SMALL BUSINESSES: I HAVE recently returned from a visit to Boston, in the United States. Whilst I was there three things occurred to me. One, people were very polite and cheerful. Two, it was obvious that most small businesses were prospering. And three, how cheap petrol is.

Since coming home I am convinced that the three factors are connected.

Here we will soon be paying over £4 for a gallon of petrol whilst in the US the cost is the equivalent of less than £1 a gallon. Why is this? Well 74 per cent of what we pay at the pumps in this country goes in tax. Business people, in particular, have to travel more and thus buy more fuel so consequently pay more tax.

I know that would not be acceptable in the US. In fact it was unfair taxation without representation that started the War of Independence, as I recall.

Another increase in the cost of fuel will be another barrier to the growth of many small businesses - not a very cheerful thought. - Chris Williamson, Secretary, Darlington Federation of Small Businesses.


THE UN weapons inspectors have given Saddam Hussein a "could do better" school report whilst still not being able to find any of those oft-mentioned weapons of mass destruction.

The battle will be now be stepped up for the hearts and minds of those like me, forming the majority of the UK population, against a war with Iraq to persuade us that we are all wrong.

Will we be easily persuaded by our learned leaders that the killing of hundreds and perhaps thousands of ordinary people will be in the interests of this country? I sincerely hope not. They are going to do it anyway folks, so stand by to have your intelligence insulted: the first casualty in war is truth.

Would that all the resources that are being pumped into the coming war were being spent on improving our country's infrastructure, schools, hospitals and help for the poor and old people instead of killing ordinary people like us in a country that is no threat to ours. - Chris Greenwell, Aycliffe Village.

HOW can you tell that attacking Iraq is the wrong thing to do? Because Peter Mullen (Echo, Jan 28) thinks it's a good idea. - Pete Winstanley, Durham.

HISTORY has shown that America will support any dictator in the world if it thinks that it can make political gain from it.

The only reason it does not like Saddam Hussein is that, since he has no use for America, America has no way of exploiting him. Iraq's oil output is less than what the Americans are using from their own reserves and, in the long term when the oil runs out in America, Iraq still has its for sale on its own terms. America does not like being in that position. - Peter Dolan, Newton Aycliffe.


IF I were a terrorist on a "mission" in the UK with the reported resources of al Qaida behind me, I would not disguise myself as an asylum seeker.

If I were recruiting for a terrorist organisation amongst asylum seekers in Britain, I'd be just sitting back while the Government does the job for me. There is no logical connection between asylum seekers and terrorists.

The "war against terrorism" is of the same nature as the "war against poverty", the "war against ignorance", the "war against injustice" - it cannot be fought effectively with repression or military force. - Nic Best, Green Party, Morpeth.


AN elected regional assembly would help the North-East.

Great Britain has been the most centralised country of any in the Western world, with the political power and influence and most of the wealth concentrated in London, which has proved to be to the detriment of our region in the past.

Facts: London has its own government minister, an elected assembly and mayor. The average income per head of population is £17,900, education funding per head is £708, health funding per head is £1,174, and aid to industry is £99 per head.

The North-East has no government minister, no elected assembly and no first minister. Our average income is £12,056 per head of population,

education funding is £648 per head, health funding is £1,009 per head, and aid to industry is £84 per head.

There can be no doubt that we are losing out because we lack a voice of our own.

Devolution of power to the North-East and away from London would be a step forward in beginning to address our problems. - P Jackson, North Shields.


MAY I acknowledge the many messages and letters of condolence received by my family following the death of my son James in a road accident just before Christmas.

During some very difficult days we were constantly supported by the knowledge that the thoughts and prayers of so many people were with us - in many cases people who knew us only through my work or who wrote as a spontaneous example of sympathy.

The level of generosity and kindness demonstrated by so many people towards us was breathtaking. We will never forget it or how fortunate we are to live in such a wonderful community. - Peter Walker, Deputy Chief Constable, North Yorkshire Police.


AS an opportunity to step up meaningful pressure on the war against drugs, I call on this Government to include named harmful substances on the list of weapons of mass destruction. - Alan Kelly, Ferryhill.