Sir Alan Beith MP: There is no reason for British Army personnel to be posted in Germany

In the depths of a Northumbrian winter, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) is on Exercise Eagles Nest at Otterburn Ranges.

In the depths of a Northumbrian winter, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) is on Exercise Eagles Nest at Otterburn Ranges.

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Many Army and Royal Air Force families have spent part of their lives in Germany, with children attending British Forces schools. That is all coming to an end.

There is now no military reason for British troops to be based in Germany, and the money which a military base brings to a local economy would do us more good if it was helping communities in our own country.

Northumberland will see the 3rd Royal Horse Artillery moving to Abermarle Barracks, the former RAF Ouston, north of the military road near Heddon-on-the-Wall.

I also anticipate increased use of the Otterburn and Redesdale Training Areas in the Cheviots, particularly by regiments based in southern Scotland.

Together with RAF Boulmer we have a triangle of military commitment which is of real value to jobs and businesses in Northumberland as well as being crucial to the defence of our country and our freedom.

NEW RULES UNCLEAR

I have had a lot of campaign emails from local people who were concerned that new rules for commissioning health services would require local doctors to open all the services up to competition from private providers.

This would have been contrary to the assurance from Andrew Lansley, the previous Health Secretary, that local doctors would be free to decide when and how competition should be used to serve patients’ interests.

This was actually more reassuring to those who are concerned about any privatisation than the Labour government’s policy, which said that commissioners should ‘take into account the potential to secure better value by investing in a competitive process’, and gave subsidies to private providers.

However, the regulations which civil servants had drafted were not made clear enough, and some critics thought they were open to interpretation as requiring services to be put out to tender.

A number of us made clear that this was not good enough, and Liberal Democrat Health Minister Norman Lamb announced to the House that the draft regulations had been withdrawn, would be reviewed and would be made fully and unambiguously compliant with the assurances the Government had given.

ELECTION LESSONS

If you first get into Parliament in a General Election you come in as one of a crowd, unnoticed outside your own area, lining up near the back of a long queue to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen.

But if you come in at a by-election you get more of a solo spot: You wait at the Bar of the House with two sponsors until the Speaker invites you to take your seat, whereupon you march smartly to the table, bow twice and are handed the Bible to take the oath.

When I did it 40 years ago, I had to wait until a state of emergency had been declared because of the power cuts following the miners’ strike. The Liberal Democrat victor in the Eastleigh by-election had no such problem.

The by-election has taught a number of lessons. One is that hard work for the good of your local area over the years can count for more than national issues or a hostile press – page after page of virulently hostile national press publicity did not prevent a strong local Liberal Democrat from winning.

Secondly, coalition does not make parties the same. Tories remain Tories. Liberal Democrats remain Liberal Democrats, and the fact that they are working together in a coalition does not stop them both from fighting elections as hard as they can for the cause in which they believe.

Thirdly, UKIP took the protest votes, as the ‘none of the above’ party. It is often difficult for a party in government to hold a seat in a by-election, and even rarer for the smaller party in a coalition to do so.

WHAT ABOUT THE SPARE BEDROOM?

There is no such thing as a bedroom tax. A tax is when you have to give money to the government. When the government cuts the money it gives to you, it can give you a serious headache, but it is not a tax. It is a cut in benefits.

So what is happening over ‘spare’  bedrooms? People who get housing benefit and live in privately-rented properties like town-centre flats or farm cottages in the Northumberland countryside do not get help for the cost of more bedrooms than their families strictly need. This rule is being extended to council houses and social housing from April this year.

People below pension age will find that they have to pay more towards their rent to cover a spare bedroom, or seek a move to a property with only the number of bedrooms they need. The Government’s hope is that it will free larger properties for the many families on the waiting list, and reduce the ever-growing bill for housing benefit.

Unfortunately, things are never that simple. I am sure that there are nowhere near enough  smaller properties available to meet the needs of all those who may want to downsize, even though there will be many who choose to stay where they are and give up other things in order to meet the extra rent bill.

I expect to be taking up cases of people affected by the new rules, and anyone who is experiencing difficulty is welcome to contact my office.