Lunch 25th April 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
Troutbridge is sent back to the Island, away from Portsmouth and the awful Captain Povey. The are only supposed to be dropping off the Todd Hunter-Browns and straight back home bit will the?Priceless.
We have a lovely if exhausting lunch with Sharland Liz and Caroline.
Upstairs Downstairs: Am excursion to the Highlands
I win at Scrabble today and get just under 400, Mary might get her revenge tomorrow, I hope.


Jim Mortimer
Jim Mortimer, who has died aged 92, was a formidable Left-wing trade unionist and successfully chaired the conciliation service Acas from its foundation by Labour in 1974 into the early years of the Thatcher era. Later, as General Secretary of the Labour Party, he presided over — and contributed to — its electoral rout in 1983, its worst showing for half a century.
Jim Mortimer Photo: PA

6:02PM BST 24 Apr 2013

Mortimer owed both appointments to his friend Michael Foot. When Labour dismantled the Heath government’s industrial relations legislation, Foot as Employment Secretary asked Mortimer, then head of labour relations at London Transport, to take the chair at Acas.

The appointment paid off, Mortimer and his team using their tact, experience, contacts and good offices to resolve all but the most intractable of disputes. The first major strike he settled was by 33,000 bakery workers, and his first major failure the year-long shutdown of Times Newspapers over pay and manning levels. Newmarket stable lads and Playboy bunnies were among those workers who benefited from his mediation.

The only outright rebuff he received was over Grunwick. Some workers at the north-west London photo processing plant wanted to join a union; its owner, George Ward, would not tolerate the idea, and a strike was called. Replacement workers were bused in, and picketing turned nasty. It proved the most politically-charged conflict of Mortimer’s seven years at Acas.

As Labour leader, Foot promoted Mortimer’s surprise candidacy as General Secretary of the party that had expelled him in 1953 for over-close links with Communist China. Well-read even for his generation, Mortimer took O-level Russian at 40 and read the Soviet papers daily. Labour’s national executive (NEC) probably did not realise how far to the Left he was when they appointed him to the role in 1982; but his achievements at Acas immunised him against accusations of partisanship.

As General Secretary, Mortimer worked hard to resolve a financial crisis at the party’s Walworth Road headquarters, and loyally — if reluctantly — secured the expulsion of leaders of the Militant Tendency. But he is remembered with pain in the party for comments at an election press conference that holed its 1983 campaign below the waterline.

It could be argued that even without his comments Labour never had a chance. Margaret Thatcher had triumphed in the Falklands; the Alliance parties threatened gains; and Labour’s Left-wing manifesto was dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”. Mortimer, whose reputation was built on diplomacy, delivered the coup de grace when he needlessly announced on May 26: “The unanimous view of the campaign committee is that Michael Foot is the leader of the Labour Party.”

Though it later emerged that Foot’s leadership had not even been discussed, the impression created was that Labour’s fortunes had sunk so low that a vote of confidence in him was required. The campaign went into free-fall and while Mortimer had been appointed for five years, he left two years early, in May 1985.

James Edward Mortimer was born in Bradford on January 12 1921. His father was a street-corner news vendor and ardent socialist; his mother started work in a textile mill at 12. The family moved south in the Depression, and after technical school Jim became a dockyard machinist’s apprentice, joining his first union, the AEU, at 15. At 20 he moved to London, becoming a draughtsman with Lagonda. After a year at Ruskin College, Oxford, where he studied under GDH Cole, he joined the TUC economic department, while continuing his studies at the LSE.

In 1948 he joined the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen (later Data), becoming editor of The Draughtsman and eventually also research officer. He rose fast in the movement, becoming an executive member of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU) and a regular speaker at the TUC. He was one of the unions’ most persuasive opponents of Common Market membership .

Having consistently opposed incomes policies, Mortimer stunned colleagues in 1968 by accepting Barbara Castle’s invitation to join the Prices and Incomes Board (PIB) with an 88 per cent pay increase. He did it in part because the Data leadership had moved well to his Left, though there was speculation that he would be a “Trojan horse” rather than make the policy work. But by the time Heath wound up the PIB, Mortimer had become convinced of its necessity.

Although Mortimer was hailed as a lifelong party member when he joined Labour as General Secretary, he had in fact briefly belonged to the Young Communist League, and spent four years out of the party after being expelled for membership of the British-China Friendship Society. He had, however, fought council elections for Labour.

He had first surfaced at national level as moderator of a debate at the TUC in 1981 between the candidates for Labour’s deputy leadership. That December, he was shortlisted to succeed Ron Hayward as General Secretary, going on to beat the favourite, Alex Ferry of the CSEU, by one vote in the NEC.

In organisational terms, Mortimer was a moderniser; he identified a £500,000 deficit and made tough economies . But his policy statements were in tune with the NEC’s Left-wing majority: public investment in economic recovery; repeal of anti-union laws; an end to Common Market restrictions on Britain; and the removal of foreign bases and nuclear weapons.

He replaced Hayward a week after the NEC decided to tackle Militant, having for years denied that it was a problem. Loth to expel anyone, Mortimer said he aimed to keep Militant inside the fold and was “not here as an axeman”; but at the 1982 party conference he won an enthusiastic response with his firm explanation of why the NEC would go on to expel Militant’s five-strong editorial board.

Mortimer claimed that Labour’s defeat in 1983 was “primarily political and not organisational”. At Labour’s post-election conference, he paid tribute to Foot’s leadership and attacked those in the party who had caused “real damage” — meaning James Callaghan, who had broken ranks on nuclear weapons.

With Neil Kinnock as leader, Labour took the first tentative steps back toward the centre, leaving Mortimer out on a limb. When the party shifted its nuclear position to say it would keep Polaris, he insisted that Labour was still committed to a non-nuclear defence. And while Kinnock held back from supporting the 1984-85 miners’ strike, Mortimer represented the party at Arthur Scargill’s rallies. Larry Whitty, from the more moderate GMB union, succeeded him in mid-1985.

Mortimer was at various times chairman of the Development Council for Mechanical and Engineering Construction; a member of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body and the Economic Development Council for the Chemical Industry; and a director of the London Co-Operative Society.

He wrote or co-wrote several books, including British Trade Unions Today (1965); The Kind Of Laws the Unions Ought to Want (1968); Industrial Relations (1968); Trade Unions and Technological Change (1971); A Life on the Left (1999); and The Formation of the Labour Party: Lessons for Today (2000) .

He was a visiting professor at Imperial College, London; a visiting fellow at Bradford University (receiving an honorary DLitt in 1982); and a research fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford.

Jim Mortimer married the former Renée Horton, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

Jim Mortimer, born January 12 1921, died April 23 2013

Even if Scotland votes for independence and manages to keep the pound (No currency union with independent Scotland, says Osborne, 24 April), there’s another problem facing its choice of currency. There is a risk that the rest of the UK will decide to leave the EU, leaving Scotland using a currency controlled by a non-EU state. It’s hard to believe that this will be a practical proposition, and harder still to believe that the EU will stand for it. English and Scottish politicians haven’t mentioned this issue so far. They may be trying to consider the Scottish and EU referendums as separate matters. But don’t worry, I’m sure the European Central Bank is considering it.
John Dallman

• Scotland is a bumpy country and thrives on bumpy rides. The currency issues are not a doddle. But there is substantial evidence pointing to the resilience of Scotland’s economy. The real issue is democracy and the traction which the Scottish people have with what happens in their everyday lives. So far, even with the restricted powers available, Alex Salmond and his ministers have secured better services all round. Greater autonomy will enable fresh creativity even within outmoded international currency systems.
Ann Jamieson
Caldecote, Cambridgeshire

• Philip Inman (Analysis, 24 April) suggests calling an independent Scottish currency a Scotdollar. If the Irish had the punt, we should have the poond!
John and Karen Stoneley
Foulden, Scottish Borders

• If the Scots cannot use sterling as their currency, they could presumably base their gold standard on the McNugget.
Peter Russell
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

• Can someone remind me how many mickles make a muckle?
Alan Cleaver
Whitehaven, Cumbria

On the 60th anniversary of the publication in Nature of three papers by James Watson and Francis Crick, and teams led by Rosalind Franklin and my late father Maurice Wilkins, it’s easy to forget that in April 1953 just about no one in the world had heard of DNA. Even among the few scientists who had, nearly all dismissed it as unimportant. Sixty years on, DNA is one of the few aspects of science that can genuinely be called a “household name”. Indeed deoxyribonucleic acid really is “in the DNA” of our 21st-century culture.
Just after Watson and Crick proposed their model in 1953, my father wrote to them, saying: “I think it’s a very exciting notion and who the hell got it isn’t what matters … there is no good grousing.” I don’t think anyone connected with that letter would have believed quite how much “grousing” about “winners” and “losers” the next 60 years would bring!
DNA, in the most fundamental way, belongs to all of us, yet none of us. Our bodies are just vehicles for these primordial molecules, formed in slime pits millions of years ago, to reach the future by combining with others. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking of the DNA effort in a similar way – the twin strands of Cambridge’s conceptual model combining with King’s experimental rigour to bring a new idea to life. Indeed, a fully accurate and verified structure for DNA required vital contributions from both sides.
The four very different figures in the so-called “race for DNA” shared a common concern about the effect of science, including their science, on mankind. None could have hoped or expected that their work would have the impact it already has. Let’s hope the end result of this “very exciting notion”, 60 years young, is that we’ll all be the winners.
George Wilkins

A letter you published (17 April) about public attitude surveys and how they measure response to welfare cuts implied that NatCen Social Research’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey findings cannot be trusted because it uses biased questions and prejudicial vocabulary. This raises a fascinating issue about the nature of social survey questions and how they should be framed, as well as the importance of not relying on responses to a single question. Equally interesting is the resultant increase in the misuse of social survey statistics as the welfare debate becomes more heated.
In fact, the BSA survey uses a wide range of questions, phrased in a variety of ways, to track public attitudes in this area. Over recent years this has shown a clear hardening of attitudes towards government welfare provision which, in many respects, is seemingly unaffected by the current recession. Because of this focus on the longer term, the survey does not ask about specific government policies such as the current welfare cuts and did not generate the figure cited in the letter, that 60% of the public support “savage cuts on the poor” (though others may have chosen to interpret some findings in this way). For those who are keen to dig deeper, it’s notable that the survey’s findings also show majority support for additional welfare spending in some areas, for example on benefits for carers or disabled people who cannot work.
Alison Park
Director, British Social Attitudes
• The one element missing from your thoughtful leader about public views on welfare benefits (15 April) is that many of the public don’t know the actual facts of who gets what benefits. The view of benefits is widely shaped by shameless political manipulation. For example, recent TUC research found that the public thinks 27% of benefit claims are fraudulent, whereas the actual figure is under 1%. The public also thought that the majority of payments go to unemployed people, whereas the actual figure is closer to 5%.
As Polly Toynbee has shown consistently over the years, when the public knows the facts they take a more compassionate view, as evidenced by the article in the Guardian today by Tom Clark (Big-state Britain? UK voters’ sympathy for the poor, 15 April). I thank the Guardian for its ongoing considered publication of welfare benefit matters, but how can we use your findings to influence the national debate? How do we stop the debate from being hijacked by the unprincipled political chancers who now run this country?
Jan Hill
• The deceit with which the government’s case for the benefit cap “is being peddled” is even greater than you suggest (Editorial, 16 April). It is not just “state top-ups to low wages” being ignored but also child benefit, which is received by parents on the median £26,000 wage. If the child benefit received by out-of-work families were excluded from the cap, so as to compare like with like, it would reduce the numbers affected by 40%-50%. The government uses its deceitful comparison between in- and out-of-work incomes to argue that the cap is fair. But there is nothing fair in deliberately reducing the benefit some families will receive to well below the amount that parliament has determined is the minimum required to meet their needs – a minimum that research shows is far from generous.
Ruth Lister
Labour, House of Lords

Margaret Hodge is entitled to question the poor workload, and output, of the House of Commons (Short sessions make MPs look lazy – Hodge, 22 April). Yet she misses the main reason why the Commons is failing its duties to the nation. The automatic guillotining (curtailing the examination) of government legislation was introduced by Tony Blair. Just before the 2010 general election, David Cameron and Sir George Young, the present government chief whip, promised to abolish this affront to parliament. They reneged on this pledge.
They, and Margaret Hodge, should read a maiden speech delivered in the Commons on 28 June 2001. The speaker declared that “too many bills are passed too quickly, often with too little scrutiny and to little concrete effect … I cannot see how deciding in advance how much time should be given to a bill and systematic guillotining can restore the house as a cockpit of debate”.
The speaker was David Cameron.
Richard Ryder
Conservative, House of Lords

After David Cameron’s cynical statement suggesting that we look to the benefits culture to apportion some of the blame for Mick Philpott’s lifestyle, will he also now suggest that we look to the culture of greed inherent in the arms trading industry that allowed Jim McCormick to sell bogus bomb detection devices that may be indirectly responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians (Report, 24 April)? Can it really be the case that McCormick is one of a (very bad) kind?
Dr Helen O’Nions
•  The claim by the Department for Business that until 2010 there was “no concrete evidence about the effectiveness or otherwise” of Jim McCormick’s fake bomb detectors reveals an almost criminal level of indolence and stupidity. Did no one at the department have the wit to buy one and take it apart?
Joseph Nicholas
• Re Manchester’s University Challenge answers of “Trotsky” and “Marx” (Your starter for 10, 22 April), we still play Trivial Pursuit using our original set and have always found it a guaranteed winning strategy to answer every sport question “Bobby Charlton”. As a result, the orange category is now known by family and friends, whichever version they play with, as the Bobby Charltons.
Judy Turner
Malvern, Worcestershire
•  The Guardian has devoted much space to negative aspects of Stafford hospital, but no mention of the rally and march which took place on 20 April and was attended, by police reckoning, by 30,000 people, united in support for the hospital.
Jo Leadbetter
•  We have just driven from Calais to Italy, covering 750 miles of autoroutes. And we saw just one British lorry in the whole three days. Which direction does the March of the Makers take at Dover?
Glenys Canham
• Our five-year-old granddaughter provided a solution to Suárez’s behaviour (Suárez says he deserves only three-match ban for biting, Sport, 24 April): “He should wear a muzzle!”
Pauline Anderson
St Albans, Hertfordshire
The latest annual rich list (Report, 22 April) reveals that the richest 1,000 people in Britain, just 0.003% of the adult population, increased their wealth by £35bn last year and by a mind-boggling £190bn since the crash four years ago. That’s just their gains: their total wealth has now reached £449bn. Each one of the richest 100 on average possesses wealth exceeding £2bn, and there are now 88 billionaires in Britain.
This surge towards ever more extreme inequality really matters. First, in paying down the budget deficit the super-rich are making virtually no contribution at all, while hard-working families have had to take a cut in real wages of 7% in the last two years and those out of work have had to endure benefit cuts of £18bn. A fair policy, by contrast, would reduce the deficit by levying a capital gains tax charge on the post-crash gains of this Midas-rich 1,000, which at the current 28% rate should raise up to £53bn, more than enough to kickstart the economy and create a million or more jobs – without any increase at all in public borrowing (Osborne please note).
Second, extreme inequality leads to instability and a crash. Wage-based demand in rich economies provides about two-thirds of economic demand, and in the periods leading up to both the 1929-31 and 2008-09 crashes the wage share fell heavily while wealth ballooned at the top. British wage-earners today have some £100bn less in their pockets than if national income were shared now as it was in the late 1970s.
Third, today’s massive polarisation in wealth dangerously concentrates economic power. The interests of the hyper-rich don’t align with the national interest because their wealth is invested globally and their political influence is directed not towards UK national recovery, but towards unfettered corporate power, tax havens and gutting the public sector through privatisation and outsourcing.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton
• You report (22 April) that a storm is (rightly) brewing over the appointment of the former head of npower, Volker Beckers, as a non-executive director of HMRC, despite its almost nonexistent tax payments from 2009 to 2011. This is a broader issue than just this one individual, disturbing as this case is. There’s developed in recent years a fast-revolving door between businesses and industry and the public sector. The argument is that this shares skills and knowledge. Instead, all too often it breaks down sensible barriers between regulators and decision-makers and those affected by their rules and decisions.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party
• The logic of the principle of taxation advanced by Eric Schmidt (Google chief defends low tax payments, 23 April) is that those who contribute to the wellbeing of society should be exempt from taxation. Schmidt goes on to assert his valuation of the contribution of Google to society in response to the charge of paying virtually no corporate taxes in the UK. Presumably he thinks his valuation of the moral merit of Google’s actions trumps the social merit of the public space needed for society to function. Even Google requires that space to flourish. We lesser-deserving members of society must subsidise the morally superior Google shareholders. This is a desperate defence of extreme greed.
SP Chakravarty
• George Osborne’s stated support for G20 action on tax reform is welcome, but it’s important that the government continues to show leadership on the full gamut of transparency issues – not just headline-grabbing ones around tax (George Osborne vows to marshal G20 nations to fight tax evasion, 20 April). A report out this week from the International Aid Transparency Initiative details good progress by donors on reporting how much aid they give, to whom, and for what. This will help drive aid effectiveness and government accountability. But some countries are still lagging behind.
As joint chair of two key initiatives – the UN high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda and the open government partnership – and host of the G8, the UK has an unmissable opportunity to promote access to information as a core driver of good governance and successful poverty reduction. We look forward to seeing them take it.
Tom Berry
Development Initiatives


On the 60th anniversary (25 April) of the publication in Nature of three papers by Watson and Crick and teams led by Rosalind Franklin and my late father Maurice Wilkins, it’s easy to forget that in April 1953 just about no one in the world had heard of DNA. Even among the few scientists who had, nearly all dismissed it as unimportant.
Sixty years on, DNA is one of the few aspects of science that can genuinely be called a household name. 
Just after Watson and Crick proposed their model in 1953, my father wrote to them saying: “I think it’s a very exciting notion and who the hell got it isn’t what matters … there is no good grousing.” I don’t think anyone connected with that letter would have believed quite how much “grousing” about ”winners” and “losers” the next 60 years would bring.
DNA belongs to all of us yet none of us. Our bodies are just vehicles for these primordial molecules, formed in slime pits millions of years ago, to reach the future by combining with others. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking of the DNA effort in a similar way – the twin strands of Cambridge’s conceptual model combining with Kings’ experimental rigour to bring a new idea to life? A fully accurate and verified structure for DNA required vital contributions from both sides. 
The four very different figures in the “race for DNA” shared a common concern about the effect of science, including their science, on mankind. None could have hoped or expected that their work would have the impact it already has. Let’s hope the end result of this “very exciting notion”, 60 years young, is that we’ll all be the winners.
George Wilkins, London SE24
Boarding school offers neglected children hope
An underclass has been established in this country. While its genesis was economic – the loss of semi-skilled male jobs transferred the role of breadwinner to taxpayers – it is now culturally driven. A new way of life has emerged for all too many of my young constituents.
The report I presented to the Prime Minister on the foundation years two Christmases ago showed that the life chances of most children are determined before they step into school. And schools, as they are currently run, are powerless to overturn the achievement cards dealt against the most neglected children. 
I tried and failed to raise the funds so that one of the Birkenhead schools could provide boarding facilities similar to what the Durand school in Lambeth is going to achieve. Getting neglected children away from parents who do not even care if their children get up in the morning, let alone provide them with a breakfast, and away from a beastly home environment, is the only way to improve some children’s life chances. 
It is good that the National Audit Office is investigating the Durand School’s business plan (“Costs of running ‘Eton of state sector’ hugely unrealistic”, 24 April). But I hope it has been instructed to find ways of making this great experiment a success. The odds against innovation in this country are stacked too heavily in favour of vested interests. The National Audit Office would do all neglected children a great service if it became an ally of change and not a weapon to destroy hope. 
Frank Field MP, (Birkenhead, Lab)
House of Commons
I agree with your leading article that a “state-sector version of Eton” is a good idea, but it glosses over the urgent reforms required in state education (24 April).
There is a lack of school places as well as schools in high-density areas of the country such as London, where 118,000 extra state-funded places are required in the next three years.
There is also an issue of quality. State comprehensive schools are failing their brightest pupils, as well as those who are not as interested in academic subjects. The boldest move that Michael Gove can make is to open up for-profit competing providers to increase supply.
Profit will allow business to increase educational capacity. Even if one does not like the idea of schools running for-profit, one must be pragmatic – as government is not providing enough places. They have to come from outside the state sector. Costs should fall, and a state-backed education voucher can be used to ensure individuals can afford such academic fees. 
Second, he should seek to overhaul the failed comprehensive system by moving English and Welsh schools back to a system of academic streaming, based either on the old grammar school or German three-tier system.
James Paton, Billericay, Essex
Before I went into teaching, I worked in industry. Fifty weeks a year at 40 hours a week, with an hour off on Christmas Eve if the department had done well. My friends taunted me when I became a teacher because of the nine-to-four day and the 13 weeks’ holiday.
I discovered that, while I was never tired while doing the industry job, I was shattered by the workload in teaching. I fell asleep before the evening meal every Friday.
To teach 27 hours a week, I had to do at least 30 hours’ working at home. The friend who read and made notes on 21 books during his holidays so that he could be ready for the following year was a little exceptional, but any decent teacher simply had to use a lot of holiday time for preparation.
I don’t object in principle to Michael Gove’s proposals for a longer school day and longer terms, but they need to be based on the reality of what happens in the unseen part of the job of teaching.
Jim Johnson, Nottingham
Landlords cash in on poverty
In the midst of this government’s brutal assault on the poor, sick and disabled, there is one group of scroungers left unreformed; in fact, actively encouraged.
The swarms of buy-to-let landlords, purchasing portfolios of ex-council flats and cheap housing, are having their mortgages paid by the taxpayer through housing benefit. They are being given, at public expense, inflation-proof assets and a return on capital far above that available to savers.
Many local councils offer a property letting and management service to these landlords, removing even the need to manage their properties. Essentially, providing council housing, but with no security of tenure for the tenant and at ruinous public expense.
Overheard on my train to the City: “…he has a portfolio of 40 flats…”
The utter lunacy of wasting huge sums of public money subsidising the already wealthy, while refusing to spend any money on building new social housing, shows the real priority of this cruel government.
An opportunity for Ed Milliband? Fat chance. Very many MPs, of all parties, own their own little portfolios of these gold-plated cash machines, so the chance of any meaningful reform is remote.
John Boulton, Edgware, Middlesex
It is not important whether or not the “bedroom tax” is actually a tax. What matters is that the less well-off people in our society are being targeted once again, this time for having a bit of extra space that is not permanently occupied.
For many, that space might represent a storage space, privacy for teenagers, a homework desk or simply room to put someone up now and again. These are everyday matters that contribute to physical and mental health and which those of us in larger homes take for granted.
John Charman (letter, 23 April) is quite right that social housing must be used efficiently, but it will be counterproductive in both individual, social  and financial terms to degrade the living conditions of one group to accommodate another.
Perhaps George Osborne would like to try living in the housing he advocates.
Jean Gallafent, London NW1
Seafarers of Middle England
Rambling Syd Rumpo of blessed memory used to sing a traditional sea shanty about the herring fishermen of Harringay (I think) of which he said: “’Tis a sad lament on account of Harringay being landlocked”. After seeing your map of lost counties (24 April), I imagine their colleagues in Rutland must be sharing the same ditty.
Gordon Elliot, Burford, Oxfordshire
The herring fleet of Rutland was indeed a fine sight, and often put to sea with trawlers from Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. Rutland was badly hit by the EU imposition of fishing quotas, as no doubt Nigel Farage will tell you.
Cedric Narbrough, Gravesend, Kent
Boston stands up to terror
No, Eddie Johnson (letter, 22 April) you’re not alone in thinking that the Boston lockdown made the US look ridiculous. Heroic speeches about standing up to terrorists while everyone cowers in their basements – it all supports the view that Americans don’t do irony. 
The whole thing became some kind of non-stop reality TV mass entertainment, and the world is apparently expected to stop what it’s doing and watch in wonder as the US police and FBI show the rest of us how it’s done. 
It’s one thing to lock down a city for a day, but when the bombing goes on for years, you have to carry on as normal even in fear of your life, as we had to do during the IRA bombing campaign starting in the 1970s Now that’s brave and resolute. Incidentally, the IRA was funded for years by Irish Americans, particularly in  Boston. I wonder if those supporters have a clearer understanding now of what it was they were paying for.
Monica Scott, North Yorkshire
It has been reported that the 19-year-old who planted bombs at the Boston Marathon is being charged with  “using a weapon of mass destruction”. Surely WMDs by definition are nuclear, biological or chemical weapons? If a home-made bomb, a pressure-cooker full of ball-bearings, is classed as a WMD, then those assault rifles which the US  Congress refuses to control must also be classed as WMD.
John Boaler, Calne, Wiltshire
The Marathon bomb suspect has been formally accused of using weapon of mass destruction. So now we know. Bush and Blair are vindicated. Saddam Hussein had a  pressure cooker bomb.
John Crisp, London SW1
Bitten by stardom
Those running football clubs are very slow to understand the basics. Only Sir Alex Ferguson realises that football is a team game. If Suarez played for Manchester United he would now be on a flight home. Liverpool players now realise they are merely overpaid support staff who must bow to their star player, which is why their first premiership title is still light years away.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey
Why waste time and money on anger management training for Luis Suarez? Just make him wear a muzzle.
George Nicholls, Wilmslow, Cheshire


Creating a false dichotomy between the working population and pensioners is not part of any debt solution
Sir, Andrew Harrop (Opinion, Apr 23) suggests, in effect, that the elderly and retired should be penalised for a lifetime of work. Already age-related allowances are being phased out. If people are to be encouraged to make provision for themselves rather than depend on handouts, then attacking those least able to influence their circumstances is absurd. To tax property on a deferred basis is nonsense when we already have inheritance tax. Many elderly are forced to work, competing for jobs with the young.
Mr Harrop makes selective reference to a Fabian Society study, but its website shows that this study was itself highly selective.
Patrick Hogan
Beaconsfield, Bucks
Sir, It’s outrageous for Andrew Harrop, of the Fabian Society, to say that pensioners must take a share of the pain because they are well-off.
Those of us born in the 1930s and brought up during the war know only too well what real austerity is like. My parents’ house was bombed out and we lost everything. We had to live in a “requisitioned” house, which we shared with two other families. We had no bathroom or inside lavatory. Everything was rationed, there were no holidays, no toys, no treats, nothing.
I suggest that Mr Harrop concentrates on those who caused the present mess — the bankers and politicians. We pensioners are the ones who did everything right: we worked, paid taxes and national insurance for 40, 50 or 60 years, and didn’t take on more debt than we could afford. Any comforts we enjoy now go to make up for what was truly a miserable childhood.
Mindy Lee
Woodford Green, Essex
Sir, Mr Harrop implies that pensioners have been insulated from the financial crisis. In fact, many are on fixed incomes which have fallen in real terms, while savings have been eroded by inflation and low interest rates. And home ownership is not the same as disposable income.
There are many legitimate issues which need to be addressed but creating a false dichotomy between the working population and pensioners is not part of any solution.
Garry Graham
Deputy-General Secretary, Prospect
Sir, Many pensioners can accept the main thrust of Mr Harrop’s article. However, he overlooks one major point. Most of us are either paying care home fees (over £1,000 a week in my case) or building up savings to enable us to do so in the future. Once the Government has in place a realistic scheme (not the present inadequate proposals) pensioner opposition to the kind of cuts suggested by Mr Harrop will diminish.
Geoffrey J. Samuel
Sir, Andrew Harrop is quite right, of course, to say that pensioners must share the pain.
Why should all benefits, including housing benefit, jobseeker’s allowance and those benefits cherished by pensioners, not be considered to be income, because that is what they are, and taxed as such?
This would achieve some return, while preserving the benefits of those who do not pay tax. It would also allow David Cameron to say that, as promised, he had not touched the payment of pensioner benefits such as winter fuel allowance.
Keith Phillips
Malvern, Worcs

The financial impact of the horse doping scandal will extend into tens, possibly hundreds, of millions of pounds
Sir, The impact of the doping scandal surrounding Godolphin has yet to be fully appreciated (“Godolphin trainer’s ‘catastrophic error’ as 11 of stable’s horses test positive”, Apr 23).
The use of performance-enhancing drugs in racing affects owners, whose horses may have lost to a drugged horse, trainers and jockeys, whose performances will have appeared weaker, the punters who backed beaten horses, breeders whose mares may have been covered by stallions whose performances may now be suspect, and, finally, the handicappers whose calculations of the merits of other horses will have been skewed.
The financial impact will extend into tens, possibly hundreds, of millions of pounds when prize money, betting stakes and stud fees are taken into account.
Will it ever be possible to watch a Godolphin horse win again without a nagging doubt? The Godolphin management need to take urgent action to reassure the racing industry and the public. Waiting for the outcome of what is inevitably going to be a lengthy investigation by the British Horseracing Authority, as it needs to be if all the facts are to come to light, will not do.
Clive Layton
Abbess Roding, Essex

Defra is already doing a lot of work to tackle the problem of ash dieback, including funding a genetic resistance project
Sir, I was surprised at the letter calling for an antidote to save Britain’s ash trees (Apr 24). Defra is already doing a vast amount of work to tackle ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea).
Experts are looking at potential treatments but we have always been clear that there is no “magic cure”. These products need to be tested to ensure they do not adversely affect wildlife or human health.
Finding resistance to Chalara fraxinea is the best hope for the future of ash in the UK, and Defra is funding a project to plant and monitor 250,000 young ash trees for genetic resistance. This is unprecedented in its scope and the UK is leading the way in trying to identify resistant strains. We are also putting £8 million towards research on tree health over the next four years. We are determined to do everything we can to tackle the threats to our trees.
Professor Ian Boyd
Chief Scientist, Defra

Suggestions on how to go about making the roads safer for cyclists, and even an idea for a contribution to cost
Sir, Congratulations on your Cities Fit for Cycling campaign (report, Apr 24). Would the Treasury be more inclined to fund improvements if cyclists paid a small contribution? There are, say, some 15 million adult cycles in circulation. A £10 tax would surely not be objectionable, particularly when compared with the sum paid by motorists. This would go a long way to funding the improvements.
Neville S. Conrad
London W11
Sir, I applaud your cycle campaign, but if we are to have more/improved cycle lanes can we please put these in the hands of a designer with the capacity to integrate them in a way which doesn’t look as if a 10-year-old has been let loose in the playground.
Violent primary colours damage the visual environment as much as graffiti does. You would be doing a massive service if you make this a critical part of your cycling campaign.
Richard Bellman
Sutton Scotney, Hants
Sir, I am puzzled why some cyclists in my area persist in using the main road when there is a purpose-built cycle track alongside it.
Sheila Taylor
Pevensey Bay, E Sussex

The MoJ’s proposals will take away invaluable experience from the Junior Bar and eventually it will cease to exist
Sir, As a (non-practising) barrister seeking pupillage at the legally-aided Criminal Bar, I found Chris Grayling’s comments — that he has been “mindful of the financial challenges faced by the Junior Bar” and “the Junior Bar should see a small pay rise” (Law, Apr 18) — misleading and an insult to the thousands of self-employed junior barristers who both prosecute and defend the public and now face bankruptcy as a result of the Ministry of Justice’s proposed cuts.
Magistrates’ Court hearings and trials give new practitioners at the Criminal Bar invaluable experience as they progress to more serious cases in Crown Court trials, while earning well below the minimum wage. The Ministry of Justice’s proposals will take this crucial work away from the Junior Bar and place it in the hands of cut-price “super firms” such as Eddie Stobart, G4S and the Co-Op.
The consequence? New entrants to Crown Court advocacy will dry up, and the Criminal Junior Bar will cease to exist, spelling the end of one of the best criminal justice systems in the world. Defendants will suffer miscarriages of justice and victims of crime will suffer the injustice of failed prosecutions — a far cry from Mr Grayling’s “pay rise”.
Tommy Dutton
London SW11


SIR – The Department for Education’s current review of the National Curriculum is a vital opportunity to ensure that all young people in England receive quality cycle training.
Like swimming (which is already on the curriculum), being able to ride a bike confidently on the road is an essential skill for an active and healthy lifestyle.
Most children have a bike and want to cycle to school, but only 2 per cent actually do so. With childhood obesity rising and physical activity levels falling, encouraging active travel is vital to the nation’s future health and well-being.
“Bikeability” sets the national standard for cycle training, which gives participants of all ages the skills and confidence for everyday cycling. At the moment only half of children in England have access to Bikeability. It’s a postcode lottery that means some children will learn to cycle safely and confidently, while others won’t.
MPs and peers today call for action to “get Britain cycling”, including cycle training in the National Curriculum; this would help revolutionise children’s health, independence and well-being.
Julian Huppert MP (LIb Dem)
All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group
David Dansky
Director, Association of Bikeability Schemes
Edmund V King
President, Automobile Association
Phillip Darnton
Executive Director, Bicycle Association of Great Britain
Ian Drake
Chief Executive, British Cycling
Steve Agg
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK)
Christian Wolmar
Journalist and transport commentator
Gordon Seabright
Chief Executive, CTC, the national cycling charity
Andre Curtis
Chair, Cyclenation
Simon Best
Chief Executive, Institute of Advanced Motorists
Ashok Sinha
Chief Executive, London Cycling Campaign
David Brown
Chair, Passenger Transport Executive Group
Amy Aeron-Thomas
Executive Director, RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims
Dr Robert Davis
Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum
Geoff Dunning
Chief Executive, Road Haulage Association Ltd
Malcolm Shepherd
Chief Executive, Sustrans Paul Lincoln, CEO, UK Health Forum
Lancashire hotchpotch
SIR – I was pleased to read that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, “has promised to resurrect” old county names (report, April 23). No county was worse affected by the Heath government’s reorganisation in 1974 than the County Palatine of Lancashire.
Part was hived off to Cheshire and a chunk was put into Merseyside (including Southport, which is on the Ribble, not the Mersey, estuary). Some of the urban south-east went into Greater Manchester, while the northern part was put into Cumbria (a name concocted by bureaucrats).
Yet the main road linking Liverpool and Manchester is still called the East Lancashire Road and Lancashire County Cricket Club has its headquarters in Greater Manchester. Those of us born in these administrative “counties” mostly consider ourselves as Lancastrian, and we all eat Lancashire hotpot.
Dr Malcolm Greenhalgh
Lowton, Lancashire
Bungalow benefits
SIR – Increasing the supply of bungalows may encourage older people to down-size (report, April 22) but, realistically, on a more and more crowded island, it’s not going to happen.
If significant numbers of older people are to down-size, the aberration which is stamp duty has to be addressed. This, in conjunction with legal and estate agents’ costs, means that much of the capital generated by a move evaporates.
Additionally, the quality of housing needs to improve. Flats in particular are invariably poor value, cramped and suffer from inadequate sound insulation. What retiree would want to throw money away to live in a home where the neighbours can be heard through paper-thin walls?
Ashley Naylor
Poole, Dorset
SIR – Jonathan Glancey (Comment, April 23) extols the virtues of a bungalow. I once owned an old vinyl record where the singer outlined his vision of a perfect life. It was entitled A Bungalow, A Piccolo and You.
Diana Crook
Seaford, East Sussex
School holidays
SIR – Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, should look at shortening university holidays as well as school ones (report, April 19). They seem to extend to nearly six months a year. How can universities justify this while charging up to £9,000 per year but only offering a few hours of lectures each week?
Christine Brown
Richmond, Surrey
SIR – Michael Gove is proposing that the school day be extended to 4.30pm. As this will coincide with the evening rush-hour, thousands of children travelling home will be exposed to the increased hazards of higher density traffic and dangerous journeys in the dark winter months.
Tony Collinson
Beverley, East Yorkshire
SIR – Back in the Sixties there was a ruling that the winter holidays were to be extended and summer holidays shortened to save schools from heating costs – homes paid the bill instead of councils.
Mike Underdown
Honiton, Devon
Criminal biting
SIR – With regards to the recent biting incident in a Premier League football match (report, April 22), intentional use of teeth as a weapon has usually been judged in Britain as a criminal offence.
I have given expert evidence in court in a large number of cases where custodial sentences have been given. I was once an expert witness in a case involving a bite in an amateur rugby match. The guilty player was jailed for more than two years.
Biting in a professional football match, even when admitted, does not appear to warrant investigation. Should different standards apply to this sport?
Professor David Whittaker
Emeritus Professor of Forensic Dentistry Cardiff, Glamorgan
Dramatic parts
SIR – I wonder if other readers have been struck by the ubiquitous male nudity on the London stage. It featured in the last three plays my wife has frogmarched me to: The Effect at the National, The Low Road at the Royal Court and Privates on Parade (I admit I should have seen that one coming).
I can accept that there may be some artistic justification for nudity but I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far.
Nicholas Lyons
Stanhoe, Norfolk
Nurses gain confidence by training in basic care
SIR – Andrea Spyropoulos, the president of the Royal College of Nursing, claims that, if new nurses spend a year washing and feeding patients, it will “take nursing back a hundred years” (report, April 22).
Having begun my nursing career in the Seventies, I know first-hand how beneficial this part of our training was for both the nurse and the patient. Far from it being a “stupid idea”, it would help reintroduce confidence and respect in the profession.
Janet Gerrard
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
SIR – To add an extra year to nurses’ training to learn about basic care will only deter applicants. What is required is changes to the curriculum from it being university-based with emphasis on technology, to it being ward-based, focusing on the needs of patients.
This training should be supervised by tutors and ward sisters, who should be given more authority for this aspect of care. Until this is carried out, no amount of restructuring will address the problem.
Joan Bloore
SIR – When I was a medical student, my father, a surgeon, insisted that I work during my summer holidays as a nursing auxiliary under the tutelage of his ward sister. It was an invaluable experience.
John M Scott
Shefford, Bedfordshire

SIR – If the Government is serious in its wish to rejuvenate the high street, why does it not levy a small tax on all online sales (Letters, April 23)?
Some of the income generated ought to be paid to local authorities for them to provide more and better car parking facilities, and to reduce or eliminate parking charges. I think we would then see the high street return to better health.
Jim Martin
Preston, Lancashire
SIR – As a retailer with seven outlets, some adversely affected by large, out-of-town retail developments, I believe the symptoms of high street decay were showing long before online shopping.
Parking charges should have been imposed at these out-of-town areas, comparable to those imposed by the local authority in town centres.
Alan Anning
Crowthorne, Berkshire
SIR – The main problem with our high streets is that the freeholds of the great majority of shops are owned by venture capitalist landlords.
In France, most town centre shops are run by the largely family-owned freeholder.
France is a nation of shopkeepers.
Larry McMahon
London SW14

SIR – I read with interest your report on today’s salaries in the NHS (“The 8,000 NHS staff on £100k salaries”, April 22).
My father was a group secretary in South West Hertfordshire from 1948 until 1968. He had between eight and 15 hospitals under his control at any one time. I believe his salary at retirement would have been in the region of £3,500.
I see that the equivalent position in the same area now commands a salary of £280,000. I appreciate the NHS is a different beast today, but the basic principles remain the same. If one allows a factor of 20 for inflation between now and 1968, my father’s equivalent current salary would be approximately £70,000.
John Maskell
Little Waltham, Essex
SIR – As the anaesthetist sends you to sleep and the cardiac surgeon prepares to open your chest it is a comfort to know that they are highly paid and have many years of training and experience behind them.
Related Articles
Cycling should be included in the National Curriculum
24 Apr 2013
Online levy could help to restore the high street
24 Apr 2013
There is nothing wrong with having an elite of highly paid consultants in the NHS. They do not work only for the money but they have a proper sense of what they are worth and we can’t afford to lose them to private practice or overseas.
The socialist Aneurin Bevan knew the importance of paying consultants well when he overcame their opposition to the new NHS by offering them salaries they could not refuse. Millions of poorly paid patients who could never have afforded private medicine benefited from this.
Dr Christopher Madoc-Jones
SIR – Peers will debate NHS privatisation regulations today. It seems that Liberal-Democrat peers will be whipped to vote for the final nail in the coffin of the traditional NHS, because Baroness Jolly, the party’s health spokeswoman, has said that she accepts the Government’s revised version of the regulations.
Yet a variety of independent expert legal opinions have stated that the regulations will still force commissioners to tender out NHS services whenever there is a possibility of more than one provider.
It is not clear why Lady Jolly is proposing to gamble the future of the NHS on the strength of assurances given by Earl Howe, the health minister, that critics’ fears about the revised regulations were unfounded.
The true nature of the NHS reform has been concealed from the public. Clearly the House of Lords should not pass law that has been misrepresented to Parliament. The public interest lies in rejecting these regulations, which would force a more expensive and less effective NHS on us. We urge all peers to cast their votes against the regulations.
Dr Lucy Reynolds
Health policy analyst
Dr Clive Peedell
Co-leader, National Health Action Party
Dr John Lister
Director, Health Emergency campaign
Dr Louise Irvine
GP, London
Dr Richard Taylor
Former MP for Wyre Forest and co-leader, National Health Action Party
Philip Pullman
Mark Haddon
Professor Richard Fielding
University of Hong Kong
Professor Jennie Popay
Professor of Sociology and Public Health, Lancaster University
Dr Paul O’Brien
SRH London
Professor Klim McPherson
University of Oxford
Dr David Wrigley
BMA General Practitioners Committee
Dr Patrick French
Consultant Physician, London
Dr Maggie Ireland
Public Health Geneticist
Professor Derek Cook
St George’s, University of London.
Professor David Evans
University of the West of England
Professor Robert West
University College London
Candy Udwin
London Keep Our NHS Public
Dr Anthony Isaacs
Retired Consultant Physician, London
Dr Alex Scott-Samuel
Senior lecturer in public health, Liverpool
Dr Gurdave Gill
GP, Sidcup, Kent
Dr Michel Coleman
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Dr Daniela Mo
GP, Sidcup, Kent
Dr Meri Koivusalo
International health policy analyst
Paul Batchelor
Hon Senior Lecturer University College London
Dr Jonathan Folb
Consultant Microbiologist, Liverpool
Penny Ormerod
National Health Action Party executive member
Professor John Yudkin
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University College London
David Reed
Patient, London
Dr Christopher Birt
Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool
Dr Ron Singer
Medical Practitioners’ Union President
Professor Alison Macfarlane
City University London
Professor John Ashton
Former regional director of public health for the north west
Ms Jane Beenstock
Locum Consultant in Public Health
Caroline Molloy
NHS campaigner
John Boswell
Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health
Simon Trott
38 Degrees member
Kathy van Praag
Concerned citizen, Oxford
Dr Peter Bruggen
Retired consultant psychiatrist, NHS Trust medical director
Dr Julian Tudor Hart
GP, Swansea (retd)
Professor Wendy Savage
President, Keep Our NHS Public
Rhonda Riachi
Independent Educational Consultant
Marion Fiddes
Financial Consultant
Judith Vidal-Hall
Former editor, Index on Censorship
David Lawrence
Consultant in Public Health
Heathcote Williams
Dr Barnaby Fiddes
Addenbrooke’s Hospital
Katherine Jones
Dr Jonathan Tomlinson
Declan O’Brien
Chair, 38 Degrees Camden
Roy Trevelion
Member, 38 Degrees Camden
Dr Peter Fisher
President of NHS Consultants’ Association
Dr Anne Watson
GP (retd)
Dr Susan Kelly
Consultant Haematologist, Buckinghamshire hospitals NHS trust (retd)
Professor Allyson Pollock
Co-director, Global health policy unit, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Guy Baily
Consultant Physician, London
Dr Brian Fisher
Nazreen Subhan
38 Degrees Camden
Hilary Lance
38 Degrees Camden
Dr Peter English
SW London Health Protection Team
Julie Hotchkiss
Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health
Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign and the Lewisham Buggy Army of babies born in Lewisham Hospital (approximately 150 campaign members, 25,000 supporters)

Irish Times

A chara, – The OECD is quite correct in pointing out that future demographic and financial concerns may force the pensionable age to rise beyond 68 (Home News, April 23rd), but a cautionary note must be sounded – this cannot happen alone through legislation for pensions.
Older workers must be incentivised to retrain in order to work in areas more suited to their physical capacity at ages 66 and over. Employers must be incentivised to hire and retain older workers.
Above all, steps must be taken to ensure older people are living healthier lives and are supported to continue in employment in a variety of manners, should they choose to do so.
Those who enter retirement or semi-retirement should have their contributions to society outside the workplace acknowledged and rewarded. Ireland needs to rethink retirement as we know it, and start a new conversation on ageing. Simply shifting an arbitrary age, and ignoring a holistic approach to the demographic change, will not cut the mustard. – Is mise,
Information & Networking
Active Retirement Ireland,
Mary’s Abbey,
Dublin 7.
Sir, – Martin Wall writes that public servants in place before July last receive pensions of half their salary (Home News, April 20th). For clarity, he should have stated that this full entitlement would only accrue after 40 years’ service at a rate of 1/80th of salary per year and that public servants contribute approximately 12 per cent of their salary to earn this benefit.
The public and private sectors have been truly polarised in this country, with some parties actively pursuing this agenda. Ambiguous reporting only serves to further demonise the public sector. – Yours, etc,
Tara, Co Meath.
Sir, – Savita Halappanavar was a tragic victim of our State’s restrictive legal position on abortion.
We, as doctors, need the freedom to provide the best medical care to our patients. For too long, the health of Irish women has been compromised by restrictive laws, which have no place in the field of medicine. Irish doctors have been unable to follow best-practice, unable to offer women the treatment they want and unable to follow internationally- standardised guidelines. We need to be released from the chill of these legislative restraints so doctors can treat an illness before a life- threatening situation develops.
Following the outcome of the Galway inquest, Doctors for Choice is of the view that the Government and legislature should provide, as a matter of urgency, the freedom to doctors and pregnant women to be able to safely manage a pregnancy before a life-threatening situation develops. Similarly, if the Irish Medical Council cannot provide security to the medical profession that they act in the best interests of women, they should lobby our legislators to change the law accordingly. Otherwise women’s health will continue to suffer, women’s lives will be jeopardised and more tragedies will inevitably follow. – Yours, etc,
Doctors for Choice,
Strandhill, Co Sligo.
Sir, – What has happened to Irish medicine when a coroner’s jury (“Savita Halappanavar jury returns unanimous medical misadventure verdict”, April 19th) finds it necessary to call for a national recommendation that “blood samples should be properly followed up”? – Yours, etc,
Cnoc an Stollaire,
Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal.
Sir, – The eighth recommendation of the jury in the Savita Halappanavar inquest, that “medical notes and nursing notes should be separate documents and kept separate” is not foolproof. Several years ago I was in hospital overnight for a “procedure” the following morning. I said to the night nurse that I gathered that I had to fast for it. I was told that I didn’t. I persisted, not very strongly, and was told that my procedure was not one that required fasting. I gave up. Why argue with an experienced nurse? She arrived in the morning and said, “You are fasting: it was in the doctor’s notes but not in the nurse’s notes!” – Yours, etc,
Arlington Heights,
Killarney, Co Kerry.
Sir, – According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Guidelines on Bacterial Sepsis in Pregnancy (Green-top 64a), “Between 2006 and 2008 sepsis rose to become the leading cause of direct maternal death in the UK”. This document goes on to say that “the signs and symptoms of sepsis in pregnant women may be less distinctive than in the non-pregnant population and not necessarily present in all cases. Disease progression may be much more rapid than in the non-pregnant state.”
Surely termination of the pregnancy at the point where it is no longer judged to be viable is the only way to reduce the substantial risk to the life of the mother of a condition that is a leading cause of maternal death, whose signs are less distinctive and may not be present in all cases, that progresses rapidly.
This judgment, that the pregnancy was no longer viable, was made quite early on in the hospital care of Savita Halappanavar, yet we know from the failure to monitor vital signs that the substantial risk to her life from sepsis was not properly evaluated. This failure may, of course, be a consequence of risk evaluation in a sub-critical population size: ie, we may be too small a nation for clinicians to see enough cases of rapid deterioration of sepsis to septic shock for them to properly evaluate the substantial risk to the life of the mother. – Yours, etc,
Roslevan, Ennis, Co Clare.

A chara, – It was with great dismay that I read Ann Marie Hourihane’s piece on the Irish health service (Opinion, April 22nd). While all of us who work within the service realise and admit there are problems and difficulties, the article fails to acknowledge that these shortfalls are a reflection of a system stretched to its very limits.
Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in this country display dedication and commitment to the care of their patients at all times. If, on occasion, they cannot spend as long as they would like with each patient, it is because to do so would take time away from another. It strikes me as particularly insensitive to use the tragic loss of Savita Halappanavar as a backdrop for the airing of personal grievances. – Is mise ,
Sir John Rogerson Quay,
Dublin 2.

Sir, – It may be late in the day to suggest The Swift Bridge, embracing as it does a translation of Luas, and honouring Jonathan Swift, who was installed as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral on June 13th, 1713, and whose writings included Gulliver’s Travels . – Yours, etc,
Dean, St Patrick’s Cathedral,
Upper Kevin Street,
Dublin 8.
Sir, – Complementing Seán Ryan’s article (“Apply American solutions to the many Irish property problems”, Business supplement,April 23rd), I am astonished that amid all the general discussion of the failure of the Irish banking system’s approach to mortgages, no one has noted what is, perhaps, the most important difference between American and Irish mortgages.
In the US, mortgages are not open-ended personal loans that include property as a security. They are loans to finance property, secured by that property whose recovery is limited to the value of that property. This difference in the extent of liability means that: 1. Banks must be much more careful in appraising the value of a property on which they give a mortgage and 2. Homeowners in difficulty with extreme negative equity can abandon their home without facing the consequences of bankruptcy. While the second would have short-circuited the attempts of the banks and their friends in government to limit the “moral hazard” of a reasonable bankruptcy regime, it is worth noting that no such “moral hazard” even exists if the banks must properly assess their risk before granting mortgages, since an unlimited claim on the client is not created by the loan. The fact that the mortgages are “security-based” rather than “personal-liability-based” makes programmes like those by the Federal Housing Administration and other insured mortgage schemes more practical, since there is no expectation that one must pursue debtors for more than the return of property.
Other important differences in the structure of mortgages in the US include the following: the mortgage system does not use “variable” mortgages – its concept of a “variable” mortgage is called a “tracker” mortgage in Ireland; and 25-40 year fixed-term mortgages, which avoid the problems of ballooning or refinancing, are probably the most common arrangements. These kinds of mortgages also penalise banks for failure to properly assess property. Had the Irish banks been more careful, the property bubble might not have been so disastrous.
I know the Irish debate is framed by the history of what is familiar and based far more on the kind of personal relationships among gentry than is the more commercial structure of that in the US, but I am surprised at the utter silence in the media and government on the subject of fixing root problems such as these. – Yours, etc,
Fellow Emeritus,
School of Computer Science
& Statistics,
Trinity College,
Dublin 2.

Irish Independent

• Like Joan of Arc of old, Joan Burton has emerged in shimmering armour on a gleaming charger to carry the light out of the darkness, announcing that the end of austerity is nigh.
Also in this section
Martin is all politics and no governance
Will Letters to Editor survive?
Thatcher quoted incorrectly
The Labour minister has declared that Ireland has “reached its limits of austerity” and that ordinary people are “shouldering too much of the burden”.
At last, Ireland has reached an epiphany, our own age of enlightenment has dawned.
Not that we should necessarily discard the sack cloth and ashes, or hairshirts, immediately. No, not quite yet. But deliverance is at hand and the Government intends to make a major concession to middle-income taxpayers in this year’s Budget as part of a strategy to demonstrate the era of impenetrable bleakness is drawing to a close.
It will be replaced with a new paradigm of mild flagellation and alternative adversity measures.
We can expect a significant package to recognise the sacrifices that middle-class taxpayers have endured over the past five years, through a combination of higher taxes and pay cuts.
A senior Fine Gael minister has been quoted as saying: “We have come to the point now where working people are beginning to suffer from (austerity) fatigue.”
Needless to say, this minister did not wish to be named but added that: “We need to make a strong gesture to recognise their efforts and to encourage them to spend in the economy again. That, in turn, will stimulate growth.”
So it’s all over folks. Bring out your brightest colours. The Sean Bhan Bocht’s ship has come in, and our economic fetters rent in twain. It’s party time. Joan says so.
M J Gillbride
Aughrim, Co Wicklow
Sing our own praises
• When President Michael D Higgins addressed the European Parliament recently, he expressed recurring concern that the founding values of the EU are being threatened and disregarded. He reasserted the sentiment of Jacques Delors, who opined that Europe needs a secular soul – a deficit that Mr Delors attributed inter alia to a lack of interest by national governments.
The President also cited the “singular example” of three obscure European dissident thinkers as being a seminal influence on the intellectual heritage of Europe.
He offered no insight as to how Ireland, or Irish genius, contributes to the vitality of contemporary Europe or whether Ireland has been the author of any initiative whatsoever that could be deemed mission-critical to the vision of the founders of the EU, a catalyst to the formation of its soul, or its humanity.
Ireland applied to become a member of the EEC in July 1961 at a time when the nation was on skid row from an economic perspective and could not claim the degree of sophistication, prosperity and worldliness that we now take for granted.
The 50th anniversary of the iconic, address of US President John F Kennedy to Dail Eireann will be celebrated at the end of June. On that occasion, JFK proclaimed: “This has never been a rich or powerful country, and yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful”.
Would it not have been appropriate, on the 40th anniversary of Ireland’s membership of the EU, for our president to describe the influence of Ireland on the evolution of the EU, or must the citizens of Ireland rely exclusively on the remarks of articulate foreign leaders for such validation?
Myles Duffy
Glenageary, Co Dublin
Rights of the unborn
• In the weekend discussions regarding who should decide on whether or not an abortion should be permitted in the event of a threat of suicide, it was noticeable that there was no indication as to who should be there on behalf of the baby.
Article 40.3.3. of the Constitution means, in effect, that every time the life of an unborn comes under threat, there is a constitutional imperative on the part of the State to defend and vindicate that life.
The Health Minister, and indeed, the Justice Minister, must, therefore, ensure that if legislation is being drafted as is suggested, it must include a provision that at least one senior counsel should be involved to represent the baby, and also the State that is constitutionally bound to protect it. Otherwise the State will stand accused, not only of failing to carry out the constitutional imperative, but also could be sued for its failure to do so.
All the recent discussion has been in relation to the protection of mothers, but it must be remembered that the primary purpose of the inclusion of Article 40.3.3. was to protect the unborn.
If it is now being suggested that we must legislate to fulfil a constitutional requirement in relation to expectant mothers, it it similarly imperative that we legislate for the constitutional protection of the unborn.
Frank Murphy
Strandhill Road, Sligo
Outstanding chief
• It was touching to hear Leinster coach Joe Schmidt speak so openly about his son Luke’s epilepsy.
One can understand his strident comments in relation to the head injury suffered by David Kearney after what looked like a very ugly challenge by Paul O’Connell.
Schmidt has been an outstanding chief at Leinster, commanding respect, and applying himself resolutely to the rigours of his role.
P B Dalton
Blackrock Co Dublin.
A nation on the rack
• I recently returned home to Dublin after a number of years abroad where I now live. I have come back to a very different Ireland.
I went down to my local village for a pint at the weekend. There were very few people out, but I did notice that the nearby off-licence was very busy.
I do not mind paying extra for the heat and ambiance that a well run pub offers, but the essential quality is cheerfulness and friendliness.
Alas, there were so few out and about that the pub, which I always remembered as being thronged and alive with the energy of people intent on a good time, seemed empty and a little cold.
Down the street the restaurants were kept going, but I was told that the bulk of the business was of the ‘early-bird’ type. True enough, by 8.30pm the village seemed solitary and even lonely.
I know people are struggling to make ends meet; I know, too, that the sacrifices demanded at the austerity altar would make even Abraham blanch.
I had listened earlier in the day to the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, suggest that our Government, which now controls the banks, would be well advised to put a freeze on mortgages for a couple of years to give a turbo-charge to our spluttering nigh-on moribund economy.
I know there will be a screeching chorus in opposition to this eminently sensible suggestion.
But there has been a deafening silence when it comes to solutions. My country has become a torture chamber with all the crucifying instruments of austerity. The whole nation is on the rack.
Unless we get proactive on stimulus or pro-growth as opposed to slash-and-burn policies, there will be no one left to turn out the few remaining lights.
J J Oliver
Cambridge, Mas, USA
Invite for a quick bite
• I believe it is normal for premier soccer teams to go for a few pints together after a game. However, following the “distasteful” ending to the match at Anfield, it was rumoured that the Chelsea full-back line invited Luis Suarez out for a quick bite!
Sean Kelly
Tramore, Waterford


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