'Neighbours from hell', gay clergy and others

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The Independent Online

The 'neighbours from hell' may have a story to tell

Sir: MPs should be careful when generalising about anti-social behaviour ("Blunkett declares war on bad behaviour", 15 October). Their judgements are probably formed on the basis of complaints they receive from one party to a conflict.

Mediation services around the country often hear from one household how the one next door, above or below behaves intolerably and is so unreasonable that it's not worth speaking to them. We then visit the second party, and hear that the first either has its own aggravating ways, or at least is perceived as unpleasant in the way it complains. If they agree to meet, with mediators, in eight or nine cases out of ten they work out an agreement about future conduct and communication. Of course it doesn't always work, and there are some who really do behave intolerably; but it is important not to exaggerate.

Local authorities should therefore not be judged by the number of anti-social behaviour orders, but by the number of ASBOs plus mediations; the higher the proportion of mediations the better. Some of the money saved on expensive and long-drawn-out legal procedures should be used to fund local independent mediation services. It should not come only from housing budgets: private tenants and owner-occupiers are just as capable of fighting as council tenants. Peer mediation programmes, teaching children to resolve conflicts without violence, are also a vital investment for the future.

Finally, prevention: about half the complaints in our local mediation service concern noise, usually household noise. Houses converted to flats, and even new buildings, commonly have totally inadequate sound-insulation. The Government should insist on higher standards, so that volunteer mediators do not have to give their time for preventable problems.

London SW2
The writer was a founder-member of Mediation UK, and is a volunteer mediator with Lambeth Mediation Service

Sir: Paul Barker is correct to argue that concerns over anti-social behaviour are real, and that, in tackling them, the Government and all of us need to address "deeper social concerns" ("Don't worry about guns, worry about graffiti", 15 October).

A good place to start would be to promote social behaviour in children both before and during the primary years, as well as the much needed anti-social behaviour containment measures.

The Prime Minister should set us the third-term ambition of doing for social behaviour what we have done so successfully for numeracy and literacy, including putting it in the National Curriculum. In this way, we would also be taking a preventative and pre-emptive approach to a problem which if not tackled requires a lifetime of costly remedial measures.

(Nottingham North, Lab)
House of Commons

Church dilemma over gay clergy

Sir: When lifelong Anglicans like myself leave the Church of England for the Orthodox or the Roman Catholics, this has little to do with so-called "homophobia" and everything to do with the inability of our English Church to maintain Christian doctrine.

The reason why practising homosexuals should not offer themselves as Christian ministers is the same reason as has prevented me, a divorced and remarried man, from accepting the offer of ordination - I am not able by my life to witness sufficiently to the ideal of Christian conduct.

The ideal for human conduct is revealed by Christ and transmitted through the scriptures. Like the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth, it is nonsense to the secular world and cannot be established by observation of actual human behaviour. It is the world's desire to persuade us from such strange ways of believing and proceeding - ways that challenge secular rationalism - that lends such passion to the current dispute.

Otherwise, why would a tiny minority of practising homosexuals of both sexes - only between 2 and 3 per cent according to the best available surveys - attract such advocacy from the media and elsewhere? As a divorced and re-married man, I have found much love and support in the Christian Church, and I hope I give such love and support to my homosexual friends; but I pray that no one will campaign for the "right" of the divorced (a larger minority) to be priests nor contemplate splitting a whole Church communion on their behalf.

St John's College, Cambridge
The writer was a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission, 1969-80 and of the Liturgical Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia, 1977-86

Sir: His Grace Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria says he "cannot think how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man" ("Schism looms as Anglican clergy oppose gay bishop", 10 October). Nothing more graphically illustrates the complete lack of understanding which he, and others like him, have of the human condition they so vehemently and so often condemn.

Does the reverend gentleman seriously suggest that distinguished men such as Julius Caesar, Frederick the Great, Lawrence of Arabia, Tchaikovsky, Gide, Proust, E M Forster, Somerset Maugham, Maynard Keynes ... were mentally deranged? These are just a random handful of the wide, extensive variety of gay men for whom I could supply detailed evidence and sources. They include politicians, soldiers, diplomats, artists, philosophers, actors, poets and even a couple of mountaineers, all of them talented and outstanding in their chosen professions.

I do not think any of this will impress the Archbishop of Nigeria. Indeed he would probably think me stark, staring mad if he knew I had a 46-year blissful relationship with my same-sex partner who died earlier this year. Perhaps he is right; I await the arrival of men in white coats with equanimity.

Frome, Somerset

Sir: Paul McGregor (letter, 14 October) despises the Anglican Church for being too preoccupied "with whether its bishops should be allowed to go around sodomising other men".

No doubt going round sodomising other men was what St Paul condemned some of the Corinthians for. It is not what clergy, including bishops, are doing when they live in loving and constant homosexual relationships. To suggest that it is would be to bear false witness, surely one of the most odious infamies proscribed in the Bible.

Little Abington, Cambridgeshire

Sir: Turning out a cupboard today, I chanced on an old copy of Gay News. Dated 18 October 1979, its headline read "Gay sex splits bishops", the occasion being a C of E report on - guess what - homosexuality. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

Milton Keynes

Hybrid weeds

Sir: I must correct the false impression given in your report on the cross-pollination between oilseed rape and the wild turnip (10 October). Field experiments carried out in the UK more than ten years ago showed conclusively that oilseed rape does not survive in the wild. As your article admitted, researchers had to "scour the countryside" to find any plants of bargeman's cabbage, as this species is restricted to certain habitats, and does not spread widely.

To become serious arable weeds, plants have to have a dozen or so biological characteristics (including high seed multiplication and short lifecycle) which have been well known for decades. Neither of these brassica species possesses enough of these characteristics individually so hybrids between them, even if they contain herbicide tolerance genes, will not become serious weeds.

This is self-evident from the work you report, as these hybrids have been formed annually since oilseed rape became a widespread arable crop 30 or 40 years ago and there is no evidence of emergence of a new class of serious weed as a result. So please, why is there any cause for fear and alarm?

Winnersh, Berkshire

Lib Dems turn right

Sir: Mr Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats have certainly made a move to the right with their espousal of economic liberalism (leading article, 14 October). Whether that turns out to be a desirable move is debatable.

The recent policy paper Setting Business Free, steered through the conference by Vincent Cable, is brimful of Thatcherite thinking; compulsory arbitration for unions in dispute in the emergency services for example. It includes the unthinkable notion of considering privatisation of the Royal Mail delivery service, which delivers on average 83 million letters and items daily. It isn't a serious argument to suggest that a private operator or operators could provide a more efficient or competitive service.

The Liberal Democrats should be careful that in their headlong rush to please consumers they don't ignore producers and become a Tory Party Mark 3, thus depriving the electorate of genuine choice.

Portland, Dorset

Not British  

Sir: Surely your "thought for the day" (16 October)should have been attributed to: "Edmund Burke Irish [not British] politician".

School of Historical, Political and Sociological Studies
University of Exeter

Price of a pint

Sir: I read with interest that the average price of a pint of beer is £2.07 and that the cheapest area for a pint is Nottinghamshire at £1.84 ("Gastropub revolution", 15 October). Indeed I will probably share this information with a few friends in my local on Friday evening. We shall be in the Wilton, which is a Holts pub, a regional brewer in Manchester, drinking bitter at £1.29 a pint.


Ulster troubles

Sir: Thanks to Sean O'Driscoll for pointing out that Northern Ireland is in Ulster rather than the other way round (Letters, 15 October). Regarding his proposed substitute wording however, could I further make the point that Ulster can surely not be considered a "UK hotspot" for anything, when three counties out of the nine are in fact in the Republic of Ireland?


Excessive demand

Sir: Obviously, overcrowding on trains should be reduced by a "congestion charge", of say £5 a day. It's not the railway companies at fault; it's the users, for there being too many of them.

London E2