Relgious hatred, carbon quotas and others

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The Independent Online

Pagans, witches and a misconceived religious hate law

Pagans, witches and a misconceived religious hate law

Sir: I read, with disbelief, the article "Religious hate law would protect witches and cults" (10 June). Although I agree that the law is wrong at best, dangerous at worst, I could not believe that witches and Pagans are vilified by equating them to Satanists and cults. Religious hatred has always been fuelled by ignorance, the same type of ignorance shown in this article. Pagans and witches (or Wiccans) are not remotely like Satanists or cultists.

The Pagan religions are nature-based spiritualities. They believe in the duality of divinity and celebrate the cycle of life through the seasons. The Pagan federation definition is "A follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion which incorporates beliefs and ritual practices from ancient traditions".

A high percentage of Pagans are part of the environmental and social change movements and can be seen at demonstrations in support of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International etc. Most Pagans also live by the morale code "if it harms none, do what you will". Hardly something to be scared of!

The Pagan religions are recognised by the Home Office and the NHS. In fact, the Pagan Federation operates a hospital and prison visiting ministry in much the same way as the Christian churches do.



Sir: The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill is a fundamentally misconceived, unnecessary, and hazardous piece of draft legislation.

It should be an entrenched principle of a free, democratic society that no ideas are sacrosanct. No set of ideas should be protected against trenchant public criticism. The law should not exalt those who say: "I do not want my credo questioned in public, as that would be an insult to me and my beliefs".

There is a categorical difference between inciting racial hatred and attacking a set of beliefs. People cannot change their race but ideas can and do change. Ideas should not be afforded a legal immunity from criticism. If I belong to a religion which fervently believes that left-handed people are inferior to right-handed people, and that children must wear blindfolds after dusk, should I be entitled to demand punishment for anyone who dares to say that me and my fellow believers are dangerous and foolish?

You report that ministers say the reason for the proposed law is to "send out a powerful message that inciting racial hatred will not be tolerated". That is indeed an important message but we already have substantial legislation to deal with such racist malevolence, and current legislative lacunae can be dealt with simply by narrow amendments to current law.



Sir: In the 2001 census, 390,127 declared themselves as followers of the Jedi religion. Does this mean that a critical review of a Star Wars film (surely the Jedi equivalent of the Bible or Koran) would fall foul of the religious hatred laws?



Smart solutions for a greener planet

Sir: Once again your front page flags up the dangers of climate change ("G8 scientists tell Bush: act now - or else", 8 June) and Professor Smith (letter, 7 June) proposes a scheme for rationing emissions from road transport as part of the solution.

Researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research have extended this concept to a scheme for reducing greenhouse emissions from all energy sources. Under the scheme, known as "Domestic Tradable Quotas", the Government opens an electronic "carbon account" for all citizens. Each account holds an equal number of permits ("carbon units") to emit greenhouse gases. Carbon units are surrendered each time fuel or electricity is purchased, using either a smart card (at garages) or by direct debit (for utility bills). Carbon units are tradable, so low emitters can profit from selling their surplus to high emitters on a national "carbon market". The level of carbon units in circulation is reduced year-on-year, gradually bringing emissions under control.

Emissions reduction should be effective, equitable and efficient. DTQs place a direct cap on emissions, making reduction effective, and their "fair shares of the air" make reduction equitable. And, by harnessing the power of information technology and the market, DTQs reduce emissions efficiently.




Sir: I have appreciated the articles in The Independent highlighting the environmental damage done by unnecessary air traffic. So, with this in mind, and being a committed Europhile, I headed off to my local supermarket (Waitrose) to buy some fruit.

I had the choice of: apples from Israel, South Africa and New Zealand; limes from Brazil; lemons from South Africa; grapes from Israel, India and South Africa; pears from New Zealand and South Africa; cherries from the USA; grapefruit from the USA and Israel; plums from Israel; avocados from Peru.

I thought the point of the EU was that we traded with each other. No wonder Waitrose fruit costs so much when all that aviation fuel has to be paid for. But at least the oranges were Spanish. So I bought some of those.



Sir: It is interesting that Alistair Darling's proposals for a national road pricing system should be introduced in the same week as a joint statement about global warming by leading academics in advance of the G8 summit.

The decision to introduce congestion charging is owed almost entirely to a desire to make the roads more convenient to car drivers and road freight operators and hardly at all to concern for the environment. The Government has been hobbled in developing effective environmental transport policy by its fear of the road transport lobby since the successful protests against increases in road fuel taxation in 2000, and by its slow realisation of the scale of investment needed to make public transport a more viable alternative.

What is needed is the far politically riskier decision to move taxation from jobs and goods to carbon, and commit to massively increasing investment in, and subsidy of, public transport, so at least there would come to be a realistic choice in how we move around. This point would be reached when it became appreciably less expensive for me to move my family of five by public transport than by car, as well as only slightly less convenient. As well as promoting the development of fuel-efficient cars, increasing taxation on hydrocarbon fuel would also hasten the development and mass application of hydrogen as a fuel.

There might be something to be said for a voluntary GPS monitoring system for vehicles - supported by the insurance industry to reduce vehicle theft and crime - perhaps linked to a new system of toll roads to reduce congestion. But universal road pricing in lieu of carbon taxation would be a regressive step in the far more important debate about global warming.



Sir: I really can't see why Alastair Darling has to make life so difficult for himself ("Small cars will pay same road toll as gas guzzlers", 10 June). Why not just put the journey tax on fuel and everyone will then automtically be taxed according to the miles they drive and the size of their engine? It wouldn't cost the millons this new scheme will cost. Has anyone asked him why he won't do that or have I missed something?



Sir: As the owner of a "gas guzzling" car, I am looking forward to Alistair Darling's new road pricing initiative, when my road tax and fuel duties will be abolished, leaving me and other wealthy car owners to use the roads unencumbered by poorer road users, who will not be able to afford to drive. Still, I guess it will give them something to aspire to.



WI has long been a campaigning body

Sir: It is not a question of the Women's Institute having transformed itself into a "national campaigning organisation" (9 June). What has happened is that the issues on which it has been campaigning for the past 90 years have now become matters of central political debate.

The WI first campaigned for managed waste disposal in 1925 and, pace Jamie Oliver, for "adequate arrangements for school lunches" in 1926. Phraseology changes with the years but the WI's core values of education and the improvement of the lives of women and their families are as relevant now as in 1915, as speakers at the AGM including Helena Kennedy QC, Julia Unwin of the Food Standards Agency and Bill Bryson stressed.

Your article implied that Jane Fonda's welcome contribution provided a temporary frisson before the organisation returned to its home territory of the farm gate and loyalty to the monarch. It ignores the fact that the WI speaks for nearly 220,000 informed, practical women who have been contributing to society as a whole for nearly a century.



Electoral reform does not require PR

Sir: I find the arguments put forward in your pages for PR quite bizarre: it seems the main one is that, without it, Labour will catastrophically lose the next election. Reform, if any, should be in the interest of the electors, not the elected.

It is generally agreed that the country got what it wanted. It judged the Conservatives not yet ready to govern, but did not want unfettered Labour policies, New or Old. It deeply resented being taken to war on a false premiss.

I do not want the balance of power in this country to be held by small parties with no responsibility. What I do want is for the votes of the main ones to count more fairly. This might be achieved through a more equal number of electors in each constituency. Or it might be achieved through an elected upper house based on geographical constituencies with real powers over the Commons.

I certainly do not want more of the London Mayoral system, where by and large I have no idea whatsoever of who is doing what and, were I not an activist, would probably not even know the name of my London Assembly councillor, let alone the "additional members" purporting to represent my interests.



Sir: When discussing the prospects for voting reform, everyone invariably ends up saying we will not succeed because "turkeys don't vote for Christmas". MPs love the first-past-the-post system because it confers on many of them the fiefdom of a safe seat so, out of self interest, they will not willingly vote for change.

Labour make free with condemnatory remarks about "producer interests" when it applies to doctors and teachers, forcing them on to the back foot and demanding reform. It ought to apply to parliamentarians too. Politicians need to show consideration for the electorate, the "user interest" in this case.

The electorate's minimum requirement is to have an effective vote and a representative parliament. Failure to respond to the electorate's clear desire for fair votes is an abuse of power at least equal to any that many professions or unions have been forced to give up.

Parliamentarians deny reform. Perhaps we could shame them into action. A good fat turkey cock, dead or alive, would make a really good visual image as a logo for the cause of voting reform. Maybe we can embarrass enough MPs to drop their hypocrisy and use the proper channels to establish a voting system that offers effective and equal representation to all the electorate before we are driven to riot and civil disobedience.



Town sounds

Sir: One of the delights of Milton Keynes is the panorama (panosonar?) of "oughs" - within a few miles of each other are Broughton, Loughton and Woughton. These rhyme with -orton, -owton and -uffton, often with dropped "t"s. And Coughton and Peterborough are not that far away!



Thatcher and Mugabe

Sir: The horrific situation in Zimbabwe must be laid squarely at the door of Margaret Thatcher. When she became Prime Minister she wanted to get the Rhodesian problem off her hands as quickly as possible in order to have a clear run for her programme of Thatcherisation in the UK. To this end she ignored the advice of those on the spot and even of her own representative, the late Viscount Boyd. We are now witnessing the tragedy that such haste has spawned.



Northern Europeans

Sir: The EU has now become too large and diverse to function efficiently. Perhaps it is time to consider a revised model, whereby Europe, enlarged by Turkey, becomes an area of free trade and non-aggression, with a deeper level of economic and social co-operation within regional groupings. The UK, Netherlands and Germany are all major net contributors to the EU budget. A Northern League, comprising these three and the Scandinavian countries, could be harmonious and effective, and of workable size.

And think of the relief of not having to deal with France or subsidise her farmers!



Super trains?

Sir: Your reporter sadly forgot to speak with the locals inhabitants of Shanghai about the Maglev ("Could Maglev trains be the far-sighted solution?", 6 June). Residents complain the fare for the Maglev is too high, plus it is not very useful since it only has stations at the endpoints - the airport and downtown. Who cares how fast it is if when you get off you are 20 kilometers from your destination?



Furniture land

Sir: "Life without Ikea ... bigger than the EU thing"? (The Third Leader, 10 June) But Ikea is the EU thing. On a recent European trip I passed three Ikeas in three different countries in one day. They were at Poznan (Poland), Berlin (Germany) and Newcastle (England). Is this a record?