M.P. Deals With
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, M.P. for Finchley and Friern Barnet, discusses some of the topics that occur in letters from constituents.
Problems By Post
Mrs. Thatcher writes:——
During the last six months I have received a most interesting and varied correspondence. I thought it may be of some interest to the people of Finchley and Friern Barnet to know what kind of problems predominate locally, and which national issues evoke the greatest number of letters.
Among personal problems, that of finding a suitable house in which to live at a reasonable rent, far transcends all others.
The most tragic cases to my mind are those where tenants have resided in the same property for many years and have now reached retirement age with a consequent reduction in income. They find they can no longer afford the sort of rent which a flat or house in a desirable area like ours can command. In the past I have made a personal appeal to landlords to make special terms to retired tenants, but this method is meeting with less success now that property companies have taken over so much rented property in the area.
Many younger couples are purchasing their own homes on a long term mortgage. This is undoubtedly the best solution if it can possibly be done.
Difficulties arising from Town Planning decisions still take second place in my case book, particularly as the policy of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is to disperse office blocks and commercial buildings from the centre of London into the suburbs. Any suggestion that an office block should be built in the area always evokes many protests. In some cases a compromise solution is reached, while in others an all out effort is made to get the plan turned down. The dilemma of the Ministry is obvious—land round central London is scarce and maximum use must be made of every plot. This must mean higher buildings than those to which we have been used hitherto. Otherwise there will be insufficient land to provide for our rapidly expanding standards without encroaching on the Green Belt or taking agricultural land which is so sorely needed for food production.
One of the most satisfying of the personal case stories I have had this year was that of a widow for whom I managed to secure a war pension—even at this late stage. She had lost her sons fighting for their country in the war, but had managed to support herself on her earnings and savings until she reached an advanced age. Only when her savings had dwindled almost to nothing did she come and see me and ask for the first time in her life for some help from the State. The Ministry of Pensions traced her late sons' war records and subsequently awarded her a fairly generous weekly pension. It is people such as this, who have given everything they possess so that we might have the freedom we now enjoy, whom the taxpayer should be prepared to help, and help generously.
I have received several letters from Hampstead Garden Suburb complaining about the lateness of the milk deliveries; apparently the day's milk sometimes does not arrive until about 6 or 7 p.m.; my correspondents said they could not get an alternative supplier. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Government ‘controls’ or with the Government at all. The milk retailers have a voluntary agreement among themselves for zoning milk deliveries. The Government has no power to prohibit such agreements, but they have to be registered with the Restrictive Trade Practices Court. Those who make such agreements are liable to be brought before the court to prove that it is in the public interest.
I understand that such an agreement covering the Greater London area has in fact been registered. As these cases take some time to prepare, a date for the hearing by the Restrictive Practices Court has not yet been fixed.
Another case of a personal kind with which I was able to be of some assistance was in securing the transfer of a patient from one hospital to another nearer home. One of my constituents was unfortunately involved in an accident in the North of England; he was taken to hospital and had to receive a long course of orthopaedic treatment. The time factor and train fares both prevented his family from visiting him. Intervention by the Ministry of Health secured his transfer from the north to a hospital within easy reach of Finchley.
Removal Of Air-Raid Shelters
Representations have been made to me to try to secure the removal of the old air-raid shelters in the field at the rear of the Scout Hut. Stanford Road, Friern Barnet. The St. John's School use this field for games in the daytime and the scouts use it in the evenings. The Ministry of Education have agreed to demolish these shelters if a formal application is made through the local education authority.
As far as letters on legislation and topics of the day are concerned, one subject has led all others—that was the Motor Vehicle (Passenger Insurance) Bill. This was a private Members Bill introduced early in the Session, for the purpose of making passenger insurance compulsory. Practically every motor cycle organisation in the country—and almost every motor cyclist as well—wrote to their M.P. protesting that such a measure would make insurance premiums so high that many young people would not be able to afford a motor cycle at all. Nevertheless the Bill received a Second Reading and got through the Committee Stage. Then came a renewed onslaught of letters. Finally the pressure was so great that the mover of the Bill withdrew it. This is a classic example of the effect of lobbying on the fate of a private Member's Bill.
The next issue which attracted a large volume of letters was the attitude of the Portuguese Government towards her coloured peoples. In Angola atrocities of the most horrible kind were committed on all sides. For the first time many of our own people in this country are realising how advanced and generous and successful has been the colonial policy of this country towards her overseas territories. Many of my Constituency correspondents think that transfer of power has often gone far in advance of political responsibility.
The prospect of having timed local telephone calls has worried many people. This will not occur until we go on to the Trunk Dialling System. No date for this has yet been fixed in our case. When it does happen, local calls in the daytime will be charged at 2d. for three minutes, and calls at night (between 6. p.m. and 6 a.m.) and all day Sunday, at 2d. for six minutes.
One of my constituents had an idea which may interest other people. He pointed out that it is impossible to check the number of calls and have the telephone bill by any mechanical means attached to the phone itself. Those who try to keep a note of every telephone call they make usually find themselves at variance with the charges made by the Post Office. He suggested that subscribers should be allowed to hire a meter to register the calls at home. I took this up with the Post-master General and understand that it will be possible to have such a meter as soon as we go on to the Trunk Dialling System.
Holders of 3½%; War Loan continue to press their case for the Government to fix a redemption date, albeit in the distant future. The Treasury however stand firm that the terms on which a Government stock is issued are invariable; the market's knowledge that the terms of issue will be honoured without exemption or variation is one of the foundations of the gilt edged market and it would be dangerous to break this rule.
Correspondence on the Licensing Act has been equally divided between those who fear the adverse effect of any extension in drinking facilities on juvenile crime and on the volume of road accidents; and others who are worried lest the genuine clubs such as ex-servicemen's clubs might have their club amenities curtailed.
Letters about juvenile crime have been two to one in favour of restoring the birch.
On what is perhaps the most momentous issue of the day—the prospect of our joining the European Common Market. I have received only 5 letters. All of them have expressed fears that the interests of the older Commonwealth Countries might be prejudiced if we joined. I trust that the Prime Ministers speech at the start of the House of Commons debate allayed these fears. The debate itself was an example of the frustrations which attend the M.P. who spends hours perfecting a speech and then is unable to deliver it. We spent two days discussing the European Common Market and some 90 back-benchers wanted to speak; but there was time only for 22 and 8 of those were ex-Ministers. I shall have something to say on this issue and on our economic problems, in the constituency during the recess.