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Wednesday 7 January 2009
Letters: House prices
House prices have not yet fallen far enough
Once again you print a story about falling house prices. ("Even slight optimism dashed for UK housing", 6 January) The title and the tone of the piece suggest that you believe falling house prices to be a bad thing. How can this be when you mention that 750,000 potential buyers were locked out of the market between 2003 and 2007? Surely falling prices are a very good thing indeed?
For most people, especially young people seeking a first home, it is very welcome news indeed. Not only will a roof over their heads become more affordable but all that money which has been regularly sucked into the wealth-absorbing, parasitic mortgage and finance industries this last 10 years will be available for other purposes, such as consumer goods and services. It may even percolate through to the wealth-creating industrial sector.
Hopefully for all of us, the average house price still has some way to fall. Recent history suggests so. In the last 10 years, average UK house prices have risen from £92,000 in 1999 to £153,000 in 2008. This latter figure is still far too high. Over the same period average annual wages have risen from £21,000 to about £25,000. If house prices and average wages had both risen in line with general inflation over those ten years, then the average house would be selling today at about £121,000 and the ratio of house prices to annual wages would be near its sustainable historic level of 4.5.
I am sorry for those people who are now in negative equity because they took out large mortgages on overpriced properties at the wrong time. But did they really expect that owning a house would entitle them to use someone else's money to give themselves a 10 per cent annual tax-free capital gain for ever?
Professor Chris Payne
Girne American University
Police powers that threaten liberty
The creeping threat posed by the police to our private lives and civil freedoms finds its latest expression in the bullying of train-spotters, and the arrest and subsequent DNA sampling of an artist at work (report, 6 January).
The old adage that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance was never more true than today when we, the easy-going, gullible, duped and often frightened public are increasingly allowing our own privacy and personal security to be threatened by those precisely who are meant to protect them.
Cowling, North Yorkshire
I read Jonathan Brown's article about the effective criminalisation of photographers with great interest. On 1 March 2007 I was subjected to a humiliating "interview" with a ticket inspector at Eastbourne railway station after I dared to take a picture of a train. The managerial response to my complaint was at best evasive (this in spite of the fact that the inspector concerned committed what I believe was an offence in compelling me to delete a photograph) and I was forced to approach my MP, Graham Brady, to gain redress.
As Jonathan Brown's article states, the harassment of railway photographers continues unabated, bringing into question the quality and training of both railway staff and their managers. It is a measure of the strength of feeling on this issue that a petition to No 10 about it which I started last year now has over 1,900 signatories.
To conclude on a positive note, my own experience after my Eastbourne encounter is that the one thing the anti-photographic establishment fears more than terrorism (the reason for the current paranoia) is bad publicity. Articles such as Jonathan's are to be welcomed.
Given the number of high-profile examples of misuse of anti-terror legislation in the UK – not least the Damian Green case – allowing police such easy access to our personal computers is a dangerous step ("New powers for police to hack your pc", 5 January).
Yet more concerning than allowing remote searching by British police is the proposal to permit other EU police forces access to our computers and the sensitive information contained on them. Just as with an individual's bank account, access to computer data should be regulated through the courts, and certainly UK courts should retain the ultimate power to authorise such intrusion.
The Labour government's erosion of liberty in the UK is being supplemented all the more by dangerous stealthy acts at EU level – acts which often come into force without either the European or Westminster parliament being able to give them the scrutiny they deserve.
Philip Bradbourn MEP (C, West Midlands)
Vice Chairman, Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, European Parliament, Brussels
Our fight to save Mugabe victims
Like Judy Russell and many others, I too am aware of the inhumane tactics employed by the Borders Agency to meet their targets. ("Model student the Home Office wants to expel", letter, 5 January)
On 12 December, Priviledge Thulambo and her daughters were detained in a dawn raid in Sheffield and taken to Yarl's Wood Detention Centre, prior to deportation immediately after Christmas. Priviledge had witnessed her husband's murder by Mugabe's men, who raped her. She and her two daughters fled to Malawi and arrived in this country eight years ago. Since then the women have integrated into the community, becoming active members of their local church and the local schools and further education college, where they all gained qualifications.
Church members and others have mounted a vigorous campaign on behalf of the family. Local MPs and the Archbishop of York have made representations and a Facebook campaign keeps over 1,300 supporters informed of progress. As I write, a judicial review has been granted and now pressure is being applied to get the family out of Yarl's Wood on bail.
I encourage Ms Russell and others who are angered by the behaviour of agencies of our government to mount a campaign on behalf of the refugees they know. There is strong evidence that such campaigns are likely to be successful.
Cheerful honesty amid the gloom
Tom Algie, a shopkeeper in Settle, North Yorkshire, gave his staff and himself a holiday on Boxing Day, then left the shop open with an honesty box on the counter. The fact that customers served themselves, then left the payment in the box is delightfully encouraging in this current economic gloom.
In the early Seventies, my wife and I ran a hotel in Kingsbridge, Devon. Not being able to afford a barman to serve in our small bar while I was cooking the evening meal, I developed the "serve yourself bar". Every day, I placed a pad and pencil on the bar for our visitors to make a note of the drinks they had served themselves during my absence.
It is my firm belief that not one customer robbed me of the cost of a single drink. Two comments made by visitors have remained in my memory. One said: "I would never dream of stealing a drink as you have treated me as a decent human being." Another told me that he had spent far more on drinks than he had intended as he had always wanted to get behind the bar to operate the jiggers on the bottles.
If there is a moral to the stories of Mr Algie's shop and my bar it is probably that people respond to the way they are treated. Maybe our present government should bear this in mind.
The hunting ban really has worked
The Hunting Act 2004 was never about stopping people getting together and enjoying riding to hounds in the countryside ("The big question: has the hunting ban really changed anything?", 26 December). It was about outlawing the chasing and killing of wild mammals for entertainment, which is exactly what it has done.
The hunts which now ride out are not chasing live quarry as they previously did, but instead are trail-hunting, following a scent, specifically laid for their hounds to chase. The cruelty of the chase and kill of a wild mammal is now illegal, just as the law intended.
Despite propaganda to the contrary, there have now been 30 convictions under the Hunting Act, with more cases pending, which is clear proof that it is both being enforced and it is a workable piece of legislation.
As these cases have shown, where evidence comes to light of illegal hunting, court action will be taken, by the police and CPS, by the RSPCA, and by other animal welfare organisations.
The vocal minority who believe that it is dull to have to follow an artificial scent rather than a live animal are out of step with public opinion. Polling has consistently shown strong public support for the ban on this vile blood-sport, both prior to and since the ban. The latest Ipsos-MORI poll (in autumn 2008) shows that 75 per cent of the public support the ban.
RSPCA, Horsham, West Sussex
Benefits regime discourages savers
David Cameron is right to call for zero tax on interest on savings. It is an extremely sensible idea; it will allow interests rates to fall, while still rewarding savers. However, it does not address the other injustices that savers face.
Without enjoying any reduction in National "Insurance" contributions, people with savings above £6,000 lose some benefits, and those above £16,000 lose all. If the person with savings is on average wage, this amount would represent many years' savings. NI contributions should be tapered off to nothing as benefits become unavailable, or it should work as a genuine insurance policy.
Some people might ask "If you have £16,000 worth of savings why do you need benefits?" The answer is simple. They have been bought and paid for through National "Insurance". If saving is optional (and messes up benefit claims), and contributions are mandatory, why bother to save?
I am glad Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (5 January) has spoken out against the "nativist bitterness" of the "always complaining" white working classes towards immigrants. However I wonder what she has to say about the instances I witnessed last year when riding on the number 12 bus through south London towards Peckham, of black people telling eastern Europeans to "go back to their own country", followed by pronouncements about being "born here".
Canvey Island, Essex
Queen of Australia
For Terence Blacker's information, Australia does not "face decisions about independence" (Opinion, 6 January), because it is independent. Britain and Australia share a head of state, but when the Queen acts in Australia she acts on advice from her Australian government. She remains Queen of Australia because, when consulted, a majority of Australians voted to keep her. When Australians agree on the type of republic they want, opinion in this country, assuming we have one, will be neither here nor there.
W J Casey
About 500 people died in recent days at the hands of an army. They did not vote for a terrorist organisation. There were no mass demonstrations. Many of the dead women were found naked, their children possibly abducted. The dead people did not launch rockets on a civilian population. Governments the world over weren't in uproar. The dead were all civilians – not mostly terrorists. Civil society groups did not launch national appeals. So why on earth do the Palestinians garner such attention while the Congolese do not?
The next danger
Your correspondents have warned of the danger of deflation. I fear any period of deflation will be short. Once Woolworths has emptied its shelves and the other major chains sold their stock to maintain cash-flow and market share, the sheds will be empty. Replenishment will then have to be bought with already devalued pounds. The Government will not allow a major financial institution to go broke so money will be printed. Prices are falling for the moment, but the real danger is that inflation will take off around Easter.
Mary Pimm and Nik Wood (letter, 30 December) rightly point up the greasy-pole nature of today's political scene – but get 300 committed young people into the House of Commons and that will no longer be the case. As for street politics, I have actively supported campaigns for nuclear disarmament and other changes for decades. These have, simply, failed – though I would not want them to stop. We must become legislators, as was the case in the past for those who sought workers' rights and a national health service.
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