Pets, Blair and others

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Children should not be allowed to buy a pet until they are 16

Children should not be allowed to buy a pet until they are 16

Sir: The proposal in the Animal Welfare Bill to stop under-16s from being able to buy pets was criticised in your editorial "A duty of care" (15 July) for potentially sending out the message that "children are, by their very nature, cruel to animals". This conclusion seems a little extreme given the idea behind the proposal is to promote responsible pet ownership.

While we wholeheartedly believe it is beneficial for children to play an active role in caring for pets, the RSPCA agrees with Defra that they should not be allowed to buy one until they are 16 years old.

We want to ensure that animals are not bought on impulse - without parental consent - simply because they look cute or to follow a trend (wanting a "Nemo" clown fish was a recent craze, hot on the heels of Harry Potter owls). Impulse decisions don't allow for careful consideration of the environment, diet, companionship, and veterinary care required for that particular animal. And then, if the child's parents do allow it through the door, it might prove too expensive and time-consuming to look after.

The decision to have a pet is a serious one, which should be carefully deliberated by all the family to ensure the animal is properly looked after for its entire lifetime.

What is beyond doubt is that too many animals currently face an uncertain future of neglect or abandonment. Nearly 20,000 animals were rescued or collected by the RSPCA in 2003 alone. It is for this reason the RSPCA applauds every proposal in the Animal Welfare Bill that could help reduce this number.

JACKIE BALLARD
Director General, RSPCA, Horsham, West Sussex

We are right to keep on questioning Blair

Sir: John Rentoul complains that "liberal, middle-class journalists" and the media in general are out to "get" Blair over the Iraq invasion, come what may (16 July). Lord Butler, he claims, has thwarted them, as Hutton did.

Mr Rentoul claims that Blair did not take us to war on a false premise - he did it, he says, because Saddam Hussein was in material breach of UN resolutions, missing the point that it is not for individual members of the UN Security Council to take it upon themselves to enforce UN resolutions.

Lord Butler says that Blair left out the caveats and qualifications that the intelligence services included in their reports to him and the Cabinet in the two dossiers and his statements to Parliament. Yet in the same report Butler says the PM acted in good faith. Closer inspection of Butler reveals that the processes of government were turned into something more akin to a banana republic than an advanced Western democracy. You do not have to be a liberal, middle-class journalist to find these contradictions frustrating and want to "get" the man responsible for it all.

Iraq has been turned from a country where al-Qa'ida could not operate into one where it is free to roam. The Middle East and the wider world is consequently less safe. The UK's relations with Europe's great powers and the UN have been gravely damaged. Our Prime Minister clearly mislead Parliament and the country at large in his determination to take the UK into a war in which British service personnel have been killed and wounded, and well over 10,000 citizens of a foreign country have been killed and countless more maimed, yet he continues in office. How does Mr Rentoul expect the media and the country at large to react?

JAMES GIBSON-WATT
Hay-on-Wye, Powys

Sir: John Rentoul's article demonstrates exactly the mindset which is bringing the governance and reputation of our country into disrepute.

I find his suggestion that getting Blair "is the only story they [the British media] really want" disrespectful to the fact that our Prime Minister entered us into a war in which tens of thousands of lives have been lost, without yet fully justifying the reason for doing so. Any media who would not be persistent in questioning a Prime Minister on such a key public interest issue where opinion is divided would be execrable.

Yet Mr Rentoul's attitude is symptomatic of what is becoming the most serious aspect of the whole affair. Bare facts have been uncovered that cast serious doubt on the Prime Minister's judgement to sacrifice life in Iraq at that time.

But our ongoing inability to officially uncover the key detail and assign specific responsibility to settle this issue is tarnishing our country's reputation. The Government wants us to accept Butler as the last word, and asks us to move on as if it is those still in pursuit of the whole truth who are displaying unnecessary "obstinacy". This is shameful.

It may now be down to the electorate to bring the ultimate rebuke. The by-elections give hope that this issue will not be forgotten, but whatever transpires from now it is unforgivable that those involved in these matters have shirked such a great responsibility.

ASHLEY KNIGHT
Southampton

Sir: That the Government lied to us to justify the war in Iraq is no longer in dispute. The shocking thing to me is that there is no consensus that this matters.

John Rentoul and several letter writers argue that people who believe such public dishonesty does matter are opportunists who are merely seizing on the escalating revelations to serve their pre-existing agendas. The implication is that nobody is really shocked or outraged by the principles at all, and that everyone is just as cynical as everyone else.

This is not a game of football; it is not a contest between card-carrying lefties and pro-war righties, between single-issue zealots of the pro-Blair and anti-Blair camps, or between any other pairs of polarised groups. Those who treat the huge historical issue of the lead-up to the war in Iraq in such simplistic, childlike terms are wrong.

By their public proclamation of their inability to make the right judgement on issues of principle they condemn themselves to the contempt of ordinary people who, to a very large extent, can make valid judgements on these issues.

JAMES A R WILLIS
Alton, Hampshire

Sir: The politicians and academics will debate the whys and wherefores of the Iraqi war for some time to come. Personally, like Mr Edwards (Letters, 17 July), I focus on the outcome. Iraq is free and will soon have a democratically elected government. In time the forces of law and order will prevail.

Throughout history people have fought and died for freedom. Have we forgotten the images for the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled? The Iraqis were elated.

Nobody can be happy about the current situation in Iraq. But freedom and democracy must prevail, no matter what the cost. Freedom has, and always will be, worth paying for.

MEV BROWN
Edinburgh

Sir: The Prime Minister and John Scarlett acted in good faith. So did Andrew Gilligan, Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davies and David Westwood.

Is it then only when your misjudgement kills tens of thousands of men, women and children that you get to keep your job?

ROSEMARY GORDON
Bristol

Sir: With reference to Trevor Pateman's letter (16 July), surely T S Eliot had it right when he wrote (in Murder in the Cathedral) "the last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason."

KATE HARWOOD
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Child custody

Sir: The Government should be circumspect when considering any change in the law relating to access to children whose parents have separated ("Estranged fathers to get more access to children", 18 July).

Probably there is room for an attitude change. Recent research, and less recent anecdotal evidence, supports the thesis that children have psychological needs for continuing with a male parent figure, provided, as with the female parent, he is not a rejecting or otherwise harmful person.

However, to make it a law that a child must spend an equal amount of time with both separated parents would ensure that in many cases, most I suspect, the child would suffer. This is not because of individual "bad" parenting, but on account of the stress such a forced arrangement would produce. The key question is how would it be managed? Half a week each and a swap over on the Wednesday? Alternate weeks? And what about schooling?

I have met children who have experienced such a programme (arranged amicably outside the courts) and they have pleaded for a change. The children want one home base, one set of friends, and two parents. We must not lose the Children Act decree: that the welfare of the child is paramount.

KENNETH REDGRAVE
Consultant in Child Care
Northwich, Cheshire

British manufacturing

Sir: Those of us who can distinguish science, engineering and technology (SET) from manufacturing will have no difficulty in accepting the thrust of Stephen King's article, "Let's not get sentimental over manufacturing" (Business, 12 July).

Unfortunately, there is a tendency throughout Britain to equate manufacturing with SET, and the negative vibrations Mr King imparts to the former spill over to the latter, with unfortunate consequences for labour markets and the motivation of talented young people.

As Chancellor Gordon Brown repeatedly states, high-level SET skills are crucial to the economic well-being of Britain since we have so few other natural resources. Manufacturing may now be a globally available commodity, but Britain's SET community and innovation are not.

Dr DAVID RHODES
Wollaton, Nottingham

Sir: Stephen King's piece on the future of UK manufacturing would be deeply depressing if his arguments weren't so flawed. He seems to be firmly of the Blairite view that we must somehow vest our economic future in making sandwiches for each other, else rely upon wresting back a largely unwanted call centre industry that has already fled our shores to ply its easily replicated formula elsewhere.

Manufacturing does have a future here. Take a look at the factories making hi-tech wings for the Airbus 380 or the success of the British-made BMW Mini and the various world-class supply chains that serve them. And that future lies in the present, not in the past; in the hands of world-class engineers, not what he disparagingly calls "widget makers".

KEN HURST
Editorial director, The Manufacturer,
Norwich

Wind energy

Sir: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is right to criticise the Government's energy policy (Business; report, 15 July). The Government's faith in wind power is unrealistic and ignores serious concerns about security of energy supply.

Although a recent Royal Academy of Engineering report showed that electricity from off-shore wind farms could be significantly more expensive than that from conventional energy sources, high cost is only one of the factors militating against the Government's targets for renewables being met. Constructing and installing wind turbines at the rate required will be a significant engineering challenge in itself.

The Government should give the public an annual report on progress towards the UK's target of 20 per cent by 2020, including the full costs of both the standby generation and distribution system upgrades that will be needed to ensure security of supply.

PHILIP GREENISH
Chief Executive
Royal Academy of Engineering
London SW1

Christian stamps

Sir: I read (13 July) that the Church of England synod has called for Christian-themed Christmas stamps. But, in reply, the Royal Mail said Britain was a multi-faith society.

Of course Britain is a multi-faith society, but if it were not for Jesus Christ there would be no Christmas, and therefore no need for Christmas stamps. It is very sad that Christians living in Britain cannot have Christian-themed Christmas stamps. Christmas is, after all, a Christian festival; and should not be secularised.

BRENDA HAMILTON
Clydebank, Dunbartonshire

Tomato plants

Sir: Thank you for your excellent article on growing tomatoes (Anna Pavord, 17 July). However in discussing watering you did not mention blossom-end rot. To avoid this I find that I must never let my plants dry out once the first fruits have set. Perhaps there is some other way of preventing this problem?

A C DALE
Stratford-sub-Castle, Salisbury

Well-behaved Scots

Sir: Janet Street-Porter (15 July) describes how British tourists misbehave, wear English sports shirts and cause havoc in Faliraki.

I doubt if she would find a Scotsman wearing an English sports shirt and I seem to remember Celtic fans being given a special award from Uefa for their impeccable behaviour in Seville. When I have been on holiday and the locals have called me "English" I have corrected them to "Scottish" and their reaction, consistently, is to praise the Scots and criticise the English.

When things go well the English are the English, but when they do not they become the Brits.

ERIC B SIMMONS
North Berwick, East Lothian

Tory territory

Sir: So Brent isn't the Tories' natural territory, and now neither is Leicester, nor Birmingham. In 1983 they held two of Leicester's three seats; and five out of 11 in Birmingham. Maybe they could help us all out by specifying exactly where their remaining natural territory is?

JON MAY, JACKIE ANDRADE
Sheffield

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