Still in hospital

27 June 2013 Still Hospital

Off around the park listening to the Navy Lark, Its Troutbridge’s 25th anniversary, but the wardroom silver tea set has gone missing can Pertwee be involved? Priceless.
Mary still in hospital for a blood transfusion, I hope all will be well.
I watch The Dominators its not bad
No Scrabble no Mary


Carl Elsener
Carl Elsener, who has died aged 90, was chief executive of Victorinox, the Swiss Army knife company founded by his grandfather, and turned it into a thriving global business.

Carl Elsener Photo: AFP/GETTY
6:46PM BST 24 Jun 2013
The firm had been founded in 1884 as a cutlery and knife workshop in the small village of Ibach, south of Zurich, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. At the time the Swiss Army, which until then had used German knives, wanted to supply its conscripts with a knife they could use not only to cut cheese, but also to maintain their new rifles and open tinned rations.
Karl Elsener I seized the opportunity and designed a simple knife with black wooden handles, a large blade, a screwdriver to clean the gun, and a tin opener. The Army loved it but some found it a bit bulky, so (for officers only) he designed a more elegant version with an added corkscrew. After Karl’s mother died in 1909, he chose her name, Victoria, as his trademark, changing it to Victorinox in 1921 to reflect the use of a new product called stainless steel (“inox” was an alternative name for stainless steel).
It was American GIs, serving in Europe during the Second World War, who introduced Victorinox to the wider world. They bought the knives in huge quantities as presents for friends and relatives back home and orders soon began to pour in.
Carl Elsener III was born in Ibach on July 6 1922 and joined the family firm in 1939. After his father’s death in 1950 he took over the company, aged 27, and inaugurated an era of expansion and development, introducing new products and mechanising a manufacturing process which at that time still involved the knives being assembled by hand.
While Victorinox knives, with their familiar red handles and Swiss cross and shield motif, continued to adjust gun sights, cut cheese, open cans and prise stones out of horses’ hooves, Elsener, a self-confessed pedant and perfectionist, oversaw the introduction of numerous optional gizmos, including spoons, forks, compasses, screwdrivers, mini-screwdrivers for spectacles, wood and metal saws, toothpicks, tweezers, scissors, pliers, keyrings, fish-scalers, magnifying glasses and tools to break glass and cut seat belts after car accidents. More recent models come with LED lights, laser pointers, “cyber tools’’ to fix computers, USB memory sticks, digital clocks and MP3 players.
Victorinox knives became one of the 20th century’s most successful products, and have been used in all sorts of sticky situations, even emergency tracheotomies. Nasa astronauts took them on space missions; they saw service with the 1975 British expedition to Mount Everest, and US Marines took them on Operation Desert Storm. By the mid-1990s sales to the Swiss military accounted for just one per cent of turnover, compared with 60 per cent 50 years previously. Victorinox became the largest cutlery manufacturer in Europe.
In later years Elsener led Victorinox’s diversification into other areas, including watches, luggage, clothing, even scent — a move which stood the firm in good stead when the 9/11 attacks in America led to a worldwide ban on knives in hand luggage, and duty-free shops stopped selling them. Victorinox’s turnover fell by a third and Wenger, the only other firm licensed to produce Swiss Army knives, went bankrupt and had to be bought by its rival. Thanks to Elsener’s policy of diversification, no Victorinox employees were made redundant.
Elsener remained chief executive of Victorinox until 2007, when he handed over to his son, Carl Elsener IV, though he remained active in the company into his late 80s, cycling to work every day at the firm’s plant in Ibach.
Carl Elsener’s wife, Rosemary, predeceased him. He is survived by their 11 children.
Carl Elsener, born July 6 1922, died June 1 2013


As George Osborne adds further misery to the already devastating cuts to public spending as part of the Coalition’s austerity programme (Town halls in firing line, 26 June), it’s vital the voice of those who have no access to the media should be heard. Many of those most affected will be provided with services carried out by, or commissioned for, local government. Such services have already had drastic cuts in funding. Areas of greatest deprivation have been hit hardest. The first thing the coalition did was to withdraw the specific funding to meet targeted needs, such as the early intervention grant which offered youngsters the start all politicians claim they support, and a range of other vital services. In disadvantaged areas – mainly outside the south-east of England – such funding amounted to up to 30% of the council’s total budget. Those councils then found themselves subject to the English-wide reductions in local government funding. These maintain the pretence that local authorities have all been treated fairly and there has not been a disproportionate reduction in those areas most in need.
A further 10% in local government funding from central government, coupled with the fact that money made available to freeze the council tax will no longer fill the gap, and it doesn’t take a genius to see why authorities like Surrey, Dorset and the outer London borough of Richmond have seen cuts of around just 1%, while in the West Midlands and the north of England we are already talking about meltdown in basic provision. From early years to support and care of the elderly and frail, this coalition is responsible for making those least able to carry the load bear the biggest burden for the government’s failure to regenerate the economy and restore growth.
Percentages must not hide the reality of the impact on the lives of so many people and it is vital that the opposition, ensuring prudence and economic responsibility, must not abandon those for whom publicly funded and locally provided support is the difference between dignity and squalor.
David Blunkett MP
Lab, Sheffield Brightside

The Brent Labour group first recommended the freedom of Brent for Nelson Mandela in April 1990, after he came to a concert at Wembley following his release from prison (Diary, 26 June). This was to thank UK and Brent campaigners for his release. Unfortunately, their recommendation to confer the honour was frustrated by the abstention of the Tory group and so failure to achieve the required majority. Our attempt to go ahead anyway was prevented by a high court injunction by the then Tory leaders, with costs of £10,000 levied against the Labour leader and mayor. It is an indication of how opinion in Britain has changed towards Mandela that all Tory councillors voted with us this time in a unanimous vote. Some weeks ago, when we were moving office, we found the original 1990 “Welcome Mandela” plaque. This was presented to the high commission of South Africa on Monday, who have agreed it will be displayed permanently in our new civic centre in Wembley.
Cllr Jim Moher
Executive council, London borough of Brent

On Tuesday, part II of the Justice and Security Act – popularly known as the Secret Courts Act – came into force. The act gives a green light to UK courts to hear national security claims in secret – excluding claimants, their lawyers and the press – and to give judgment after hearing an unchallenged case presented by one side, usually the government.
Speculation about the cases which the government has lined up for consideration under “closed material procedures” is rife. These procedures are unnecessary, unprincipled and unfair. They amount to the wholesale removal of the ability of the courts and the public to effectively scrutinise any claim where any risk to national security is raised; no matter how slight that risk or how serious the wrongdoing alleged.
Unfortunately, draft rules of court hastily thrown together at the Ministry of Justice would set aside the overriding objective of our courts to do justice in favour of absolute secrecy in any case where national security is raised by ministers. Extremist threats have, throughout history, threatened our shared democratic values. This is no different today. However, measures such as those included in this act subvert centuries of common law cultivated to protect our standards of open, equal and adversarial justice. Last week, our supreme court urged caution in the first case where the justices were reluctantly persuaded to sit in secret. Their judgment expressed some regret that the government may be too quick to overstate the need for secrecy. In the words of Lord Hope – one of four who would have resisted the use of these “obnoxious” procedures – secret justice of this kind is “really not justice at all”.
Shami Chakrabarti Director, Liberty
Andrea Coomber Director, Justice
Kat Craig Legal director, Reprieve
Cori Crider Strategic director, Reprieve
Simon Crowther
Rosa Curling Leigh Day
Professor Helen Fenwick Durham University
Allan Hogarth Head of policy and government affairs, Amnesty International
Professor Fiona de Londras Durham University
Sam McIntosh City University London
Nicholas Mercer
Eric Metcalfe Monkton Chambers
Rowena Moffatt Lamb Building Chambers
Joanna Shaw
Richard Stein Leigh Day
Katy Vaughan Swansea University
Prof Adrian Zuckerman Oxford University

Your report (Probation sell-off may put public at risk, 25 June) of the justice minister’s proposals to privatise 70% of the tasks of the Probation Service is right to point out the extreme risk to the public, already highlighted by the minister’s own senior officials. The 106-year-old Probation Service has been the envy of the world and its practices copied by many other countries. It is staffed by highly qualified people, uniquely trained to work with offenders to reduce their risk to the public. There is no good reason to privatise its work, other than obstinate government ideology.
The impact assessment of the offender rehabilitation bill, which would bring in these changes, in fact offers virtually no assessment of the impact, cost or risk of giving over the services currently provided by probation to private companies from which, seemingly, there will be no guarantee of the level of training or quality of staff delivering them. Not only is this reckless policy, it is tantamount to criminal neglect of the risks to the general public of these proposed measures. Readers should be very afraid.
Professor Gwyneth Boswell
• I am appalled at the proposals to replace significant parts of the Probation Service by payment-for-results schemes. I worked years ago for the Inner London Probation and After Care Service, after previous residential work with young offenders. A few years later I did research on the job of a probation officer. While most of my subsequent career in social services and social policy has been in Canada, I have never seen as good a service in north America as the probation services in England and Wales (and Scotland). I have alternated between voluntary and government agencies, but for sheer professionalism, I have to give the probation services in the UK the highest praise.
H Philip Hepworth
Ottawa, Ontario
• There will always be risks when the status quo is radically changed, such as the proposed probation reforms, but it is also an opportunity to improve the system. While the leaked report raises concern about certain elements of the reforms, many of the proposed changes are in fact welcomed by professionals from across the criminal-justice sector. The establishment of a national estate of resettlement prisons is one of these, along with extending support and supervision to offenders who have served short prison sentences.
One of the potential risks highlighted in the report is staff morale. What I have found striking when working with probation colleagues around the country during this process is their determination to continue to protect the public and help turn around the lives of the offenders they are working with. Despite any misgivings they may have about the proposed changes, this resolve has remained steadfast.
Mike Pattinson
Director, CRI
• Crime itself being self-evidently private enterprise, the plans to privatise both the probation and court services would suggest that soon almost all the crime business will be run on the basis of personal profit – the final step being the police, perhaps, already it seems from Leveson, experienced in the ways of capitalism.
John Bailey
St Albans, Hertfordshire

I wonder how many of these “domestic extremists” (Report, 26 June) are past or present members of the BNP, NF, EDL or other rightwing groups? How many undercover officers have been assigned to infiltrate these organisations? Any “love” children there, do you think?
Neil Burgess
• Giles Fraser (Loose canon, 22 June) is right to chastise the Girl Guides for embracing the “true to yourself” philosophy and reminding us that we are all products of a culture developed over many centuries. He refers to the Reformation as one of those movements in western thought as an occasion when we “rightly” rejected imposed values, but he might consider the part that movement – with its emphasis on personal salvation – played in creating the “true to yourself” individualist culture that so besets our contemporary culture and which he rightly rejects.
Ron Bente
Emsworth, Hampshire
• How could you not mention Dame Anne Evans (In praise of… British Brünnhildes, 25 June)? Nicholas Payne wrote in the Guardian (7 August 2003), as she was retiring (“with her powers intact”) that “her Welsh Brünnhilde would eventually conquer Covent Garden and in the early 1990s, Bayreuth in the Daniel Barenboim/Kupfer cycle”. A graceful and gracious lady.
Judith Fairlie
• The people who buy the Guardian in WH Smith in Newport and swear at the checkout operator when she offers a free Daily Mail should be ashamed of themselves. There are polite ways of refusing it, or even accepting it for critical reading.
Bob Paul
Newport, Gwent
• The other day I overheard someone dismiss Guardian readers as “do-gooders”. There is no equivalent term for “do-badders”. Perhaps Roland Barthes was on to something when he described language as “fascist”.
Ivor Morgan
• Is it too late to mention that Wimbledon Brits “roar” into the next round while the losers “crash” out (Letters, 26 June)?
Professor Andrew Melrose
University of Winchester

The Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (Cresc) study which informed the critique of railway subsidies illustrated the massive transfers to all train operating companies (I once called Richard Branson a carpetbagger. The truth is, he is even more subsidy-hungry than I thought, 11 June). Taxpayers continue to give the rail industry about £4bn per annum and the franchise system is not fit for purpose. The investment by TOCs may not be guaranteed to yield returns but, should TOCs make a loss, they have the right to walk away with minimal penalties. This represents an investment where risk is underwritten by the government, but rather than returning the profit to our cash-strapped government, Virgin Trains pocketed £500m over a 10-year period.
The rebuttal by Richard Branson (Comment, 21 June) cites rising passenger numbers and customer satisfaction as indicators of success. As the Cresc report makes clear, passenger numbers reflect many factors: economic growth; population levels; cultural attitudes to car travel; and the greater need to commute to work as house prices have risen so significantly. There is thus no way these figures can be claimed to signify Virgin’s success. Customer satisfaction is hard to decode, but just 59% of passengers viewed their tickets as value for money in 2012.
The franchise system is indefensible and the ownership of TOCs, the network and rolling stock form a convoluted and expensive mess. But there is a much wider issue here. If we have to accept cuts to public services and social security, which are funded by government in a transparent and direct manner, why are private companies continuing to get money for old rope? The complex and secretive nature of these arrangements are part of a larger picture: the privatisation of welfare capitalism. This government increasingly rewards private companies for taking on responsibilities formerly borne by the state, and as state duties required no “profits”. The old argument that private sector management is essential to improve performance is tired and unsubstantiated. There needs to be a debate both around the purposes and ownership of rail in the UK but also about the contracting out of welfare provision, in its broadest sense, by government.
Dr Donna Brown
School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London
• Aditya Chakrabortty and Richard Branson exchange salvos about whether privatisation has been good for the taxpayer and the railways. But both missed the point of the tens of thousands of jobs lost in British manufacturing in rail-related industries. Track manufacture and maintenance expertise was sacrificed regardless of the impact on safety. Locomotive-, coach- and wagon-making went abroad as foreign suppliers could cut prices and develop their products, being assured of the support of their own nationalised rail-carriers, and in the knowledge that the UK market would be wide open once UK manufacturers disappeared for good. Privatisations in Britain have indeed been extremely successful, not for the taxpayer or for UK PLC, but for foreign manufacturers world-wide and the offshore tax havens which see the profits of the service companies living off the UK tax payer’s largesse.
Robert Straughton
Ulverston, Cumbria
• Your readers would have to download a 160-page report from an academic website if they want to understand the mechanics of how and why Network Rail’s low track access charges create profits for the TOCs. If we are to build broadly based political understanding of how private interests take advantage of the state, the Guardian needs to give more space to extended analysis of issues such as public-private partnership and privatised sectors such as rail. That means more resources for your own trouble-making journalists like Simon Bowers on corporate tax avoidance; plus support for the kind of digging necessary to refute the half-truths in press releases from trade associations and in the self-promotion of business leaders.
On civil liberties issues such as electronic surveillance, the Guardian is doing a great job providing analysis for readers to understand what GCHQ and the US are up to. But on economic issues about private profits at public expense, they cannot understand what’s going on by reading the business journalism in any British broadsheet newspaper.
Professor Mick Moran
University of Manchester Business School



‘Plainly spies must spy. However, they must do so within the rule of law — that is the hallmark of a democratic country’
Sir, It is darkly ironic that Ben Wallace (Opinion, June 24) asks us to place our trust in those we grant powers to on the same day it emerges that the Metropolitan Police may have sanctioned activities against Stephen Lawrence’s family.
Given the failure of parliamentary oversight to establish the truth about extraordinary rendition, that we are still waiting for an inquest into the death of Mark Duggan nearly two years on, and the latest revelations about rogue undercover police officers, it defies reality to suggest that our oversight systems are working properly and that all is well.
Plainly spies must spy. However, they must do so within the rule of law — that is the hallmark of a democratic country. There are serious questions to be asked about how a law passed years before Facebook existed is being used in ways Parliament never foresaw, and if parliamentarians wilfully blind themselves to these questions they are derogating from their duty to hold the executive to account.
Nick Pickles
Big Brother Watch, London SW1
Sir, It is interesting to note that 873 police officers were disciplined by their forces in 2012 compared with 559 in 2008 (“Double inquiry into Lawrence smear claims”, June 25).
But why should the Freedom of Information Act need to be used to elicit these important statistics which involve such expensive, time-consuming investigations?
Surely it should be standard procedure for these figures to be included in the annual reports of all chief constables and then a performance league table could be published in the national press so that we can see at a glance the names of our best and worst-behaved forces. If our new Police and Crime Commissioners liaised in producing such a league table it would have a wonderfully mind-concentrating effect on chief constables, and help them to enhance their efficiency in making best use of scarce resources.
And if this league table policy proved effective in reducing complaints of police misbehaviour it could be extended to publishing league tables of the average sick leave per officer in each force, often another drain on resources in need of better management.
John Kenny
Acle, Norfolk
Sir, Robert Peel’s nine principles of 1829, still proudly displayed in many police stations, did not foresee descent into undercover operations. That does not mean these principles simply need updating.
Allegations of actions against the family of Stephen Lawrence — as unprincipled as they are unaccountable — should worry every innocent citizen. True, there was no enthusiastic vote for Police and Crime Commissioners. Most of us realise that such bodies have no operational control over officers of the law. By definition, therefore, control must be enforced by the law itself.
Neville Lawrence rightly calls for a single judge-led public inquiry. But might Peel’s 19th-century principles yet be salvaged by a stronger call? This must be for the long-overdue, comprehensive review into exactly how Britain should be policed in the 21st century.
We may be a far more diverse community today, but standards of unacceptable authority have not changed. CID officers forgo uniforms to investigate criminals, not citizens.
David Millar
Chair, Independent Advisory Group for Lincolnshire Police

We must be sensible and recognise that the legal aid budget cannot be exempt from cuts in these difficult economic times
Sir, Opponents of Transforming Legal Aid have noted my recent comments. My concerns are best addressed by all involved working together. This would be more productive than the recent war of headlines.
I sympathise with the Lord Chancellor. We are all acutely aware that we live in difficult economic times and savings must be made. We must be sensible and recognise that the legal aid budget cannot be exempt.
The Bar Council and the Law Society have immense experience in the working of the system. I fervently hope they and the Lord Chancellor will work out a robust system of quality assurance for legal aid cases. They may be able to suggest savings so far not considered to assist the Lord Chancellor in his difficult task.
There may be other groups of lawyers not experienced in legal aid who have faced competition in other areas who could contribute to this consultation, such as the City of London Solicitors Group.
It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that we maintain the quality of our world-class legal aid system.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern
House of Lords

When the average cost of a wedding is now more than £15,000, a tax break that gives £150 a year cannot be considered a major incentive
Sir, You report (June 26) that the Prime Minister is determined to recognise marriage with a tax break worth £150 a year.
The average cost of a wedding is now apparently £15,000, possibly more. There are good reasons to get married, many of them not financial, but I cannot help noting that a couple would have to be married for 100 years before they would break even.
Jon Armstrong
Solicitor, Colchester, Essex

We must be sensible and recognise that the legal aid budget cannot be exempt from cuts in these difficult economic times
Sir, Opponents of Transforming Legal Aid have noted my recent comments. My concerns are best addressed by all involved working together. This would be more productive than the recent war of headlines.
I sympathise with the Lord Chancellor. We are all acutely aware that we live in difficult economic times and savings must be made. We must be sensible and recognise that the legal aid budget cannot be exempt.
The Bar Council and the Law Society have immense experience in the working of the system. I fervently hope they and the Lord Chancellor will work out a robust system of quality assurance for legal aid cases. They may be able to suggest savings so far not considered to assist the Lord Chancellor in his difficult task.
There may be other groups of lawyers not experienced in legal aid who have faced competition in other areas who could contribute to this consultation, such as the City of London Solicitors Group.
It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that we maintain the quality of our world-class legal aid system.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern
House of Lords

Our immigration policy is damaging the ability of the UK’s universities to attract the best engineering and science researchers
Sir, Your leading article “The Best and the Brightest” (June 22) is entirely right to demand that the UK Border Agency’s successors welcome the best international students to Britain — those who clamour to enter key disciplines such as chemical engineering. And it isn’t just about students. The Government’s ill-conceived immigration policy is damaging the ability of the UK’s universities to attract the best engineering and science researchers and to act as a magnet for knowledge-based inward investment.
Now we learn that costly “immigration bonds” are to be required from visitors from some Asian and African countries, including India — yes, the same India that will be supplying the very engineers the world will need, and whose nationals are among our most vital and successful investors.
When will David Cameron stand up to the tabloids, listen to business and to universities, and replace the current immigration regime with one that actually helps the UK?
David Brown
Institution of Chemical Engineers

The Albanian people have a chequered history and have suffered political turmoil and poverty for 100 years now — they need friends
Sir, I am sorry that your paper continues to snipe at Albania, a country I have known intermittently since 1989 (leading article, June 25).
The Albanian people have a chequered history and have suffered political turmoil and poverty for 100 years now. They need friends, not ridicule in the press.
If Edi Rama has won the recent general election, good luck to him. As Mayor of Tirana he brightened up both that city and the lives of many of its residents. The Democratic Party has had its day. It’s time for a change.
Primrose Peacock
Founder of Friends of Albania 1991-2010
Truro, Cornwall


SIR – I was dismayed by the tackiness of the photograph (June 24) of a corseted dancer who was performing in the National Trust’s burlesque show in the grounds of Killerton House, near Exeter, Devon.
My late mother, Atherton Harrison, was the curator of the Killerton House costume museum; she arranged, orchestrated and donated thousands of costumes.
She arranged for many exhibits and scenes to be beautifully presented within the house. She was, even in her eighties, no prude and would have enjoyed the two-day vintage experience, but she would not have approved of the young lady’s outfit. My mother would have inspired something far more classy, suitably fitting to the ideals of the National Trust.
Harvey Harrison
London SW19

SIR – The British Medical Association (BMA) said the NHS couldn’t be like Tesco (report, June 25), and probably meant it as an insult. But Tesco is focused on what customers want, is pretty hard on staff who under-perform, has free car parking and is unaffected by snow.
Most public bodies should find out what Tesco does, and then copy it.
Philip Saunders
Bungay, Suffolk
SIR – Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a member of the BMA council, said Tesco opens seven days a week for commercial reasons. True, but the NHS should open seven days for patient care alone.
Related Articles
National Trust’s burlesque dancers lacked style
26 Jun 2013
R G Pither
Shrewsbury, Shropshire
SIR – A Tesco-style NHS might actually have managers that are capable of running a large organisation.
We seem to hear of incompetent NHS management on a daily basis without the problem ever being addressed – something Tesco would never tolerate.
Peter Amey
SIR – It is gratifying that you should mention the petulant approach of the BMA to the challenges of the modern NHS (“Doctors should be helping to find a cure”, leading article, June 25).
At last the BMA is being seen by the public for what it is, namely a trade union. It exists for the benefit of its members
and not for patients, which explains its attitudes to recent negative developments regarding out-of-hours working, implementation of the European Working Time Directive and the deterioration in specialist training.
Dr Brian Cooper
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
SIR – The average GP earns £100,000, receives an enormous taxpayer-subsidised pension, can retire earlier than most people and works hours that to many would be a luxury. For this, they need to think what they can do in return.
It should be apparent to those wishing to enter the medical profession that people get ill from 5pm to 9am and at weekends, too, and therefore they must add into their career plans the possibility that they might have to work during these hours.
For those of us who are subsidising their pensions and early retirement, doctors’ assertions that they are not Tesco workers ring rather hollow.
Elizabeth Jones
Chard, Somerset
SIR – John Maddison (Letters, June 25) should not be criticising, but applauding, Dr Dan Poulter MP for working part-time in the NHS. Perhaps all health ministers should emulate him to witness at first-hand what is both wrong and working well in that organisation.
Michael Staples
Seaford, East Sussex
Prostate cancer
SIR – You report (June 15) on a study that suggests that if all men with suspected prostate cancer received an MRI scan prior to a biopsy, a quarter of them could be reassured without the need for the latter. The article further reports that an initial MRI could halve the number who would be diagnosed with significant cancer incorrectly by biopsy, and thus receive unnecessary treatment.
None of this has been confirmed by clinical research; trials are currently being undertaken at University College Hospital. Should evidence emerge of the usefulness of MRI in identifying prostate cancer, the process would need to be standardised by protocols endorsed by the Royal College of Radiologists, and training would need to be undertaken by radiologists nationally.
MRI scans cost £400 each, so there are significant resource implications. This diagnostic pathway would need to be funded by Primary Care Commissioners for both an initial scan and any repeat scans that may be required if biopsy is not deemed necessary. Regrettably, such funding is not currently confirmed.
Adrian D Joyce FRCS
Leeds, West Yorkshire
Primary school testing
SIR – That Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, advocates young children being tested in basic language and literacy skills before they start formal education (report, June 21) betrays a fundamental ignorance of the early learning experience and the side effects of the testing culture.
It is false to claim that young children are “falling behind”: rather, they are being expected to reach levels of development that are inappropriate for their ages.
All of the alleged “shortcomings” that Sir Michael identifies are accounted for by England’s early school starting age, which leads to a plethora of early developmental distortions, as teachers desperately try to “make children ready” for school at four.
Dr Richard House
Child psychologist
University of Winchester
King of the cats
SIR – It is obvious why there are no cats at Buckingham Palace (Letters, June 24).
Every cat I have known considers itself to be royalty and would insist on appearing on the balcony on all royal occasions. At which time it would turn its back on the cheering crowds and ignore them.
George Sizeland
Carterton, Oxfordshire
Married tax breaks
SIR – The Conservative MPs who are pressurising David Cameron to honour a party manifesto pledge to provide tax breaks to married couples (report, June 25) need to be reminded that they are not in power. A fair tax system must apply equally to all concerned, but proposals to give tax breaks to married couples are clearly discriminatory against single people.
Hopefully, David Cameron’s Coalition partners will be able to prevent him from abusing the tax system in this manner.
Clive Pilley
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex
SIR – Presumably the modest tax benefit for married couples is intended to redress the loss of Tory support over the unnecessary gay marriage legislation?
We can already see electioneering warming up.
Mike Tyler
Worthing, West Sussex
SIR – £150 a year is about 40p a day.
It reminds me of the old saying, “Seven and six (7s 6d being the price of a marriage licence), was she worth it?”
Mike Bridgeman
Market Lavington, Wiltshire
Wounded servicemen
SIR – The Chancellor has vowed that those who have suffered “horrific injuries” in Iraq and Afghanistan will get more support from money taken from bankers fined over the Libor scandal (report, June 24).
This country has a duty of care to our Armed Forces and the Chancellor should recognise that there should always be enough money to pay for the care of such people injured in the service of their country for the rest of their lives. Using Libor fines is populist and insulting.
What would he do if there were no such fines to dish out?
Caroline Flynn-MacLeod
London SW1
GM and weedkiller
SIR – Lucy Flint (Letters, June 25) says that “GM crops result in the vastly increased use of herbicide”. In the case of oilseed rape, weed control (particularly of broad-leaved weeds) is always difficult and farmers currently use a cocktail of herbicides.
Some of these herbicides are residual and will stay active in the soil for some time, creating a potential for groundwater contamination. “Roundup Ready” GM oilseed only requires a single dose of glyphosate, which is one of the safest herbicides used by farmers and gardeners.
Far from increasing the use of herbicides, GM crops need less.
William Rusbridge
Tregony, Cornwall
Summer conversations
SIR – My wife reckons there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes (Letters, June 24). And if we didn’t have such a variety of weather, how on earth would we start up a conversation with strangers in the bus queue?
Brian Smith
Chelmsford, Essex
Steel wheelchairs?
SIR – Much has been made of late of the abuse of some elderly people. The Daily Telegraph (Review, June 22) contained proof that the Rolling Stones were due to headline at Glastonbury this weekend. Have social services been informed?
Colin Boylett
Kingswood, Herefordshire
The gooseberries are a little late this year
SIR – Geraldine Paine (Letters, June 25) asks: “What has happened to the gooseberries?” Gooseberry pie used to be cooked in time for Whitsunday lunch, but this year garden crops are a month late.
We used to start the canning season with rhubarb and gooseberries followed by strawberries; nowadays the public see home-grown strawberries in the shops and think they have missed the gooseberries, without realising the strawberries are early, having been grown in polytunnels.
Michael Smedley
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
SIR – I am also a lover of gooseberries. In 2008, a friend recommended that I buy an expensive half-standard gooseberry bush – which makes picking less back-breaking.
This year, the boughs are bending to the ground; so far, I have only picked 1½lb. Home-grown gooseberries are very good value; they also freeze well.
Kate Metcalfe
Wadhurst, East Sussex
SIR – Geraldine Paine should try her local farmers’ market for fresh “goosegogs”. We grow about two tons of gooseberries, and sell them at the farm gate and at farmers’ markets after being told by a supermarket buyer there was no demand.
We sell all we can grow.
Billy Auger
Wafers, Shropshire
SIR – Supermarkets are full of exotic berries and fruit flown in from abroad, but they don’t seem to stock local produce.
I grow gooseberries, and make the most delicious pies. Gooseberry vodka goes down well, too.
Annie May
Macclesfield, Cheshire
SIR – My sister recently gave me some gooseberries; I have made them into jam, introducing one of my granddaughters to the art of “topping and tailing”.
Josephine Bones
Stisted, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – The political discussion around the need for a banking inquiry ignores the fact that we have already had two reports into the origins of the banking crisis. There is the preliminary report by Regling and Watson, and the Nyberg Report which was a Commission of Investigation under the 2004 Act . These are illuminating reports written by internationally eminent economists and are accessible on
If politicians would bother to read them, they would reconsider the clamour for a rerun of the Oireachtas Inquiry Referendum or the need for an Oireachtas Committee.
It would be better if, instead of the public expense particularly through litigation that either course would involve, some cuts to the budgets of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the DPP and the Garda Síochána were reversed. Accountability and future deterrence would be better served by prosecution. – Yours, etc,
College Grove,

Sir, – Dr Alan Ahearne of NUI Galway proposes the removal of mortgage interest relief on tracker mortgages (Business, June 25th). This, I presume, is a special case of what seems to be a general economic principle of: sign a binding contract with another party; and then, when things don’t go the way you would like, tell them to get stuffed and move the goalposts to suit yourself, especially if you are bigger than they are.
As a leading economist, Dr Ahearne will be aware that business transactions are based on trust, backed up by the law, so that outcomes have at least some element of predictability for the contracting parties. I think it is a sad day when economists advocate changing the rules half way through the game, especially to ease the burden on banks, whose staggering incompetence got us into this mess in the first place. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I refer to coverage of our report on the perceptions of policy makers of community and voluntary organisations (“ ‘Poverty industry’ targeted in report; Review of voluntary sector criticises vested interests and lack of scrutiny”, June 25th). The headline misrepresents the purpose, nature and findings of the report. This innovative report sought to find out what policy-makers really think of the advocacy and lobbying work done by community and voluntary organisations. We were not looking for a clap on the back. We are not naive, we know that the work we do is not always perfect.
The 33 policy-makers interviewed had nuanced and complicated views of the community and voluntary organisations. As we expected they had good and bad things to say. Your headlines suggest that the isolated views of some individuals represent the overall conclusions of the report. This is very misleading. The report tried to capture perceptions, not “review” the sector generally as you suggest.
Community and voluntary organisations carry an enormous responsibility to those they serve – the most vulnerable in Irish society. We take this responsibility very seriously. We are grateful to those policy-makers who were prepared to help us reflect on how we can better live up to it. Your readers can see for themselves the outcomes of this process at
Leadership means being open and honest about how you can improve. This is not always easy and it is made harder when misconstrued as an attack. It is a pity that more people do not follow the leadership of community and voluntary organisations in engaging in open frank debate about how they can do better. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – If Patsy McGarry has accurately quoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior member of the Vatican curia (Home News, June 21st), then the message to women is very clear. In the case of a woman facing potential loss of life because of serious complications of pregnancy, there are no circumstances in which the mother can be saved if it results in the loss of life of the unborn foetus. Do the Irish bishops share this view?
I would – and I venture to suggest many women would – like to hear a statement without equivocation from the Irish bishops saying if they also agree with this view. If that is the position they hold, then we all know that the life of the woman is indeed secondary to the life of the unborn foetus. We know categorically that this was the situation over 40 years when we were told that it was “God’s will” if the mother died in circumstances where the foetus had to be saved.
I am a member of the secular followers of the Catholic religion, but in no way influenced by what I may read in the newspapers as Cardinal Burke infers. I decide on my views by reference to my own judgment. The Taoiseach is the elected head of the Government chosen by the people in a democratic process. He has, together with his Government colleagues, chosen to propose legislation to clarify some of the areas of doubt in the case of difficulties of pregnancy. I hasten to add, in case it is presumed by others, that I am not a supporter of his party but in this case I fully agree with him because he is trying to do something to protect the lives of women in a situation where clarity does not exist legally.
If anybody is asked “do you agree with abortion” the vast majority will say no. If asked “do you agree with the termination of life of a foetus in certain circumstances”, the answer will be to ask in what circumstances. Cardinal Burke seems to be saying “there are no circumstances”, thereby denying the right of that minority of women, who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in the eye of the obstetrical storm, to have life-saving intervention. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Your report on Enda Kenny’s genetic make-up (Home News, June 24th) repeats uncritically what emerges as yet another exceptionally uncritical piece of work by geneticists who evidently have no understanding of historical questions, methods, and sources.
The starting point seems to have been that the population of Co Mayo has been genetically stable for more than 15 centuries! Why did the investigators think that King Niall had any connection with Mayo? Why did they think that Queen Meadhbh was a figure of history rather than myth? Where have they found a skeleton of a member of King Niall’s dynasty to provide a DNA sequence for comparison? From which planet will they beam down a shade of Meadhbh for interrogation? Why do we have to be assailed by such nonsense?
One might reasonably expect The Irish Times to have reporters with critical faculties suitably honed to provide a preliminary shakedown of the irrelevant waffle quoted from the project-leader: if An Taoiseach had made such claims about himself, the press would have treated him with derision. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Ultan Ó Broin (June 26th) bemoans the lack of helmets on the Dublin Bike scheme, and states that Melbourne’s one obliges users to buy or rent a helmet to use it.
This probably explains why Melbourne’s bike scheme has one of the worst uptake rates in the world, and Dublin’s is among the most successful. During 2012’s Australian Open, Melbourne’s set a record for most trips in a single day with 733. Dublin exceeded 7,000 on one day in October 2011.
As the number of cyclists on the road grows, the proportionate rate of accidents drops. So rather than advise people to wear helmets, the best thing anyone can do to make cycling safer is to get on their own bike! – Yours, etc,
St Alphonsus Road Upper,

Irish Independent:

* It may seem at first a tad passive to be against a banking inquiry. Like Shylock, we all want the pound of flesh and we all want to see the offenders punished.
Also in this section
Darragh McCullough: CAP deal sees Coveney on brink of biggest political triumph
U-turn on resource teaching cuts shows a welcome flexibility
If I can help Tom to help Marie, l’ll have done the right thing
I, too, want to see the miscreants punished to the full extent that the law allows – but I do not want a banking inquiry.
We have all seen the quasi-courts of recent years, the various tribunals, spend vast sums of money, getting bogged down in all sorts of legal challenges and arguments.
I voted against the extended Oireachtas power of inquiry specifically for the reason above.
I want the DPP to bring the charges, a judge to preside and a jury to determine guilt or otherwise.
This is the way it should be.
Any inquiry by TDs/senators or the like risks undermining the judicial process and letting the offenders off – albeit after suffering a minor verbal bruising.
I seriously doubt the credentials of many TDs to be able to conduct a fair process; their default position always seems to be to play to the gallery or the media.
It strikes me that Dail Eireann seems far too eager in its land grab to seize power over too many aspects of Irish life (the abolition of the Seanad?).
They should stick to their constitutional role as legislators and let the constitutionally defined courts administer the justice.
Frank Buckley
Tullamore, Co Offaly
* As our battered little country reels under yet more “revelations”, one is reminded of the “honesty” of Groucho Marx, who remarked, along the following lines: “For years, the mayor and city officials have squandered the citizens’ hard-earned money; now, at last, it is my turn,” – many a true word?
Tom Gilsenan
Beaumont, D9
* It is time to stop pussyfooting around what has gone on with the banks. We don’t need another inquiry, we need action: call in the law and let it take its course. What are we, the people, doing?
We have listened to politicians’ platitudes for far too long, we have watched our towns and villages die, we have watched our friends and neighbours go bankrupt, we have watched our young emigrate and, worse still, we have watched many of our people die by their own hand when they reached the depths of despair.
Is it not time to stand up and be counted – or are we going to let them trample all over us?
Anna Maria Kennelly
Moyvane, Co Kerry
* For me, this is an island of smoke and mirrors, never mind the revolving doors of duplicity. The most amazing thing about it all is that we as a people still do nothing about it, and by the looks of things we never will. That will be our ultimate failure. Crime is encouraged by it.
One is reminded of a hyena prodding a wildebeest to see if there is any fight left in it or to see will it at least try to make a run. Then it soon realises this is a feast of plenty, yet the wildebeests outnumber the hyenas thousands to one.
Even a wolf would be confused by this turn of events.
The same mantra will always apply: when are the people of Ireland going to stand up?
Anyone, no matter how ignorant of the facts of why we are in this financial abyss, could not fail to get very angry and outraged at the banker tapes. They were laughing at us. They had figured rightly that we would do nothing about it.
One can only marvel at their unerringly accurate prediction that not only would we roll over and do nothing, but that the Government would play along.
The only mitigating factor for the Irish people was that we were kept in the dark until it was too late. Our crime now is that we are appeasers, hoping we will be eaten last.
Barry Clifford
Oughterard, Galway
* The contents of the conversation that took place between the executives of Anglo, namely John Bowe and Peter Fitzgerald, are indeed shocking. The revelations are the most damning evidence of economic treason.
The most infuriating part for me was hearing them laughing about the notorious plans that eventually destroyed the economy and the lives of citizens of this country for decades to come.
I wish to acknowledge the tremendous service the Irish Independent has done to expose the activities of these white-collar jokers. Otherwise, we would be left in the dark as a result of the Government’s limitations on this upcoming banking inquiry as it stood.
These revelations have provided the ordinary people of this country with an insight th extraordinary levels of deception that were engaged in.
Mattie Greville
Killucan, Co Westmeath
* Following the publishing of the Anglo tapes, we now have every politician grandstanding for an inquiry into banking. I have a simple solution. Take the money that will, no doubt, be wasted on a politically-led inquiry and give it to the gardai to strengthen their investigation.
That will allow the courts to deal with the issues and dish out appropriate punishment.
Conan Doyle
Pococke Lower, Kilkenny
* The snorting derision and contempt the Anglo officers had for our State and our people, as revealed on tape, is truly shocking to the core.
Their attitude must surely have been echoed, too, in all our other banks’ senior officers during the early days of the crisis (and perhaps since), who all appeared to behave in the same manner as the dysfunctional aristocracy of the Kingdom of France in the 18th Century.
Charles Dickens’s wonderful novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ clearly illustrated the cruel disdain the aristocracy showed the people in France, until their reckoning came in 1789. Dickens also clearly illustrated the manic bloodlust of the dishonoured and disrespected population.
Every senior bank official, current and retired, should read Dickens’s novel, so as to learn what can happen to those who ignore the people or regard the people as irrelevant.
Our ministers, too, should take heed and take swift action, if they do not want their own heads to roll.
Frank Hannon
Cloghroe, Co Cork
* Congratulations to the Irish Independent and all its staff for the publishing of the Anglo Tapes.
The information revealed points to a situation where some “high-level executives” at Anglo Irish Bank had a very flippant attitude to the taxpayer. It raises serious question marks over the levers of power in the State and casts doubt on every legislator who voted for the bank guarantee.
The calls for a politically-led inquiry are coming from a group of individuals who have had two years to find these tapes and act on them. They hardly seem qualified to conduct any inquiry considering their own total and utter incompetence
Well done to all at your paper, you have proven the true value of a free and open press.
Dermot Ryan
Athenry, Co Galway


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