Public libraries have become too noisy for quiet study, the ethics of abortion, and others

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The Independent Online

Sir: "Lively Libraries" is an appropriate heading to the correspondence including reference to Bristol City Library (Letters, 14 March). I have been a keen and regular library member in three major cities over 35 years, but I now find going to the beautiful building housing Bristol Central Library a trial. Indeed, I have not been for some months.

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Public libraries have become too noisy for quiet study

Sir: "Lively Libraries" is an appropriate heading to the correspondence including reference to Bristol City Library (Letters, 14 March). I have been a keen and regular library member in three major cities over 35 years, but I now find going to the beautiful building housing Bristol Central Library a trial. Indeed, I have not been for some months.

Why? The "liveliness" of the library makes concentration difficult: telephones constantly ringing, staff talking much louder than necessary, children running and screaming with excitement in this new "playground". What happened to the hushed, restrained atmosphere where one could browse in peace and find adequate seating with tables large enough to hold art books? I applaud the access to the internet and the introduction of the coffee bar and pirates' galleon that the library has seen as necessary to attract the public, but not at the expense of what a library should be about: books, a specialist librarian in sections such as Art, and tranquility.

We seem to be losing our expectations for quiet in some public places, and our children are no longer experiencing the spirituality that comes with respecting the unspoken rules of silence.

Old-fashioned libraries were a haven of peace and learning, and in the case of Bristol, are sadly missed.


Sir: I can't agree with the Brewards, who praised lively libraries. My own has downsized considerably, shelves have been removed and stock has been reduced to make way for more and more computers.

I was recently ousted from our music library, where I was actually trying to study the written word, by a middle-aged man who was not only using the computer like an old-fashioned typewriter, but was also engaged in job interviews, at full volume, on his mobile phone. Unbelievably, such behaviour is encouraged by the staff.

After having been a borrower since childhood I now feel as if I've lost an old and valued friend.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Catholics, Tories and the ethics of abortion

Sir: Catholics should not be fooled into voting for the Conservative Party by church leaders who latch on to the abortion issue at this time. Michael Howard is expressing his own view that the abortion time limit should be reduced. The Catholic church wants a ban on abortion, and even if a Conservative government was to reduce the time limit by a few weeks there would still be no complete ban.

Church leaders need to ask themselves if they remember a Conservative Party either in government or in opposition showing a real interest in anything that was for the greater good of society. How well does the Conservative agenda really sit with the Christian ethos? The Conservatives function well for people who require nothing from society because they can buy good schooling, health care and other services. The rest of us rely on political leaders recognising that there is such a thing as "society" and that I am indeed "my brother's keeper".

Grays, Essex

Sir: Joan Smith seems to approve of the notion that "a woman's right to control her body is paramount" (Opinion, 16 March).

Paramount? Morality is paramount. And incidentally, the "right" is also subject to the law. Ms Smith objects to bishops speaking up. The fact that she doesn't share their thinking and vocabulary is no basis for demanding their silence, which is unreasonable and illiberal.

Self-mutilation and self-destruction, even when affecting only the person concerned, raise obvious issues of law and public morality. Aborting a foetus is a much stronger case. It affects more than the mother herself, more indeed than the mother and the foetus, which incidentally is not her private property, either morally or legally. In short, the assertion of a mother's private "rights", even if entirely consistent with her own ethics, is not decisive in law and cannot be decisive as a matter of public morality.

London NW11

Sir: The key question is not: "When is a foetus a sentient human being?" (report by Jeremy Laurance, 16 March). There is no difference in the potential for sentient existence of a foetus at any stage of its development and an adult who has been temporarily knocked out by a blow to the head. It is simply easier for us to justify ending the foetus' existence because we don't yet have experience of its personality. The key question is: "When is a foetus a human being?" The answer is indisputably from the moment of conception.


Sir: I fail to see how abortion can be an election issue. This is not a subject that follows party lines and MPs are always allowed a free vote, according to their conscience.

I also feel that for the Roman Catholic Church to try and bring it into the election is very unhelpful, because the Church has an agenda directed towards eventually banning all abortions. The last thing this country needs is the re-establishment of the back- street abortionists.

Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire

Sir: As a non-believer medical practitioner I take a rational approach to abortion and consider it totally acceptable up to the age when the foetus can live outside the maternal womb with or without medical intervention.

Of course, medical progress and technology have been reducing the interval between the test tube and the incubator continuously to the point that it is conceivable that the uterus may, some day, become redundant. In that case, abortion will be unnecessary as children will be planned with love and thought, people of child-bearing age will be free to enjoy sex without guilt or fear of repercussions and society and religion will have had time to review their moral perceptions.

London W2

Sir: Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is not speaking for all Catholics when he suggests that we should consider voting Tory over Michael Howard's reactionary views on abortion. Polls show Catholic voters around the world are increasingly out of stop with the Vatican on such issues. More important to a Catholic like me is the Government's support for social justice, particularly in Africa. It seems absurd that the Church would urge Catholics to back a party that wants to slash aid to Africa.

London, NW3

Sir: Your article headed "Abortion: The Facts" (16 March) omitted to mention that according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, Section 37, the time limit of 24 weeks of pregnancy does not apply when there is risk to the life and health of the pregnant woman or when there is risk of the child being born with serious handicap. In those cases abortion may legally be performed until just before birth.


Refugee doctors

Sir: The UNHCR representative in London (Letters, 8 March) makes an important point about the need for action to assist refugee health professionals into jobs. This is both to comply with international human rights obligations on integration and also because the NHS needs them even more than they need the NHS.

However, the situation is not exactly as was described. There are more refugee doctors in the UK than are on the BMA database and, similarly, more doctors are working in the NHS than the figures quoted. The BMA is a partner in a consortium of 12 organisations working in London to support refugee doctors in this area. This consortium's database has over 900 doctors on it, of whom just over 150 are known to be in jobs.

The money being spent on integrating health professionals that the UNHCR refers to is money provided by the Department of Health for England. This comes to an end this spring after four years of funding. Other sources of funding have been from within the NHS, itself an achievement given the pressures to achieve higher profile targets. Non-NHS sources of funding are often surprised that the NHS does not more fully support initiatives of this nature.

Evaluations of the costs for supporting health professionals back to work suggest £10,000 per doctor spread over two to three years and £3,000 per nurse over one to two years. This compares very favourably with the £250,000 required to graduate a doctor from medical school in the UK. Refugee doctors are more likely to support the communities with which they have social ties, thus providing much-needed medical skills for some of the most marginalised communities in the UK.

The NHS must ensure that it truly lives up to its aim of having "a workforce of all the talents"; this can be contributed to by assisting with the integration of refugee health professionals.

Chairman, BMA International Committee

Senior Lecturer, City University St Bartholomew School of Nursing and Midwifery, London WC1

Sinn Fein's peace

Sir: Your leading article of 15 March is flawed for want of internal logic. On the one hand you indicate that Sinn Fein are useful to the peace process in that they have been able to exert influence over the IRA. On the other hand you say that they must sever all links with the IRA, thus giving up whatever useful influence they previously had.

Whatever the faults of Sinn Fein, it must be accepted that they have moved mountains to bring almost the entire Irish republican movement with them down the peace process road. Irish history is littered with examples of the disastrous consequences of political republicanism disavowing armed republicanism in the face of the wishes of republican people. The emergence of the "Provisional" IRA is only the most recent example of what happens when political republicanism abandons militant republicanism without first managing to persuade them of the need and time to change.

Should Sinn Fein bow to your demand, and the demands of other British commentators, to sever all links with the IRA, a vacuum will be created, which will quickly be filled by a "Provisional Sinn Fein". Thus defeating the efforts of so many, including Sinn Fein, to achieve a lasting and just peace in Northern Ireland.

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Insult to black people

Sir: I refute the claims reported in your article that Robert Kilroy-Silk's new Veritas Party is a racist organisation (Pandora, 1 March). Neither am I in any way "a sop to the ethnic minorities".

To say that I described children from ethnic minorities as "budding criminals" is to misrepresent my interview. That would be an insult to all ethnic communities, including the black community. The word "budding" suggests that ethnic, including black, children have an inherent bent towards crime. On the contrary, the view I expressed in my interview was that there is a danger of immigrant children being led into crime by treatment they may encounter in this country.

Black politicians must address Parliament concerning the struggle of our community and black issues. Change must come. If only the media would accept that we're on the move now.

Croydon, Surrey

It's a gift

Sir: Guy Keleny (Errors & Omissions, 12 March) complains about the misinterpretation of "I fear the Greeks even when they bear gifts" from Virgil's Aeneid. But the misquoted "Beware Greeks bearing gifts" is much more direct and useful. Its overuse has the dangers of cliché but it allows us to ascribe to legend a bit of everyday wisdom.

The improvement of quotations is a popular practice. The biographer Hesketh Pearson, in a collection of Common Misquotations, explains that many clarify the meaning, some change it, nearly all enhance the beauty or force of the original text. We should treasure them as much as the originals.


From Iraq to Taiwan

Sir: China has just passed a law that allows it to invade a weaker country (Taiwan) if it decides it wants to. The US has called this "unfortunate". But why? George W Bush himself set a precedent for invading another country only two years ago.

London SW20

Cost of democracy

Sir: Steve Cole's breezy assertion that freedom and democracy have come to Afghanistan and Iraq at "a cost of a few sleepless nights" to western opponents of the war (letter, 16 March) will no doubt be of great comfort to the hundreds of thousands of people who will by now have lost loved ones or had their property destroyed in those countries. The people who are paying the price for Bush's self-interested version of democracy were not consulted.

Milton Keynes

Greatest Pole?

Sir: So the French have included Madame Marie Curie in their nominations for the title "Greatest French Person of all Time". Although married to a Frenchman, she was Polish, born Maria Sklodowsk in Warsaw. She had to fight prejudices against foreigners and sexism which, in 1911, prevented her from entering the Academy of Science. Perhaps the nomination is a case of better late than never?

London EC3

No laughing matter

Sir: Honestly, I've tried to remain optimistic. I've got a cold, Bush has been re-elected, our own dissembler looks set for a third term, religious fundamentalism is resurgent and global warming is to become irreversible within two decades. In spite of all this I maintained my faith in Homo sapiens, but if Lee Evans has been selected as our third favourite comedian (report, 14 March) then we deserve our apocalyptic fate.