Last hope: send in the Egyptians
You rightly note that the EU, G8 and Nato have all failed to reach a consensus on what to do about Libya, while the Arab League is capable of imposing a no-fly zone and yet "has submitted its request" to enforce such a measure "to the UN, where, more than a week later, it may well founder" (Leading article, 17 March).
Instead of trying to reach an agreement on a plan of action by going through international bodies such as the UN, it surely now makes more sense for western countries to encourage the Arab League itself to impose the no-fly zone over Libya, using the Egyptian air force, which has received tens of billions of dollars of American and European equipment and training ever since the Camp David accords.
Egypt has the largest air force in the Arab world, and there is no reason why it should not be put to good use in Libya as soon as possible, especially when one considers that Egypt has used its fighter jets in military operations as far abroad as Yemen (against the Kingdom of Yemen in the North Yemen Civil War: 1962-70) and Nigeria (against the short-lived Republic of Biafra in the Nigerian Civil War: 1967-70).
Meanwhile, members of the G8, EU and Nato should limit themselves to providing humanitarian aid, weapons and military intelligence to the Libyan rebels.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Cardiff
Intervention by the Egyptian army offers the only immediate hope of saving Benghazi and other free areas of Libya from a savage re-occupation by Gaddafi.
Our government should urge the Egyptians to take this course, offer them whatever support we can give and induce other countries to do the same.
We should also apply pressure to all the countries which have supplied mercenaries to Gaddafi, and they should be given a very short time to secure their withdrawal.
Richard Heller, London SE1
A generation facing penury
So, if I understand this correctly, the Government's new idea is that the next generation of graduates should be expected to find the money to pay back two to three times their original student loan, including all the added interest.
They will somehow also need to find £10,000 to £20,000 for a deposit on a home, then find at least £500,000 to pay the interest and repayments on the mortgage for that home, and on top of that find £500,000 for a pension pot, which is roughly what they'll need to get a £20,000-a-year income in retirement.
Just how much do ministers think people on ordinary salaries have available to put aside each year for these things? Do ministers have any idea what ordinary people earn? Somehow, I don't think they've quite done their sums on all this.
Robin Petherbridge, Cowes, Isle of Wight
The increase in student fees linked to the cut in university funding is at once the most unjust and short sighted of the "economies" of this Conservative-led government. Universities are being forced to cut standards or charge the higher amount. As a retired university lecturer I know student fees are already having serious consequences for our young people, particularly the poorest.
Some simply choose not to go to university because of the fear of debt. Others, once they qualify, put their lives on hold. They cannot afford a home, cannot afford to marry and put off having children until they are well into their 30s. If we decide on a graduate tax because graduates earn more, then clearly all graduates should pay, not just the largely jobless class of 2011 onwards.
We should realise that our universities have put us ahead of the world and enriched the lives of our society. They are training our doctors and nurses, our engineers and architects, and, yes, our politicians and journalists to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. The student fees policy not only robs our young people of their opportunities, it could condemn us all to a third-world, minimum wage economy.
It is no good pointing to those few self-made men and women who did not go to university – just look at the armies of graduates they depend on. If graduates tend to earn more, perhaps it is fairer to simply tax all higher earners to pay for them. We need them.
John McManus, Helmshore, Lancashire
You report that the Chancellor has a secret plan to merge income tax with National Insurance. Currently pensioners pay tax on their pension and on any interest accruing from their investments. They do not, however pay any National Insurance as they are not in paid employment.
This plan of Mr Osborne would seem to indicate that my tax rate would rise from 20 per cent to 32 per cent.
Is this how the £140 pension is to be funded?
J M Seagrave, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire
The myths they tell about AV
Another day, another vested interest rehashing the same myths about the Alternative Vote.
Despite what John Healey MP claims (16 March), AV will not lead to some people getting more than one vote. With AV everyone gets still gets the one vote. The difference is that with AV, your vote actually counts. If your first choice gets knocked out your vote is just transferred to your second preference. Only one vote is counted.
AV will not lead to more hung parliaments. Canada uses First-Past-The-Post and has virtually permanent hung parliaments. Australia uses AV and has returned its first hung parliament in 38 years.
Charities, trade unions and businesses up and down the country use AV all the time for their internal elections. Political parties use it to elect their leaders. MPs themselves use it to elect their Speaker and their officials. When they're choosing someone who needs to speak for the majority, they use AV. If it's good enough for them, why not for us?
Half of all seats in the UK are currently "safe", meaning that they are unlikely to ever change hands under FPTP, effectively giving their MPs a job for life. AV will mean that all MPs will have to work harder to get elected and stay elected. They will have to represent more of their constituents' interests. And they won't be able to take the people for granted any more.
Jo Selwood, Oxford
John Healey writes that AV would produce "less fair and proportional" results than the current system. He goes on to say that the BNP and the UKIP would stand a better chance of getting elected. Does Mr Healey really consider that a system which awards seats to candidates who have enough supporters is less fair than a system which doesn't?
I was of the understanding that I live in a democracy, and that this entitled even bigots to air their opinions, no matter how distasteful I may find them.
Mr Healey is very clear on one point, though: he wants "to see Labour back in government". The current system may be demonstrably unfair, but it's the system under which his own party has got the best chance of gaining power.
James Ingram, London SE1
Like many of his colleagues, John Healey is content to wait until First-Past-The-Post gives them "their turn" in government again, based on a minority vote.
AV is not a proportional system, but it is a small move in the direction of electoral reform. Mr Healey is very upset with Nick Clegg's decision to lead his party into government with the Conservatives. He is not alone. Had "New"Labour not reneged on its commitment to electoral reform all those years ago, David Cameron would not now be Prime Minister.
Gerard Harrison, Richmond, Surrey
Steve Richards (17 March) misses the point on voting reform. It is not about how we vote, it is whether we vote. AV is not going to be any more representative than First-Past-The-Post if only 35 per cent of the population turn up at the polling booth.
What we want is a new method of voting. The polling booth is too intimidating and postal voting too complicated. What we need is internet voting, which has been so popular with TV games. Introduce that first and then we can decide whether First-Past-The-Post is unrepresentative.
John Verity, Abenhall, Gloucestershire
Prepare for disasters now
The massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan should serve as a wake-up call to governments across the globe, as well as donors.
Three types of disasters have been recurring in recent years: earthquakes (and subsequent tsunamis), perennial floods, and typhoons and hurricanes. The world now has the technology and knowledge to predict when and where some of these disasters are going to happen, and to a great extent how to deal with them. We may not be able to stop a disaster from happening, but we can very well stop a disaster from becoming a humanitarian crisis.
The local communities will always remain the first responders, so we need to prepare and equip them, as we do at the global children's charity, Plan International.
Money matters; planners and governments in most developing countries are yet to take up disasters risk reduction and preparedness as a key area for investment. We need governments and donors to start digging deep and investing money in disaster preparedness now.
The media needs to play a more interactive role in informing and educating communities; the power of social media is still untapped. You only have to look at the recent use of this critical medium in Egypt to show how it can empower, inform and connect.
Marie Staunton, CEO, Plan UK, London EC1
Dr Unni Krishnan, Disaster Response Policy Coordinator, Plan International, Woking, Surrey
The commendable attempt to explain some features of nuclear safety by your Science Editor (17 March) was somewhat tarnished by the repeated reference to the Fukushima reactors undergoing nuclear fusion (to fuse/join together). This is a completely different process (not yet achieved in a commercial reactor) from the actual process of nuclear fission (to split apart).
I'm sure your readers understand that since the reactors have been shut down, the heat being currently produced is so called "decay heat". On shut-down about 7 per cent of the reactors' original thermal output continues by means of this decay heat production. This value falls to less than 0.5 per cent after one day and continues to decrease with time. Mind you, 0.5 per cent of the Reactor 3 thermal output is still almost 12MW and needs to be dissipated by controlled cooling.
Mike Bone, Saxtead, Suffolk
The 'red tape' that saves lives
Has Eric Pickles lost all sense of decency? Among the "barmy rules and regulations" from which he wants to free councils are duties to: assess people for community care; offer a carer's assessment; consider the needs of disabled people; provide welfare services; investigate suspicions that a child is being harmed; keep a child in care when a care order has been made.
Localism, or the Coalition's right-wing ideological position of removing social care duties and cutting local authority responsibility to fund services, places the most vulnerable people in our society at risk.
Equally dangerous is the threat to local democracy, with the Government consulting on changes to primary legislation in this fashion. Included in the review is section 47 of the Children Act 1989: local authorities' duty to investigate when it is suspected that a child may be suffering harm and to decide whether to take safeguarding action. Including sections of the Act in the review of social-care services in a piecemeal fashion means that it will be chopped up and will cause untold harm to the fabric of welfare serves for children. If the Coalition is willing to do this to children, what will it stop at?
I have never felt such rage, fear, and despair at our inability to stop an unelected government from reordering our society. Is "localism" supposed to feel like this? Eric Pickles and the Coalition have lost their moral compass; but by asking communities to decide on which "barmy" social care duties their local authorities should drop, such as considering the needs of disabled people, we face the very real danger of losing our own.
Julie Partridge, London SE10
I wonder when Stuart Fitzgerald of LSSI and the sub-editor who chose the headline for your article, "Ssshhh! The noisy US revolution coming to British libraries" (7 March), last visited a public library. The activities that Mr Fitzgerald suggests LSSI might introduce if allowed to buy up our public library services have been everyday activities for most public libraries for many years.
The British public library system has been built up, since 1850, on the basis of co-operation between authorities. With parts of the service in private hands, that important principle will be discarded.
Mr Fitzgerald's remarks about an alleged "slacks and trainers" culture have caused some considerable mirth among librarians on Twitter. May I tell your readers that I, a librarian with more than 30 years' experience, write this wearing a tweed suit, a shirt and tie, and a pair of leather Oxford shoes?
Tom Roper, Seaford, East Sussex
The claim that "Libraries face threat from review" (16 March) is untrue. The Government is reviewing old and unnecessary duties imposed on councils in order to free them up from Whitehall red tape and as part of this we have published the full list of duties, including on libraries. However we will not remove statutory protections for libraries or other frontline services.
Bob Neill, Local Government Minister, Department for Communities and Local Government
New Labour's one-party state
In listing examples of New Labour's towering illiberalism, Steve Travis (letter, 16 March) should have included turning a blind eye to, and sometimes promoting, a big growth in surveillance, a doubling of the prison population and the creation of 3,600 new offences.
And let's not forget, as the British Medical Association and the Shadow Cabinet recently seem to have done, that it was New Labour which created the euphemistic concept of "alternative provider medical services" (APMS) which has led to private companies running GP surgeries, polyclinics and out-of-hours services.
It's no surprise that more than a third of the electorate, unable to see a chink of light between the three main parties, couldn't bring themselves to vote at the last election. The one-party state, administered in turn by different groups from the same narrow class and background, is slowly creeping up on us.
Jeremy Walker, London WC1
Crime drama in Middle England
The article on Midsomer Murders (16 March) failed to indicate that the name was borrowed from our pleasant North Mendip town. Arrears of royalties should be made payable to our soon-to-be new Town Council to fund a tourist brochure, please.
D A Shearn, Midsomer Norton, Somerset
Given the number of unnatural deaths in each episode of Midsomer Murders I'm surprised that there are any villagers left, white or black.
John Wells, West Wittering, West Sussex
Steady on. One or two people are taking this Midsomer Murders business far too seriously. It's all fantasy and nonsense; that's why we enjoy it so much.
Malcolm Addison, Woodbridge, Suffolk
Bird for lunch
I respond to "Perspectives on sparrows and where they flourish" (letters, 16 March) from a garden in Scotland where we have sparrows and a variety of songbirds, but we also have almost a daily visitation from a sparrow-hawk: on one occasion a pair. Yes, we have bird table and two nest-boxes, but why should we bother to try to protect small birds when the RSPB protects the predators who come to enjoy the easy pickings at the bird table?
John Taylor, Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway
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