Last weekend I was in Brussels for a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. This is a gathering of Parliamentarians from across the Alliance. I had the surreal experience of sharing the same hotel as Vice President Pence. The difference was that I didn’t have an entire floor to myself or the accompanying throng of about 200 aides, advisers and Secret Servicemen. Whilst I and my entourage of 1 person got around by bus or tube, he had a motorcade that included about 20 motorcycle outriders and an ambulance. On Monday we were heartened to hear that despite the new President’s rhetoric in the campaign, the administration is firmly in support of NATO and confirmation that the USA will continue to be a big player in the alliance.
Back at Westminster
On Tuesday I went along to the House of Lords to see the progress of the Bill which if passed will allow the Government to trigger Article 50 in order to leave the EU. Whenever I stand at the bar of the House (as MPs are allowed to do) I am struck by how much better their debates are as compared to the House of Commons. I am a supporter of reform of the House of Lords but we have to find a way of retaining the reasoned voices of experience who, helped by the fact that they are devoid of any Parliamentary ambition, speak from the heart with real knowledge and understanding of their subject.
On Friday I visited the Greenham Common Trust and New Greenham Park. Most people who are not from around here just remember Greenham Common for the controversies around the nuclear missile deployments in the 1980s. They are amazed to hear that the airbase was transferred to West Berkshire Council for £1 in the mid 1990s. Where once there were nuclear missiles, fences and an army of armed guards, today there are 800 acres of open access common land for local people to enjoy. In addition, the built part of the old airbase is managed as a highly profitable property venture but the money made is given away to local good causes. In the last 20 years the Trust has donated £37 million to over 1000 local good causes. Because of its scale it is able to make big donations such as the promised £1 million to the new cancer and dialysis centre at West Berkshire Hospital. As the Chief Executive Chris Boulton puts it, “I make money in the morning and give it away in the afternoon”.