Visiting Joan

13 June 2013 Joan in hospital

Off around the park listening to the Navy Lark, oh dear oh dear.
There is a Chief inspector of Police who needs help with his inquiries. He is dropped on Troutbridge but the only thing he finds is Leslie and Lt Murray’s smuggle. But as he is covered in soot, he fell down the funnel he is unrecognizable Priceless.
Another quiet day Joan’s feet still bad we visit her in hospital she will be home very so so I go and tidy up her room.
We watch The Pallaisers Bye bye Mr Finn MP Some hussy appears with diamonds they are stolen! Twice!
I win at scrabble but I gets over 400 perhaps Mary can have her revenge tomorrow.


Helen McElhone
Helen McElhone, who has died aged 80, was a Glasgow housewife who took over from her Labour MP husband when he died in harness, and in less than nine months in the Commons proved a doughty fighter for better housing and social conditions.

Helen McElhone with her husband Frank in 1969 Photo: TSPL/ALLAN MILLIGAN
6:10PM BST 13 Jun 2013
She had held constituency surgeries for Frank McElhone, a Scottish Office minister in the 1970s, and sat in regularly on Commons committees. But she had no Westminster ambitions of her own until on September 22 1982 he suffered a fatal heart attack during a march through Glasgow in support of the NHS.
Born and raised in his Queen’s Park constituency, she decided to take up the mantle. Jimmy Wray, Frank McElhone’s agent, reckoned the seat his for the taking, and he was not a man to be crossed; when one of Wray’s wives demanded an equal share of their house, he had it demolished, then sent her half the bill for the bulldozer.
Nevertheless Helen McElhone, an opponent of abortion and nuclear weapons, had built her own contacts as a party activist, and after bitter infighting defeated Wray at the selection meeting by 29 votes to 28.
Labour and the SNP outbid each other during the by-election campaign to condemn the impact of Thatcherism. Helen McElhone stressed her local ties and record, demanded the demolition of a notorious tower block and on December 2 1982 ran out the winner by 5,694 votes.
Time was not on her side, as the seat was due for abolition at the coming election. But she made an immediate impact with a passionate maiden speech condemning tower block “slums” and the hopeless outlook for the young unemployed.
She returned to this theme whenever she had the opportunity, telling Mrs Thatcher she should call a June 1983 election to give the people “some hope”. The prime minister did just that, winning handsomely.
Declaring: “I don’t believe in being a caretaker MP”, Helen McElhone went for the new Glasgow Central constituency, but after Wray was ruled ineligible she lost out to the sitting MP Bob McTaggart for the Labour nomination.
In 1985 she was elected to Strathclyde regional council, becoming vice-chairman of its finance committee. She persuaded the council, Rangers FC and the Scottish Development Agency to fund a new sports and community centre on waste land opposite Ibrox Stadium. Later she was one of the Labour panel who vetted potential candidates for the first elections to the Scottish Parliament.
She was born Helen Margaret Brown on April 10 1933 and brought up and educated in the Gorbals. When her husband was elected to Parliament in 1969, she took over running his greengrocer’s shop.
Helen Brown married Frank McElhone in 1958. They had two sons — the manager and the bass guitarist of the rock band Altered Images, which had six hit singles between 1981 and 1983 — and two daughters.
Helen McElhone, born April 10 1933, died June 5 2013


Over the last few months Network Rail has provided its services against the background of intense flooding which has swept some lines away. During the February 2013 storms it had to deal with up to 60 landslides a day, an extraordinary and unprecedented volume of erosion and land slippage never seen before in the century and a half of rail transport. One line has been closed by a colliery spoil heap failure and will remain closed for months.
So a bit more congratulation to Network Rail on having achieved the punctuality it has against extraordinary odds – and a bit less hubris from Network Rail’s critics would not go amiss (Report, 13 June). And while there may be savings in costs to be made, the costs associated with flooding and landslides associated with climate change can only rise and will have to be budgeted for, unless we are prepared to lose large chunks of the network.
Professor Peter Gardiner
Emeritus professor of civil engineering, University of Brighton

The increased prevalence of drug-resistant microbes is not just an impending problem – we consider drug resistance to be an urgent issue today (Report, 12 June). In our projects around the world we see people every day who have developed resistance to frontline drugs – often because they have been prescribed inappropriate drugs or regimens as the appropriate diagnostic tools do not exist. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are being seen wherever we have the tools to diagnose it.
In an MSF emergency project in Iraq, for example, many of the deep-wound infections we care for are infected with bacteria resistant to the second-, third-, even fourth-line drugs. Daily, MSF sees the human side of drug resistance. At the same time we are seeing major pharmaceutical companies abandoning research and development on drugs to suppress infection. There’s a desperate need for increased research into new diagnostics and antibiotics and for them to be brought to market more quickly. Now is the time to tackle this problem – not to avert a future crisis, but to prevent an existing one from getting worse.
Dr Jennifer Cohn
Medical coordinator, MSF access campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières
• The use of antibiotics in agriculture is often ignored. So the proposal by England’s chief medical officer for a UN treaty to ban antibiotics in food production is very welcome. Antibiotics are used, particularly in pig, poultry and fish farming because they promote growth and prevent disease from spreading rapidly in overcrowded intensive farms. A shocking 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are used in animals, and this massive misuse clearly allows drug-resistant bacteria to develop. A properly enforced UN treaty on antibiotics would mean that some of the worse aspects of industrial animal farming would no longer be viable, which would be a welcome boost to animal welfare, as well as helping to ensure that antibiotics are still able to save people’s lives.
Richard Mountford
Development manager, Animal Aid

The announcement by the Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency that all electronic cigarettes will be classed as medicines and need its approval is bad news for smokers and for public health (Report, 13 June). Classing them as medicines will drive products off the market, create unnecessary uncertainty in the minds of users and, perversely, make it harder to get electronic than tobacco cigarettes. This decision will do nothing to hasten an end to smoking.
Gerry Stimson
Richmond, Surrey
• Your report (12 June) describes the Greek public sector as “bloated”. At what point do we deem a society to be “bloating” on public service? Do you think that public sector broadcasting is evidence of “bloat”? Or perhaps you yourselves are bloated on neo-con narratives of austerity and the lean state?
Saville Kushner
Auckland, New Zealand
•  Robust, credible, determined, honest, perceptive, brave, undaunted. Would make Labour electable. Margaret Hodge for shadow chancellor and, in time, chancellor – even prime minister (Report, 13 June). Please!
Margaret Carey
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex
•  In my experience, the Asian community has a preference for cash and cheques, and it is a joy to visit an Asian restaurant and have my cheque accepted with a smile (Report, 12 June). My deeper concern is that the card-based society is debasing the currency and blinding young people to relative values.
Robert McMillan
• Sportspeople always picking up injuries? (Letters, 13 June) What’s more their injuries are invariably “niggling”.
Adrian Brodkin
• Perhaps I missed something at a younger age, but could someone explain how women can “fall” pregnant?
Sebastian Colquhoun
• Have you noticed that controversies are always “raging” these days?  I haven’t read of one simmering for ages.
David Robbie
Great Haywood, Stafford

The latest National Security Agency data protection scandal highlights the increasing erosion of civil liberties by stealth (Editorial, 11 June). It is easy to discount our fears and assure ourselves that what is tantamount to a government spy programme, is necessary to prevent terror attacks on domestic soil. However, that argument simply isn’t enough to justify such an invasion of privacy. Just because we cannot see the level of surveillance that we are subjected to doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be deeply alarmed.
We are told that we should accept an arrangement whereby the British and UK security services spy on one another’s citizens to circumvent privacy laws because “if you’ve done nothing wrong then you’ve nothing to fear”. It’s time that we say to governments: “If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from transparency and proper scrutiny.”
EU officials have repeatedly raised with the Americans the scope of legislation such as the Patriot Act, which can lead to European companies being required to transfer data to the US in breach of EU and national law. Yesterday in Strasbourg, the European Greens launched a campaign about the processing of personal data and its movement.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Perhaps Franklin could have added that most people have not even been offered the choice.
Natalie Bennett Green party leader
Keith Taylor Green MEP for South-east
Jean Lambert Green MEP for London
• No one has as yet raised the possibility that the private company contractors to the NSA, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, SAIC and many more, who are responsible for obtaining and processing the private data from individuals and other companies, may use this data for illicit commercial gain.
Presumably they will have ready access to the emails and mobile phone messages of traders on Wall Street and the City. I doubt very much if there would be any ethical barriers to using this “insider” information to make a killing in the markets. The methods of insider trading practised from time immemorial by City gents – a chat in the bar, the odd word in the ear at a meeting of a livery company, or over a malt whisky in the evening at one’s club, must seem positively archaic, very low bandwidth, compared to the information available to the digital spooks.
David Hookes
• Your interviews with numerous whistleblowers were inspiring (The truth sets you free, 11 June). Not one of them, despite all the deprivations and hardships they have suffered, regretted the action they had taken. In contrast to the platitudes of President Obama and William Hague about their governments’ excessive security measures, the whistleblowers come across as the real and courageous defenders of our freedom and democracy.
Ernest Rodker
• London tube stations are adorned with large posters proclaiming: “Your privacy is our priority … Microsoft.” Really? Viewed through whose Prism?
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

Michael Wilshaw’s conclusion is strange (Schools failing to nurture the brightest, says Ofsted chief, 13 June). Obviously selective schools select the pupils they regard as most likely to achieve A or A* grade in English and maths, rejecting many with level five in both. If any of their pupils fail to realise this target, it should be the selective schools that deserve criticism. A lot of things happen to young people between the ages of 11 and 16 and key stage 2 Sat scores (not blanket levels) are not the only measure used when schools are given predictions of pupils’ likely future attainment.Teachers in comprehensive schools are not complacent and strive to offer first-class educational opportunities to all, regardless of race, gender, prior attainment or any other criterion. They equip young people with the social skills, qualities and knowledge to thrive in the real world. I have witnessed many go on to top universities where they frequently outperform their selectively or privately educated peers because they have developed the ability to be individual, thinking learners. Let’s celebrate our first-class education system and stop trying to fix what isn’t broken, offering support when something could be improved.
Jenny Page
Sidmouth, Devon 
• I note from the Ofsted survey that despite the “confidence and high ambition” which apparently characterises our state grammar schools, nearly 40% of their students who transferred from primary school with a level five or above in English or maths failed to achieve an A or A* grade in these subjects at GCSE. Given the favoured intake of these schools, and their minimal social deprivation challenges, this is surely “an issue of national concern”. Michael Wilshaw seems surprisingly unconcerned.
John Stephens
• If it was the case that state schools were failing to nurture their brightest children – presumably they are doing a cracking job nurturing everyone else – then it might be a matter of national concern. However, there is not one jot of evidence to suggest that the tests (Sats key stage 2) taken by children in mathematics and English in the final year of primary school are predictors of GCSE grades. (Indeed A-level grades are not good predictors of degree classifications.) Michael Wilshaw’s ignorance on matters concerning testing and statistics in education is woeful in a chief inspector of schools. If medical research was based on this cavalier attitude to statistics people would die. Tragically, decisions on the education of children in state schools in England is now determined by all this poppycock.
Dr Robin Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire
• It is in years seven and eight, the two years following primary education, that secondary schools find greatest difficulty in setting appropriately high challenge for their young learners. Too often insufficient is known by secondary school teachers about what their new pupils learnt and how they learnt it in years five and six.
To meet this issue, the last government produced “transition” schemes of work, written by teachers, spanning years six and seven, which pupils were able to study across the primary-secondary divide. It also developed a system in which teachers worked with attainment targets for every whole class and personal targets for each individual in that class. This system was highly sophisticated and potentially very effective indeed.
The coalition has discontinued these approaches. It has reduced teacher training and local education authorities to embattled rumps. It has encouraged the notion that teachers don’t need qualifications. It is determinedly undermining the sense that a secondary school and its primary feeder schools should function as a partnership or family. And these changes make cross-phase collaboration virtually impossible.
Wilshaw’s classifying of some children as “bright” is, frankly, offensive. There are a hundred and one ways of being bright. If a child’s parents respond sensitively to a child’s natural curiosity and encourage further questioning, involve him or her in lengthy conversation and encourage wide reading which is then discussed, the consequence will be a bright child. Every child deserves the opportunity to be bright. It is the responsibility of every state school to provide this opportunity, and that is often denied pupils if they are placed in a bottom set with its concomitant problems.
David Curtis
Solihull, West Midlands
• In most areas the statutory regulator or inspector is held accountable for failures which are allowed to persist over a long period of time. For example, the Care Quality Commission is rightly criticised when a health or social care service is found to have failed its users repeatedly. Ofsted was largely the creation of the government of John Major and the Education (Schools) Act 1992 and its primary purpose is to achieve excellence in education for children. If after 20 years of Ofsted inspections too many of the most able children in secondary schools are underperforming, surely Ofsted should be made to explain why it has failed?
Martin Quinn
Tavistock, Devon
• Two days ago the government were complaining that GCSEs were too easy. Now it’s complaining that two-thirds of the most able pupils at the end of primary school don’t go on to get an A or A*. Gamma minus for logic, Gove, and see me after evening prep.
Rendel Harris
• I suspect schools have always been guilty of not stretching the cleverest students. The late astronomer Fred Hoyle, who discovered how carbon is formed in the stars, played truant from Bingley Grammar school, preferring to study in the local town library.
Roger Greatorex
• Re Michael Gove’s plans for exam-only GCSEs: “Education is not filling a bucket; it is lighting a fire.” WB Yeats.
Bob Gough
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey



I spent many years working as a further education lecturer in business and computing. The staff at my college noted that one year’s intake of students was more awkward and disillusioned and had less ability than the previous intakes.
We worked out that this was the group that were the most adversely affected by the introduction of the National Curriculum. Further cohorts also had problems and we reckoned that it took about four or five years for this situation to stabilise. 
By completely overhauling the GCSE structure in such a short time Mr Gove is setting up a five- to ten-year disruption to education. The new GCSEs will require a completely different approach. It will take quite a few years for teaching materials, textbooks and training for teachers to be properly implemented. 
The rigorous structure will penalise a significant percentage of students: those with hay fever, those who get nervous, those with dyslexia, the student with a broken arm or in hospital – all  are likely to do less well.
Can we therefore register the fact that from 2017 and the 10 years afterwards all credit for the falling numbers of students getting good grades at GCSE be attributed to the person responsible – that is Mr Gove?
Paul Mason
Teddington, Middlesex
Mr Gove’s new GCSE proposals (“Easy GCSEs are ancient history”, 12 June) will be strangely familiar to anyone like me who did their O-levels in 1955.
English literature: one play by Shakespeare (check). English language: spelling, punctuation and grammar important (check). Speaking skills not tested (check). Digital texts not included (obviously). Maths: problem-solving questions on algebra and geometry (check). Modern languages to include oral examination (check).
Has the world really changed so little in the past 58 years?
David Hewitt
London N1 
Can Michael Gove really believe that schoolteachers – educated, intelligent people – will be able to teach his politically skewed history curriculum with a straight face, or that their pupils, many of them the descendants of slaves or of those who suffered under British colonialism on the Indian sub-continent, will swallow it without question? 
Either Gove is himself a radical left-winger, promoting his doctrines through a cunningly subversive plan, or he is as stupid as he seems.
Professor Michael Rosenthal
Banbury, Oxfordshire
Frankenstein still stalks  the GM fields
You make the case for GM crops (“Time for a rethink on GM crops”, 11 June) but how can you believe that the “dire prophecies” that you mention have not come to pass? There are several factors which make GM very “Frankenstein” indeed.
Many GM crops are not set to resist pests but rather to resist a particular pesticide so (a) the company profits from sales of that pesticide and (b) fields become “dead zones” for everything but the selected crop; the need to buy seeds, fertilizer and pesticides (often sold as a “package”) creates financial obligation and sometimes debt which can lead to farmer suicide in the developing world.
Add to this, GM farming is by nature “mono-culture”, often linked to the use of fertilisers and “designer pesticides”, which is a threat to wild life and to biodiversity (with the prime example being bee-death), it puts enormous strain on the soil and causes run-off leading to further death in rivers and in the sea (such as dead zones around estuaries).
GM crops can start off giving high yields but, as resistance increases, this tails off, leaving farmers in debt, with tired soil and with no non-GM seed-stock which might allow them to return to old (sustainable) practices.
If this is not “Frankenstein” then please tell me what is.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany
Could it perhaps be that “the dire prophecies of Frankenstein foods have not come to pass” because, as you say earlier in your leading article, growing them is illegal in Europe?
We are still safe because we have avoided the risk; something I pray that common sense will ensure we continue to do. Sadly, common sense is in very short supply in this Government.
Sara Neill
Tunbridge Wells,  Kent
RBS: public cost, private profit
The Royal Bank of Scotland was rescued by the taxpayer at vast expense when private- sector management failed. Now conventional wisdom seems to be that it should be re-privatised, incidentally no doubt generating fat fees for the usual suspects in the City. Why?
If RBS is attractive to the private sector it must be because it is judged to be a going concern with a potential to generate a profit. As the taxpayer took the risk to rescue the bank, so the future profits should accrue to the public via the Treasury, rather than to City institutions and shareholders whose managements proved  so incompetent or negligent  in the past.
It may well be that RBS will only be profitable once many thousands of staff have been paid off and placed on the unemployment register at further public expense.
It is of course no coincidence that the “give-away” privatisation circus will reach its climax just before the next general election.
Roger Blassberg
St Albans,
Little to learn from China
Contrary to what Hamish McRae says in “When – not if – China overtakes the US, normality will have returned” (4 June), I believe that there is little the West can learn from China despite China’s apparent economic strength.
It is ironic that such an article in praise of China’s economic performance should appear in close proximity to the sensitive date of 4 June. Commemorating the massacre which happened 24 years ago reminds us that the Chinese Communist Party, both then and now, has recklessly pursued economic growth, sacrificing freedom, democracy and the environment along the way. Every year, the CCP spends more money on “maintaining harmony” at home than on national security, because economic development takes precedence over everything else. On top of that, the Chinese economy runs on familial ties, bribery and corruption. If “ideas of Chinese economic management” ever affected other parts of the world, it certainly would be for the worse.
McRae also claims that the West has much to learn from China’s healthcare system. He rests his argument on Hong Kong’s infant mortality rate and Macau’s life expectancy, but these examples are at best tenuously linked to the state of China’s healthcare system. The excellence of Hong Kong and Macau’s healthcare can only be explained by their colonial history and the preservation of a Western healthcare system thanks to the policy of “one country, two systems”.
If anything, citing Hong Kong and Macau as success stories shows the triumph of Western managerial ideals.
Christopher Cheung
Exeter College,
Generals in  the front line
Regarding the subject of whether officers in the First World War sent working-class soldiers to their deaths (letter, 12 June): Richard Holmes in his meticulously researched book Tommy recorded that 58 major-generals and brigadier generals in the British Army were killed or died of wounds on the Western Front, and probably more than 300 were wounded.  
A higher proportion of generals were killed by small-arms fire (such as snipers) than of men under their command, suggesting that they were killed very close to the front line. 
It should also be pointed out that, because so many officers in their own uniforms with swords were being picked off by enemy fire, orders were issued that officers taking part in attacks should wear the same uniforms as ordinary soldiers and carry rifles.
Gordon  Elliot
Burford,  Oxfordshire
I read that Mr Cameron wants all schoolchildren to see the battlefields of the First World War. They would learn more about the futility of war if they visited Iraq instead.
Gyles Cooper
London N10
Stay out of the war in Syria
Britain and France want to set up a no-fly-zone over Syria to help the rebels, although Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander has pointed out that this would be an act of war.
President Hollande has said any action against Syria must be “within the framework of international law”. But international law bans “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
British and French aid to the rebels is just like President Reagan’s aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, which the International Court of Justice condemned in 1986 as a violation of international law.
Will Podmore
London E12
Syria and many of the other Middle Eastern countries look exactly like England in Tudor times – two sects of a major religion fighting to the death. To interfere would be disastrous. Spain tried to support the rebels by sending the Armada and lost most of its fleet and ultimately its empire. Do we intend to do the same?
John Day
Port Solent, Hampshire
Private data
It seems strange that the news about Prism and the acquisition of private data by intelligence agencies has caused such a furore while no one appears to be worried that most, if not all, of the relevant information is already in the hands of the various private operators such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Do we know what the Googles of this world do with the data and to whom they are answerable?
Geoff Baguley
Wellingborough, Northamptonshire
Late night
David Warner punches Joe Root. Alastair Cook then says: “Our players did nothing wrong.”  So is it now perfectly acceptable for international sportsmen to be drinking in a bar at 2am In the middle of an important tournament? I think we should be told.
Derek Watts
Lewes, East Sussex
Thinner divas
Your headline asks: “So why do all female classical musicians have to be thin and sexy?”(11 June). It looks as though it’s not over now till the thin lady sings.
Robert Pallister
Punchbowl, New South Wales, Australia


Party politics must not get in the way of giving our security services the capabilities they need to tackle modern-day terrorism
Sir, The recent attack on Drummer Lee Rigby was a cowardly and criminal act committed by people who have regard neither for life nor Islam. We will not know, until the Intelligence and Security Committee has reported, whether gaps in the current law unwittingly assisted the terrorists in this case.
What we do know is that the type of terror that al-Qaeda brings to our streets poses a new and challenging threat because, in the 21st century, they have access to global communications like never before. Combine this with a disregard for their own or their victims’ lives and there is a profound danger to our national and individual security. When such a threat reveals itself, government has a duty to ensure it does all it can to counter it. Coalition niceties and party politics must not get in the way of giving our security services the capabilities they need to stay one step ahead of those that seek to destroy our society.
It was for these reasons that Labour, in 2008, planned a Communications Data Bill and the current Home Secretary has felt the need to tackle the problem again. Far from being a “snoopers’ charter”, as critics allege, the draft Bill seeks to match our crime-fighting capabilities to the advances in technologies. The current legal regime in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 was drafted when the internet and mobile telephony were in their infancy.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and emails are some of the many new ways millions communicate. The proposed Communications Data Bill does not want access to the content of our communications but does want to ensure that enough data is available in the aftermath of an attack to help investigators to establish “who, where and when” were involved in planning or supporting it.
This same comms data can also be vital in exploiting leads to prevent future serious crimes. If a bombing or another type of atrocity has been planned over many months there is at the moment nothing to guarantee that the data records needed by investigators to piece together networks and suspects will have been stored by internet providers. The draft Bill has been scrutinised extensively by a Joint Committee of Parliament, and the Home Secretary has already said she will accept the substance of all the recommendations. We support such a Bill.
Let us be clear, there are no proposals to weaken the current regime surrounding the interception of the content of communications. It has always been a requirement, and always will be, that such intrusive intercepts are subject to time-limited warrants. Their use is guided by a strict criterion of necessity and proportionality, and are only permitted to protect national security and counter serious criminal conduct. We find it odd that many critics of the Bill prefer to champion the rights of corporations over democratically accountable law-enforcement agencies Good counter terrorism is about learning from previous plots and exploiting intelligence. Communications data is a vital tool in that armoury.
Jack Straw, MP; Lord King of Bridgwater; David Blunkett, MP ;Lord Baker of Dorking; Alan Johnson, MP; Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Ben Wallace, MP

‘Oil companies should make clear that they support the new global mandatory extractive transparency standard’
Sir, We are concerned that a few leading international oil companies, including some due to attend the Government’s “Open for Growth: G8 Trade, Tax and Transparency” event tomorrow, are in danger of undermining David Cameron’s G8 transparency agenda. Several such companies are supporting the American Petroleum Institute’s lawsuit to try to reverse the extractive sector reporting provisions of the US Dodd-Frank Act, Section 1504. Others have not yet done enough to distance themselves from the lawsuit.
Sixty-five per cent of the value of the global extractives market is covered by the US and the new EU mandatory reporting rules. Canada has announced plans to require similar reporting by Canadian companies, a further nine per cent of the sector. Switzerland is considering comparable legislation, and campaigners are urging Australia to do the same.
Oil companies should make clear that they do not support the unnecessary US lawsuit and instead commit to support the new global transparency standard. Tomorrow’s event provides them with a great opportunity to do so.
Marinke Van Riet, Publish What You Pay; Gavin Hayman, Global Witness; Neil Thorns, CAFOD; Jamie Drummond, ONE; John Arnold, Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility

Britain has the safest railway in Europe, and works are continuing to make it more efficient, more punctual and more accessible
Sir, Your editorial (Network Real, June 13) reflected the public’s desire for improved performance on the railway and cheaper fares, but failed to recognise the very real progress that has been made over the past decade. It is only a few months ago since the European Commission published a report comparing all 27 EU member states’ railways and naming Britain’s as Europe’s most improved over the past 10 years.
In that time we have seen substantial growth and today are running one million more trains per year and carrying half a billion more passengers — more than at any time since the 1920s, on a network half the size. We have record levels of passenger satisfaction, some of the cheapest rail fares in Europe and while train punctuality — particularly on some routes — is shy of the regulator’s targets, it’s still at almost 91 per cent of trains running to time — historically high levels. We have the safest railway in Europe and have reduced the number of rail infrastructure failures by 30 per cent in the past four years. We are also in the midst of undertaking the largest investment programme since the Victorian era which has delivered new stations and new infrastructure.
We recognise there is still much to do and much we can do to make further improvements. But this success brings its own challenges as we are tasked with cutting costs, improving train punctuality and building more railways all on a network that is increasingly full. The rail industry, regulator and government understand better than ever before the challenges we face trying to meet these conflicting pressures. But you do not make up for a century of underinvestment overnight.
We are halfway through a 20-year project to set things straight and we need to continue if the railway is to fulfil its proper role in the economic regeneration of this country.
Sir David Higgins
Chief Executive, Network Rail

It is not necessary to go far afield to carry out research on education in two languages, just a quick trip down the M4
Sir, I read the article on bilingual education by Helen Rumbelow (June 12) with great interest. The article mentions research in America and Canada on this subject. It was not necessary to go so far afield. Bilingual education takes place in Wales and has done so for a very long time.
Jennifer Davies
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan,

The goal of education should be to give children the skills to find things out, to solve problems and work well with others
Sir, Sarah Haffner (letter, June 13) believes that the memorisation and regurgitation of facts under pressure is an important life skill that should be tested in exams.
This is true, if the goal of the education system is to turn out a generation of Mastermind contenders. As an employer, I am more interested in skills such as the ability to find things out, to critically assess information, to solve problems and to work well with others — all of which are now to be downgraded in an exam system that looks more and more irrelevant to the needs of the modern world.
Dan Adler
Farnham, Surrey


SIR – Dame Jenni Murray is surely out of touch (“Classical women must agree ‘sex sells’ to get ahead, says Dame Jenni”, report, June 11). There were famous female soloists long before the advent of the glamorous Nicola Benedetti, who, incidentally, is a very fine musician.
Ida Haendel, a British violinist of Polish birth, was a frequent soloist at the Proms in the Fifties and Sixties, and impressed with her virtuosity, not her glamour.
Brian C Brown
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire
SIR – While I join Dame Jenni in decrying the sexed-up packaging of female instrumentalists, this trend was not initiated by recording or commercial interests.
It began decades ago when Anne-Sophie Mutter, the German violinist, habitually appeared in skin-tight, low-cut, strapless dresses that left little to the imagination. How to get the genie she released back into the bottle?
Rebecca Goldsmith
London SW11

SIR – Well done Michael Gove for beginning to bring some common sense into the education system (“Back to basics as Gove sets out new GCSEs”, report, June 12). The new examinations will raise standards and reinforce two key lessons children need to learn: that quality is more important than quantity and that not everyone can be a winner.
Incidentally, I still have my school report from my state primary school in 1954 when I was 10. In those wicked times I was actually placed 16th out of 55 pupils. We had one teacher and no teaching assistants, yet almost all of the children in that class passed the 11-plus.
As for social mobility, 50 to 60 per cent of our fathers worked at the enormous Austin motor factory nearby, mainly on the production lines. That brings us to the tremendous benefits of grammar schools, but we mustn’t talk about them any more, must we?
Duncan Edwards
SIR – It seems likely that higher standards will see fewer pupils achieving high enough grades to meet university entrance requirements.
Related Articles
Classical women don’t need to sex themselves up
13 Jun 2013
That might reverse the proliferation of universities in recent decades and lead to some of them being redesignated as the effective polytechnics that they originally were, thereby enabling them to concentrate on delivering the vocational qualifications recently recommended by the Institute for Public Policy Research.
Bruce Denness
Whitwell, Isle of Wight
SIR – Increasing the pass mark in the new GCSE modules will increase the failure rate, but this cannot be simultaneously a measure of the GCSE’s improved quality.
For years, accountancy students have faced daunting failure rates of up to 50 per cent in their professional exams, but this level of failure amongst adolescents will be unacceptable. Branding pupils who do not pass a module as “failures”, and taking delight in that political achievement, despite the trenchant opposition of the teaching unions, is representative of Michael Gove’s arrogance.
John Flynn
SIR – How absurd that Mr Gove has announced new proposals for GCSEs while students are still sitting their exams. As an A-level student myself, I can only imagine how disheartening this news might be to GCSE students sweating over their last exams. Surely to say that the current system “isn’t delivering” serves to undermine their hard work? The minister could at least have waited until the exam season was over.
Jo Wassell
Bournemouth, Dorset
SIR – Michael Gove’s new curriculum is admirable, but are there many modern teachers who are capable of teaching it?
Dr Peter D Smart
Morpeth, Northumberland
Baby boomers
SIR – The Bishop of London (“Take less, bishop tells baby boomers”, report, June 12) would do well to remember the fortunate generation’s contribution to the dramatic improvement in living standards of all generations today.
Most of the so-called fortunate generation left school at 15 and began paying income tax and National Insurance very soon after. Many continued their education after work at night school and learnt their skills on the job. They worked long hours, usually involving Saturday mornings, with little holiday.
It’s due in large part to their work that nearly 50 per cent of today’s generation go to university and don’t have to begin earning a living until their twenties. It is a pity the bishop feels it necessary to stoke intergenerational antagonism. To say that public spending is “absorbed” by the fortunate generation implies soaking-up and sponging, and is particularly aggravating.
Hall Garvie
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
SIR – The Bishop of London used an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report which says that the elderly, while making up 15 per cent of the population, account for 40 per cent of public social spending.
Yet his rhetoric omitted any reference to the Centre for Economic and Business Research’s report which concluded that the “silver pound” is driving the recovery.
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife
Secret state
SIR – The problem with GCHQ (Letters, June 11) is not what it does but the secrecy that surrounds it. In a democracy we are entitled to know what is being done in our name — even if the processes involved have to remain secret.
To paraphrase William Hague: “If everything GCHQ does is legal then they have nothing to fear from being open about what they do.”
Huw Wynne-Griffith
London W8
Lessons from war
SIR – I cannot agree with Max Hastings that the First World War was “not morally different from the Second World War” (report, June 11). It was rather a case of Great Power rivalry and miscalculation, which led to our sleepwalking into a conflict that was not inevitable at the start of 1914.
Serbian adventurism in the Balkans was encouraged by Russia and supported by France, keen to settle old scores. There was no international framework to recognise the hurt to Austria-Hungary following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. For all his bluster, the vilified Kaiser Wilhelm was particularly reluctant to mobilise German forces when others were doing so.
The result was a tragedy for all of us and we are right to commemorate the sacrifice. Given that many of these ingredients are present in the current Middle East conflict, a proper appreciation of the events of that time may have more than academic value.
David Kenny
Newport, Monmouthshire
Rain and hail
SIR – Miriam Bolger (Letters, June 11) is right to comment on the appalling use of umbrellas, which should rarely be used in town and never in the country.
The only proper method of using an umbrella to keep dry is to hold it furled, vertically, at arm’s length, to hail a cab.
Michael Cleary
Iraq documentary
SIR – If last night’s BBC Two programme The Iraq War aimed to give the viewer as true a picture of events as possible, it failed.
The programme stated that Tony Blair caved in to American demands in 2007 to end British withdrawal and support the US surge. Mr Blair was quoted as saying in Parliament in February 2007, “We will continue to support the Americans.” He did say that, but he went on to lay out the timetable for reduction in British troop levels, a necessary condition of continued political support for the Iraq operation.
He did not in any way alter the timetable for withdrawal of British troops from Basra. I know, because I was the commander of the British-led division at the time.
The programme also stated that America intervened to seal victory for the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, when he decided to wrest control of Basra from the Mahdi Army militia. In fact Maliki’s attack failed and a delegation was sent to Iran to do a deal with Tehran, which then reined in the Mahdi Army. This was a triumph for Iran and the final nail in American ambitions for the Iraq invasion.
The consequence of that can be seen today as Iraq sides with Iran, Assad and Hizbollah as the Middle East unfolds, discarding the constraints of the Sykes-Picot pact and re-aligning itself on sectarian Shia-Sunni lines.
Maj Gen Jonathan Shaw (retd)
Petersfield, Hampshire
Building in villages
SIR – Gill Payne of the National Housing Federation (report, June 11) and other advocates of building more houses in villages do not take into account the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas.
How can it be sustainable to build houses far from the workplace, necessitating long daily commutes and turning villages into daytime dormitories?
Ms Payne asks what will happen to the village pub and shop with few young people around. In my experience they will be supported by existing village residents – people with more time and money to invest in their community.
Jo Lindley
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
Comic book looks
SIR – Mr Thomas (Letters, June 12) may be depressed that he looks more like Digby than Dan Dare these days, but he should be thankful he doesn’t resemble the Mekon.
David Hartridge
Groby, Leicestershire
Loyal blood donors are starting to lose patience
SIR – As a blood donor approaching his 100th donation, having donated for well over 40 years, I agree with Simon Rutter (Letters, June 12) that waiting times are too long. The Blood Donor Service has recently launched an appeal for 200,000 new donors. They would be better advised to take care of the ones they have.
Chris Pilkington
Moretonhampstead, Devon
SIR – If donors do come with “purely altruistic motives” (Letters, June 12) surely they can take a book or the Telegraph cryptic crossword to while away the waiting time, or engage in conversation with other donors, making the occasion a relaxing and pleasurable experience?
Denise Branson
Pedmore, Worcestershire
SIR – Upon arriving on time for my appointment to give blood, I was kept waiting over half an hour. People coming in off the street without appointments were going ahead of me. When I inquired as to why this was, I was told I “could be construed as being abusive to the staff”.
At that point I walked out. I found another donation point which seems to be more efficient in seeing people at their appointment times. Sometimes the staff do seem to forget we are volunteers.
Marion Martin
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire
SIR – I can understand Simon Rutter’s frustration. In my case, however, I endure any delay as several years ago I required transfusions, which saved my life. I feel it is so important to give blood that if it takes a little longer, then so be it.
Michael Slocombe
Telford, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – As somebody who grew up in priest-ridden Ireland, I am so glad that I have lived to hear our Taoiseach say, “I am proud to stand here as a public representative, who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach” (Dáil Report, June 13th). Dev and John Charles must be spinning in their graves. – Yours, etc,
Shandon Crescent,
Phibsborough, Dublin 7.
Sir, – When the Government published the Heads of the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill, Head 12, Article 3 stated: “No institution, organisation or third party shall refuse to provide a lawful termination of pregnancy to a woman on grounds of conscientious objection”. This effectively undermined the principle that a Catholic Voluntary Hospital (or indeed any voluntary hospital) could define its own ethos.
Notwithstanding some changes in the draft Bill, the Minister still stubbornly insists that no institution can “refuse medical treatment” on the grounds of conscientious objection and links this specifically to the question of funding. Nobody, of course, is talking about refusing medical treatment. Catholic hospitals must, however, refuse abortion, which is not medical treatment.
The European Directive 2000/78/EC (the discrimination directive) specifically makes provision for the protection of institutional ethos, when it states: “Provided that its provisions are otherwise complied with, this directive shall thus not prejudice the right of churches and other public or private organisations, the ethos of which is based on religion or belief, acting in conformity with national constitutions and laws, to require individuals working for them to act in good faith and with loyalty to the organisation’s ethos.”
I believe that Catholic Voluntary Hospitals as a body must make it clear, both to legislators and to their own staff, that while they will always provide life-saving medical treatment for women in pregnancy, they will uphold their ethos and will never facilitate or tolerate the deliberate termination of human life, at any stage.
It would also seem very important that, at a time when new hospital governance structures are being developed, voluntary hospitals should ensure that they remain the direct employers of their own staff. – Yours, etc,
Sacred Heart Parish,
Donnybrook, Dublin 4.
Sir, – How appropriate that “The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013” was released in the dark of night. Section 22 of the Bill gives the game away. It starts promisingly: “(1) It shall be an offence to intentionally destroy unborn human life”, and for a moment there was hope. But then sub-section (4) runs: “For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that subsection (1) shall not apply to a medical practitioner who carries out a medical procedure referred to in section 7, 8 or 9 in accordance with that section”. In other words, intentionally destroying life is banned except for all the cases mentioned in the Bill, including suicide risk, which surely means that the intentional destruction of human life is envisaged in these cases. That alone makes a laugh of the title of the Bill. – Yours, etc,
Dublin Road,
Arklow, Co Wicklow.
Sir, – I understand that Enda Kenny is an ardent fan of JFK and can even recite his speeches as his party piece. He is now even beginning to sound like him in the flesh. “I am proud to stand here as Taoiseach who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic taoiseach” – Enda Kenny (2013) in response to pro-Catholic lobby. “I am not the Catholic candidate for president, I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who happens to be a Catholic”– JFK (1960) in response to anti-Catholic lobby. Given it’s the 50th anniversary of JFK’s visit, maybe its appropriate that history does repeat itself. – Yours, etc,
Landscape Park,
Churchtown, Dublin 14.

As an American, I’m well aware of the potency of your use of the undeniably dysfunctional US system as the alternative to what we have in Ireland today. It is a great straw man. Yet I don’t believe any of us who have advocated for reform of the party whip system have called for adopting a relatively “whipless” system.
What I and others have called for is a critical re-examination of the way Irish political parties rigidly enforce the whip. A single vote against the leadership is a capital offence. How can large groups of thinking – we hope – people agree on everything? And if a party TD finds herself unable to vote as she’s told on just one issue, does that make her any less of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil/Labour/Sinn Féin person?
Political parties in other parliamentary democracies allow their members a greater degree of freedom, and that is what we are calling for here. Personally, I think an agreed number of free votes at the start of each Dáil term is an appealing alternative to the status quo.
In the wake of Micheál Martin’s just decision to allow his party colleagues a free vote on X case legislation, it is heartening that Fianna Fáil plans to form a committee to look at allowing more free votes on issues of conscience. I’m hopeful that the other parties will ultimately follow suit.
Moreover, anyone with significant experience of young activists in Ireland today will recognise that they are far less susceptible to “group think” than their predecessors. Those who enter politics will have no time for taking orders on how to vote on each and every issue.
As such, I suspect that, to borrow the motto of one US conservative publication, yesterday’s Editorial may, in time, be recalled as an instance of “standing athwart history, yelling ‘stop!’.” – Yours, etc,
School of Law

Sir, –   Given Enda Kenny’s strident opposition to spending public money on the spouses of Ministers (Home News, June 11th), can we assume that he will ensure that not one cent of public money is spent on entertainment for Michelle Obama and her two daughters during their visit to this country? –   Yours, etc,
Herbert  Road, Dublin 4.

Sir, – That Irish women feel career progress is not the same for both genders is hardly surprising (“Women at work”, June 12th). Having a family remains more disruptive to the working lives of mothers. Unpaid parental leave for fathers is insufficient to ensure greater equality. Provision must be made for parents to be able to share paid parental leave, and the career disruption which comes with it, as is the case elsewhere in the EU. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – If wit is indicative of intelligence, then the future may yet be bright. Congratulations to the brilliant Leaving Cert and Junior Cert tweeters in your daily Tweetwatch (Exam Watch, June 12th). I am still laughing @kateeOM. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – In relation to the new Liffey bridge and the removal of the name of Tony Gregory from the list of names, I think the following should be exposed to the clear light of day. The so-called Commemorative Naming Committee of Dublin City Council consists of eight councillors under the wing of Dermot Lacey, a Labour Party councillor for Pembroke/Rathmines. No fewer than five of the eight councillors represent Pembroke/Rathmines. These are Dermot Lacey and Mary Freehill, both Labour, Edie Wynne and Paddy McCartan both Fine Gael and Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil. In addition there is a third Labour Party councillor, Sheila Howes from Ballyfermot/Drimnagh.
The oldest and dirtiest trick in politics is the shifting of the goal-posts to outflank your opponent. This was done by introducing a new regulation that a person must be 20 years dead before being commemorated by Dublin City Council. Contrast this with the naming of the new Boyne bridge after Mary McAleese by a more enlightened council.
Sell the workers down the river in the Beggars Bush agreement and we will name the bridge after Connolly or Hackett, seems to be the Labour Party strategy. I’m disappointed but not surprised, as the political establishment prevented Tony Gregory from being lord mayor of Dublin and ceann comhairle in his lifetime. Of the names left in the ring my support goes to WB Yeats or Swift. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:


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