Diary of a Commons Man, by MP Sir Alan Beith

WHILE MPs were voting on a Europe referendum, in the real world we were heading towards a much bigger change in Europe, and Britain’s place in it, than would be likely to have resulted from a referendum.

That change happened in the late night discussions of European leaders last Wednesday.

They produced a deal which may go some way to stop the Greek crisis spreading to other heavily-indebted countries.

But, more significantly from our point of view, they have pulled the wagons in a circle around the countries which use the euro.

Those countries are now developing a structure to run the euro and they have at last realised that with a single currency, their economic policies will have to be closely in step with each other.

And they are saying to Britain’s Prime Minister that he has no place in the inner circle, telling them what to do, because only euro-using countries should set the rules for the Eurozone.

You might think this was music to the ears of Messrs Cameron and Hague, since the Foreign Secretary is a Eurosceptic and the Prime Minister courted Eurosceptic support to win his party’s leadership. Far from it.

They know full well that if 17 of the 23 member states are agreeing in private on economic policy and acting as a majority group when the whole of Europe takes decisions, Britain could lose out badly.

Let’s get back to the basics of the European Union. It has done a lot to fulfil its original purpose in safeguarding and enlarging peace and democracy in our often war-torn continent.

Now its key value to us is the single market in which we trade.

Anything which undermines that free market or clogs it up with excessive regulation is bad news for British jobs and British exports.

The Prime Minister knows that, which is why he is insisting that he wants a ticket to the meetings of a Euro-club he is not joining.

So where does that leave the MPs’ vote? Yes, there was a rebellion from the Eurosceptics. But, by a huge majority, the Commons rejected the view that now is the time for a referendum.

My election manifesto said that we would have a referendum if there was any future constitutional change transferring power from Westminster to the European Union.

The coalition government has put that commitment into the law of the land. No one is proposing a treaty which would hand over more powers.

What we have is a rapidly changing situation. It is vital that UK ministers are at the table, pushing for economic recovery across Europe and working with others to maintain and strengthen the single market.

WHERE DO RATES GO?

YOU might be surprised to know that the rates paid by local businesses are not set by Northumberland County Council and do not go direct to the council.

They are set nationally, pooled and distributed to all councils according to population. The local government grant system is intended to even out the big differences in the resources councils have between prosperous and deprived areas.

Ministers have now put forward the suggestion that councils should be able to keep some of the extra business rate income which arises when new businesses open up or move into the area. The idea is that it would give them an incentive to help and encourage business expansion in their area.

I can see the point, but I am worried that areas in the South East and in the cities, where new stores and offices tend to go, will have an easy gain from this while we in Northumberland get left behind.

I put my concerns forward in a debate last week. Kensington, Westminster and Surrey would all have a field day compared to Northumberland, where the biggest business ratepayers are the council itself and other public sector bodies like the Ministry of Defence.

The biggest private sector business ratepayers include Alcan and the opencast coal operators, neither of which have a secure long-term future, and the supermarkets. There is a consultation on the issue, and I am pressing for change to the scheme. Ministers are even talking about authorities like Northumberland being able to ‘swap’ credits with Westminster or Kensington, who would share some of their gains with us. If that is to work, we want it in writing, signed and sealed!

ROTHBURY REMINDER

A LOT of people are only just becoming aware that the Boundary Commission wants to move the Rothbury ward in to the Hexham constituency.

Not only Rothbury, but Glanton and Whittingham as well would transfer to Hexham. At the same time, it wants to split Ponteland through the middle and put one side of the main street in the new Berwick and Morpeth constituency, while the other side stays in the Hexham constituency.

If you think this as daft as I think it is, you need to let them know your views.

They are holding a public hearing in Newcastle on November 14 and 15.

But you can also write to them at Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ, or email information@bcommengland.x.gsi.gov.uk

They were obliged to create a constituency with more people in it, and linking Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth makes sense. But Rothbury, Glanton and Whittingham belong with Alnwick and Morpeth rather than Hexham, as you will know if you have ever tried to get from Rothbury to Hexham by bus.