Letters: Britain can no longer afford to be complacent about readiness for war

HMS Westminster, a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate, approaching Portsmouth Harbour
HMS Westminster, a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate, approaching Portsmouth Harbour - alamy

SIR – The concerns of General Sir Patrick Sanders, head of the Army, and Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, Chief of the Defence Staff, about our military preparedness (report, April 24) demand an urgent response.

We should now be encouraging young people to join university officer-training corps, air squadrons and Naval training units. A discount on university fees in return for a commitment to continue with the reserves after university, and tax concessions or rebate of student loans after a minimum period of service, could be useful incentives and bring about a boost in numbers.

School combined cadet forces should be revived. Increased familiarity with the military among our young people may avoid the need for conscription of disaffected youngsters.

Gp Capt John Skipper (retd) 
London SW19

SIR – Britain has difficulties in recruiting people to the Armed Forces, so as a matter of priority our Servicemen and women should be given a decent pay rise, and the deplorable state of Forces accommodation should be rectified.

This might encourage potential recruits to come forward.

Ted Shorter
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – Rishi Sunak simply does not grasp the vital need to greatly increase defence spending immediately. He says the defence budget will have gone up from the current 2.32 per cent of GDP to the dizzy heights of 2.5 per cent by 2030. One can only assume that he has received assurances from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Hezbollah and the Houthis that they will exercise restraint in the meantime.

It’s not a question of percentages; it’s a matter of what is necessary. We need a defence budget that enables our country to make it clear to friend and foe alike that we are fully prepared to defend ourselves and have the ability to do so. If that means an immediate doubling or more of the current budget – which would result in spending a percentage of GDP that has plenty of precedents in recent history – then so be it.

Compromise on defence, and nothing else can be taken for granted. How many more times does this need spelling out?

Philip J Ashe
Garforth, West Yorkshire

SIR – Tom Sharpe (Comment, telegraph.co.uk, April 22) is correct that defence procurement spending needs reform, but his view that we should buy more off-the-shelf (ie from the United States) is flawed – and, indeed, dangerous. Buying British is not about job creation, beneficial though that is, but about maintaining essential sovereign capability, without which we have no operational sovereignty.

Despite being one of just three equity partners in the F-35 fighter programme, the UK has no access to the computer source codes, and where we buy from the US we are subject to its allocation of priorities for spares. Furthermore, buying from abroad denies us the potential to export. The US is commercially ruthless, and applies regulations to block UK exports – something I experienced when I was a minister.

The first of the Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigates is costing £1.3 billion (the Type 23 that it is replacing cost £130 million), in part because the Royal Navy – not ministers – insisted on changing its specification. The Type 45 destroyer has had engine problems because the Navy – not Labour ministers – pushed for a novel design.

The current international crisis demands that we urgently increase the speed of defence construction, as the current Defence Secretary is determined to. With the right leadership, we can do it here, as UK industry showed during the Falklands conflict.

Sir Gerald Howarth
Minister for International Security Strategy, 2010-12
Chelsworth, Suffolk

Speed limit U-turn

SIR – Finally the administration in Wales has accepted that the 20mph speed limit is not fit for purpose, except in very specific locations (report, April 24).

Having just returned from a wedding there, it was apparent that, as the police will not take any interest unless a car meets the 26mph cut-off for action, much traffic was moving at up to 25mph, making a nonsense of the restriction.

The limit was predicated on significant improvements in safety. That argument has now been blown out of the water, firstly by the introduction of the 26mph cut-off, and now by the abandonment of the scheme as implemented originally.

We are used to our potential new prime minister flip-flopping, but the Labour government in Wales has just done the same, only on a more heroic scale.

Jonathan Mann
Gunnislake, Cornwall

Forsaken rural voters

SIR – Henry Dodds (Letters, April 23) asks if any political party cares about country dwellers.

Even here – in the centre of Norwich – switching off 3G (report, April 22) has reduced my mobile signal to “very weak”. Once the removal of landlines leaves us all dependent on digital lines and mobile phones, there will be no 999 service at all in an extended power cut.

Who needs resilience when a wing and a prayer will get you past the next general election?

John Hamey

A principled politician

SIR – The death of Lord Field of Birkenhead (report, telegraph.co.uk, April 24) is the loss of a proper politician. He was a man of principle, dedicated to his causes and service to his nation – without seeking the fanfare and adulation that today’s politicians feel is their due.

Mark Peaker
London W1

Generation blame

SIR – Might I remind Dr René Tayar (Letters, April 23) that in the 1970s it was possible to buy a good family home for four times one’s income, and without being forced to hand over tens of thousands of pounds (or the 1970s equivalent) on that most pernicious of taxes, Stamp Duty. That’s before we get on to the defined-benefit pensions and university grants.

Houses now cost 65 times more than they did in 1970. I’m too old to be of Gen Z, but I’d wager that most of them would trade places in a heartbeat.

James Carragher
Farnham, Surrey

Master of the air

SIR – I read with interest the obituary (April 17) of Eric Moody, the British Airways captain who kept his cool when all four engines of his jumbo jet failed while flying at 37,000ft over the Indian Ocean at night.

This is an amazing tale which, if it had been an American aircraft suffering a bird strike on a sunny day, would surely have been made into a movie by now. Perhaps it is not too late.

Lovat Timbrell
Brighton, East Sussex

SIR – Eric Moody was my guest speaker at a meeting of the Rotary club of Chertsey. I recall that he felt he owed the survival of the passengers and crew to the Rolls-Royce engines.

Denis Fuller
Lightwater, Surrey

Know-it-all elites

SIR – I had hoped that the experience of the past eight years – before and after Brexit, and including the election of Boris Johnson and the emergence of culture wars – might have provided some lessons for the “metropolitan elite”. But I was disabused by listening to BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week.

Amanda Levete, the architect, was on the programme, and had clearly learnt nothing. Her eulogising about the 15-minute city, in which everyone would have everything from a doctor’s surgery to a cinema within 15 minutes’ walking distance, was capped by the assertion that the mayor of Paris had been able to “impose” change, whereas the problem in Britain was that people objected. What was breathtaking was the notion that people would get used to something they’d originally opposed.

Perhaps these elites ought to consider explaining to people exactly what the benefit of change might be. They need to learn that they really don’t know what is best for other people.

Lord Blunkett (Lab)
London SW1

Freedom to think

SIR – How deplorable that Exeter University sanctioned a philosophy student for expressing his views on veganism and gender fluidity (report, April 22). My school debating society would have had great sport with these topics, without fear of being accused of being offensive.

Alan Belk
Leatherhead, Surrey

France does not want to stop the migrant boats

SIR – Belgium has seen a 92 per cent drop in illegal immigration in small boats crossing over to Britain, thanks to its zero-tolerance approach. It has broken the traffickers’ business model.

Even given that the French police have a longer stretch of coastline to monitor, their shameful lack of action – the latest leading to five deaths, including a child (report, April 23) – makes them complicit. We have given millions to the French, yet they do nothing because their interpretation of maritime law apparently prevents them intervening.

France could stop this shameful trade and prevent these outcomes if it wanted to – but it seems it doesn’t.

Claire Scott
Wantage, Oxfordshire

The Blair government ruined Welsh dentistry

SIR – I am writing in response to your report, “Surge in dental insurance amid NHS crisis” (April 19).

In 1964 I was one of the 22 students who made up the first intake of Cardiff dental school, opened as part of the Welsh National School of Medicine. The idea was to increase the size of the profession in Wales, because it was severely short of staff and the nation’s dental health was poor.

The plan worked. We were very well trained and a large number of us remained in Wales. This continued as larger groups of students qualified. We were mainly on NHS contracts and, without doubt, improved the dental health of the population, as we all added preventative dentistry to our treatment and advised patients on oral hygiene and diet.

This system continued until 2006, when – despite protests by dentists and the British Dental Association – Tony Blair’s government introduced a new dental contract. This meant that patients who had neglected their dental health, or had serious needs such as multiple fillings, extractions and gum treatment, had to be treated at the same payment scale as a regular attender who needed only one filling.

Though this system was not brought in by a Conservative government, the party has been in power long enough to have corrected the situation. As it was, many dentists realised that they could no longer care for patients with high needs, so stopped accepting them, or switched to private dentistry.

In my opinion, this contract turned the clock back on dental health in Wales by decades. When we saw and treated those with serious needs, they would bring their children in and the attitude of the whole family – then, gradually, the entire community – to dental health would change.

As I prepare to mark 60 years of dental education in Wales, I do so with an immense feeling of sadness at the state of NHS dental care – and astonishment that it has taken so many years for this contract to be blamed.

Liz Eales
Gowerton, West Glamorgan

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