SMR: Freeze beer duty to safeguard Jobs

Our pubs have taken a real battering over the years, consistently being undercut by supermarkets selling alcohol as a loss leader and through the ‘beer duty escalator’.

In just six years there has been a 30% drop in beer sold in pubs as 7,000 pubs have closed forever. Beer supports over 1 million jobs and generates over £21 billion in taxes.

According to CAMRA research, 84% of people believe that a pub is as essential to community life as a shop or post office.

Essentially, this ‘escalator’ was a tax on beer, which had risen 2% above inflation every single year since it was introduced in 2008 by the last Labour Government. That meant that between 2008 and 2013 there had been a 42% rise.

The beer duty escalator proved damaging to brewers across the country and led to increases in beer prices for pub goers. Whilst these price increases were able to be absorbed by the supermarkets, pubs were unable to do this which led to further increases in the difference between a can in the supermarket and a pint in the pub.

Thankfully, last year, the Chancellor cancelled Labour’s planned 3 pence rise due to the escalator, scrapped the escalator, and instead cut duty by a penny a pint. This was the first cut in beer duty since 1959.

This year, I want him to want him to freeze beer duty.

I believe the government should be doing more to encourage safe drinking in pubs, rather than cheap drinking at home.

A recent report commissioned by The Brewers of Europe found that within the EU the UK was responsible for 12% of the total beer consumed, yet paid 43% of the total beer duty collected in the EU. This is clearly unfair, and shows that allowing the tax on beer to rise from March 2014 would only increase this gap between us and our European neighbours.

This is why I, along with 50 other MP’s from eight different parties, signed a Commons motion to ask for a further freeze on beer duty. Freezing the tax will help to safeguard over thousands of jobs across Manchester, 2,000 jobs in pubs across south Manchester and the country and help to reduce the cost of living.

I hope the Chancellor, like last year, listens to local pubs and local brewers like Robinsons and agrees to a further freeze in beer duty.



Syrian refugees should be allowed to come to the North West

Sometimes, the national interest is more important than the party interest. Doing the right thing is more important than doing the populist thing.

I have long campaigned on Syria. I called for the Syrian Ambassador to be expelled from the UK months before we did it. I argued that Russia should stop supporting Assad, and I argued that Syrian migrants in the UK should not be sent back to Syria.

I warmly supported the UK quadrupling the aid to Syria, up to £600million. 

Just last week, I called on the Government to allow Syrian refugees to come to the UK. And this week, following lobbying from Nick Clegg, announced that they would.

The commitment is to take in some of the most vulnerable such as torture victims, the elderly, the disabled and women and girls at risk of sexual violence.

Such a commitment I believe will also encourage other countries to do the same further helping to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.

It is my hope too that Greater Manchester, with its sizable Syrian community, will be at the forefront of assisting with the relocation efforts of the coming refugees.

SMR Column: Tolerance must be vital legacy of the Holocaust

This Monday (27th Jan) will mark the 14th Holocaust Memorial day that has taken place in Britain. On this solemn day I think it’s fitting that we all take some time out of our day to really think about what remembering victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

Holocaust Memorial Day marks the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

I will be attending a school assembly at King David & Yavneh High School in Crumpsall on Monday who are joining with Muslim schools to explore the Holocaust and the Muslims who saved lives of Jews.

The terrible slaughter of millions over a delusional belief in sub and superior human beings should remind all of us of the danger in focusing on our differences rather than similarities. This year this message should be particularly poignant with a back drop of tough times and rising far right sentiment across Europe.

Whilst we cannot take back those shameful acts, family members cannot be brought back, we all owe it to Hitler’s victims and indeed all victims of anti-Semitism and racism to ensure we never go back to those dark times.

I encourage all to mark the day and to join members of the community in the fight against prejudice and intolerance. The theme for the UK Holocaust Memorial Day 2014 is ‘Journeys’, encouraging us to learn how journeys themselves became part of genocide and also about the life stories of journeys that brought survivors to the UK.

Marking the event in Manchester will be our own Manchester Jewish Museum, who are putting on a combination of talks, performances and readings about Kindertransport, a rescue mission that allowed 10,000 children to escape from Nazi Germany to Great Britain just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

For more information on the Manchester Jewish Museum’s event please visit the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s website ( and the follow links to activities.


The Future of the BBC; What do you think?

Over the next month, my Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will be looking into the future of the BBC.

This is an issue that affects nearly all of us as, in an average week, 96% of us access the BBC, and more than that pay the license fee!

The challenge the BBC faces is to continue to provide world-class, quality broadcasting, whilst accepting they have less money to spend because of freezes to the licence fee.

Clearly, the BBC is not perfect and has made mistakes. I criticised the payout that the former Director General got when he resigned. Local BBC Radio managers chose to cut local programming, including LGBT Citizen Manchester, Jewish Citizen Manchester and Irish Citizen Manchester, and replace it with cross network programming in the evenings. This, I believe, was a mistake, and one I opposed

However, I support the principle of the BBC. I strongly believe that the BBC should not be cut further after the current cost cutting exercise ends in 2017. I am instead proposing that we should commit to inflation-linked rises in the television license fee, for the lifetime of the next parliament.

Whilst I realise that no-one likes to see their bills go up,  the current license fee costs 40p-a-day, whereas a subscription-only service like Sky costs around 4 times more.

What do you think?

Please comment below, or send your view to [email protected]

SMR Column: Call to limit stakes and number of FOBT's in bookies.



Here is this original version of the week's column for the South Manchester report. The paper edited some words out and made up its own headline, but the meaning is the same.

John Leech MP

Last week there was a Parliamentary debate about the impact of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (or FOBTs for short).


Locally, we have 68 FOBT’s in 17 betting shops across the constituency. About one for every 1100 local people. And payout is higher than for regular fruit machines. But in some areas, like Manchester City Centre, there are many more FOBT’s and often they are found in clusters in poorer areas.


Dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling”, FOBTs allow punters to stake £100 every 20 seconds. The Labour Government allowed bookies up to 4 machines under the 2005 Act, despite Liberal Democrat warnings, and bookies have become increasingly reliant on extra income from FOBTs.


The Liberal Democrats want to reduce these highly addictive machines. Our policy would be to put bookies in a separate planning class, allowing local Councils to control their number.


Labour’s Deputy Leader Harriet Harman has admitted Labour got this wrong in power, and their motion last week talked about reducing the rate of spin of the machines.


But that is not the fundamental problem. The main problem is the maximum stake. At 50 spins an hour keeping a £100 stake, that means a maximum £5000 loss. At £2 a spin, that maximum loss is £100.


The Tories remain unconvinced of the need for restrictions on FOBTs or extra powers to restrict the number of betting shops, since local authorities can already use article 4 directions to combat their proliferation.


So the Coalition Government has agreed to carry out research and make a final decision based on evidence. It has also challenged the betting industry to implement enhanced player protection measures by this March.


If the industry fails to deliver or if at any time the balance of evidence suggests action is required, the Government will reduce stakes and prizes.


It is no secret that there is disagreement between the coalition parties – I and the Liberal Democrats believe that there is clear evidence of the harm that FOBT’s do, and I am confident that the research will back our case.


Last year’s GamCare figures show that 39% of calls to its Helpline came from people who cited these machines specifically, while evidence from the Salvation Army estimated an increase of 30,000 between 2007-10 in the number of FOBT users who have a gambling problem.



A tribute to Paul Goggins.

Today is a sad day.

I, along with many other people, will be attending the funeral at Salford Cathedral of Paul Goggins, the Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East.

You cannot say this about many politicians, but I have never heard a bad word said about Paul from any politician on either side of the House of Commons.

He was a very courteous Minister, and always treated Ministers with respect in opposition. Even when he disagreed with you.

It is a testament to his qualities that, as a Northern Ireland minister, he was held in the highest esteem by Leaders of all the many political parties there.

Apart from being neighbouring MP, we also had several common interests. We campaign together to secure MOSI's future, and on the day of his death, we had jointly signed an amendment on the Mesothelioma Compensation Bill.

We also had a common interest in football, both being Manchester City fans.

Paul was one of the good guys, and will be sorely missed on all sides of the House. My thoughts go out to his family and close friends at this difficult time.

SMR Column: How Lib Dems are delivering on top four pledges

Last year saw the launch of the million jobs campaign which will continue into 2014. Our ambition is to create a million additional jobs by 2015 on top of the million already delivered by the Lib Dems in government.

All Children should have a fair chance in life. Giving support to the poorest pupils helps to build the fairer society that Liberal Democrats want to create.  We are supporting teachers by increasing the pupil premium for primary schools by £400 to £1,300 per pupil this year so they have the resources they need. This is bringing millions of pounds to primary schools in south Manchester. So I am proud that the Lib Dems in government have delivered another of their four top manifesto promises - the Pupil Premium.

It’s in the New Year that people feel the pinch the most and from April, 25 million people will be paying £700 per year less income tax than under the last Government.  Those benefitting from that income tax cut are all low and middle earners.

It particularly helps our young people starting out in the world of work, and working families who may be feeling the pinch more than others.  This marks the delivery of another of the four pledges made in the Lib Dem manifesto.

Three years on, it is easy to forget why the coalition was necessary. The Lib Dems went into government to put the county’s finances on track and the sacrifices people have made are now beginning to bear fruit. In the second half of last year, news on the economy got better and better.

Unemployment is now lower than under the previous government, with 460,000 new jobs created in 2013 alone. There is still more to be done, but it is encouraging that 95% of those new jobs are full-time.

Have a good time but don't Drink and Drive



It’s that time of the year again and chances are you’ll be shuffling through the shopping crowds, ordering in the food and doing the Christmas party rounds. This season seems to bring out the liveliness in all of us – especially at the office party.


And while for most the worst outcome of the season may be an unflattering picture of you lost in the moment in full fancy dress, that is subsequently brought up and passed around at every birthday and meeting, for some it may be a fine of up to £5000, up to six months in prison and a minimum 12 months driving ban.


Last year the Greater Manchester Police arrested 464 people for drink driving of which 78 were involved in collisions. Statistically there are more drink drivers during Christmas than at any other time of the year.


Driving and drinking do not and should never mix!


The possible consequences will always be more costly then the taxi ride home.


How much is too much?


Are you still unsure about limits and units? Bookmark this handy unit calculator from Drink Aware in your phone now.


To stay within the limits “men should consume no more than four units of alcohol (roughly one pint of normal strength beer) and women no more than three units (roughly a small glass of wine)”.


To complicate things further the limit also depends on your gender, weight, age and metabolism.


Having a designating driver for the night will remove this uncertainty. However it is also worth having a few taxi numbers saved into your phone as a backup plan.


Don’t let drinking ruin your night.


Be responsible. Be Safe. And have a Merry Christmas!



Supporting Small Business Saturday tomorrow

On Saturday it is small business Saturday. I will be popping in to Melanie James Bridal on Beech Road to celebrate one of the many small businesses that are vital to the south Manchester economy and provide employment to thousands of local people.

That is why I, along with the Federation of Small Businesses welcome the Autumn statement. Small businesses will be getting a £1000 rebate on their rates. That is on top of Nick Clegg’s announcement this week of £250m extra of new money for small and medium size businesses to access to grow their businesses.

With many high streets being over-run by the big companies, I am proud that across south Manchester we have retained small and local businesses on our High Streets; they are the lifeblood of our community.

I always try to support local businesses like my local family run butchers and support start ups like Didsbury’s Ruk-Bug, which I wrote a blog about a couple of months ago.

Local small businesses show the strength of our community just as much as the large number of  events and festivals, that happen all year round in south Manchester.

We all need to get out this weekend, in Burnage, Chorlton, Withington and Didsbury and show that we care about our local businesses and go local for our Christmas shopping. We have also seen the Small Business Saturday bus promoting the event in nearby Levenshulme, a move welcomed by Levenshulme Councillor James Hennigan.

In addition to supporting the campaign my Liberal Democrat colleagues at Manchester City Council moved a motion asking that the Council uses all the resources at its disposal to support not just Small Business Saturday but our local businesses all year round.

I am delighted to support south Manchester’s local businesses and Small Business Saturday and urge everyone else to do the same.

Let’s all get out their tomorrow and support our local High Streets.

Nelson Mandela: The towering political Leader of the late 20th century.


In my view, Nelson Mandela was the towering political figure of the late 20th century. For someone of my generation, he was a truly inspiring figure. The Telegraph have today done a wonderful picture gallery to celebrate his life, which can be seen here.

These photo show him as a young man, a lawyer, a freedom fighter, a husband and father. They show his release from prison after 27 years, his swearing-in as President and his whole political career.

The image I remember most vividly was the one above, with him presented the 1995 Rugby World Cup to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar.

For those of us growing up in the 1970's and 1980's, the Springbok were a symbol of the old, apartheid, South Africa. The team was white. Their supporters were white.

Nelson Mandela's strong support for the Springbok helped unite a country   He convinced his party to support the Springboks. The day before the final they visited his cell at Robbin Island. The gesture of him wearing the Springbok's jersey was widely seen as a major step towards the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.

His enthusiasm  for the Springboks is portrayed in the 2009 film Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

Nelson Mandela was a great man. The world is a poorer place today.



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