SMR Column; Trident would already have been replaced under a Labour or Tory only Government.

One thing is absolutely certain. If the Liberal Democrats were not in Government now, the decision to replace Trident would have already been made.  Because of us, no decision is to be made until 2016.


Another certainty is that if we are not in power after the 2015 election, the country will definitely get a like for like replacement for Trident costing £25bn for the nuclear subs and at least £2bn a year running costs. A total bill of £100bn over the lifetime of the new system.


My position on the renewal of Trident is clear. I don't support a like-for-like replacement.


The world had changed and so has the defence assumptions that underpinned the position since the cold war. The Lib Dems support nuclear disarmament on a multilateral basis and we also agree that it is absurd to spend billions and billions of pounds to replace Trident especially at a time of austerity. That is why the Government is reviewing alternatives to Trident and looking at both security and cost issues regarding replacement.


Under the last Labour Government, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown signed off a replacement to Trident with the support of the Tories. All without a whimper of disagreement from Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Harriet Harman. Just yesterday, union bosses urged Ed Miliband to support the Tories on a replacement, too.


The Prime Minister’s argument that we need a nuclear deterrent because of North Korea’s sabre rattling was weak, bordering on pathetic. Hasn’t he noticed that North Korea are ramping up the rhetoric against the USA, who have many more nuclear weapons that us? Has he not noticed that our nuclear deterrent is dependent on the USA? Has he not noticed that North Korea don’t have the capacity to hit us?


The £25billion cost of building new Nuclear subs would pay for 120,000 newly qualified nurses every year for the next 10 years, or 60,000 newly-qualified teachers every year for the next 20 years.


I believe that MPs from all parties and senior officers in the military should accept that there are credible and compelling alternatives to continuous at-sea deterrence, and we all know that no-one has a magic pot of money to pay for a new generation of submarines




Side with the Bees, Minister, not big Business.




MP's have produced a report today that calls for three pesticides which harm Bees to be banned. I agree with them.

I have long campaigned on this issue. Just last month, along with 125 other MP's, I took part in a Friends of the Earth event to highlight our concerns.

In the last Parliament, I wrote to the minister responsible urging him to act, too

This  is an area where I believe the precautionary principle should be used. There is lots of evidence that the Bee population worldwide has fallen significantly. There is plenty of evidence that these pesticides are the cause, yet the Environment Secretary is actively trying to block cross Europe action.

He wants a major field study. How long will that take? I have no problems with the further study, but lets ban these pesticides in the meantime.

Of course, these pesticides are big business. But the Environment Secretary should look at the balance of the evidence so far.

Professor Goulson , from Sterling University, has studied the use of these pesticides on Bees. He said,

"It seems that pretty much any independent review of this subject comes to the same conclusion - we should stop using these chemicals until we have much more convincing evidence that they are safe. At present the balance of evidence suggests that they are very far from safe."

I agree with him, Friends of the Earth, and the MP's who wrote this report. What are you waiting for, minister?




Schools should keep teaching climate change on the National Curriculum.




This week I will write to Schools in my constituency urging them to continue the teaching of Climate Change to children. According to new draft guidelines from the Government for the teaching children at key stages 1-3 there is no mention of climate change under geography teaching and a single reference to how carbon dioxide produced by humans impacts on the Climate.


I understand that teachers will still be able to teach Climate Change despite the fact it is not included in the curriculum. This happens in Independent schools that do not have to teach the national curriculum. However, I am still concerned.


Without explicit mention of Climate Change I fear that it is irresponsible and dangerous for under 14s and pupils who do not study GCSE geography to be denied a science-based understanding of how Climate Change impacts on human beings in the UK and elsewhere. To leave its inclusion and exclusion up to the individual beliefs of teachers is wrong and would result in differing levels of education for different pupils.


Along with 22 other MPs I have signed Early Day Motion 1208 condemning the removal of climate change from the national curriculum. I agree with former Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Sir David King that the exclusion of such issues represents an abdication of our duty to future generations and urging Ministers to keep climate change in the national curriculum for key stages one to three.


And according to polling, some 92% of teachers agree with me.


I hope that the consultation on the draft national curriculum will result in the specific mention of Climate Change so  the teaching of it is underpinned in the curriculum but also because it will show a commitment by the government to educate future generations about one of the biggest challenges they will face.


I urge educators everywhere to keep teaching Climate Change!


Supporting the Thornbers to change an inconsistent law that wrecks lives.

I joined two parents from Didsbury, Adrian and Ann Thornber, in London today as they presented a 52,000 name petition, organised by to Downing Street calling for the law to be changed so that 17 year olds are treated as children when arrested and in custody.

We were joined by Nick and Jane Lawton, and Shauneen Lambe from the charity Just for Kids Law.

Sky, the BBC and the Express all covered their heartbreaking story.

The Thornber's and the Lawton's had both faced any parents worst nightmare.

Edward Thornber, was arrested for the possession of cannabis and was wrongly sentenced. Being ordered to court rather than just being given a warning the ex-head boy wrongly faced with the prospect of losing a career opportunity in the US, hung himself in a Didsbury Park.

According to police reports, following his arrest in Cornwall, police made a number of errors processing his arrest, filling him as an adult rather than technically a youth.

Nick and Jane Lawton's son Joe committed suicide two days after he was arrested for drink driving last August. Mrs Lawton said she believed her son would still be alive today if he had been treated as a child in custody.

The current law is inconsistent. At the moment, a 17-year-olds is treated as an adult when they go to the police station. If they get sent to court, they go back to being treated like children in the court system.

The result of that inconsistency is that is has wrecked the lives of the Thornber and Lawton families.

I want to change the law to make sure no other parents go through what they have had to go through.

John Leech: Irish can be proud of their contribution to Manchester


John's article in The Irish Post 28th March 2013

From the Manchester Ship canal, built thanks largely to Irish 'navvies' in the 19th century, to the thousands of Irish fans who throng to Manchester at the weekends to watch Premier League games, the cultural and sporting contribution of the Irish to the city has been immense, and 2013 is a great time to celebrate that contribution.

With over 200 events taking place in March, the award winning 2013 Manchester Irish Festival is celebrating its 18th anniversary as one of the largest such festivals in Europe  outside of Ireland .

This years’ festival is even more special as the festival has joined forces with the Irish Government and its year-long Tourism initiative called the ‘2013 Gathering in Ireland’.  The idea is to encourage those of Irish descent around the world to revisit their routes by taking a trip home. I was delighted to play a small part in launching the Manchester-Mayo Gathering which takes place in August at the Houses of Parliament. I am also looking forward to attending the Mayo Gathering promotional weekend which will help kick start this years’ festival on the 8 March.

But the Irish in Manchester have never needed any outside encouragement to celebrate their heritage. The Irish festival was running for many years when such events were less fashionable than they are today, while the culture of Gaelic Games, and Irish music, has always been vibrant.
2013 has started with a bang with the brand new Irish World heritage centre opening just outside my constituency in Cheetham Hill, and Manchester's GAA  scene never in better shape.

But whenever I talk to the many thousands of Irish people I represent as MP for Manchester Withington, I am aware that it took an immense effort from Irish people in Manchester, in the GAA and the county Associations, and in groups like Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, to ensure that the rich Irish cultural thread which runs through Manchester life, remained unbroken, and is now in a position to get stronger.

The Irish Post's reporting of the work of group's like Manchester Irish Community Care, shows that the paper is there for the Irish in Manchester when times are tough, and the paper's decision to once again act as a sponsor of the Manchester Irish Festival, shows the paper is there also in the times of celebration.

From McAlpine's Fuesiliers to the Busby Babes, the Gallagher brothers and the GAA, the Irish have helped make Manchester the city it is today.

The credit for all that belongs to the Irish community, not to any politician, but I hope in 2013 that I can help the community to achieve a celebration which is as memorable for all of in Manchester who have Irish heritage and leaves a legacy which the next generation of Irish emigrants, who are pouring into our Universities and setting up businesses will remember for decades to come.


Keep the East Coast Main Line Railway in the public sector.

There were two announcements regarding train franchises yesterday. On the West Coast mainline, Virgin trains got their contract extended to 2017.

This is good news. It ends the uncertainty, and rewards a company who has a track record on delivering a good service.

The second announcement was that the East Coast mainline would be put out to franchise.

My view is that the East Coast mainline has been well run in the past couple of year and I don't think it needs to be re-franchised now. I think that  it should remain within the public sector for a longer period.

This decision ignores the lessons of recent private rail franchise failures.

But if the Government must go down this route, as a minimum we ought to allow Directly Operated Railways to bid to run the franchise.

I asked the Minister,

“By deciding to re-franchise the east coast mainline in the future we risk not being able to judge whether the public sector or private sector is best for the passenger, the tax payer and the railways.  Surely as a minimum we ought to allow Directly operated railways to bid to run the franchise?”


David Miliband: A loss to British Politics

Although I understand the reasons behind the decision, I am genuinely sad to hear the news that David Miliband is to stand down from parliament and go and live in New York heading up International Rescue.

Of course the press would have looked for differences between him and his brother if he had stayed, and it was only going to get worse as the election approached.

I think he was unjustifiably labeled as a Blairite in the leadership contest. He managed to work for, and get promoted by, both Blair and Brown, and still maintain a level of independence from both.

If David had been elected leader, (and he won the vote of party members and MP's), he would have taken the party in a different direction.

He would have led a more constructive opposition, shown more independence from the trade unions, and wouldn't have pretended that you could oppose every cut suggested by the Government and still make "tough choices" on spending.

It would certainly have meant a more realistic public debate.

He is a loss to British politics.


Tiffin Cup: Nominate your favourite Curry Restaurant in South Manchester

It’s time again to nominate your favourite south Asian restaurant in the constituency for the 2013 Tiffin Cup Competition!

Manchester is known as a place to get a top curry.  We have some fantastic restaurants. Last year, the Tondori Royale in Burnage was nominated, and was highly commended. In 2008 the Azad Manzil in Chorlton managed to finish 4th!  But this year let’s do better and get a winner!

10 short listed restaurants will  cook in Bellamy’s Restaurant, in Parliament, to compete for the Cup and be crowned the Champion!

Apart from celebrating the quality of South Asian food in Britain, the competition will also raise much-needed money for a charity. This year, all proceeds will be donated to World Vision, whose mission is to transform the lives of the poorest in the developing world.

Nominations only on this blog,  by 27thMarch.

Only two rules.

1) The nomination has to be within my constituency of Manchester Withington so that’s Burnage, Chorlton, Didsbury, Ladybarn, and Withington.  You can always double check the restaurant’s postcode to see if it’s in the constituency by clicking here.

2) The restaurant can not have been entered into the Tiffin cup before. So neither of those above can be nominated again!

Leech: The real winners are the innocent victims of press mistreatment.


I add my congratulations to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I am delighted that we have reached the position where there is agreement between the three main parties on a royal charter, backed up perhaps by just a small bit of legislation to ensure independence and to avoid political interference by future Governments.

The Liberal Democrats have said from the outset that we support a strong and independent press regulator, free from political interference, that would protect the innocent victims of media abuse. What has been agreed over the last couple of days achieves that: the press remains free from political interference and able robustly to challenge politicians and expose wrongdoing, including wrongdoing by politicians. At the same time, however,

those innocent victims of press abuse will have a robust regulator to hold the press to account when they have got it wrong.

I have already gone on record as saying that, in my view, the Prime Minister got it wrong when he decided to pull the Conservatives out of the all-party talks. Significant progress had been made, with both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party giving ground on the royal charter and with only a few areas of disagreement remaining—in relation to an industry veto on membership of the regulator, changes in the code of conduct, the nature of apologies, third-party complaints, and political interference with the royal charter. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for returning to the talks, and I am pleased that the party leaders were able to reach an agreement.

We had argued that the press should not have an industry veto over members of the regulator, while the Conservative position had been that any industry representative on the appointments panel should be able to veto any nominee for the board of the regulator about whose impartiality that representative was concerned. Schedule 3 of the agreed royal charter ensures that there will be no industry veto. That change was essential if the regulator was to have real power over the press, and I welcome the concession that it represents.

We proposed that the regulator, not the press, should have the final say on changes in the code of conduct. The Conservatives proposed that the press should be able to recommend changes in the code, and that the regulator should be obliged to accept them. That, too, would have limited the real power of the regulator. Schedule 3 of the charter states that the code

“must be approved by the Board or remitted to the Code Committee with reasons.”

The original draft stated:

“The standards code must ultimately be adopted by the Board”.

That is another welcome concession.

All too often, victims have received apologies that have been hidden between other stories rather than given the prominence accorded to the original, offending stories. A number of Members have mentioned that. We propose that the regulator should be able to able direct newspaper apologies when mistakes are made. The original draft charter stated that the regulator should be able to tell a newspaper to apologise, but should have no say over the manner of that apology. It seems obvious to me that a regulator of the press should be able to influence the manner of any necessary apologies to bodies within its remit, so I am pleased to note that schedule 3 of the charter states that the regulator will “direct”, not “require”, remedial action and apologies.

We proposed that the regulator should have maximum discretion when deciding whether to accept complaints from third parties. The Conservatives proposed that the regulator should accept such complaints only when there had been a “serious” breach of the rules, and when there was “significant” public interest. In schedule 3(11) the word “substantial”, which was used in the original charter, has been eliminated, which gives the regulator discretion to decide whether a third-party complaint is appropriate.

In relation to the question of political interference, we argued that there should be a clause in legislation making it much more difficult for future Governments to amend or abolish the royal charter. Under the agreement that has been reached, the Government will insert a clause in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill in the House of Lords, which will prevent future Governments from amending or abolishing the royal charter without consulting Parliament. That is fundamental to the future of press regulation, protecting the press from the clutches of future Governments while also ensuring that the regulator cannot be watered down.

We can argue about whether this amounts to statutory underpinning of the royal charter—we would argue that it does, while others might argue that it does not—but that really does not matter, as long as it does its job and protects the new independent regulator. No doubt all the political parties will want to claim the agreement as a victory for them, but the real winners are the innocent victims of press mistreatment. The press have nothing to fear from the royal charter, but when they get things wrong, the innocent victims of their mistakes can be confident that there will be a robust system in place to put it right.

£1200 childcare tax boost for hardworking families

Last month, I wrote a blog about how more needed to be done to cut childcare costs for hardworking families. Today, the Government has announced  a welcome step in the right direction.

I feel passionately that the system should reward those who work, whether that be through benefits or tax breaks. That is why I rebelled on the 1% cap on benefit rises.


The  announcement means that, for every pound a family spends on childcare, they get 20p of government money, up to the annual limit on costs for each child of £1,200.

The scheme is  is expected to benefit 2.5 million families, significantly more than the current employer-supported childcare voucher scheme, which is provided by only around five per cent of employers.

The details of the new scheme will be consulted on soon. before being introduced in 2015.


Here is a briefing I received today on the announcement.


What is being announced?

From Autumn 2015, the government will meet 20% of childcare costs for working families - building up to £1200 per child under 12, per year, once the scheme has been fully implemented. So, for example, a working family with two children would receive up to £2400 every year in support.


How will it work?

Families will be able to open an online voucher account and have their payments ‘topped up’ by Government. For every 80p they pay in the Government will put in 20p up to an annual limit per child – so the equivalent of the basic rate of income tax.


Will I qualify for this scheme?

To qualify all parents must be working, not receiving tax credits or Universal Credit, and neither can earn over £150,000.

The existing voucher scheme, Employer Supported Childcare (ESC), will continue for current claimants if they want to stay in it but will be replaced by the new scheme when it’s phased in.

How much is the Government investing?

The Government will put £1billion into the childcare system. This includes £200 million in childcare support for those on Universal Credit.

What’s next?

We will consult with parents, childcare providers, the childcare voucher industry and employers on how best to deliver support to parents through the voucher system. We aim to phase in the vouchers from Autumn 2015.

How will this differ from the existing voucher scheme?

The existing voucher scheme, Employer Supported Childcare (ESC) is only available to around 500,000 families that work for the less than 5% of businesses that choose to offer it.

Anyone receiving support through ESC will be able to stay in that scheme if they want to, but it will be replaced for new entrants by the new tax-free childcare vouchers when they are launched - which will build up over time to include all children up 12, with those under 5 eligible in the first year.

How can I get support before Autumn 2015?

The Government already invests £5 billion a year to support parents with childcare.

If you have a child aged 3 or 4 you are entitled to 15 hours a week of free early education and childcare. From 2014 around 40% of 2 year olds will also be able

to receive this. If you receive tax credits and you (and your partner) work 16 hours or more a week, you can get up to 70% of your childcare costs paid by government.

If you don’t receive tax credits, you may be able to get support through ESC, if it’s offered by your employer. This is where the Government provides tax relief on childcare fees. This system will begin to be phased out when the new voucher system is introduced.

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