Letters: Defence duty

Defence chiefs must speak out to stay loyal to forces

Monday 20 July 2009 00:00

It would seem, from the public criticisms of the defence chiefs of staff, that they are thought to be forbidden from ever expressing any disagreement with politicians. But if, after attempting unsuccessfully to persuade those in power of their needs, they are to remain silent, this would entail a serious breach of one of the cardinal principles of leadership, namely, the integrity of command.

Most officers understand that, in any military organisation, the man at the top must remain loyal to the men at the bottom if he is to command their respect; if he cannot do that with a clear conscience, then he should resign. Senior officers have sometimes felt compelled to avoid all comment on the deficiencies to create the appearance of being at one with their political masters. The result is that the media are constantly obliged to turn to the recently retired in an attempt to obtain an honest assessment.

All officers well understand that they are not permitted to participate in party politics but that is a very different matter from publicly acknowledging the needs of the men engaged in combat, provided that the publicity does not, of itself, endanger our forces.

Rear-Admiral Ron Holley

Gosport, Hampshire

Over the past few weeks, we have had this government trying to tell us our armed forces have the right equipment . Mr Brown has come under attack from the military and public for lack of equipment, currently helicopters.

This problem is due in part to the great British public's demand for defence cuts, and government after government pandering to the public. Even in Northern Ireland, I, as a soldier in 1970, was poorly equipped with outdated equipment, using Second World War armoured vehicles, with no body armour, and no riot shields or batons. We were using dustbin lids as shields. Body armour soon followed and had been used by the US army in Vietnam.

In the Falklands, the Royal Navy had flash hoods that melted on seaman's heads and no ship-to-air defence system against attacks from missiles.

Every government after Churchill has made defence cuts, until we now have armed forces that are unable to fulfill their role.

David Speight

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

Last week, the Government redefined the mission in Afghanistan as a war on terror, which cannot be ended until the Taliban have been defeated.

If this is true, why did the Government make £2bn of defence cuts in May? If the war is necessary, it must be funded. The Government has two choices: either fund the war or end the mission and bring the troops home.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

Rather than a shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan, the issue could be seen as a surplus of troops. Matching the UK combatants to the total from all the other European Nato countries should ensure a surplus of equipment and at a saving to the UK taxpayer.

Laurie Shields

Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Face up to costs of green energy

Your editorial "Fuel bills set to soar to pay for green energy plan" (13 July) indicates that a considered debate is beginning on the cost of the low-carbon electricity production needed to meet the UK's climate change targets.

While lobby groups with flawed arguments have grabbed headlines about energy prices, most experts agree that there are real costs resulting from the drive towards cleaner, more efficient energy. If the costs of environmental commitments are unclear and the benefits are not explained, there is a risk that public opinion may force a political U-turn.

This uncertainty is, arguably, the greatest risk faced by investors. Candour about benefits and costs should improve the appetite for risk of those investing in technologies such as nuclear and wind power, and serious debate should increase the level of public support. The clear recognition by the Secretary of State, Ed Miliband, that the Government's environmental programme will increase energy costs, will be welcomed by the electricity market, as it seeks to deliver low-carbon investment on the massive scale required.

David Porter

Chief Executive, Association of Electricity Producers, London SW1

It is astonishing that, of the 20 promising renewable technologies listed in the Manchester Report (13 July), there was no mention of estuary tidal energy. The rise and fall of tides round the UK is a massive energy resource. A tidal barrage combined with pumped storage has the highest energy density of all renewables, plus a life expectancy of at least 100 years.

For those concerned about inundating the inter-tidal zones, there is the option of the vertical rotor tidal fence. A hybrid system combining a fence with upstream high-tide storage could significantly extend the generating phase.

It is equally incomprehensible that the Government places such reliance on wind power. According to statistics from the department for Energy and Climate Change, offshore wind power in 2007 had a load factor of a mere 25.6 per cent, meaning that nearly 75 per cent of rated capacity was lost.

There is a theory that tidal energy is not favoured because it would deny funds to nuclear energy. Both will be necessary to bridge the energy gap. The Manchester report favoured the thorium alternative to uranium. This has much to recommend it now there is less enthusiasm for nuclear weapons.

Peter F Smith

Special Professor in Sustainable Energy

University of Nottingham

Ed Miliband is one of Labour's deeper-thinking ministers but the projection in his Green Manifesto of 400,000 new green jobs seems wishful thinking. It's true, for example, that off-shore wind is the key driving agent in achieving the Government's ambitious renewable energy targets and that the UK is the world leader in offshore wind at present. What is in doubt is who will be manufacturing the components of this programme.

According to the Institution of Engineering and Technology, we have 5,000 people working in our industry; Germany has 80,000, Spain has 30,000 and even Denmark, with less installed capacity than Britain, has 20,000 employees in this sector. What is missing in the manifesto is how and who will create these promised new green jobs, particularly because, on the day of publishing the manifesto, one of our major wind- turbine manufacturers went out of business.

Les Graham

Hexham, Northumberland

Schools cut off by fear of child abuse

Philip Pullman and other authors may be refusing to read in schools under the new Child Protection Register (report, 15 July). To their objections I add the likely harm to schools' relations with home and community, which are often cited as factors in children doing well.

For a decade, I have enjoyed going into my children's schools to give occasional talks and writing classes. The schools were making use of a local resource; and I had a glimpse of my children's education. Recently, I started to get together a few parents with professional experience of interviewing in various disciplines, to offer mock interviews that might help state school students get into the universities of their choice. That idea now looks like coming up against "safeguarding".

The controls will add no protection, since one was always accompanied by teachers on such visits. The loss would be in the schools' ability to call on home and community resources, just as many schools have already stopped parents going as helpers on school trips. The deeper loss is in the feeling of trust and working together, which are conditions of learning.



The Vetting and Barring scheme will not only deprive children of the chance to meet authors such as Philip Pullman and Anthony Horowitz. Every year, thousands of forces veterans, now mostly in their 80s, are invited into schools to talk about their experiences, to ensure that the lessons of history are not forgotten and to pass on the spirit of courage, duty and self-sacrifice.

Not so long ago, this was encouraged by our Prime Minister. In 2006, Gordon Brown said: "It is vital that today's young people talk to our veterans, listen to their memories and learn the lessons from our history."

This sinister and absurd measure will deny them that opportunity.

Frank Churchill

Witney, Oxfordshire

Defra has stung the beekeepers

Defra may think they have gone into battle for British bees by opening a website to tell beekeepers what to do (letters, 17 July) , but it would be far better if they allowed us to treat our bees as we used to do.

We used to treat them annually against nosema; now this is illegal. We used to sterilise the empty frames in the winter, and protect them from waxmoth; this is now not allowed. And by the time it became legal to treat the bees against the varroa mite, the treatment had become useless. Also, there have been suggestions that bees may be called "food-producing animals" and that all bees will have to be treated personally by vets (our vet was rather startled).

My bees are, fortunately, very healthy at present, but it is the result of good luck, and no thanks to Defra.

Kate Bevis

Sheringham, Norfolk

Burqa's no bar to an ice-cream cone

The burqa need not always be a permanent impediment to communication or other matters (letters, 16 July), as I saw at a car-boot sale recently.

A burqa-clad woman was in the ice-cream van queue with her husband and two boys (the males wore Nike T-shirts, sweat pants and trainers). I wondered how she'd cope with her ice-cream cornet.

She simply flipped the veil up and back over her head and, with her full face on view, ate her ice-cream. Then she flipped the veil back over her head, re-covering her face.

I didn't notice anyone inflamed with lust; her husband didn't bat an eyelid, and she certainly seemed to enjoy the ice-cream. Maybe they don't always take it quite as seriously.

Stuart White

Eastbourne, east Sussex

Blair blamed for our inequalities

I read your article "Can anyone stop Blair becoming the first president of Europe?" (17 July), wondering whether I would need to step up to the mark, but then I reached the letters page. Chris Payne's letter convinced me that there is already someone better prepared than me.

Tony Blair betrayed the very constituency of the aspirational with a social conscience he targeted, leaving a country with greater inequality than for a couple of generations.

Chris should not just hope for intervention from the rest of Europe, but start campaigning in earnest. Chris Payne for EU President!

Peter English

Ruthin, Denbighshire

And the winner is Luise

The oldest surviving Oscar winner is not Olivia de Havilland (Interview, 14 July). That is Luise Rainer, born 1910, who won Oscars back to back for The Great Zeigfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937).

Robert Parker

Taunton, Somerset

Big spender Gordon

I have spent all day trying to work out a way, Prime Minister-like, that I could make a couple of days' visit to Washington DC, with accommodation already provided, cost me £290,000 ("Goodwin dined at Chequers while RBS was losing £24bn", 17 July), without semblance of success. Truly, our politicians are in a class of their own. What did they charter, the Space Shuttle?

Tim Blake

Purton, North Wiltshire

The right track

In the Business Interview (16 July) the chief executive of Network Rail, Iain Coucher, is quoted as saying: "Those tunnels under the canal are the bottleneck." Tracks through the eastern bores of both Gasworks and Copenhagen Tunnels were ripped out many years ago as part of a rationalisation exercise. To me, the remedy is simple: restore the tracks; no bottleneck.

Terence Roy Smith

Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

There's a thought

The way to deal with Thought for the Day (Terence Blacker, 17 July) is to allow a wider spectrum of religious thought. Let's hear how the Aids virus can pass through condoms, or how Jews are still trying to rule the world, or how a suicide vest is the gateway to heaven, or how gays can be cured. I guarantee Thought for the Day will be gone in a week.

Pete Barrett

Colchester, Essex


Your explanation of the use of a touchstone is not quite correct (Errors & Omissions, 18 July). The metal, usually gold, leaves a streak on the stone; this is then treated with nitric acid which dissolves impurities, such as copper. What is left indicates the purity of the gold.

Trevor Roberts

Bramford, Suffolk

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