Ron has a good old moan about a range of subjects
If the editor will indulge me I have a number of gripes this month:
In the January 2001 issue of The Pump I wrote about the time that we saw a young girl in a Tesco car park knocked down and believed killed by a 4x4 vehicle fitted with a bull bar, when the vehicle was travelling at no more than 10 mph. I was so appalled by the apparent ease with which these bull bars could cause serious injury that I wrote to my MP at the time asking why they should not be banned, except for instances of special justification. This protest by myself came after a Member of Parliament had already raised the issue in Parliament. A Government Minister said at that time, with ministerial understatement, "the fitting of a rigid steel bar on the front of a vehicle at the height of a child's head could hardly be seen as a contribution to road safety". My MP replied to my letter to the effect that the Government supported the suggestion that bull bars should be outlawed but that it was necessary to make the rule accepted within the European Union and that moves were afoot to achieve this.
It is nearly seven years now since we saw that accident. Figures by the European Safety Council suggest that 2,000 people die and 18,000 are seriously injured each year because of the use of bull bars. The Department for Transport acknowledges that research indicates that vehicles fitted with bull bars are more likely to injure pedestrians and a consultation document states "The Government believes that action is needed against aggressive bull bars", but still it is largely just talk. Within the European parliament there has been some action; this had led to the introduction of a voluntary agreement with the car industry to stop fitting bull bars as original equipment and there is a proposal for a new directive which would make this a legislative ban that would also cover bull bars supplied for fitting after sales.
John Thurso M.P. recently raised the matter in the House once more at the Report Stage of the Road Safety Bill. He made the point that it was not necessary to obtain agreement across the EU and that the Government could take action now in the UK and not wait on decisions within Europe. He proposed an amendment to the bill to give the Secretary of State power to prohibit the retrofitment of this equipment to vehicles. Sadly and incredibly his amendment was rejected by the MPs.
The fitting of bull bars by an individual is at best a fashion statement and at worst a selfish determination to ensure that if their vehicle runs into another vehicle, it will be the vehicle that they run into that comes off worst, if they run into a pedestrian the pedestrian will almost certainly come off worse than if they had been run into by a vehicle without a bull bar, if it happens to be a child it will almost certainly be fatal.
John Paul II
I was amazed by the extent of the fuss that preceded and followed the death of the Pope, and by the extent of coverage by the media, especially the BBC; for days they regarded it as the most important thing happening in the world. There is no doubt he was a strong character with considerable influence, but he was an authoritarian leader who ran his church in a totalitarian manner and would not tolerate any dissent. Many others have drawn attention to his inflexible and steadfast opposition to divorce, his opposition to any role for women in the Church, his intolerance of homosexuals, his total unacceptance of abortion under any circumstances, his opposition to contraception, the result of which has been an increasing population in areas unable to support its people and increased suffering due to AIDS of thousands, including children. This theological rigidity with a centralised autocracy, along with his insistence on the maintenance of the principle of a celibate priesthood, has led to a decline in the number of priests, a polarisation within the Church and a decline in the membership of the Catholic Church, especially in Latin America. Despite this rigid unbending attitude, when it came to dealing with the widespread problem of sexual abuse by priests he did no more than rebuke a group of cardinals that he summoned to Rome. He appeared to put the needs of the Church above the need for justice.
With all this in mind I found the eulogising and the respect given by world leaders nauseating. The one thing that really irritated me, however, was the way in which many observers credited him with bringing about the downfall of Soviet communism. Of course he voiced his opposition to communism, as did Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and many many others, but Soviet communism was decaying and disintegrating, it was going to collapse, but if any one man can be credited with bringing about its collapse without bloodshed it was Mikhail Gorbachev, certainly not Pope John Paul.
Soft on Crime
In these columns I have drawn attention to what I consider to be a failure on the part of the judiciary and the law to embrace the concept of punishment as a deterrent to others. This manifests itself when it comes to the imposition of fines, as is evident, for example, when, as I have mentioned before, penalties imposed for driving without insurance are generally less than the insurance premium that the culprit would have had to pay. What kind of deterrent is that? When it comes to prison sentences, too often, it seems, the view is taken, for example, 'that it will not really be in the best interest of society, or this young man, who has expressed remorse, for him to spend a long time in prison'. Hence we have, as reported recently, sentences of 18 months and 8 months for manslaughter.
The example that has encouraged me to write on this topic once again is the news that fraud cases have doubled in the last three years. The punishments given for fraud in this country were contrasted with those in the USA. In the UK a fraud of £1m might lead to a prison sentence of three years (which means 18months) a fraud of £50,000 leads to 2years (12months). In the USA a major fraud leads to a sentence of 20years.
The lack of deterrence results in a high crime rate with a large prison population of inmates on short sentences. It is possible that if we could establish more firmly the principle of deterrence we might have fewer prisoners serving longer sentences. We might then have the opportunity to undertake the task of rehabilitation.
Permitting private concerns to exert so much influence over state funded schools, including setting their own selection criteria e.g. faith schools, in return for contributing a mere 8% of the initial cost, with nothing towards running costs, is something to which all parents should be opposed. This does not appear to be the case, however, as it seems that many parents are enthusiastic for City Academies and the reason suggested for this is that facilities bought with private money are so obviously superior to the shabby and poorly equipped school that was on offer before.
With £25m supplied by the state and only £2m provided by private money it would seem that the superior facilities are being provided principally by the taxpayer, not private money, in an attempt by the government to justify their own dogma. With superior facilities it might be expected that the academies will produce better results but that does not necessarily prove the correctness of the policy since they are competing with the less well equipped schools.
At about 11.00 a.m. we were sitting in a bar of a hotel drinking coffee when a couple came in and the man ordered a pint of lager. "I'm sorry" the barmaid said, "we are not allowed to sell alcohol before twelve o'clock". The man pleasantly expressed his disappointment. The barmaid went on, "We do have a twentyfour hour licence for residents but, since you have just checked out, you are no longer residents." So now you know, if you fancy a drink before leaving a hotel, order it before you check out. It's a crazy country that allows, nay encourages, binge drinking by youngsters but prevents a sober tourist from enjoying a beer.
Good Friday was on March 25 this year, which was almost as early as it can be. The Easter break can occur any time between March 24 and April 25. At the end of March the average day time maximum temperature is 9C, we were fortunate in as much as the average temperature for us this Easter was nearer 13C, even so it was not particularly pleasant weather. It is difficult to understand the justification for the present method of determining the date for Easter and there does seem to be a very good case for fixing the date nearer to the second week in April when there is a better chance of having better weather. It would also assist the annual planning of school terms and other events.