Letters: Will the Covid Inquiry achieve anything apart from settling grudges and political scores?

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry - Dan Kitwood/Getty

SIR – Surely the purpose of the Covid Inquiry (Leading Article, December 8) should be to establish how and where the virus started; how well Britain responded to it; and, relative to other nations, the mistakes made and how to do better next time. What we actually hear is a load of deeply personalised questioning, with little apparent purpose beyond blaming and condemning individual people – none of them medical, which is rather puzzling.

Worse, last week there was narrow questioning by lawyers representing different minority groups. Why? Can we do nothing as a united nation, but have to be divided into minorities?
The inquest is becoming a travesty. It is utterly shameful.

Gregory Shenkman
London SW7

SIR – Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon asks whether the Covid Inquiry will help us tackle the next pandemic (Letters, December 3).

To that end, it should be focusing on the mistakes made by this Government in the last pandemic so they are not repeated next time. These include:

Lockdowns – they should not have been mandatory, although voluntary isolation should have been encouraged for those considered vulnerable.

The furlough scheme – it was an economic disaster that must never be repeated. Putting millions of people, out of work due to the lockdown policy, on the taxpayers’ payroll, effectively bankrupted the Treasury.

Central control – implementing Covid-19 policy decisions should have been delegated. Local councils should have been required to set up community groups (of social workers, GPs, police and volunteers) to provide medical and palliative care at home; to control access to NHS hospitals; to test and trace virus contacts; and to support the vulnerable.

Finally, indecision – the Government should have legislated immediately to make the reckless or negligent promotion of activities that could facilitate the transmission of Covid – such as large gatherings – a criminal offence.

Pascal Ricketts
London SW1

The Rwanda plan

SIR – Our former home secretary and immigration minister make serious, logical and well-founded arguments against Rishi Sunak’s proposed Rwanda law succeeding (report, December 8). A history of attempts to stop the boats have previously failed.

Does the Prime Minister really expect the electorate to believe in him and in yet another incomplete approach now succeeding?

Tim Pope
Weybridge, Surrey

Britons’ work ethic

SIR – Well said, Andrew Ash (Letters, December 3)­­ – where has the general work ethic in this country gone?

How can the NHS provide a competent service without enough trained doctors? Particularly when the British doctors we train at great expense are then immediately allowed to escape with their expertise abroad.

I, for one, can understand why they go, but seemingly this Government shows no interest in helping them stay.

Susan Eccles
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

SIR – I can’t agree with Stuart Harrington (Letters, December 3) that working more hours doesn’t mean working harder.
First, despite a person’s performance reducing over time, any additional hours still increase their total output.

Secondly, for those who toil in jobs that do require long hours, such as A&E doctors, it seems insulting to suggest that they doing their best for patients at all times.

Thirdly, this country – and particularly the bureaucratic Civil Service – is lagging behind most other Western nations’ levels of productivity. Until it is prepared to adopt better ways of working, the only plausible alternative is to put in longer hours.

Phil Stewart
London SW14

SIR – Stuart Harrington theorises that productivity improves when workers are allowed to choose when to work. I suggest he speaks to farmers (real, not hobby) and construction workers.

David Hutchinson
Nutley, East Sussex

Organists who devoted decades to songs of praise

Celestial choruses: pipes on the magnificent organ of Rochester Cathedral, Kent
Celestial choruses: pipes on the magnificent organ of Rochester Cathedral, Kent - Alamy /Alamy

SIR – I am the second generation of Methodist organists in my family – so know all about long service – but I have heard of no example to beat the 105 years shared by the two stalwarts Amanda Hume cites (Letters, December 3). A visit to the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris reveals something close to it, however.

Charles-Marie Widor, a former assistant organist to Camille Saint-Saëns at Église de la Madeleine, and a brilliant player, composer and extemporiser in his own right, was the organist there for nearly 64 years (1870 to late 1933). He was succeeded by Marcel Dupré, his former student and assistant, who held the post until 1971. That two such leading exponents of the instrument should share the post for 101 years is an impressive record and a splendid legacy.

David Lander
Old Woking, Surrey

SIR – My mother, who sadly died last year aged 108, received a certificate from the Methodist Church to commemorate her playing the organ for 70 years, and she continued to play for a few more after that.

She also played the organ at Lincoln Cathedral aged 90, then again aged 100. We recorded her on that occasion, so were able to play it during her funeral. How many musicians play at their own funeral?

Alan France
Booker, Buckinghamshire

SIR – We do not have knowledge of previous organists, but our Methodist church in Andover had one organist for 74 years.

Bill Bowley played from 1946 until he retired in 2020. He said the commitment of an organist was greater than that of any minister, as a minister could usually get a replacement, while an organist never could.

Jean Lewis
Andover, Hampshire

Parthenon marbles

SIR – The continued resistance of successive governments to the restitution of the Parthenon marbles (Letters, December 3) is a stain on the reputation of our great nation.

The assertion that Lord Elgin acquired the marbles legitimately is morally indefensible. Greece was under oppressive occupation by the Ottoman Empire, whose representatives had little interest in the sculptures and were indifferent to their fate. If Hitler had conquered Britain and given some of our finest works of art to an unscrupulous collector, would we not find their ownership by a foreign gallery intolerable?

The argument that the marbles were better off in the care of the British Museum is also no longer tenable. There is now a world-class museum at the foot of the Acropolis, which is a far superior home for them than the gloomy halls of Bloomsbury.

I suggest that we make the finest possible copies of the sculptures in the British collection, as well as those in the Acropolis Museum, for permanent exhibition in London. The originals could then be returned to Greece.

As a gesture of solidarity between the two countries and institutions, one original piece could be loaned by the Acropolis Museum to the British Museum, to be exchanged for a different one every few years. The juxtaposition of an original artefact with copies would enable visitors and scholars to compare the two.

Peter Hudson
Deià, Mallorca, Spain

SIR – As the British Museum has allegedly been a little lax in its care of artefacts, it would seem wise to let the Greeks have the Elgin Marbles on permanent loan for safekeeping.

Peter Amey
Hoveton, Norfolk

Inconsiderate parking

SIR – Further to the letter from Nick Eckford (“Pavement parking”, December 3), the village I live in is plagued by inconsiderate parking. It seems that pavements are just an extension of the road for most tradesmen, delivery drivers and even some locals.

I live opposite the community centre and just yards from a railway level crossing. This is raised in such a way that, when approaching, it is  impossible to see oncoming traffic.Drivers who park on the pavement close to the crossing force pedestrians to walk on the road, which is potentially very dangerous for those with prams, dog walkers and the old or disabled, as well as for drivers.

I have tried speaking to the car owners but though some stop, most ignore me, and I have also been verbally abused and threatened. The local authority is of no help, and its vehicles are some of the worst offenders.

The problem is that parking in this way is not illegal. Since 1974, Highway Code rule 244 has stated that drivers “must not park partially or wholly on the pavement in London and should not do so elsewhere unless signs permit it”.

The key words are must not and should not. This could be resolved by making it illegal to park on or obstruct pavements anywhere in the country. Images showing offenders could then be sent to the relevant authority for prosecution.

Fergus Nicolson
Gowdall, East Yorkshire

Driving up salaries

SIR – Members of the train drivers’ union Aslef have taken further industrial action (report, November 8) in their long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

I couldn’t help noticing your Money Makeover article (November 25) from a train driver asking for advice on how to spend his annual salary of £90,000.

Am I missing something?

John Davenport
Sutton Coldfield

SIR – Most of my rail travel was done in the days of steam, between 1940 and 1958. Though trains were crowded and frequently dirty, the seats were comfortable and there seemed always to be enough leg room. However, I do recall one crowded train resulting in a small squaddie being hoisted into the overhead luggage net. I also remember that on family holidays to Bridlington our cases were sent on in advance, so were waiting for us when we arrived.

Contrast that with a recent rail holiday in Scotland. Scotrail didn’t have enough 1st-class seats so we were crammed into 2nd class, with no knee room and nowhere to put our suitcases, and the train was not even close to being on time.

My best rail journey was from Mombasa to Nairobi in 1957, in a sleeper pulled by a Garrett loco driven by two Sikhs in immaculate white uniforms. Those were the days.

Terry McDonald
Littleover, Derbyshire

Preserving Pugin

SIR – It was with pride that I read your reports on the saving by Parliament of the Pugin desk (December 4).

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was my great grandfather. In 1994 the V&A mounted an exhibition to celebrate the “father of the Gothic Revival”, for which it borrowed furniture, drawings and some fine watercolours that my father had inherited.

My parents were flown to London and suitably fêted for the grand opening. I also attended with my eldest son, Cillian, aged eight. At the admission desk I asked if there were any family reductions. The child then piped up “Pugin was my great, great grandfather”. We were ushered in free and given a splendid guided tour.

Ian Meldon
Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Missed post

SIR – If you wanted to post a Christmas card to friends in Europe, it is disconcerting to learn that the deadline for standard mail was December 7 – nine days earlier than in 2019, though the cost has increased from £1.35 to £2.20.

Surely the barcodes and postcodes should speed everything up. Perhaps Royal Mail can explain.

John E Jones
London SW19

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