11 Febuary 2015 Fall

Mary had a fall,


Lady Villiers during the war

Lady Villiers during the war

Lady Villiers, who has died aged 98, joined the Belgian Resistance in 1940 and was high up on the Gestapo’s list of people they were determined to arrest.

After Belgium capitulated in May that year, Italian air force officers occupied her family’s chateau at Jurbise, near Mons. José de la Barre d’Erquelinnes, as she then was, joined the newly formed Resistance and gathered information on German aircraft at Chièvres, a nearby airfield used as a base for bombing raids on London.

Her work was of great value to British intelligence, which needed to know the proportion of bombers to fighter planes at any given time. She extended her intelligence activity to cover several German airfields in Belgium and northern France, and recruited agents to help her – one of them would push a pram through the checkpoints with a box of TNT hidden underneath the baby.

José established communication lines so that important information, usually written on cigarette paper and concealed in the handlebars of her bicycle, could be passed to London. Sometimes, while observing aircraft, to avoid suspicion she and a comrade would pretend to be lovers lying in a field.

When the Germans occupied the chateau in Flanders that belonged to her grandfather, the Marquis du Parc, she stayed on in one of the few rooms left to the family. Arrest was a constant threat, and the firing squad was regarded as a better outcome than death in a dozen other ways.

Early one morning in August 1942 she was covertly searching the offices used by the Germans in the chateau when a great commotion erupted. Reports were coming in of the raid by Allied troops at Dieppe and she barely had time to slip back to her room.

In October she learnt that she was on the Gestapo’s list for arrest the following day. With her fair hair dyed black, and furnished with a new identity, she continued her work with the Resistance, but in December that year she had no alternative but to flee the country. After travelling across France, she made the hazardous journey over the Pyrenees with one companion, and three smugglers who acted as guides.

As they crossed a railway line, the straps on her rucksack became entangled in some signal wires. A light came on in the control post, but they were not discovered. After two years of food rationing, the task of dodging the Andorran patrols while climbing peaks more than 7,000 ft in height was draining. Their hands and feet were covered in cuts, their faces swollen by the intense cold.

Lady Villiers wartime identity card

On the Spanish side, José’s party hired two guides who had been condemned to death in absentia by the Franco regime and who tried to rob them at gunpoint. On reaching Barcelona, José was issued with a British passport. She reached Lisbon in March 1943 and embarked on a vessel which took her to Southampton.

Marie José de la Barre d’Erquelinnes, the daughter of Comte Henri de la Barre d’Erquelinnes, was born on April 30 1916 at Cuckfield, Sussex, where her mother took refuge during the Great War. She subsequently returned with her parents to the family home at Jurbise. She was educated at home before attending the Convent of the Assumption at Mons. There she upset several of the nuns by putting a frog in the lavatory bowl.

In 1938 José and her elder sister joined the newly formed Motor Corps of the Red Cross. She was trained as an ambulance driver and mechanic and, after the German forces invaded Belgium, she accompanied the Corps on missions throughout the country. While helping to evacuate patients from hospitals, her vehicle was strafed by enemy fighters and two of her charges died.

Having escaped to England in 1943, she worked for Belgian Emergency Relief and, in autumn 1944, she went to the American Delta Base in Marseille as a liaison officer. Much of her work was involved in resettling refugees from Russia who arrived on ships from Odessa.

In August 1945, José was demobilised and returned to Belgium, where she met Charles Hyde Villiers, a young and recently widowed British colonel. A great-grandson of the 4th Earl of Clarendon, the Victorian statesman, he had a distinguished war record with the Grenadier Guards and SOE. They married the following year and undertook a four-month journey through Africa to research investment opportunities in the continent. Their friend, Colonel (later Sir) David Stirling, accompanied them .

On returning to London, Villiers joined the investment bank that subsequently became Schroder Wagg. He was chairman of the British Steel Corporation from 1976 to 1980 and was knighted in 1975.

José Villiers trained in the East End of London as a school care worker, and for 20 years spent several days each week working with the Inner London Education Authority, the local schools and their doctors. She became closely involved in the problems of families in working-class neighbourhoods as they struggled to do the best for their children on inadequate wages and living in damp, high-rise flats. She made many friends among the East Enders as well as among the immigrants who arrived in Britain during the 1970s.

Receiving the Bronze Star from the American government

José Villiers and her husband settled in a house that they had built on the edge of Windsor Great Park. In December 1978 an IRA letter bomb was delivered to the house while José was alone with two young grandchildren. Mindful of her training in the Resistance, she gingerly carried the suspect package into the garden and called the bomb squad. Had it exploded, it could have killed the three of them.

For her wartime work, the Belgian government awarded her the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Couronne with Palme, Croix de Guerre with Palme, Médaille de la Resistance, Médaille Commemorative de la Guerre 1940-45 and the Croix des Evades. The French government awarded her a Croix de Guerre. From the American government, she received the Bronze Star. In 1988 she published Granny was a Spy, an account of her wartime exploits.

Lady Villiers’s husband died in 1992. Her stepson, Nicholas Hyde Villiers, died in 1998, and she is survived by her two daughters, Diana Villiers Negroponte and Anne Martin.

Lady Villiers, born April 30 1916, died February 1 2015


HSBC Holdings Plc Bank Branches And Logos
A pedestrian passes the entrance to an HSBC bank in London. ‘Our country is fit to live in because of its essential infrastructure of transport, fire services, the police, education, the health service, the military and so on, all paid for with our taxes,’ writes Neil Holmes. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

In response to yet more revelations (HSBC files show how Swiss bank helped clients dodge taxes and hide millions, 9 February), politicians are talking tough on tax avoidance, tax evasion and unjustified tax breaks. However, they have not yet convinced the public that they are serious. Tax dodging is costing governments – both in the UK and in developing countries – billions. This is money which is vital for tackling poverty. But despite the positive rhetoric from politicians, our polling shows that only one in five people believe political parties have gone far enough in their promises to tackle tax avoidance by large companies. All parties are going to have to work hard to win back public confidence.

The problems are multi-faceted and complex. A critical part of the solution is dealing with the secrecy of UK tax havens – as David Cameron promised to do as G8 chair in 2013, a pledge Ed Miliband attempted to trump on Saturday – but more is needed. Only a commitment to a full package of reforms will send the message that the problem is being taken seriously. This is why we, along with over 60 economists and academics, a range of faith leaders, responsible companies and more than 40,000 members of the public, have called for a commitment from all parties to bringing forward a tax-dodging bill in the first 100 days of the new government. Only this can convince the public that rhetoric will be turned into effective action.
Jenny Ricks Head of campaigns, ActionAid, Christine Allen Director of policy and public affairs, Christian Aid, Duncan Exley Director, Equality Trust, Martin Drewry Director, Health Poverty Action, Toni Pearce President, NUS, Nick Bryer Head of UK policy and campaigns, Oxfam, Stephen Brown Director of Europe, The Global Poverty Project

Yet again a big company has been shown to be behaving improperly in relation to taxes. Recently it was suggested that Boots should be stopped from handling NHS prescriptions because of its abysmal record on paying its UK taxes. This excellent proposal should be extended to many other companies that similarly fall short.

Our country is fit to live in because of its essential infrastructure of transport, fire services, the police, education, the health service, the military and so on, all paid for with our taxes. So the next time a branch of Starbucks is burgled, let them sort it out themselves. When Amazon sends books to customers, using the public roads, it should pay a surcharge for every mile travelled. British American Tobacco pays no tax here, so how about doubling the duty on its cigarettes? I could go on. Only when direct action is taken against these immoral tax dodgers will they face up to their moral responsibilities.
Neil Holmes
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Clearly the UK authorities are treating tax evaders with kid gloves (Catalogue of malpractice endorsed by bankers, 9 February). In addition to criminal prosecutions, people caught fiddling more than the living wage should have their tax returns published in full, with only their most personal details redacted. Further sanctions as part of restorative justice could include having to sign on every fortnight to visit hard-pressed public services and explain to their staff and users how their fines and future taxes would benefit them.

As with MPs’ expenses, for far too long secrecy has allowed top-rate income tax payers to claim tax reliefs that they would be hard pressed to justify in public. Non-domiciled tax status must be abolished: it is farcical that Boris Johnson, with dual citizenship, has to pay US taxes, and yet British citizens can opt out altogether. As for those tax exiles and their families living in place like Monaco who have accepted public honours, there should be no hiding place: either they pay back the taxes they should have been paying like everybody else, or, like Fred Goodwin, their honours can be publicly withdrawn in a special issue of the London Gazette.
David Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Your front-page article (HMRC knew of wrongdoing, but did not prosecute bank, 10 February) highlights the most shocking aspect of this whole sorry affair. We all accept some companies will commit fraud and that the economic system has been absurdly weighted in favour of the extremely rich. (If we don’t then why aren’t the streets full of angry protests?) But for the very people whom we employ and task with prosecuting such behaviour to collude in “sweetheart” deals that let perpetrators walk away with a 10% bill and guaranteed anonymity, while neatly paving their way for a post-HMRC career with the facilitators of the crime, is a sign that the system is no longer fit for purpose. Will any party offer a genuine alternative?
Colin Reed

It’s all fine and well to investigate HSBC and its former CEO Stephen Green for tax fraud at its Swiss arm, but the pursuit of truth and justice must not end there. This is a huge story. It implicates HMRC, the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority, who have clearly failed to act against HSBC. It involves the Treasury, which must explain what it knew and whether it approved the action (not) taken. Then there are the thousands of individuals, whose unethical – and perhaps criminal – behaviour has lost us huge sums in tax revenue. A key target for investigation must be HMRC’s former head of tax Dave Hartnett (a familiar name to readers of Private Eye), who negotiated not only the infamous tax deals with Vodafone and Goldman Sachs but also the coalition government’s tax amnesty for HSBC account holders. Following retirement, he went on to advise HSBC on financial crime governance – along with the former DG of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Bill Hughes. Who can we trust to get to the bottom of this monumental scandal?
Mary Braithwaite
Wye, Kent

HSBC needs to get its priorities right in questioning whether large cash transfers are for money laundering or tax evasion. Last year they queried whether my debit card payment of about £450 income tax to HMRC was above board. At the time I wondered how one could launder money by sending it to HMRC. In view of the latest revelations, perhaps they had never come across someone paying their tax before.
Ros Campbell

I note that HSBC says “Major regulatory reform is under way” (to reduce tax evasion) and that “HSBC fully welcomes and supports these reforms” (9 February). It must be such a relief to the bank, which was presumably forbidden by law from reforming its own procedures in the past.
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

A worker on the assembly line at Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull. Photograph: John Robertson
A worker on the assembly line at Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull. Photograph: John Robertson

Ian Birrell (I warned the Tories to shun tax dodgers. They wouldn’t listen, 10 February) fails to grasp that the real wealth creators are factory workers, miners, farm labourers and so on. The so-called “captains of industry” need to be challenged to be just that – captains of a team – and should ensure that all members of the team benefit from their joint corporate activity. He is wrong to conclude that “the Conservatives should attack Labour for its antipathy to wealth creation”. Since its inception, Labour has championed the cause of “blue-collar” wealth creators, and long may it do so. Bring on the living wage, progressive taxation and heavy penalties for the shirkers – those who evade paying their fair share of tax.
Robert Twycross

Stephen Green as trade minister, 2011: one of a growing number of ordained Church of England clergy
Stephen Green as trade minister, 2011: one of a growing number of ordained Church of England clergy who earn their livings in secular employment. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Since the late 1960s, a growing number of ordained Church of England clergy have earned their livings in secular employment. The Rev Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint was one (The boss: banker, peer, minister, priest, 10 February). Some of us provide a free service to the parishes in which we live; others engage with the fairness or unfairness of the secular structures in which we are employed. The Rev Stephen Green’s chairmanship of HSBC while legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion were taking place raises important questions for the Church of England about the role of all clergy in secular employment.

Our faith, and any normal respect for humanity, requires us to work with and for the poorest and weakest, the sick and disabled, both personally and politically. That means engaging the financial and political structures that put them a long way second to the pursuit of personal financial gain. Should any member of the clergy have continued to preside over a billion-pound institution that flagrantly diminishes the capacity of a nation to pursue economic justice?
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

Perhaps the first question Jackie Ashley (The short-termism of our NHS is spelt out in the scandal over hearing aids, 10 February) and the rest of us should be asking is just how many hearing aids and how many cochlear implants could have been paid for if the tax evaders and avoiders banking at HSBC had paid their taxes. The second question should be how many of our politicians and tax officials are in need of cochlear implants and cataract operations, considering the deaf ears and blind eyes they have turned towards tax evaders over the years. Of course, Lord Green may well require more radical surgery to cure his sudden inability to speak about HSBC.
Richard Stainer
Bradfield St George, Suffolk

Is Lord Green aware that the first peer to style himself “of Hurstpierpoint” was Lord Goring, whose family’s fortunes were founded on funds embezzled from the Queen’s revenue in the reign of Elizabeth I?
Jeremy Goring
St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex

Is the Rev Stephen Green the same Rev Green discovered with a piece of lead piping in the conservatory?
Stuart Garside
New Mills, Derbyshire

We only terrorise ourselves

Jonathan Freedland (23 January) seems concerned about not knowing whom to bomb, and claims that the solution does not lie in our own hands. But why bomb anybody? It’s just a dangerous racket anyway.

Why not consider following China’s foreign policy, which seems to be “Aid and trade, but never invade”? (You’ll sleep at night and you won’t be afraid). Think of the billions of dollars we’ve wasted creating endless enmity. Vast sums that could have been used to build up our own infrastructure. Make our social services second to none. Create full employment, pay everyone a decent wage, provide decent housing, etc.

Who would have reason to invade us then? When will we understand that by terrorising others we only end up terrorising ourselves?
Ron Date
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Jonathan Freedland writes that, in the aftermath of the Paris killings, “fear is to become the background of our lives”. Is it? Because 17 very unlucky people were tragically shot by a few misguided psychopaths? Given that France has 60 million inhabitants, the likelihood of being killed by terrorism is less than 1 in 3 million. A French person is about 10,000 times more likely to be killed in an automobile accident. There is no rational cause to live in fear of terrorism; it is a negligible risk.

Yet, the purpose of terrorism is to cause fear, which divides and polarises people. The hysteria typified by Freedland’s article is chilling evidence of how effective this can be. To fight terrorism, we must remain rational, and fight fear itself.
Eric Galbraith
Montreal, Canada

Doomsday clock ticks on

Slowing the doomsday clock (30 January) requires nothing less than a new industrial revolution, with more modest consumption lifestyles and the reduction of obscene individual and international inequalities whereby 1% of the world’s population own 50% of its wealth.

The main obstacles to constructing a clean, low-carbon sustainable energy future come from the monstrous regiment of climate change deniers and fossil-fuelled tycoons. The brain of Homo sapiens is said to be the most complex structure in the known universe. The forthcoming Paris climate conference should surely summon our collective wit to speed away from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Bryan Furnass
Canberra, Australia

In an area of northern British Columbia, there is a certain species of wild rabbit. These particular rabbits function on a seven-year cycle. In the first year you can hardly find one but by year seven they have overpopulated to the extent that they are short of food and dying of disease. There are so many rabbits that local people joke about the Alaska highway being the only highway on earth paved with fur.

I calculate the human race to be at about year six in rabbit years. If we are truly smarter than these rabbits, we will start immediately to limit our numbers and protect our fragile ecosphere. If, as I suspect, our IQ is no better than the rabbits, then we will continue hopping down the same old trail, proudly waving the flag of shareholder value until we too are roadkill on the highway of history.
Jacques Samuel
Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada

Healthcare in Thailand

Amartya Sen is undoubtedly well-renowned in his field of economics but he seems misinformed in some areas of healthcare. In the 23 January article (Why universal healthcare [UHC] is the key to a better world), Sen notes that “Thailand’s experience in universal healthcare is exemplary” as affordable health care was available for “all the population”. This is not the case. There are millions who do not qualify for UHC or cannot access care: for example, the 30-baht scheme is only available in one’s home district, meaning rural poor who have moved to seek jobs in the cities cannot easily access care. Similarly, the large non-Thai migrant population have issues accessing care. Some have problems because they are not recognised as legal migrants and some because services are not available or restricted.
Adam Childs
Queenstown, New Zealand

The value of a constitution

I was interested to read Guy Standing’s article on the need for a new charter – in effect a written constitution for the UK (30 January). Germany has its written constitution since 1949 and it is readily available.

Many years ago, at a time when telephones were devices attached to wires within the house, my work took me to Bonn, then the capital of West Germany. Our rented apartment was fine, except that it had no phone. I called in at the post office only to be told that due to the heavy demand for phones, foreigners like myself would have to wait several months for one to be fitted, as German nationals had priority.

I protested that this was contrary to the German constitution. Article three, paragraph three, states clearly, among other things, that no one may be discriminated against due to their origin, sex, race or religion – and I was being discriminated against. The post office employee looked at me for a few moments and then said: “You’re right.” Our phone was installed the following week.
Derek Malpass
Hohenthann, Germany

Putin was right on Crimea

Regarding Julian Borger’s 9 January article on tensions between the US and Russia: it was a stroke of genius for Vladimir Putin to take back Russia’s historic Crimea, and thus prevent the US from establishing a base at this extremely strategic location. As it is, the US has bases all over the world and has several times more weapons than any of the other leading countries in the world. Also, it has already begun to meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

It’s naive to be blind to US policy in the region. When Kennedy stopped Khrushchev from establishing a missile base in Cuba, he was hailed as a hero. When Putin does the same at his doorstep, he is seen as a scoundrel. What hypocrisy!
Jan Lockert
Oslo, Norway

The church-state conflict

Congratulations to Giles Fraser (6 February) for nailing the problem with being an established church. The issue of going along with what the government wants is not just a problem for the Church of England. Even though Anglicans in Australia have never been established, they often still carry in their heads an expectation of place and privileges.

But the problem does not stop there. We are approaching the celebration of the landing at Gallipoli and the grief brought about by catastrophic military bungling. Australia is already indulging in an orgy of remembering these events that is tailored to nationalistic aims that distorts our memory of them.

Churches are not meant to be interested in power, because they are ultimately responsible to a sovereignty that stands above empires. The first world war commemorations are an opportunity for churches to enshrine peace as a way of life rather than embrace the dubious glories of a militaristic past.
Rev Dr John Smith
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


The book Flickers: Your Brain on Movies (30 January) is vital food for thought, besides confirming that screened violence in the movies or acted out on TV and in video games encourages the same in the young and impressionable who watch them. As David Shariatmadari says, in the realm of neuroscience one “fundamental principle” is “that when we observe a behaviour, we tend to mimic it”, a “mirror effect” any parent can corroborate.

A famous movie buff (Robert Osborne) follows this notion further by suggesting that the plethora of violence in fast-moving and noisy movies is the result of their creators having been fed these aspects of storytelling in the video games they spent their formative years playing.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada

The United States of America: technologically advanced, militarily powerful, socially primitive, diplomatically inept, morally bankrupt. What more is there to say? I find I agree with nearly everything Gary Younge writes (American Sniper, 30 January).
Mike Gibson
Swadlincote, UK

My initial reaction to your story about declining oil prices (23 January) was the same as that of Rachel Cowling (Reply, 6 February): its environmental cost. But on reflection I hope that it will make energy companies less likely to invest in the development of oil reserves. That would be a very positive outcome.
Margaret Wilkes
Cottesloe, Western Australia

Regarding your story on the air pressure in footballs, Scandal pumps up Super Bowl debate (30 January): I am sure I am not the first to point out that “roughly, one kilo per 6.5 sq mm” is far too rough. It should be one kilo per 6.5 sq cm.
Bruce Munday
Mt Torrens, South Australia


A brilliant article by Paddy Ashdown (9 February), who rightly sees autonomy for south-eastern Ukraine as a key element in a ceasefire.  The people in this region, more than half of whom are Russian, will never accept rule from Kiev again after the brutality of Ukrainian efforts to regain control.

What is needed is a ceasefire, supervised by an international force, followed by reconstruction and, after an interval of peace, an internationally supervised referendum on the region’s future.

Any recent visitor to Russia or follower of the Russian media will have experienced the extreme nationalist mood created by sanctions and the refusal to understand the justice of Russia’s position on both the Crimea and on the region of Ukraine known, since Potemkin drove out the Turks 250 years ago, as “new Russia”. There isn’t a shred of evidence that Russia poses any threat to the status quo, except in those places where there’s a Russian majority whose rights are being ignored.

Once peace has been restored there needs to be a recognition that Russia, if treated with respect, can play a key role in solving many major problems including Syria, Iran, Palestine and climate change. Paddy is right about the damage done by American triumphalism (and American management consultants) post-1991.

John Landell Mills
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


The process of demonising the “psychopathic” Putin is in full swing. Much like Saddam, except that Russia actually has weapons of mass destruction. This is all in aid of the West arming the Ukraine government, which will, of course, be countered by the Russians openly arming the east.

The reason for this act of stupidity is that we want all of Ukraine to become part of the western alliance, thus giving us a veto on Russia accessing its Crimean port. No Russian leader could possibly accept this.

Someone, other than me, should tell the Cold War warriors to pack it in before things get out of hand.

Lyn Brooks
Ongar,  Essex


Mohamed cartoons are a test of freedom

The thousands of Muslims who went to Downing Street to protest over the cartoons of Mohamed suggest that they think satirising their religion is on a par with the senseless slaughter of the French cartoonists, and that the cartoons are an affront to the norms of civilised society (report, 9 February).

On the contrary, in this country, having the freedom to send up and ridicule religion is the definition of a free society. You only have to look at the countries which don’t allow this to see this is so. The protesters have missed the point.

Steve Lustig
London NW2


Labour threat to rich people, not business

The furore over Labour’s so-called “anti-business” policies needs to be exposed for what it is: namely, vested interests looking out for the themselves.

Many of the cheerleaders being wheeled out to finger-wag at Labour for business-bashing are publicly supporters of the Conservatives. To claim that they are speaking on behalf of “business” is disingenuous. They are speaking on behalf of themselves – which would be fair enough if they owned up to it.

A hike in employers’ National Insurance contributions or an increase in corporation tax can legitimately be claimed to have adverse effects on businesses, but this is a political argument. However, the restoration of the 50p tax rate and the proposed mansion tax are taxes on people, not businesses.

Would we be hearing the same hot air if the proposal was to increase the basic rate of income tax by 2p in the pound I wonder? Would this be presented as anti-business? I suspect not.

It is perfectly fair for individuals affected by the mansion tax and the 50p tax rate to argue why it is wrong or unfair, but to veil their own vested interest under the cloak of “what is best for business” is an example of self interested electioneering.

Peter Morris


Rose-tinted picture of schools in the past

I am afraid that the rosy picture of education in the 1940s painted by Dr David Moulson is not one I recognise (letter, 4 February).

I was born in the 1940s and I was acutely aware of the widely differing academic abilities and school achievements of my working-class peers. The great majority of these children went on to “fail” their 11-plus at 11 years old.

The reorganisations brought about by the 1944 Education Act were deemed necessary partly because of the low levels of literacy and numeracy of so many recruits into the armed forces during the First and Second World Wars.

People with starry-eyed visions of past education idylls should step into their local primary and secondary schools, where they would see that most of them (not all) are doing a superb job at preparing and educating today’s children for their lives in the 21st century.

Alan Bailey
Sandy, Bedfordshire


Anybody can teach – even nuns

Cristina Odone on Question Time and others pillory Tristram Hunt for doubting the ability of nuns to teach. How foolish of him.

Anybody can teach, just as anybody could be a legal aid lawyer or a nurse or a cancer surgeon. You don’t need training for jobs like that.

Let’s save money and have nuns doing all that type of stuff.

Just have specialists trained for the things that really matter –tax avoidance accountancy, private equity, asset stripping, arms selling to Saudi Arabia.

As for the rest, let the Christians take over the asylum.

Ian Craine
London N15


Disney embraces feminism? Not yet

Disney has triumphed and Jane Merrick (4 February) has been duped if she thinks that Frozen has anything to offer the next generation of feminists.

Elsa has powers that she can’t control or understand. Unlike the powers of Superman or Spiderman, hers don’t inspire admiration and aren’t used for the benefit of others or to help good triumph over evil, but are overwhelming for her and lead to her damaging her “kingdom” and being alienated and separated from society.

Elsa’s predicament will resonate with many young women, who feel they can’t identify what is wrong with them and feel isolated and marginalised from the mainstream.

The two size-zero sisters with their minuscule waists, pert breasts and unfeasibly large eyes conform miserably to tired images of what women should look like whatever their talents or character.

We don’t want our children to aspire to these Princesses who don’t even get to wear a pair of trousers in the freezing snow.

Rebecca Evanson
London SE15


The hard rewrite

Your columnist Terence Blacker (9 February) has been misinformed when he asserts that a scene in my play The Hard Problem “had to be re-written no less than three times because preview audiences simply didn’t get it”.

In a Q-and-A with the director, Nick Hytner, I remarked that there was one sentence in my play which I had changed twice because it was too oblique as a feed for an event in the next scene, standard stuff in the life of a playwright in preview.

Hytner had seen it coming; I thought he was wrong but, I said, he turned out to be right and I “resented” this. We need a typeface for banter.

Tom Stoppard
Tarrant Gunville, Dorset


The union is already dead

I take grave exception to the tone and content of your editorial of 2 February (“The party’s over”). To see The Independent used as some sort of unionist rag is contemptible.

You end the piece by encouraging the people of Scotland to smell the coffee. I suggest you do likewise! You are clearly struggling to keep up with the realities on the ground here north of the border.

The Union is already de facto dead. A bright new dawn awaits a soon to be liberated people. Liberated from the xenophobic, anti-European, little Englander mentality of the English. A proud nation will be finally able to forge its own destiny.

And all of this comes from a Dutchman who has lived in Scotland for 40 years.

Peter Kampman
Burntisland, Fife


Daffodils and raspberries

Further to your correspondence about daffodils and spring onions: I was assured at a farmers’ market by a big Perthshire soft fruit farmer that he had been asked by the chief buyer of a major supermarket chain “And what crop are we looking at here?” while standing overlooking a field of raspberry canes.

What hope can there be for the staff when senior management are so ignorant?

Marina Donald


Is the call for more pay a ploy to increase the taxes collected by HM Revenue from those mistakenly celebrating a bigger pay packet?

Sir, We echo the prime minister’s words to business leaders across Britain: it is indeed time for workers to get a pay rise (report, Feb 10) given that the UK’s bank balance is looking healthier for 2015. Hard-working employees should be the ones feeling the financial benefits of the upturn after several years with little or no pay rises, something that can lead to demotivated and disgruntled staff. But there’s more to being a good boss than giving pay rises alone. Some sectors still struggling with the economic recovery may not be in a position to grant a boost in pay packets this year. If Cameron looks back to the “happiness index” that his government commissioned, staff satisfaction is not driven so much by wealth but by health and wellbeing. If employers invested more in the wellbeing of their workforce, they would reap far greater rewards in terms of longer-term employee engagement and productivity.

Petra Wilton
Director of policy, Chartered Management Institute
Sir, It is difficult to reconcile the suggestion that the time is ripe for wages to be increased with what is really in the best interests of us all. It is spending power that is important, and if the current trend for lower prices continues, surely that will be of most benefit to both those in work and to those who have retired. Inevitably, higher wages will slow down deflation and generally make the pound in our pocket less valuable. Or is the call for more pay a ploy to increase the taxes collected by HM Revenue from those mistakenly celebrating a bigger pay packet?

Jack Lynes
Pinner, Middx
Sir, Giving staff a pay rise adds to the fixed cost base of a business — and once awarded, can’t be taken away. So businesses will be understandably wary of taking such a step unless they have greater certainty about the UK’s economic future. Our latest survey reveals that businesses continue to be confident about their immediate prospects. Yet they are still cautious about making long-term commitments given the uncertainty around the outcome of a very open general election, continuing problems in the eurozone and the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

It’s important that the proceeds of growth are shared fairly, but until business receives long-term assurances about the UK’s economic direction, Mr Cameron’s pleas are likely to fall upon deaf ears.

Stephen Ibbotson
Director of business, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

Sir, On the front page of yesterday’s Times, you report that the corporate sector increased its cash balances by more than £100 billion between 2007 and 2013, and paid out £79 billion in regular dividends last year.

On Monday, in the Opinion pages, Libby Purves wrote that “household debt continues to soar unchecked . . . to bridge the gap between what (people) earn and what keeps normal life going”.

The connection is clear.

Adrian Perry
Sir, The prime minister’s plea to business to increase wages will be of little comfort to those in the public sector, whose pay has been frozen for the length of this parliament, or capped at 1 per cent. Will there be a similar pledge to raise public sector pay? If there is, I suspect it will coincide with heavy job losses.

Colin Sherwood
Sir, David Cameron is disingenuous in calling on employers to pay higher wages. Employers are enabled to pay low wages by the constant supply of cheap migrant labour, which Mr Cameron has repeatedly said that he will curb, but about which he has done nothing effective.

Duncan Heenan
Niton, Isle of Wight

Please send your letters to the Editor to: The Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF, or e-mail them to letters@thetimes.co.uk

More from Letters to the Editor

Mosaic to my ears

Published at 12:01AM, February 11 2015 No doubt contemporaries of Michelangelo disparaged his newly finished Sistine Chapel ceiling too…

Sir, Is the visit of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to see President Putin going to be a re-run of Chamberlain’s visit to Munich in 1938? In both cases the separate affinity, in language and political orientation, of a part of an independent country which a nationalist leader wanted to occupy or control, if necessary by force, has given rise to contention. Both leaders would claim some justification because of the vulnerability of their border areas under the status quo. In one case as a result of the excessively harsh Treaty of Versailles, and in the other by the steady encroachment of Nato eastwards.

In a natural desire to solve the problem by diplomatic means, as the alternative would be too horrendous to contemplate, the European leaders might accept a de facto separation or even observation of the disputed area in return for, as Chamberlain did, a promise of no further territorial acquisitions; but can Putin be trusted? We can only hope that any appeasement this time does not end up like the last one did.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall
House of Lords
Sir, Putin’s end game is obvious. He will achieve his objectives within Ukraine, and when/if the economic sanctions imposed reach the point at which he considers his survival is in question the West will be given the option of lifting them or facing military conflict. The West will blink first because it has no other choice.

Preserving peace costs money, effort and strategic thought and, just as importantly, adequate size of military forces to achieve the aim, which is to avoid conflict. Nato has to be conventionally capable and credible. Given the underfunding throughout the alliance over the past 30 years, that is not the reputation that Nato now enjoys.
PP Gilroy (Sqn Ldr, RAF, ret’d)
Bishopsteignton, Devon
Sir, General Sir Richard Shirreff’s comments lamenting David Cameron’s absence from the shuttle diplomacy were inappropriate (report, Feb 6). Ukraine is not a member of Nato, and Nato countries have no obligation to involve themselves. Sabre-rattling can only inflame the situation.
Christopher Ellis
Farnham, Surrey
Sir, It seems obvious that the United States has reservations about the Hollande/Merkel initiative and is holding back. It would not be surprising therefore, if this is the case, that the British government should be taking a lower profile than some would wish.
Brigadier Nicholas Cocking
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Sir, Putin is not alone in dubious moves (leader, Feb 6). It is clear that the window of opportunity was opened early last year by the EU’s ham-fisted moves on the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which, though scarcely mentioned now or then, contained a raft of military as well as economic proposals that precipitated the origins of the present situation. The naive ambitions of the EU are significantly to blame for the current situation, and even now Ukraine is not engaged in sufficient reform.
Sir William Cash, MP
House of Commons
Sir, Perhaps those advocating leaving the EU would explain how Britain’s exit from the EU, or the prospect of it, would help to deal with the situation in Ukraine, and our vital interest in finding a satisfactory outcome to it.
Sir Peter Marshall
London W8
Sir, Russia’s peace offer is, as you state, an attempt to secure military gains, but it is hardly “cynical” (leader, Feb 6). If the army representing the Russian population of eastern Ukraine is to maintain its foothold, it is surely preferable for this to be managed via diplomacy than through further bloodshed.

Putin’s overture to Hollande and Merkel is far less cynical than his sponsorship of violence to date.
Dr Richard Braithwaite
Pondwell, Isle of Wight
Sir, In reply to Roger Boyes’s article (“Arming Ukraine will stop Putin in his tracks”, Feb 4), we in Russia have a saying: “Gamble but don’t try to win back what you have lost.” OK, the West bet on Ukraine and lost, with a civil war now raging there. Under the circumstances, would arming Ukraine not look like throwing good money after bad?

Besides, Putin knows how to stop Nato encirclement in its tracks: a buffer state with a territorial dispute.
Mergen Mongush

No doubt contemporaries of Michelangelo disparaged his newly finished Sistine Chapel ceiling too…

Sir, I suspect that what Michael Robinson (letter, Feb 9) said about the “suffocating” Paolozzi murals in Tottenham Court Road station was once said by contemporaries of the decorators of the Parthenon, as well as of Michelangelo when he finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling: too bright, badly drawn, overpowering, gaudy and out of place are the usual stones thrown.

It seems to me that a longer passage of time needs to be allowed before destruction or removal is undertaken of any artwork of this nature.

Alf Menzies


Sir, The upgrade of Tottenham Court Road Tube station is vital to help London’s transport network to keep pace with the population (Times2, Feb 6). Around 150,000 people use this station every day; this is expected to rise to more than 200,000 when Crossrail serves the station in 2018.

The Paolozzi mosaics are an important part of our heritage. We have worked closely with the Paolozzi Foundation and others, and are retaining and restoring 95 per cent of the mosaics in their original locations.

The signature piece by the Oxford Street station entrance will be removed and preserved for redisplay. We can’t keep the arches as they are part of the roof structure that needs to come off to allow the station to be enlarged. The decision to remove the arches was agreed with the Paolozzi Foundation.

Gareth Powell

Director for strategy and service development, London Underground

Anything designed, built, maintained or operated by human beings is open to human error — as Nasa learnt to its cost

Sir, Anything designed, built, maintained or operated by human beings is open to human error (letter, Feb 10). Nasa’s loss of a multimillion-dollar Mars orbiter a few years ago was due to one part of the team working in metric while the others used feet and inches.

Michael Bird

London SW13

One famous Bovril label was that of the Pope, mug in hand, under the superscription “The Two Infallible Powers. The Pope & Bovril”

Sir, What a pity that the selection of old advertisements on the new Bovril labels doesn’t include the splendid one of the Pope, mug in hand, under the superscription “The Two Infallible Powers. The Pope & Bovril” (picture story, Feb 6). It appeared in 1890, 20 years after the First Vatican Council defined papal infallibility. It is reproduced in Leonard de Vries’s Victorian Advertisements (1968); we are fortunate to have been spared “Bovril by Electrocution” on the next page, which shows two unfortunate oxen strapped into an electric chair.

Richard Lawrence

London SW1

You will never guess where this reader learnt the result of last Friday’s Wales-England rugby match…

Sir, I missed the Wales-England rugby match last Friday as I was abroad. I had recorded it on TV, and went to some lengths to avoid finding out the result, even to the extent of not opening the sports section of The Times website on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. But I continued to read the obituaries as usual. On Monday I found the long and interesting obituary of Lord Gavron, who died on February 7. Imagine my dismay when I reached the sentence: “In the evening, he watched England’s victory over Wales in the Six Nations . . . ”

Peter Tann

London SW1

The Deregulation Bill could threaten the provision of housing suitable for disabled and older people with mobility problems

Sir, Ric Cheadle (letter, Feb 10) is correct in saying that older people cannot find suitable smaller houses. The problem is that “smaller” means small rooms, not just fewer. Most older people need fewer rooms but still want the space: people who have lived for many years in substantial family homes simply don’t want poky rooms with little windows, and the sooner developers realise it the better.

And why are so few flats for the retired built with a balcony?

Angela Hammond
Guiseley, Leeds

Sir, Today is the last chance for the government to remove obstacles in the Deregulation Bill that will make it harder to build homes in which disabled and older people with reduced mobility can move around freely. Accessible homes are desperately needed by those who face the daily nightmare of washing in the kitchen sink, sleeping in the living room or trying to get out of the front door. Such homes significantly reduce the health and social care cost to society by helping people to remain independent and by reducing the risk of injury.

This bill could have a truly progressive impact on accessible housing, but it risks being a retrograde step unless the details are improved.

Andy Cole, Leonard Cheshire Disability; Caroline Abrahams, Age UK; Dan Scorer, Royal Mencap Society; Alastair Graham, Golden Lane Housing; David Sinclair, International Longevity Centre

Sir, I was taught that when a surgical or medical error occurred (letter, Feb 10) it was correct to apologise; this did not imply guilt. Such action may lead to a more amicable discussion.

Professor Stuart Stanton (Gynaecologist) London SW19

Chicory, little known in England in 1915? Not so – just ask the Army, when on campaign…

Sir, “Until recently the national vegetable of Belgium, chicory . . . has been little known in England” (On this day, Feb 7, 1915). Chicory essence, at least, had been in use for about 40 years by then, as a flavouring for Camp Coffee, produced for the Army.

FW Nunneley

Beckley, E Susse


Syria: Putin warns West not to arm rebels who 'eat the organs' of their enemies

Vladimir Putin, right, with David Cameron during a press conference at 10 Downing Street Photo: PA

SIR – Britain’s last defence review based on interests rather than just saving money was in 1998, when 3 per cent of our GDP went on defence. Among other things it maintained 36 ocean-going escorts at sea and 150,000 soldiers on land.

As the world’s fifth-largest economy, we now spend 2 per cent of GDP, with 19 escorts and the Army on its way down to 85,000. Yet total government spending is up from 35 to 42 per cent of GDP.

Defence budgets should be governed by interests and threats, not arbitrary figures. Since 1998 the threats have multiplied: Vladimir Putin has restarted the Cold War by land-grabbing. Middle Eastern irreligious maniacs are terrorising cities, Africa has war, famine and pestilence, and America, with Pacific problems, is tiring of being the guarantor of a fractious Europe.

David Cameron has said that we are a small island with a big footprint. If he means it he can find money to make it true.

John Parfitt
Painswick, Gloucestershire

SIR – In a letter to The Daily Telegraph a year ago I argued that the West should negotiate over Ukraine with a plan that was “both realistic and positive”.

Times have changed. Russia has taken the military initiative. In order to negotiate now, the West must show its willingness to strengthen its own military forces.

Lord Spicer
London SW1

SIR – American officials have “mocked Europe’s efforts to broker peace in Ukraine with Vladimir Putin” and “likened the talks to the appeasement of Hitler before the Second World War”.

Hitler was looking east, and did not want to go to war with Britain. Going to war with him put us in debt to the United States. Under the terms of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Americans used that debt to dismantle imperial preference and so dissolve the British Empire.

Sir Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Moscow, rightly tells us (Comment, February 7) that sanctions against Putin will not work, so we should be negotiating with him over Ukraine.

Lord Sudeley
London NW1

SIR – America’s scorn at Europe’s “appeasement” of Moscow is well deserved and, in the case of mainland Europe, is all that can be expected, as European nations refuse to meet their obligations to Nato, expecting the Americans always to step in to protect their interests.

As for Britain, with Labour’s policy of putting all our eggs in one basket of super aircraft carriers not available for a generation, and a Conservative government decimating our Armed Forces, we are unable to take the lead in facing down the dictatorial actions of Putin, who is secure in his belief that a weak EU will not hinder his territorial ambitions. Weakness leads to war, as history should teach us.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

Jewish safety fears

SIR – While driving past a synagogue recently, I noticed a member of the congregation acting as a security guard, complete with reflective vest. Concerned that an incident might have taken place, I stopped to inquire and offer my support.

Unfortunately, my friendly impulse was misinterpreted and by the time I reached the young man my vehicle’s registration number was being relayed via his walkie-talkie. As a more senior member approached I decided to leave, offering a peace greeting as I retreated.

Much shaken, I wrote to the rabbi to apologise for any alarm caused. Perhaps if more non-Jewish people showed concern, our Jewish friends would know they are valued members of the community.

Rob Mannion
Bournemouth, Dorset

Pensioner bonds compensate for low interest

Spending the inheritance: ‘The Last Day in the Old Home’ by Robert Martineau, 1862

SIR – Pensioner bonds have been heavily criticised by Mark Littlewood, the director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Phillip Lee, a Conservative MP, with the latter describing it as a form of “intergenerational theft”.

However, over the past few years better‑off pensioners have seen negative real returns on their savings, while younger generations with mortgages have seen unprecedented low levels of interest rates.

Effectively, there has been a massive transfer of income from the older to the younger generations, which should be taken into consideration when using emotive terms like intergenerational theft.

In fact, pensioner bonds go a small way to countering the imbalance that has emerged in recent years.

Dr John Humphries
Welland, Worcestershire

SIR – I am Jewish and I have lived in Britain all my life. I can categorically say that I have never experienced even one incident of anti-Semitism, either verbal or physical.

There has always been an element of anti-Semitism in Britain, but we need to get things in perspective. I for one have no intention of ever leaving this country.

Leslie Cohen

FGM realities

SIR – As a newly qualified midwife in the early Seventies working at a major teaching hospital in London, I was present at the birth of a baby to a first-time mother from Sudan, who was married to a Sudanese doctor. Like Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, we were confronted with this “nightmarish scenario” of total female genital mutilation (FGM).

The birth was imminent and it was immediately obvious that, for the baby to be born, a large cut had to be made. Sadly, after the birth, it was also clear that the only possible repair that could be made was to reinstate the FGM.

Jane Badley
Hedge End, Hampshire


SIR – Before Ed Vaizey (or his successor) forces the digital radio switchover in 2016, perhaps he could be encouraged to ensure that everybody receives a signal. With a stated aim of 91 per cent digital coverage by 2016, who is going to decide which 9 per cent of the population can be written off?

H J Cranmer
Dartmouth, Devon

SIR – I bought a digital radio, which produces very distorted reception, despite my having fully extended the unsightly telescopic aerial, which it requires to function at all.

If I go within two feet of it to try to tune it, the reception becomes even worse. Only if I leave the room, does the sound quality improve.

I am thus saddled with a digital radio that can’t stand being in the same room as me. My old analogue set, which I got rid of, is a sadly missed old friend.

James L Shearer

Rugby razzmatazz

SIR – Until Friday evening I considered Wales a great rugby nation with a proud history. The pre-match razzmatazz and attempt to intimidate England by subjecting them to a long wait on the pitch in the febrile atmosphere of the stadium was not rugby, it was stupidity.

It is nonsense to say that it was their stadium and they had the right to close the roof. Rugby is an outdoor sport and should always be played outdoors. Closing the roof before the game might protect the pitch from heavy rain or snow, but it should never be closed for a match.

What a relief it was the following day to see the two teams in Paris running out on to the pitch together without any preliminary razzmatazz whatsoever.

Francis White
Gifford, East Lothian

Swearing by the historical veracity of ‘Wolf Hall’

(BBC/Company Productions)

SIR – I couldn’t disagree more with Michael Leapman’s assessment of Wolf Hall.

One of the show’s many pleasures is the slow unfolding of a complex plot. The writer and director treat the audience as intelligent, rather than insulting us by explaining every minute action. Do we really need to be told that Henry VIII was suffering from gout?

Mr Leapman also complains of the use of “21st-century profanities”, which I assume refers to the liberal use of the F-word.

The first recorded use of this word was in a 1513 poem by William Dunbar. By 1528 it was commonly used in its adjectival form. Hardly surprising, then, to hear it uttered by the Duke of Norfolk in the 1530s.

Kate Campbell
London SW8

SIR – Scant mention was made of William Tyndale in the third episode of Wolf Hall. Tyndale made it his life’s work to translate the Bible into English, so that it could be read and understood by the common people. He was opposed vigorously by the clergy and persecuted throughout his life.

In Hilary Mantel’s books he is arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London and subsequently burnt alive for heresy. In real life he escaped from this country in his twenties and lived in Europe, where he continued his struggle to get his translation printed and to smuggle the books into England.

He was betrayed by a friend, Henry Phillips, who gave his name to the authorities. He was strangled and burnt at the stake near Brussels in 1536.

Gillian Gallannaugh
Waldron, East Sussex

Labour in love

SIR – Tristram Hunt said of Labour: “We are a furiously, passionately, aggressively pro-business party.” What utter tosh.

John Durtnell
Horsmonden, Kent

Louder than popcorn

SIR – Half the people who don’t go to the cinema dislike the eating that goes on there (Leading article, February 6). I wonder if the other half of the people who don’t go to the cinema don’t go because, like me, they fear for their hearing, as the volume can be excruciating.

Ann Minoprio
Mellor, Lancashire

Eff is for Fry

SIR – If Stephen Fry, as a National Treasure, is to continue hosting the Baftas, perhaps he should be asked not to sprinkle his remarks with unnecessary and gratuitous swear words and smutty innuendos.

Tim Bevan
Hungerford, Berkshire

Pedant trap

SIR – When I worked in a bookshop in Wimbledon, part of my job was to do the window display. After arranging the books, I installed a large banner with one spelling mistake and an error of punctuation.

Our customer numbers and takings increased enormously.

Margaret Bowman

Hotter water bottle

SIR – The warning against using boiling hot water in rubber hot water bottles is not new. It even used to be moulded in, as part of the pattern. I preferred the “stone” version. I could put my feet hard on it without fear of it leaking, and it seemed to stay hot longer.

Eric Hayman
Bournemouth, Dorset


Globe and Mail:

Jean Marmoreo

The Supreme Court has changed the way I talk to my patients about death

Irish Times:

Sir, – Marriage never was primarily about creating an environment for the rearing of children.

When marriage was ordained by God aeons ago (Genesis 2:24 ) it was about a man and a woman leaving their parents and cleaving to each other – becoming “one flesh”. There was no mention of rearing children in the mandate.

As the Evangelical Alliance Ireland stated in its submission to the Convention on the Constitution, “the present proposals for same-sex marriage, however, far from advancing an inclusive civil society, represent a mirror-image of an earlier religious hegemony, constitute an aeon-changing adjustment of human culture, and are not accompanied by evidence which shows that this is not a socially retrograde step”. – Yours, etc,



Co Down.

Sir, – I, for one, believe we should protect the traditional definition of marriage.

As per Deuteronomy 21 10:14, upon finding the ideal specimen of womankind after battle, all I should have to do is shave her, cut her nails, throw away her clothes and allow her a month to mourn her parents, who I have undoubtedly just killed, and then she will be my wife.

Anything else would be redefinition. – Yours, etc,




Sir,– I was pleased to see the heading of your main editorial “The meaning of marriage” (February 9th), having read so many conflicting letters on the subject recently.

I assumed that the article would be a serious and responsible summary of the arguments on this controversial subject. However I was shocked to read, in the very first paragraph, the extraordinary statement that “in modern western society marriage and the formation of families . . . are no longer the same thing”.

This was presented as fact without any discussion or evidence.

In the society that I have lived in for over 80 years, marriage is very much “the formation of families”.

A bit further on I read that “marriage is now . . . a public statement of personal commitment between two people who love each other”, again without any evidence or argument. But it is a fact that there are all sorts of rules that have been around for thousands of years, for very good reasons, that proclaim the opposite.

For example, one may not marry a sibling or close relative; one may not marry a person under a certain age; one may not marry a person that is already married; and one may not marry a person of the same sex.

These rules apply to all, so cannot be considered to be “discriminatory”.

Nowadays we may regret that many more young people are opting for “relationships” rather than marriage so we may be tempted to do drastic things about the rules, but please let us consider the facts as they are, and please do try to present these facts as they are before we do anything too drastic. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – The Irish Times reports that the use by employers of zero-hour and low-hour work contracts is to be investigated (“University of Limerick appointed to investigate zero-hour contracts”, February 9th). This is to be welcomed.

We accept unnecessary trade-offs in our everyday lives, many of which have undesirable welfare outcomes.

Many business leaders believe that companies cannot pay good wages and yet be profitable. This is untrue.

Jobs on subsistence wages, with few benefits, no training, and chaotic schedules are bad jobs.

Bad jobs create problems. They do not provide enough money to make ends meet, nor do they provide security and stability for a sane family life.

Companies that provide bad jobs treat workers as expenses to be minimised rather than as assets to be developed. For workers in bad jobs, such as those to be investigated, dignity, personal satisfaction and the freedom to obtain a decent full-time income do not exist.

By encouraging a wage-cost focus, customers come to expect and tolerate poor service and low-quality goods. In addition, taxpayers subsidise these low-wage companies because their badly paid workers require assistance from the public purse.

A further consequence is that this unintended subsidy becomes an incentive for low wage, zero-hour contract employers to continue poor management practices that result in long-term damage to their companies. Subsistence wages thus make it more difficult, not easier, to compete.

Good jobs provide good pay, benefits and predictable work schedules and the chance to grow through continuous improvement and personal development.

There is nothing altruistic here. Good jobs provide superior benefits to the company and its investors in the longer term.

Many successful companies reject the trade-off between wages and profits but instead shift the productivity frontier outwards, thereby providing more value to all parties.

It is time to reject the conventional wisdom that there is a necessary trade-off between wages and profits.

To increase productivity, companies need to innovate on value and focus on the worker as an asset, not as a cost.

Successful companies are creative and invest in people to provide service for customers and high returns for investors. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Professor

of Marketing;

UCD Michael Smurfit

Graduate Business School,

University College Dublin,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Conor Lally’s report on and analysis of Dr Diarmuid Griffin’s research offers a timely opportunity for the Government to take appropriate action to improve the integrity of our criminal justice system (“Life-sentence prisoners serving longer terms in jail, study finds”; “Analysis – Informal system decides fate of ‘lifers’”; February 10th).

A body that performs functions as important as the Parole Board –advising as to whether to release convicted killers and rapists – should be clearly defined and organised in our statute law.

Legislation to put the Parole Board on a statutory basis would have to provide carefully for the membership of the board, the criteria that could be used for granting parole, the offences not covered by the parole process and the protections that would be afforded to the community should a decision be made to permit a prisoner back early into the community.

The Government’s failure to place the Parole Board on a statutory basis means that the important functions played by that board are denied the force of law and merely constitute a form of advice provided by it to the Minister.

This is particularly problematic since prisoners who believe they have an entitlement to parole can seek to avail of the courts to achieve that entitlement.

More fundamentally, there is something incoherent in having a member of the Cabinet and the Oireachtas making decisions in respect of matters that were initially decided upon by the judiciary. It is a practice that offends the principle of separation of powers that keeps politicians away from those functions which are the preserve of the courts.

The sentencing of convicted prisoners is an integral part of our criminal justice system. For victims of serious crime, it constitutes justice being done. The ad hoc basis upon which parole is granted in Ireland and the ultimate control of this system by a politician is an outdated way of operating this important aspect of our criminal justice system. – Yours, etc,


City Hall,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Further to Paul Cullen’s article “Ireland’s ‘cancer boom’: what’s gone wrong?”, (February 8th), there is an enormous difference in the mortality rates from cancer depending on where you live in this country. The recent Atlas of Health Inequalities from the Centre for Health Geoinformatics, NUI Maynooth, described how people in the most disadvantaged areas have up to three times the mortality rate for cancer of those in the most affluent areas.

Social inequality is the biggest predictor of excess and early deaths from cancer. It is convenient to ascribe these deaths to lifestyle issues and that is undoubtedly an issue (although many are understandable, if unhelpful, coping mechanisms to deal with complex and stressful life and health problems), but even when correcting for these factors income inequality is itself a powerful cause of unequal cancer mortality.

John Crown describes the huge advances in treatment of cancer in this country and that is obvious to those of us at the coalface of the health system. This has not affected the inequality in outcomes unfortunately. Prevention and early detection remain a challenge. This depends on effective primary care and access to diagnostic tests, which are currently much less available in the areas with the worst mortality.

Northwest Dublin has the area with the highest death rate from cancer in the country, yet has one GP for 3,600 people compared with the national average of 1 for 1,800 – exactly half. Medical card patients in this area wait 11 months for an abdominal ultrasound (useful for picking up cancer) as against two months in southeast Dublin. If you have health insurance, the wait is less than a week.

This confluence of high sickness and death rates together with underprovision of care combine to form what is called the inverse care law, where those most in need of healthcare are least likely to get it. This is what results from distributing resources according to numbers without reference to the differing health needs in different areas.

While the ageing population will contribute to some rise in cancer incidence, if all parts of the country could have the same mortality as the most affluent, there would be a huge decrease in overall cancer mortality rates.

Cancer is not one single disease with a single solution, but addressing the profound inequality in access to the health service would be a start. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.

Sir, – Those arrested are now predictably and ridiculously labelled the “Jobstown Four”. In their wildest dreams they could not have wished for this spectacle. Not only were they arrested but they were flattered by the deployment of a large force of gardaí in a clichéd “dawn raid”. This carry-on has copper-fastened their celebrity in the competitive world of leaders of “the people”. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Maybe we should criminalise anger. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

A chara, – I have recently referred one of our patients with a combined immunodeficiency to my colleagues in the UK for bone marrow transplant , since we do not have a paediatric transplant specialist here in Ireland to undertake this procedure.

Appointing a paediatric transplant specialist in Dublin would not only spare this family and other families the expense and trouble of travelling abroad for treatment, but would also spare the Irish taxpayer a considerable expense.

The cost to the exchequer through the treatment abroad scheme for paediatric immunodeficiency bone marrow transplant in 2013 was approximately €900,000.

An equivalent amount is likely to be spent this year, and a similar sum will be spent on transplantation of children with metabolic disorders, as was recently highlighted in these pages by my colleague Dr Ellen Crushell (January 9th).

Isn’t it time for common sense to prevail? – Is mise,


Consultant in Paediatric

Immunology and Infectious


Our Lady’s Children’s



Dublin 12.

Sir, – “British and Craggy Isles”? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – Your correspondents moaning about the name of these isles in which we live are suffering from a massive inferiority complex. You don’t get our neighbours in the other part of the British Isles complaining about the Irish Sea. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – My first lectures as an undergraduate at Trinity College over 30 years ago, were delivered by Prof Gordon Herries Davies in a class an American might term Geography 101.

The professor was sufficiently alert to realise that traditional reference to these islands could represent a difficulty for the changing demographic at Trinity and had settled on “Anglo-Celtic Archipelago”. – Yours, etc,


Clonskeagh, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Perhaps with the introduction of minimum alcohol prices, the Government should consider maximum pub prices for a range of non-alcohol beverages in pubs. I recently purchased a 113ml bottle of Slimline tonic for €2.20. This equates to €19.46 a litre or about 15 times the price of a litre of petrol! – Yours, etc,


Dublin 12.

Irish Independent:

‘Drinking the juice of the barley in such pleasant company is 
‘Drinking the juice of the barley in such pleasant company is priceless’.

The Government’s latest attempt to curb the sale of cheap alcohol reminded me of one of the many stories my late father told me about the customers who patronised the family pub in Tralee. The stories were embellished with each telling, but were all the better for it.

  • Go To

Michael McCarthy – not his real name – arrived at the bar counter at 8pm every evening. He drank three pints of Guinness between his arrival and closing time. He enjoyed the company of his fellow drinkers discussing Austin Stacks football, greyhounds, horse racing and the news of the day. He then walked back to his home, where he lived alone.

The time came when the price of the pint was increased from 11 old pence to a shilling. When my father broke the bad news about the increase, the drinkers jocosely called down every misfortune on the powers that be above in Dublin, but the porter continued to flow regardless. Making his way to Michael, who was sitting contentedly on a stool, Dad asked: “Will you still follow the pint at the new price, Michael?”

“My dear man,” replied Michael, “I’ll follow it to Hell. Drinking the juice of the barley in such pleasant company is priceless.”

Michael has long since gone to his eternal rest. Despite his self-condemnation he is surely in Heaven, as he never did anything out of the way.

On the evening of Michael’s removal, Dad filled a pint glass with draught Guinness, funnelled it into a bottle, corked the bottle and wrapped it in a black and amber sock. He placed the “pint in a bottle” alongside Michael’s remains, to quench his thirst on the final journey.

If Guinness flows on tap in Heaven, on Sunday evening Michael will drink his customary three pints and raise a toast, in good company, to the victory of Austin Stacks over Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland Football Club Championship semi-final in Portlaoise.

Billy Ryle, Tralee, Co Kerry


Hope springs eternal

Billy Keane’s item on romance and encouraging women to make a “first move” reminded me of a quip from Bob Hope.

“I was still chasing women into my 70s… but only downhill.”

Tom Gilsenan, Beaumont, Dublin 9


Life after debt

I am disheartened once again, but not really shocked by our Taoiseach. He is a major disappointment to all small nations which are being bullied and tortured by unscrupulous money lenders.

Failing to support the oppressed people of Greece is a dereliction of one’s responsibilities. A few statistics to bring a bit of realism to the conversation. In Greece, interest per year is €24,538,778,740 – €778 per second – debt per citizen is €29,446 and there is a population of 11,062,508 million.

If Mr Kenny and his right-wing austerity cohorts had half the guts the Greeks have, we would be challenging the huge unpayable burden of debt that has been inflicted on us and our children’s children. What would be so wrong with attending a debt conference? Oh no, Enda would rather be seen playing teacher’s pet in the company of his peers at Davos in Switzerland.

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has proposed that Greece’s future debt repayments be tied to the country’s economic growth. Britain availed of this type of logical solution as far back as 1946. If you don’t ask you shall not receive, it’s as simple as that.

James Woods, Gort an Choirce, Dún na nGall


Thanks for the memories, AP

The great AP McCoy has decided to retire. Anyone who loves National Hunt racing will be saddened and gladdened by this news.

Sad that we will never see his likes again. Gladdened that he will hopefully retire in one piece.

AP – just those two letters will always be synonymous with the toughest rider that ever put his leg across a horse.

There are, of course, so many other heroes of this sport who have paid such a heavy price to provide us with such excitement. Those who come to mind include Kieran Kelly, who died in 2003 as the result of a racing accident, Jonjo Bright, who suffered a severe spinal injury following a point-to-point accident, and JT McNamara, who thrilled so many riding over the hills and banks of cross-country racing and was left paralysed after a fall.

There are many other people who contribute to this great sport who go unnoticed and who play such a big part in its continuance.

The likes of the orthopaedic surgeons who put the broken limbs back together to allow these warriors to return to the sport where the saying “A Horseman’s Grave Is Always Open” was never more true.

As a last word on our great National Hunt jockeys, it would be very remiss of me to close without mentioning the most stylish jockey that ever jumped either hurdle or fence. I refer, of course, to the legendary Ruby Walsh.

I could go on and on, but – sorry about this, Ruby – I’ve run out of ink.

Fred Molloy, Glenville, Dublin 15


Rome rule coming to an end

So the Pope believes that it is OK to slap a child. He also stated that if anyone insulted his mother they could expect a pontifical punch in the face. How sensitive, how logical, how insightful and how Christian was that?

Is it just possible that this Pope is a Holy disgrace and perhaps some cardinal, worried about the Vatican’s standing (and now freed of silly old restrictions on corporal punishment) would be allowed to kick him?

I’m only asking – I’m sure there are rules for this kind of thing. Rules that are, in the main, beyond my comprehension. I do seem to remember vaguely some old stuff in the Bible about turning cheeks and loving thy enemy, but perhaps your man never read it all through – too busy with the aul’ martial arts I guess.

The whole things looks and sounds like a missing ‘Father Ted’ episode. How interesting that both the Church and also the monarchies around Europe at this time are slowly but surely beginning to unravel, precisely because they are trying so hard to be ‘like us’ and thereby showing their many, many failings.

Ireland may not have any ‘royals’, but the link is nevertheless fascinating. There was a time when most supporters of the Vatican and so-called royalty around the globe were simply overawed by the apparent medieval, sacred and cultural connections.

As time goes on, we are beginning to see through the brilliantly inventive myths that were keeping us from perceiving the greed, the controlling, the lying, the cheating and manipulations of both institutions, whose ‘princes’, ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ were, and still are, living in a rarefied atmosphere – palatially shaped carbuncles on the face of our modern western democracies.

Mercifully, the notion of some people being superior to others and privileged by birth or by rank has been steadily eroded over the last few centuries. Robert Burns wrote in 1749:

Ye see yon birkie* ca’d a lord,

Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

He’s but a coof** for a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,

The man of independent mind

He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

* conceited fellow


My own late mother had twigged all this stuff quicker than most, when, at the age of 12 she blurted out: “The Pope is just a man” to her shell-shocked Catholic parents.

John Loesberg, Killarney, Co Kerry

Irish Independent

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: