I have read with great interest over the past months the numerous articles and editorials in your paper that report on policies that show a worrying trend towards an erosion of civil liberties. There have been articles on surveillance, legislation, ID cards, CCTV, internet and e-mail monitoring etc. There have not been many articles that support, explain or justify the actions of the government and its reasons for trying to implement such policies.
Whatever the civil-liberty campaigners or the conspiracy theorists may say about government intent, the bottom line is that security forces are trying to solve crimes that have, as yet, not been committed. There is no forensic evidence to be gathered at the crime scene or witnesses to interview, indeed, no physical crime to investigate until it's all too late. It would be reassuring to think that the security forces have psychics guiding them, as in the film Minority Report, but they probably don't.
Therefore the only weapon the authorities have to prevent terrifying atrocities being committed on UK soil is "information". Because the potential terrorists are not likely to volunteer this information the only way to obtain it would be through surveillance and the monitoring of their communication systems and/or pressure through questioning.
I appreciate that if it was a member of my family or indeed myself being subject to such harassment than my stance would be different. But there is a genuine threat and in such a situation the government needs to be objective and pragmatic and be able to take the necessary steps to safeguard the majority. As unpalatable as this may be, it is preferable to forego certain liberties to safeguard us against, for example, the explosion of a "dirty bomb" or the poisoning of a reservoir.
In these difficult times when is someone going to introduce a charity-shop gift voucher?
J T Smith
Are humans doomed?
In addressing the Big Question "Does an impending shortage of vital resources threaten catastrophe?" (20 March), you say: "We will certainly not become extinct – nature always finds a way". Nature certainly does find a way for any species that cannot adapt to changing circumstances – it's called extinction.
Dr Philip Timms
Drug tests on hair
Hair grows on parts of the body other than the head (letters, 24 March). If hair testing were adopted it would be simple to bar from competition anyone who could not produce hair of the requisite length from some part of the body.
Attack on Gazans
There are two points arising from Alan Halibard's letter (21 March). First, did all Gazans vote for Hamas? Second, does this make it all right for Gazans to attack Israel because we now have a Netanyahu/Lieberman government which is hostile to the Palestinians?
I listen to the Home Secretary talking endlessly about "shared values". Are these shared values about grudgingly accepting illegal invasions and turning a blind eye to torture? If this is the case, can I exclude myself from sharing them?
Philip Hensher writes an admirable article on the use of unintelligible jargon (19 March). A few pages later Sean Farrell, referring to Lord Turner's report, mentions "the growth of retail deposit-taking branches". Could he have tried to explain what these are? In the same article a lawyer called Simon Gleeson calls for "an over-arching European watchdog". How many dogs arch over anything?
David W Lloyd
Tax on bonuses
We used to have an Excess Profits Tax. Why not an Excess Bonus Tax?
Dr Peter Wells
Put a limit on what MPs can earn
G V Cornwell (letters, 24 March) writes that the practice of MPs taking part-time jobs as paid advisers should end; should not this ban be extended to all outside employment?
Until about 100 years ago there were no salaries or expenses paid to MPs; income from land, investment dividend or other professional work gave them enough money. But when former labourers became MPs it was deemed, quite rightly, that they should be paid a salary in lieu of the job that they had given up.
Why not consider the payment of MPs not as a salary but as a supplement to their income? If an MP has an income of, say, £10,000 then their supplement is reduced by the same amount; if they earn more than the maximum supplement from outside sources then their expenses are reduced as well.
I recall Tony McNulty righteously fulminating against dole scroungers: "When people commit benefit theft... they have stolen from the taxpayer" and eloquently recognising public outrage: "I think this sort of thing makes taxpayers particularly angry – stealing money intended for vulnerable people." His concern for the taxpayer is commendable and – while there is no suggestion of fraud over his expenses – I do wonder if McNulty has ever considered how long it would take the average dole scrounger to fiddle £60,000?
It seems that Tony McNulty has done nothing illegal. But nothing wrong? This is just another example of the Derek Conway "snout in the trough" form of politics. Whatever the right or wrong of the rules, it is clearly not intended for MPs to provide housing for their parents as a perk of the job.
McNulty, one of the few ministers for whom I have some regard, should resign or be sacked, as was Conway. All MPs should heed the warning that following the letter of the law is insufficient defence to the charge of taking money under false pretences.
I don't begrudge for one minute McNulty milking the housing-allowance system to bolster his measly salary and the no doubt derisory sum his wife is paid as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools.
Newton Abbot, Devon
Why do MPs think they should live by different rules to the rest of us? If they want to know what a reasonable business expense is, they only have to ask the Inland Revenue. If the rest of us can receive it tax free, then it is a reasonable business expense. It is that simple: just live by the same rules as those they govern.
Fair tips for staff – even in a recession
The recession is no reason to postpone common-sense changes in the law to stop restaurants from using tips to top up the national minimum wage ("Fair tips, fair pay", 19 March). This must happen in October, as planned, to benefit consumers and workers, rather than be put off for the future to benefit private firms.
A recent Consumer Focus survey showed that 89 per cent of British consumers agree that tips should not be used to top up pay to the minimum wage. It is these very consumers who will determine the fate of these restaurants, not the requirement to pay a few extra pennies to their staff, as the industry claims.
Tips are a reward for good service and it would be wise if the industry listened to what its customers want instead of abusing their trust.
School leaving age shouldn't be raised
Raising the school leaving age (Rosla) to 18 as proposed in your editorial (19 March) seems at first a seductively simple solution to youth unemployment.
However young people who leave school at 16 are usually locked into multiple deprivations. Formal education has been a frustrating and demoralising experience for them over a long period; the fear among some teachers is that compelling them to stay on will intensify already negative attitudes and lead to a massive increase in truancy and disruptive behaviour.
There are also legal and civil liberties issues. To withdraw the right to work full-time reinforces the status of young people as minors, supposedly incapable of making their own decisions, at a time when there is a lot of pressure to empower them as active citizens by lowering the voting age to 16. To enforce Rosla with legal sanctions also means creating a new category of young offender; the use of fines or community-service orders is unlikely to deter, and may well be invested with status within the youth culture.
New surgeons lack vital experience
The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, is right to draw our attention to the dangerous lack of experience during the current training of surgeons (report, 16 March). However he fails to explain why the present situation has arisen.
A few years ago the recommended time to train all new consultants was radically reduced to around five to seven years. Then the European Maximum Working Time directive decreed that nobody in the EU could work more than 48 hours per week. This combination, unsurprisingly, has resulted in the appointment of several dangerously inexperienced new consultants, especially in the surgical specialties.
Around the time these changes were made, one of your health correspondents published the following frightening statistics: "New consultant surgeons are now eligible to be appointed after about 7,000 hours specialist training; previously, consultant surgeons received about 36,000 hours of such training, before they were appointed, often taking between 10-15 years, depending on the speciality."
Hence, if I should need any future surgical operation, I will be looking for the oldest surgeon in the hospital.
Dr Michael A Reynolds
Retired Consultant Paediatrician, Buxton, Derbyshire
Tory tax plan will benefit the rich
You can always depend on the Tories to stick up for the overdog (report, 24 March). Their inheritance-tax ruse of 2007 claimed to want to help those "hard-working people" who had the misfortune to inherit over £300,000.
The government responded by permitting the unused allowance of the first spouse to die to be added to that of the second when the joint estate was finally wound up, giving a joint allowance of £624,000, thus solving the problem the Tories claimed to be so concerned about.
The rich, of course, always have had the cash to leave the nil-rate band to the next generation when the first parent died, so both IHT allowances were used. The government's policy democratised the use of both nil-rate bands for all, thus alleviating the Tories' crocodile tears over this group of the "accidentally rich".
The fact that they still want to press ahead with the £1m nil-rate band exposes their sham conversion to social responsibility. In practice, this is a £2m tax-break for the rich. The first parent to die could then leave £1m to the next generation, rather than £312,000. How fortunate for the Osbornes and Camerons and their ilk.
Their cry of: "Only millionaires will pay inheritance tax" really means, "only millionaires will benefit from the Tories' pursuance of their now-irrelevant policy".
Cameron wants us to believe that the Tories have changed and would address the current financial crisis with a social conscience. But if we are to reduce the nation's indebtedness "underpinned by a clear and compassionate philosophy", as he says, why do their plans not square up to those principles? Inheritance Tax proposals by the Tories seem likely to benefit really wealthy estates. Cutting savings taxes doesn't help ordinary savers with their ISAs, and appears opportunistic, revealing where any social conscience truly lies.
The point about IHT is not so much that it hits Middle England – which it does – as that it is reputedly not paid by the seriously rich. The Tories should either be consistent, and scrap IHT altogether, as divisive and unjust, or look to a different fiscal expedient.
Why not a modest, lawyer-proof, inheritance "flat tax"(possibly 10 per cent), without exceptions for anyone? But it would be a bold Tory leader to try to sell that to conference.
Sir Leslie Fielding
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