A fitting tribute to Clare Wood



I am pleased to welcome the announcement by the Home Secretary of the roll out of Clare’s law across the UK from next March.

This follows a pilot scheme across Greater Manchester and three other areas. I welcomed the pilot scheme when it was announced last year and support measures that will help protect women from domestic abuse.

Clare’s Law is named  after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton at her Salford home in February 2009. This law aims to ensure women are protected from all forms of domestic abuse. The law means women (or their family or friends) will be able to check police records to see if their partner has a violent past.

Just over 80 women have used the legislation in its trail period this year in Manchester. An additional 146 third parties have requested information from the police. Of these inquires 81 have revealed some form of violent behaviour.

That is why this scheme is so important and why it  is a fitting tribute to Clare and the campaigning by her family, particularly her dad Michael Brown.

If you know or suspect that one of your friends or family is in an abusive relationship you should contact the police on 101. The rules state that the disclosure of a person’s criminal history must be ‘lawful, necessary and proportionate’ .

SMR Column: Why I'm supporting Didsbury Free school bid



 

Here is south Manchester we are very lucky to have some of the best and most popular primary schools in the whole of Manchester.

I know, from my regular visits to schools across the constituency, that staff, Governors and parents create an excellent environment for the next generation of children to succeed at school. For parents the challenge is not finding a good local school, but getting a place in it. Year after year parents come to my surgeries, distraught that they have not got a place at a local primary school for their child, even when they might have had a nursery place and their son or daughter was already happy in school.

I, and my Liberal Democrat council colleagues in Didsbury have been arguing for years of the need for a new primary school in Didsbury – we even argued that a land swap arrangement should be made with Manchester  Metropolitan University when plans were unveiled for the University to move to the All Saints site. Unfortunately this fell on deaf ears, and the Labour Council failed to plan for a new school, despite receiving £12.5million extra this year alone from the Coalition Government to help ease the school place shortage, on top of millions of extra pupil premium money.

But the local community has not sat back. Didsbury C of E Primary is an exceptional school and incredibly popular – it received 180 applications for 30 places last year. Under the able leadership of head Nick Whitehead and Rev Bundock, and with the support of St James and Emmanuel church and the Diocese of Manchester, they have submitted a free school application to set up a free school and provide much-needed additional places for local children, that will be open to those of all faiths and none.

It has the support of the vast majority of local people, including many who are sceptical about free schools in general, but recognise that a Didsbury C of E free school would be great for Didsbury.

It is a real shame that the Labour Council has chosen to oppose the application, but at least it has forced their hand and only now are they looking seriously at alternative proposals for extra school places in Didsbury. Personally I do not think that ideology should get in the way of what is best for our local kids.

The merits of this free school application speak for themselves. There is an identified need, the local community has responded to that need, and there is widespread popular support for the application. I support it and hope it will be successful.

To read more about the bid, check out  http://www.didsburyfreeschool.org/

 

 

 

Who makes the best Kebab in south Manchester?



 

Manchester police launch their "None for the Road" Christmas Road Safety Campaign



This week is National Road Safety Week, and today Greater Manchester Police have launched their annual drink drive clampdown.

As road charity Brake’s MP of the year for 2008 road safety is a priority for me. Christmas is a time for celebrating with friends and family but nothing would ruin the occasion more than Drink Driving.

Traditional the Christmas period is the worst time of year for drink drive offences and in December last year, 595 people were injured, 49 seriously injured and eight lost their lives across the UK.

In August 2012 I wrote a blog calling time on drink driving.

In 2012 alcohol was the factor behind 336 collisions. Of these incidents 66 involved serious injuries, 265 involved slight injuries and 5 people lost their lives in Greater Manchester alone.

This year’s message is ‘None for the Road’ and police will be using a drink drive crash car and driving simulator at the launch of the clampdown to reiterate the message.

I agree with Inspector Matt Bailey-Smith from the Serious Collision Unit when he says the only safe amount to drink is nothing at all. I have long argued for a reduction in the drink drive limit and urge this years designated drivers to avoid alcohol all together.

Just 2 units of alcohol, the equivalent of 1 pint is enough to slow reaction times and massively increase the risks of being involved in a crash.

To keep up-to-date with the drink-drive campaign, follow @GMPolice, @DriveSafeGM and @ManchesterFire and follow the hashtag #NoneForTheRoad

If you see somebody drink-driving this year please call Greater Manchester Police on 101 or call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Don't ruin your Christmas, or someone elses, by Drinking and Driving. And stay safe.

SMR Column: Labour opposition to HS2 will cost Manchester jobs



I’m backing HS2 because it is the only viable way to increase commuter and intercity capacity on our railways for the next generation. I am backing HS2 because it will narrow the North/South divide, and I am backing it because it is estimated to create 60,000 new jobs in our city.

Local families and young people will benefit from the 10,000 construction jobs; 1,400 permanent operational jobs; and up to 49,700 jobs espected from maximising the development potential associated with station developments.

Manchester is set to be one of the biggest beneficiaries from HS2 and will be the only city outside of London to benefit from two new stations, next to Piccadilly and at Manchester Airport.

Last week the House of Commons voted to fund the initial stages of the project despite 18 Tories and 11 Labour MP’s rebelling. All four Labour Manchester MPs joined me in voting in favour, for now.

The Labour leader of the City Council, and the Chief Executive have both made it clear how vital HS2 is for Manchester’s future. But it is not the local Labour leadership that concerns me. My worry is their failure to persuade the national Labour party of the case for HS2.

Labour’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, used his set piece conference speech to question whether the scheme should go ahead. He was followed by several Labour MPs questioning whether the scheme should go ahead. Northern Labour leaders fearing their party’s will come out against HS2 have been touring the studios to fight a rearguard action.

It reminded me of the twice cancelled Metrolink, where just before an election the Labour party promised voters that Metrolink would go ahead, but once Manchester dutifully delivers Labour MPs Metrolink was forgotten until the next election cycle.

If Labour end their support for HS2, it will be a huge betrayal of Manchester and the North.

Once complete, HS2 will transfer approximately 9 million journeys from road to rail and 4.5 million from air to rail. By shortening train times, HS2 will also make investment and economic interest in regions outside of London and the South-East more attractive. 70% of the benefit of HS2 will happen in the regions. This is vital if we are to help rebalance the UK economy.

The environmental impact will be minimised by following existing rail or road transport corridors, using deep cuttings and tunnels, or, like in Manchester, tunnelling 30 metres under the ground.

For Manchester, HS2 is a no brainer. We need to stop the national Labour party from putting all those jobs at risk.

 

Please Support the Victims of Typhoon Hiayan



I am sure you will have seen the shocking footage from the Philippines over the last few days. Typhoon Haiyan has claimed the lives of over 10,000 people. A further 670,000 people have been displaced and are at risk if they do not receive vital supplies of food, clean water and medicine.

This is one of the worst natural disasters of modern times and the UN has launched an appeal to raise £190 million in humanitarian aid.

The UK Government has sent £10 million in aid so far and is providing warships to help deliver humanitarian aid to where it is most needed.

I urge you to donate whatever you can to help the people of the Philippines overcome this terrible tragedy.

The Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) has set up a dedicated phone line for donations: 0370 6060 900

Or visit the website http://dec.org.uk/ and pledge what you can.

You can also donate £3 by texting UNICEF to 70123.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Philippines in this difficult time.

 

Guest Blog: Lynn Ladbrook; Chief Executive at Breast Cancer UK

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jwiz4H9TTeQ&w=420&h=315]

The number of women being diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK is at an all-time high.  It is the most common form of cancer in the country and claims the lives of more than 12,000 people every year.  Sadly, Government statistics show that the numbers of women getting the disease has risen year on year since records began. In England, they have increased by 90% since 1971.  More alarming still is that the numbers of women under 50 getting the disease is also on the rise.

Why are more and more women getting breast cancer? This is a question that Breast Cancer UK has set out to address.   Whilst there is consensus that some breast cancers can be attributed to lifestyle factors, such as alcohol consumption, diet, lack of exercise, or to familial or genetic factors, the fact is that the majority of breast cancers (around 60%) appear to have no attributable cause.

We do know, however, that the hormone, oestrogen, is an important factor in breast cancer development.  Women with high levels of naturally occurring oestrogen have over twice the average risk of developing breast cancers.  It is also acknowledged that artificial oestrogens, such as HRT and the pill, have a link to the disease.

However, let’s not forget that, in addition to artificial oestrogens, we are exposed to a myriad of other, man-made chemicals on a daily basis, some of which have been found to mimic or disrupt hormones (including oestrogen) and some of which are carcinogenic.   Not many people are aware of the fact that these chemicals are used in a wide range of every day products, such as cosmetics, household cleaners, pesticides, plastics and food and drinks packaging.

There’s significant and mounting scientific evidence that hormone disrupting chemicals adversely affect the development of the mammary gland, increase malignancy in cells and disrupt DNA, all of which make the breast more vulnerable to breast cancers  .

This is why Breast Cancer UK is calling for better preventative measures to help reduce people’s exposure to carcinogenic and toxic chemicals.   Whilst earlier diagnosis and improved treatments have no doubt saved thousands of lives, it’s clear that we need to get much better at preventing the disease in the first place in order to save many thousands more.

To help inform policy makers, we launched our new manifesto, ‘‘Prevention is better than cure: 5 pledges for 2015 and beyond’, at a Reception in the House of Commons last month. The Manifesto outlines 5 areas where political action taken now could help to save lives in the future:

1. Prioritise the primary prevention of breast cancer;

2. Improve the regulation of chemicals;

3. Protect the unborn child from the harmful effects of chemical exposure;

4. Ban the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in food and drinks packaging;

5. Improve labelling laws and implement the ‘right to know’ about harmful chemicals.

To ensure political action on the chemical causes of breast cancer, we need many more MPs, like John, to support our cause.   To find out more or help us prevent breast cancer by raising this issue with your own MP, please take a moment to visit our webpage  www.breastcanceruk.org.uk.  Together, we can help stop breast cancer before it starts.

Lynn Ladbrook is Chief Executive at Breast Cancer UK.   For more information and to view Breast Cancer UK’s Manifesto visit www.breastcanceruk.org.uk or email info@breastcanceruk.org.uk.

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Standardised Tobacco packaging will save lives



In March last year I called for a ban on smoking in children’s play areas. The result of this ban was a 12% drop in cases of childhood asthma in the following year. Now it is time for the Government to go further in protecting our young people from the dangers of smoking by introducing standardised packaging on all tobacco products.

Yesterday, I spoke in the Commons to outline why I think standardised cigarette packaging needs to be brought in. You can read a transcript of my speech here but I will address the key points in this blog and why I think it is time for the Government to act ­­­­­­­­­­­­.

Last July Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the decision to introduce plain cigarette packaging would be delayed until a similar scheme in Australia could be assessed. Well the results are in.

A study by the Cancer Council of Victoria which showed that when young people view cigarette packs stripped of colours and logos, they believe the cigarettes are lower quality, will taste worse and are less appealing.

And if that’s not enough the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that 36 per cent of UK teenagers are deterred by plain cigarette packs, compared with 48 per cent of their Australian counterparts.

A lot of research went into finding the most unappealing colour for the standardised packaging of cigarettes.

The grotty dark green/grey colour was settled on and has proved to be an effective deterrent to young people taking up smoking. If the cigarettes themselves were a similarly unappealing colour the number of young people trying cigarettes for the first time would be cut even more. I called for such legislation in my speech to the House.

I have campaigned for tougher legislation on the tobacco industry in the past and in October I submitted an Early Day Motion to the House calling for Government action on standardised packaging.

The delay in the passage of this bill has concerned me for a number of reasons. Firstly questions remain over whether special advisors have unduly influenced Conservative Ministers when they decided to postpone the bill last July.

Equally disturbing are the bogus claims of some Unions that argue standardised packaging will cause UK job losses and the Labour politicians who blindly agree with their union paymasters.

You have to ask yourself, if standardised packaging won’t act as a deterrent to taking up smoking why are big tobacco companies spending hundreds of millions campaigning against it?

It is time for both Labour and Conservatives to stop representing the interests of the unions and Big Business and put the needs of the UK public first.

All the experts agree, it is time for the Government to stop dithering and bring in legislation which will encourage healthy lifestyle choices and save the NHS Billions in the long run.

John's speech on the Gambling Bill: 5th November 2013:



 

John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)

I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak in favour of the Bill. It will go a long way towards creating a level playing field for the onshore betting industry and towards reversing the trend of remote gambling companies setting up their businesses abroad to avoid the Gambling Commission’s regulatory regime and to avoid paying tax on transactions in the UK.

I pay tribute to the former sports Minister and my parliamentary colleague on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Mr Sutcliffe for recognising in April 2009 that changes would be required to keep up with the technological advances in online gambling.

As a “Yorkshire United” supporter, he might not know anything about football, but it is fair to say that he knows a fair bit about gambling, and he was a pretty good Minister in his time in the Department.

I also pay tribute to the fact that he took into consideration the arguments of my right hon. Friend Mr Foster, who had been arguing the case for reform throughout the whole of the last Parliament.

As a result of the Bill, remote gambling will be regulated at the point of consumption. All operators selling into the British market, whether from here or abroad, will be required to hold a Gambling Commission licence, which will level the playing field for British-based licence holders.

The Bill will also repeal section 331 of the Gambling Act 2005, removing the offence of advertising foreign gambling and consequently the distinction between white-list and EEA countries and non-EEA jurisdictions. Instead, in order to advertise to British consumers, all operators will have to hold a GC remote licence, regardless of where they are based.

The changes will provide increased protection for British consumers, because all remote gambling operators will be subject to robust and consistent regulation, as well as being required to support action against illegal activity and corruption in sport, and to comply with licence conditions that protect children and vulnerable adults. They will also be required to contribute to research, education and treatment in relation to British problem gambling.

As the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale, pointed out, the Committee carried out pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. It is perhaps not surprising that its provisions have not been well received by either the remote gambling operators or the overseas regulators.

The Remote Gambling Association has questioned whether the legislation might fall foul of European Union law by creating a restriction on trade between EU states, but the Department’s response has been fairly robust, arguing that the Bill is necessary and proportionate for enhancing consumer protection for British citizens.

Our Committee was satisfied that the Government had considered the question of compatibility, and we accepted their confidence that any legal action would be unsuccessful.

The Remote Gambling Association has argued that the change in legislation will send punters to unregulated sites on the black market where there is no regulatory regime. That view has been backed up by the Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association, which has claimed that online gaming customers will migrate to unregulated and non-compliant operators who have a significant market advantage over the regulated and compliant operators, resulting in completely the opposite of what the Government are trying to achieve. That point was raised by Philip Davies.

I do not believe that that will be the case, however. Jenny Williams, the chief executive of the Gambling Commission, has made it clear that there will be little scope for significant expansion of the black market when there are already few restrictions on the type of gambling available and when advertising is freely available within the regulated market. The Department has also made it clear that this is not about more restrictive regulation; it is simply about consistent regulation.

The RGA has also claimed that this is all about tax. In giving evidence to the Select Committee, it declared that the provisions were a “backdoor method to tax off-shore operators”.

They are not, but that would certainly be a welcome consequence—unintended or otherwise—of the Bill. Critics of the offshore remote gambling industry, and supporters of the Bill, legitimately point out that in many cases operators ended up as offshore remote gambling sites to avoid paying tax in the first place.

The RGA told our Committee that about 7,000 people were working in the UK for remote gambling companies based offshore, but it could not answer my direct question about how many are working offshore. It effectively admitted, however, that it was only a fraction of that number.

Let us be honest: these companies are effectively UK-based, barring certain technicalities, and they are based abroad only to avoid paying tax and to be able to compete with their genuinely foreign-based competitors.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is adamant that this is not about taxation, but the legislation will have the good unintended consequence of paving the way to ensuring that foreign-based operators are taxed on any gambling taking place in the UK. Our Committee report got it right when it stated:

“Whether or not this is the case, we regard it as a legitimate and desirable outcome of the change in the licensing regime that in future remote gambling companies doing business in the UK should be subject to the same taxation requirements, whether they are based onshore or offshore.”

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for quoting so extensively from our Select Committee report, but does he agree that we were very careful in our wording about what the Government were doing? We said that we were “satisfied that the Government has considered the compatibility of the proposed legislation with EU law and we note its confidence that any challenge to the legislation would be unlikely to succeed.”

We merely noted the Government’s confidence; we did not necessarily share it.

John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)

 

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. My impression from the evidence we took was slightly different from his; perhaps I am a little more confident about the Government’s potential for success if anyone in the industry decided to take further action.

While the Bill has its opponents among the remote gambling industry, it also has its supporters within it. Rank fully supports the Gambling Bill, even though it paves the way for measures that it estimates will cost approximately £10 million a year.

It sees it as an important opportunity to provide greater consumer protection for British gamblers. Similarly, the British Horseracing Authority, the Sport and Recreation Alliance and the National Casino Industry Forum all welcome the Bill.

The Bill is, however, limited in scope, and many within the industry would have liked it to go further, whether it be in relation to the horse racing betting levy, British terrestrial casinos being able to offer their dedicated online products in their casino buildings, tackling the inequity of bingo taxation, which has not been mentioned so far, or even addressing very legitimate concerns about the proliferation of B2 machine use and its impact on problem gambling.

I recognise that this Bill cannot address all those issues within its legislative scope, but perhaps the Minister will in her closing remarks recognise that many other issues remain unresolved and give some indication that the Government will seek to address them.

Time to break up the Energy cartel





Last year around 4 million people in the UK were in fuel poverty and struggling to heat their homes. In the same period profits for the big six energy companies went up. And now 4 of the big 6 energy firms have decided to raise customer bills by an average of 9.1% with the other two expected to follow suit.

As someone who has campaigned to alleviate fuel poverty in the past I think these price increases are bordering on criminal. That is why I have written to the Prime Minister and the Energy Secretary calling  for an investigation about how we got here, for the big 6’s cartel to be broken up and for a regulator with more power.

In my letter to the Prime Minister I asked called on the government to investigate how the 6 main companies came to control 98% of the market, how their costs are translated into pricing and how they came to the decision to raise consumer bills by almost 10%.

When Labour came to power in 1997 there were 14 not 6 big energy firms. Because of Labour's mismanagement of the economy by 2010 there were only 6 big firms who now dominate the market. Greater competition between energy companies meant prices remained at a competitive level and customers were afforded far greater choice when searching for the cheapest energy tariff.

Now Labour wants a price freeze after they allowed a small number of firms to monopolise a once highly competitive market.

An artificial price freeze simply will not work. There is some evidence that energy companies are chasing price rises now because the fear a freeze later. Government needs to look at realistic solutions to this problem.

In my letter to my Liberal Democrat colleague, the Energy minister Ed Davey I called for a legislation to separate wholesale energy for commercial energy suppliers. The big 6 utility firms are currently engaged in the dubious practice of companies being wholesalers and retailers and selling energy to themselves at inflated prices.

Separating wholesale from retail will reduce barriers of entry for smaller firms, increasing competition and encouraging lower prices. Higher levels of competition are the most effective way to control energy prices. Threats of a price freeze only serve to drive up prices now and Labour should be held accountable for their failure to properly regulate the market during their 13 years in power.

It is incredible that the heads of the energy firms could tell MP’s that prices are going up because of rising wholesale costs when not only do the firms themselves have a huge amount of control over wholesale prices but Ofgem has shown that costs have only gone up about 1.7% in the past year.

As we have seen in the last few weeks Ofgem is fairly toothless when it comes to reigning in the big 6 and their reckless price rises. That is why I have also called for more powers to be given to the energy market regulator to bring it in line with Ofwat which has the power to block increases to customers water bills.

The Government has made some headway in tackling fuel poverty such as the Green Deal and Smart Meters and the number of UK resident in fuel poverty is falling. But we are under no illusions, more action is needed.

I truly hope that the Prime Minister and Energy Secretary will put an end to energy firms exploiting the hard-working people of the UK with these completely unjustifiable price rises.


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