River Wissey Lovell Fuller


March 2007

Ron gets on his soapbox to debate "Apologising for Slavery", "Wind Power" and "Road Pricing"

Apologising for slavery

We recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of the passing of the law abolishing slavery and this was followed by demands from some quarters for Tony Blair to apologise for Britain's role in the slave trade. For sure the slave trade in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries was a terrible business and all humankind should be ashamed that it was allowed to flourish. In the 350 years prior to the early 19th century it is estimated that 28 million slaves were transported from Africa. Britain was, in fact, slow to get into the business but it is true that, during the 18th century, British ships transported more slaves than the ships of other nations and profited considerably. Nevertheless, throughout the whole period I believe that ships of other nations were responsible for transporting more slaves than the British. Britain was by no means the only culprit in pursuing this trade, the British were rarely directly responsible for enslaving people but traded with others who had slaves to sell, often Africans themselves as well as Arabs and other Europeans. Equally guilty were the Americans who purchased the slaves to work in the cotton fields of the southern states.

In the early 19th century the British parliament passed a Bill to abolish slavery and Britain proceeded to lead the rest of the world in outlawing the trade. Furthermore it was ships of the Royal Navy that brought about an end to large scale slavery by enforcing the law. As we know from experience today, there is no point in passing laws if you cannot enforce them. Despite our efforts to abolish the trade, it was continued on a significant scale for many years, especially by Arabs in North Africa. Furthermore in the southern states of America slavery persisted long after it was outlawed by the British. There is no doubt that some of our ancestors had blood on their hands but, in view of our role in outlawing the trade and the complicity of other nations in it, it seems highly inappropriate to single out Britain and demand an apology from our Prime Minister. Tony Blair was quite right to express regret over Britain's part in the trade but not to apologise.

As we know, slavery exists today, even in Europe, even in the UK. The United Nations estimate that there are at least two million people enslaved in the world today. We need to keep the pressure on governments throughout the world, including our own, to stamp out this vile trade and we need to support the efforts of such groups as 'Antislavery' and 'Amnesty International'.

Wind Power

It was recently reported that we now have 2000MW of electricity generating capacity from wind turbines, which, it was said, is just over 2% of our total capacity from all sources. I am not sure of the accuracy of those figures but they are almost certainly of the right order. Unfortunately the average output from wind turbines is just 28% of their maximum output so that the useful generating capacity from all these turbines is about 600MW, rather less than one moderate sized gas or coal station, and probably no more than 1% of total demand. Whilst this meagre amount may be welcome it does bring with it some real headaches for those responsible for our supply. Because of the number of power stations involved in supplying the national grid and the variability in demand, it is necessary to plan ahead as much as possible in order to ensure that sufficient generating capacity is on line when required. The variable nature of wind power goes to make this task more difficult, a problem that will increase if the number of wind turbines increases. This rather pitiful contribution to the national electricity requirements from wind power has so far cost the British taxpayer over one billion pounds in subsidies without which the whole programme would have been uneconomic. If that one billion had been spent on subsidising ways of reducing electricity demand, such as better home insulation, it would almost certainly have resulted in a better than 1% reduction in demand.

Road Pricing

Some months ago I expressed my disapproval of the government proposals to tackle road congestion by road pricing and their more detailed proposal to achieve their aim by tracking every vehicle by means of satellite observations. Apart from doubting the technical ability of anyone to operate such a plan on a national scale economically, my objections to this idea were numerous and I will not bore you by repeating them here, except to point out that it would be very inappropriate to introduce such a plan to combat congestion in areas where congestion is not a significant problem. It seems that I am far from alone in my views.

Not all readers may be aware that the Prime Minister's office has an internet website www.number10.gov.uk. One of the features of this website is that it offers the opportunity to petition the Prime Minister on any topic. Once the petition is opened anyone going to the website can sign up to it. Many of the petitions are worthwhile, some are silly. Sensible petitions often attract tens of thousands of signatures. Currently there is a petition asking the PM to "Scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy". At the time of writing there are over 1,000,000 signatories and the number is increasing daily. Unfortunately I cannot ask you to add your signatures because the petition closes on 20th February which will have been too soon for this issue of The Pump. However, those of you that are not aware of this website and may have the opportunity to access it should do so because there will be other petitions that you might wish to support.

(Since I wrote the above the media has picked up on the scale of support for the petition but the government reaction has been to pour cold water on it. Hopefully it has encouraged a re-think but I fear that, as in other matters, this government will arrogantly pursue its own ideas regardless)

Ron Watts


O Give me your pity- I'm on a committee

Which means that from morning till night

We attend and amend, contend and defend

Without a conclusion in sight.

We confer and concur, we defer and demur

And we reiterate all of our thoughts

We revise our agenda with frequent attenda

And consider a load of reports.

We compose and propose, we suppose and oppose

And points of procedure are fun!

But though various notions are brought up in motions

There's terribly little gets done.

We resolve and absolve, but we never dissolve

Since it's out of the question for us,

What a shattering pity to end our committee

Where else could we make such a fuss?

Ron Watts

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