REGIONAL ASSEMBLY: PETER Hain (Echo, Oct 12) provides enough misinformation to ensure people vote against an elected regional assembly.

His fervent hope is that a Yes from the North-East would pave the way for countrywide regionalisation.

The Government chose the North-East, Yorkshire and Humberside, and the North-West as the most likely areas to be persuaded, as there was no interest in other areas.

When it found a No vote was likely in the two other areas it dropped the referendum on the illogical grounds that although postal voting was found to be open to fraud it was still suitable for its political hotbed the North-East. No thought of using the tried and tested ballot system, or all regions having a referendum at the same time, just sheer expediency.

Mr Hain's claim about Wales, which has true devolution, would be exploded if the authorities who have spent so much taxpayers' money and time on supposedly informing the public about an elected assembly, had the decency to publish the key points of the draft regional assemblies bill, when it would be seen that the Government retains powers of veto over almost every aspect of a North-East regional assembly's policies. - John Heslop, Gainford.

THERE is no evidence at all that the assembly which John Prescott proposes for us would give this area a stronger voice.

For the last seven years we've had a Labour Government, and virtually all the North-East's MPs are Labour. Some of these local MPs have held ministerial office, such as in the Departments of Transport, Education and Agriculture. If they could not improve the situation, why should a powerless assembly be able to do so? Even the Prime Minister represents a North-East seat.

The MPs have failed to ensure that major problems are solved - such as the lack of a full dual carriageway for the A1 - and the assembly would have neither the power nor the money to do it.

The assembly could not scrap tuition fees for students, or reduce prescription charges or provide a single additional policeman, or doctor.

It will be another layer of hot air, which increases our council tax, and is of no benefit to the voters. - Mrs D Thompson, Burnhope.


AS a so-called Christian country, why do we mark one of the most sacred days of the year, when the souls of the recent deceased and those in mourning are comforted, as a Pagan festival with blood and devils, witches and skeletons?

Any other religion would see such as sacrilege, an insult to both Church and our beloved.

Does crass commercialism not give a damn? What other religion would allow such paganism. - R Harbron, Norton.


THE forthcoming Labour Party manifesto will possibly herald their answer to the "pensions gap".

The cost of the illegal war and fruitless pursuit of WMD, that has cost the taxpayer many billions of pounds, might have gone some way to plug this gap.

WMD is likely to be replaced in its infamy by an equally bright idea - WTD (Work Till you Drop).

Instead of being able to afford to retire whilst we are in a reasonably fit state to enjoy the rest of our lives, we are all to be "encouraged" to work until we are stretchered out of the workplace.

Like the war in Iraq it is another vote winner for sure, Mr Milburn - I commend it to you.

I cannot, however, recall any pensions gap being discovered when our parliamentary representatives awarded themselves generously enhanced pension arrangements at the taxpayers' expense a while ago. - Chris Greenwell, Aycliffe Village.

OLDER people deserve more than just a decent pension (we Liberal Democrats will simplify the system and, as a start, abolish the need for means tests altogether for a million people over 75) but they also deserve dignity and respect.

People over 65 survived the Second World War. They were the heroes and heroines who fought for this country for the children who grew up in those times of fear.

We hear a lot these days about how Britain is an ageing society. And it's true. We are living longer. But why is it that we always hear about this in terms of it being a burden?

It is a national scandal that a third of all people aged between 50 and 65 are out of work, most of them involuntarily. It is a shocking waste of their potential, quite apart from costing the economy an estimated £16bn.

That's why the Liberal Democrats have set out a series of measures to make it easier for people who want to continue to work, full or part-time, past the traditional retirement age, as well as proposals to encourage those older people with spare time who are willing to do volunteer work in their communities.

Many people do not wish to give up work completely when they reach retirement age. And many employers place enormous value on the experience of their workforce and want to keep them as long as possible. So it's crazy that current Inland Revenue rules stop people working for a company that is paying them a pension.

Others do want to finish working. They should be free to do so, receiving a decent state pension that they have been promised (and paid for). - Robert Adamson, LibDem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Darlington.


I USUALLY enjoy reading Peter Mullen's column. His contribution (Echo, Oct 5), highlighting the plight of the Tory Party was an exception. It was an over-elaboration and overlooked the obvious.

The ordinary person in the street has better memory, perception and understanding, than he gives credit for.

People remember the previous Conservative governments whose policies created an eight per cent rise in inflation year on year. Unemployment averaging two million plus with peaks exceeding three million. The privatisation of our nationally owned utilities, the destruction of our major industries, etc.

They now see inflation and unemployment firmly controlled. Substantial improvements to pensions and allowances. Bus services reappearing. Recovery of our NHS, which all but disappeared under the Tories.

They understand that many of the problems that beset our nation are not created by this Government, which incidentally includes the best Chancellor we have ever seen.

The Labour Government did not create the foot-and-mouth epidemic, but they dealt with it. They did not abandon major road schemes as did the Tories, they resurrected them and the results are self-evident.

Other issues are not within Tony Blair's control but, like it or not, he has faced them with resolve and determination.

Comparison between the past and the present has caused the decline of the Conservative Party. - Alan Benn, Bedale.