Letters: Lords got it right on gay marriage

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 6 June, 2013

Independent Voices
Wednesday 05 June 2013 19:04

Archie Bland starts his piece “What planet are the Lords living on?” (5 June) by referring to a remark in my speech in the Lords’ same-sex marriage debate that I had been “immensely impressed” by its quality.

That was prelude to his purporting to give any reader the “chance to make up your own mind” by providing extracts from that debate.

However, he quoted seven carefully selected peers highly selectively from among the 91 who spoke, in order to smear the Lords as a whole. He also failed to point out that we (me amongst them) overwhelmingly rejected the vote to kill the Bill by 390 votes to 148, a greater majority than in the Commons.

There are many failings of which the House of Lords can be convicted, but on this issue Mr Bland should practise what he preaches with regard to gay people, namely fairness. The government minister, Baroness Stowell of Beeston, winding up the debate, got things right when she concluded (as had others) that it showed that the Lords “takes its role seriously and is able to deal with controversial and sensitive issues in a measured way that respects differing views.”

Andrew Phillips (Lord Phillips of Sudbury), House of Lords

In the Lords debate on gay marriage Baroness Knight reportedly said: “Of course homosexuals are very artistic and delightful people, too.”

As a straight man I have to say I find this comment outrageous, unacceptable, arrogant, prejudiced and an appalling example of the worst kind of stereotyping. Such a view has no place in a forum charged with responsibility for influencing the laws of this country, and shows yet again that the House of Lords is not fit for this role.

It’s not simply a question of what century Baroness Knight and her like are living in, but what reality.

Stanley Knill, London N15

I find it hypocritical that your headline (4 June) puts the House of Lords on trial for potentially “wrecking” the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill while not acknowledging that this Government has taken a decidedly undemocratic approach on the matter.

This Bill was not in any manifesto prior to the last election; the so-called consultation, which had to be forced upon the Government, ignored a 600,000-strong petition against the Bill; and even this week the Government moved the date of the debate to try and avoid defeat.

Elizabeth Baugh, Reading

The price of revealing US dirty dealings

Thank goodness for your truth teller Owen Jones (3 June), clearly spelling out America’s history of dirty dealings in foreign lands and the need to keep those operations secret. The public needs journalists like Mr Jones to bring these disturbing facts into the public domain, although I despair that his article will not be read by those most in need of enlightening.

I despair too for Bradley Manning, as he will undoubtedly be paying a very high price for his attempt to bring our attention to the reality behind the smokescreen of keeping us in the West “safe”. Anyone who seriously challenges the military might of America and its allies, will be hounded and punished, including Julian Assange, who has been much criticised.

We must be very careful not to fall prey to attempts to distract attention away from the content of the material released by WikiLeaks, and on to the personal life of the messenger. This has been done many times before and unfortunately it is often successful.

Many facts about America’s cruel, ruthless and disfunctional military have been in the public domain (via the internet) for some time, but this issue of, as Owen Jones puts it, the hidden realities of US power and the poorly scrutinised actions of the US foreign policy elite, needs to be highlighted as much as possible in the general media. Your paper is one of the few that can be depended upon to do that.

M Chaplin, Haslemere, Surrey

To whom does Bradley Manning owe his allegiance – his fellow citizens or his government?

If one comes into possession of information that the government is engaged in activities which are unknown to the public and/or against the moral conscience of the majority, where does one’s duty lie? I would suggest clearly to the general public. To do otherwise would be treason indeed.

Madelyne Edwards, Maulden, Bedfordshire

Badger cull is based on science

Your report on the letter from a small group of veterinary surgeons regarding bovine TB and the badger cull (5 June) suggests that the signatories are members of our Association and that they accuse BVA of not consulting the membership before taking a position on the badger cull.

In fact only a third of the signatories are BVA members and those that are members have had plenty of opportunity to contribute to our policy on bovine TB, which has been in development for many years. Not every member will have an opinion on every BVA policy, but through our committee system and Council, which includes elected representatives from every region, we are able to give every member a voice.

Like the signatories to the letter we too are absolutely committed to animal health and welfare and, as veterinary surgeons, we believe that effective measures to eradicate endemic disease are an integral part of that commitment. We want to see healthy cattle and healthy badgers and we have been insistent that measures to control bovine TB in wildlife must be humane.

That is why we are supporting the pilot culls. We know that culling badgers reduces the incidence of bovine TB in cattle, but we need to be reassured that the proposed method of controlled shooting is humane, safe and effective. The pilot culls have been designed to be as humane as possible, with trained marksmen and detailed guidance on which types of gun and ammunition may be used, but the methods need to be tested in the field so, as scientists, we have to support the pilots.

Members of our profession are battling daily against bovine TB, working alongside farmers to advise on better biosecurity and carrying out TB tests on cattle. We believe the current policy is science-led and is part of a holistic eradication policy. We support the strong cattle measures in place and the use of badger vaccination, but they are not enough. We are all working towards a cattle vaccine, but that is still many years away.

Our support for the badger cull was not taken lightly but it was taken with the primacy of animal health and welfare and scientific evidence in mind.

Peter Jones, President, British Veterinary Association, London W1

Gove’s latest bright idea

Your leading article (5 June) applauds moves by Ofqual to transform GCSEs into I-levels and in particular “the decision to spread existing A and A* grades across four numerical marks”.

In reality approximately 15 per cent of candidates each year in each of English and maths get these top grades. So the new system will try to provide greater discrimination for high-achieving candidates, who will be awarded one of four numerical marks while the remaining 85 per cent of candidates will be allocated one of the remaining four marks.

Surely, this will be an inadequate system at providing any meaningful result for the majority of students and for those who use these qualifications to make any judgements about students’ abilities.

This looks like another idea from Mr Gove that will eventually be found to be worthy of a mark outside the top four.

Geoff Wake, Horsley, Derbyshire

Upon reading that Michael Gove’s new I-level certificate will be graded from 1 to 8, to allow 9 and 10 to be added later, it was impossible to avoid recalling the guitarist Nigel Tufnel in the spoof rockumentary This is Spinal Tap.

Tufnel had an amplifier that went up to 11. Presumably when a student finally gets a 10, Gove will heed Nigel’s paraphrased prophetic words: “It’s an 11. It’s one better isn’t it? Most exam results go up to 10, but when you are at 10, where can you go from there? The I-level goes to 11.”

Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex

Missing the real scandal

Just as the phone-hacking scandal was not ultimately about a handful of dodgy journalists and coppers-on-the-make, so the political lobbying scandal is not really about some rogue lobbyists and a few avaricious MPs. Instead both form part of a much wider scandal about how power and influence are exerted within British society.

By focusing narrowly on press regulation, the Leveson inquiry steered well away from any deeper exploration of the dangers corporate power presents to our stuttering democracy. Sadly, attempts to investigate and regulate the lobbyists are certain to have a similarly narrow focus.

Stefan Simanowitz, London NW3

Victors’ peace

Dr Jacob Amir states the peace talks are only awaiting the Palestinians to arrive at the table (letter, 4 June). So Israeli Netenyahu sits down with Abbas while he fails to stop the illegal settlements being constructed; and when he has failed to state, unlike his predecessors, that talks would be based on the 1967 borders. It would be suicide for Abbas.

Peter Downey, Bath

No surprise

I hope Vaughan Thomas (letter, 4 June) is never the victim of rape. Surprise is not the overriding emotion in such a situation. Terrifying fear, horror, shock, pain and utter humiliation? Yes. Surprise? Mmmm, rather less so.

Alison Rayner, London N16

History lesson

Over 40 years ago, one of the questions in my A-level history examination was: “Shrewd, mean and unscrupulous: is this a fair comment on Henry VII?” Is this a fair question to ask our Coalition Government?

Raj Kothari, Bridport, Dorset

Mystery mags

I must have visited a newsagent almost every day of my adult life, yet I don’t think I have ever seen anyone buy a “lads’ mag” (letter, 5 June). Perhaps they just fly off the shelf.

David Ridge, London N19

Where’s the roof?

The Serpentine Pavilion (report, 5 June) looks delightful – but will it keep the rain out?

Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

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