Letters: The electric car hire scheme

But what will power Boris's electric cars?
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The Independent Online

First, the good news. Three cheers for Boris Johnson (report, 2 March). The story that the Mayor of London's officials are considering copying a French scheme to allow members of the travelling public to hire electric vehicles in the capital is laudable.

But, now for the bad news. You correctly pointed out that electric cars produce zero CO2 emissions, but failed to mention that the electricity used to charge these vehicles' batteries was more than likely produced by burning coal, oil or gas, fossil fuels one and all. And with no system of carbon capture yet in place, that means more harm done to the environment.

The harsh reality is that the only carbon-free source of electricity available on an industrial scale is nuclear, and that accounts for just 20 per cent or so of electricity generated in the UK.

Even if we all rushed out and bought electric cars tomorrow, this would not lead to a large reduction in carbon emissions. While the consumption of petrol and diesel as fuel for cars would fall, there would be an increase in the amount of fossil fuels burned to produce the electricity.

The RAC Foundation supports responsible motorists. I suspect they all want to do their bit to save the planet. Many will welcome what is happening in London. Yet until we start talking about the elephant in the room that is carbon-free power generation, probably nuclear, then Mr Johnson's move won't be the success it deserves to be.

Professor Stephen Glaister

Director, RAC Foundation, London SW1

An electric vehicle-hire scheme would be popular with Londoners frustrated by private car ownership, and captures perfectly the zeitgeist for all things frugal and green, but it may be an idea ahead of its time.

The Lohner Electric Chaise of 1898 had a top speed of 31mph and a maximum range of 30 miles, a performance bettered only slightly by today's expensive electric city cars. The same point in history saw the advent of the modern bicycle, a technology that has seen as little development over the past 100 years as the electric car, but one that is ready and waiting to provide the ideal urban transport.

Andrew Davis

Director The Environmental Transport Association Weybridge, Surrey

Goodwin's moral responsibility

Dominic Lawson argues that much of the fault for the Sir Fred Goodwin pension debacle lies with the Treasury minister Lord Myners (Opinion, 3 March). This may be so but it doesn't absolve Sir Fred of his own moral responsibilities.

I find it remarkable that he appears to have no qualms about claiming these enormous sums. This is despite the fact that many ordinary people are losing their jobs, their homes and their savings as a result of the mess he has helped to create. He displays an extreme lack of awareness and empathy for others.

Under the circumstances, anyone with a half ounce of decency would have forgone their pension rights and offered to repay a few years' salary and bonuses. Somehow I doubt it will happen, as poor Sir Fred, like many others around him, appears to have succumbed to the flawed belief that greed is good. As British society collapses around him, he may come to question this.

Keith O'Neill


If somebody with requisite authority signed off Sir Fred Goodwin's pension according to the rules, then he is entitled to it, whatever the circumstances, however obscene the amount. If Sir Fred's conscience does not compel him to forgo this pension entitlement in its current form, then so be it. To try to prevent him receiving it now seems (even in view of the amount) petulant.

What is even more worrying is Harriet Harman's view that such a pension entitlement might "be enforceable in a court of law . . . but it's not enforceable in the court of public opinion and that's where the Government steps in."

Public opinion determines many things: who we elect for Parliament, who wins reality TV programmes – but it does not do so outside the laws of the land, or the rules of the competition. Harman's court of public opinion seems to have much in common with a good old-fashioned kangaroo court. Finding a suitable tree to hang failed bankers might suit the present hysteria, but to maintain our principles we must not allow the law to be ignored on this issue, even by popular demand.

Gary Clark

Radlett, Hertfordshire

As not rewarding failure is the Government's rationale for requiring Sir Fred the Shred to give up his pension, then presumably Gordon Brown, who under the guise of light-touch regulation, has presided over an equally calamitous but national financial meltdown, will willingly forgo his pension entitlement.

Alistair Craig

London SE21

John Charman (letters, 2 March) is unfortunately mistaken about the law regarding professional negligence. A person is only personally liable if they contract to give advice or services in their personal capacity. As the shareholders did not give their money directly to Sir Fred Goodwin but invested it in the company he was head of, they contracted with RBS and not Sir Fred. Thus they cannot sue Sir Fred Goodwin for negligence, because he never agreed to be liable for their investments, but they may be able to sue RBS.

Thomas Wiggins,

Wokingham, Berkshire

If the World Bank moved to Europe

I agree with every word in the article about the speech of Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary (24 February). I worked at the World Bank from 1981 to 1994, so I know all about its American domination.

If the EU countries agree to have joint representation there, as we have in the World Trade Organisation, to give us more clout, then the EU will be by far the biggest shareholder. Then, according to the Bank's Articles of Agreement, its head office should then be in an EU country. That would reduce the US grip and would also be a huge economic benefit for us, with its 10,000 employees spending most of their salaries locally. It could even be in one of the Central European countries, which are under-represented when it comes to hosting international organisations. What about Prague or Budapest?

Mikael Grut

London SW19

Lessons of the blood disaster

The Haemophilia Society endorses Lord Archer's report into the contaminated blood scandal ("Ministers under fire in infected blood scandal", 24 February), a preventable disaster which has already led to almost 2,000 deaths. Lord Archer of Sandwell and his colleagues worked on a voluntary basis for two years to investigate the contaminated blood disaster, battling to find the truth in circumstances where important files had been destroyed under a "10-year rule", which did not exist. We cannot thank them enough. The Government refused to give evidence to the inquiry, and has so far failed to respond to the inquiry's findings.

Many victims of the contaminated blood disaster are gravely ill. Almost 200 have died since the Archer inquiry began two years ago. This disaster was caused by a culmination of numerous policy failures and missed chances, rather than a single error. The Government must learn the lessons, and implement Lord Archer's recommendations to improve the quality of life for the victims of this terrible disaster. Urgently engaging with Lord Archer's report would be a good start.

Chris James

Chief Executive, Haemophilia Society UK, London EC1

The challenge to real students

The furore about University Challenge misses the most important point. The teams should be selected only from undergraduates on their first degree courses. Otherwise we run the risk of teams being dominated by specially recruited or retained experts –as the Oxford and Cambridge boat crews already are.

Dick Russell

Beenham, Berkshire

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the University Challenge final, your front page picture of Gail Trimble (3 March) is unacceptable. In common with other media you took this intelligent young woman and puffed her up to help you sell newspapers. Now with controversy surrounding another member of the team, you drag her down with "clever" captions that suggest a malicious glee at her situation. I suppose Sam Kay was not pretty enough for your front page. Shame on you.

Gaye Archer

Kineton, Warwickshire

Why award the trophy to Manchester? What about those teams beaten in some earlier rounds by Corpus Christi? Do they not have a legitimate claim for a rerun? The BBC should declare the whole series null and void and admit to yet another cock-up.

John Smith


I thought that the saddest aspect of the University Challenge fiasco was the fact that it arose because Sam Kay could not obtain funding to pursue his PhD studies in chemistry so left university to become an accountant.

Mike Stroud


JFK's link with ducal family

That such an unlikely pair as President Kennedy and Harold Macmillan should have been good friends (article, 2 March) is less surprising when one takes into account their connection by marriage. As you point out, Macmillan was the Duke of Devonshire's son-in-law. But Kennedy was also connected to the Devonshire family, after his sister Kathleen married the Duke's heir, the Marquess of Hartington, in 1944.

Hartington was killed in action shortly after and Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948. JFK's friendship with Macmillan was, in part, an attempt to maintain friendly terms with his late sister's relations; he often asked Macmillan, "How's Debo?" (the youngest Mitford sister, who became Duchess in 1950).

Joanne Aston

Thirsk, North Yorkshire

Looking to Liverpool

Mary Glazier (letter, 2 March) is as wrong as the journalists she criticises. The Wirral is every bit as much a suburb of Liverpool as Crosby is. While neither is – nor ever has been – a part of the city of Liverpool, both have depended on the city for their very existence. Just look at the packed commuter trains from both.

Peter Kilfoyle MP

(Liverpool Walton, Lab)

House of Commons

Brown's big moment

Why is everyone getting excited about Gordon Brown's audience with the President? He's getting half an hour. That's not a meeting of world leaders. That's a meeting between the new boss and one of his suppliers. "Ah yes, Mr Brown. Would you like to continue your contract? You're the guy that offers human sacrifices to our war effort, right? There's not much in it for your country, but there's a lot of kudos for you. Good. I thought you'd like it. Thank you. Can you see yourself out? I've got some important meetings today."

Nick Booth

Kingston, Surrey

History rewritten

Last week President Obama told assembled US troops: "We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein's regime . . ." Funny, I seem to remember Bush and Blair at the time being most emphatic that we had to invade Iraq to remove weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat to the world, not in order to remove Saddam Hussein. President Obama may wish to discontinue many of the practices of the Bush presidency, but evidently rewriting history to suit US interests is not one of them. How disappointing.

Stanley Knill

London N15

Rail fares up again

The possible rail-fare cut may sound like a victory, but it's not ("Train firms may be forced to cut fares for commuters", 25 February). Train fares will still go up in real terms next year, 1 per cent above RPI. The Government is not standing up for train passengers, though it would like us to think it is; instead, it is cutting its funding to the rail network and making passengers stump up more.

Cat Hobbs

Campaign for Better Transport London N1

Deformed language

You published two letters relating to TV presenter Cerrie Burnell (27 February). One was an account of a child's simple, straightforward view of her. The other, although supportive, used unfortunate language. As a person she is not deformed. She is lively, attractive and competent. I had two arms for more than 70 years. When one had to be amputated I did not become a deformed person; I was the same person I had always been.

Mary Godden

Margate, Kent