People and Problems
Many people are now on holiday, some of them travelling overseas, perhaps even behind the Iron Curtain. The case of Gerald Brooke, who was given a savage sentence merely for doing something which dared to criticise the Soviet Government, has had a profound effect upon all of those who know about it. We have become so used to freedom of speech, and of politics, in this country, that we have no idea what it would be like to live under a Communist regime.
Shortly before the House rose, and with that case in mind, I asked the Foreign Secretary what official advice his Department was issuing to members of the public intending to travel to Communist countries. His reply should be read carefully by all tourists.
Mr. George Thomson: “British travellers in foreign countries are subject to political and judicial systems different from our own. Actions which are permitted in this country incur harsh penalties in another. Travellers should observe customs regulations and any restrictions on photography. They are advised not to carry letters, money or material of any kind into or out of another country on behalf of other persons unless they have made sure that they will not thereby be breaking the law. Tourist bureaux and foreign consulates in this country will help the traveller to inform himself on these important matters.
The public should also bear in mind that in some countries there are especially severe penalties for activities which are regarded as directed against the security, or the political system of the country.”
The same day Michael Stewartthe Foreign Secretary said that any suggestion that any member of the British Embassy had any connection with the organisation known as N.T.S. was entirely untrue. The Soviet Authorities have not returned to this charge against the British Embassy although they had a month in which they could have done so. It is worth noting that all foreigners were excluded from large portions of the trial and therefore have only the reports in the Soviet press to go on.
The largest amount of the correspondence I receive still concerns one or other aspects of housing.
At present a number of people are worried about what will happen to their rents when the time comes for new agreements to be signed. The position of all decontrolled properties whose rateable value is less than £400 per annum, will be affected by the new Rent Bill which is expected to become law by the middle of November. This Bill provided that a “fair rent” should be chargeable for such properties. If landlord and tenant can mutually agree on a suitable figure, all is well. If they disagree either can go to the local Rent Officer. This is a new job which has been created by the Bill. The Rent Officer will be appointed by the Town Clerk. His job will be to try to get landlord and tenant to agree and if he is successful the figure so decided will be registered as the fair rent for that property. A record will then be built up which will act as a guide to other people in similar properties. If, in spite of the efforts of the Rent Officer, no agreement is reached, either party can take the case to a Rent Assessment Committee. This will have both a skilled valuer and a lawyer upon it. The Committee's decision will be final. The amount decided upon as a fair rent can be revised after three years.
People who now live in controlled properties will not be affected immediately by the Bill, but they will ultimately. When a fair rent has been decided for the decontrolled properties the same principle will be extended to controlled tenancies. If the amount of rent being paid now is less than a “fair rent” then more is likely to be payable.
Many people have written to me asking whether it is advisable to purchase the freehold of their property, and how much should they pay. It is difficult to give advice. As long ago as 8th December Richard Crossmanthe Minister of Housing announced that he would bring in legislation to enable all leaseholders who held a lease originally for more than 21 years, to purchase the freehold at a fair price. No indication was given of how a fair price would be calculated; clearly one could not merely say so many years purchase, for in some cases this sum would be derisory (e.g. where there was a peppercorn rent) and in others the cost would be very substantial. Repeated questions have not elicited any more information. Legislation is expected to be introduced in the next session of Parliament and it is possible that a White Paper may be published in the recess.
For nearly a year now I have had to give the same reply to people—that an enquiry has been sitting since October 1963 enquiring into all aspects of rates and that has not yet reported. It is fairly usual for an enquiry to take a long time where it consists of outside people acting in a voluntary capacity, but as the “rates enquiry” is an interdepartmental Civil Service one, we should have expected it to report more quickly.
Our Senior Citizens
Sooner or later most of us will have to face the problems of old age. Some of the most distressing cases I see are those of people who made what at the time seemed adequate provision for their retirement, but who have seen their savings dwindle in value. Inflation is the scourge of modern society. It affects all European countries and one can see no end to the process. The public services pensioners are now particularly in need, their last increase having been in 1962.
Money, however, important though it is, is only part of the problem. So many people seem to be quite alone in the world and have no one to turn to if they should fall ill or become permanent invalids. Home helps are difficult to get and it is rare to have the same one for any length of time. Many neighbours are marvellous—but not everybody has them. There must be a great deal of hidden distress and there are many occasions when I could do with a private army of Good Samaritans.