e-mail, of course.


Great bustards

Sir: In presenting news of the welcome return of the great bustard after a 200-year absence (report, 10 April) you mention that it had been hunted to extinction here by the 1800s. Would those hunters be the behavioural ancestors of our contemporary hunters who are so vociferous in telling us what a vital role they play in conservation? Or are the present-day ones wholly devoted to protecting the countryside from the gaze of and criticism by us townspeople, who largely pay for it?

New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Organically challenged

Sir: Has Allan D Forrester (letter, 7 April) not realised that the whole "organic" industry is aimed at the "knit-your-own-muesli", buy-with-your-eyes townie market? Rural consumers, knowing a bit about growing things, are not prepared to pay premium prices for ordinary products and are thus ignored by the organic machine.

Soham, Cambridgeshire

Smoke-free work places

Sir: Your editorial "Smoking ban? The market, not the state, should decide" (9 April) completely misses the point. The Irish legislation is not about stopping smoking in pubs, but ensuring employees have a smoke-free working environment.

Petersfield, Hampshire

Magna sealed

Sir: Magna Carta was never signed (letter, 10 April); it was sealed. Documents were authenticated thus in 1215, and for hundreds of years thereafter. Most likely King John read French but could not write it, and knew no Latin at all. The miles literatus, the knight who had some Latin, was known at that time, but was unusual indeed.

Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire

French mystery

Sir: I read your report that the famous french author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry may have committed suicide in his own aircraft in 1944 (8 April). I wonder whether the French may now rethink the wisdom of having named Lyon's international airport after him?


A slogan isn't working

Sir: Lord Saatchi is asking the public for a new Tory slogan (report, 8 April). How about "Last time we conned you into putting us back into power two million of you lost your jobs, but we and our friends got richer"?

Waverton, Cheshire