Category Archives: Victoria in Parliament

VICTORIA PRENTIS JOINS OVER 100 MPS IN A LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER ABOUT FAIRER SCHOOL FUNDING

North Oxfordshire’s MP, Victoria Prentis, has signed an open letter to David Cameron MP calling on the Government to deliver school funding reform.

Members of Parliament from across the political divide have written to the Prime Minister to ask him to implement the funding formula proposed by the F40 campaign group. Under the current system, the ten best funded areas of England will receive an average grant of £6,297 per pupils this year, compared to an average of just £4,208 per pupil in the ten most poorly funded areas. In Oxfordshire, each pupil receives £4317.98.

In their letter, the 111 MPs said:

It is widely acknowledged that the existing school funding model is a muddle and that funding for individual schools with similar pupil characteristics is arbitrary and unfair.

At a time of spending restraint it is more important than ever that funding is allocated based on need. F40 has come up with a formula which would see the funding cake shared much more fairly.

We believe this formula can help deliver a solution. We want the children in our schools to continue to have a broad range of subjects to study, good resources to use, well maintained buildings, reasonably sized classes and excellent pastoral support. Fairer funding is integral to all of this, and we urge you to deliver it.

Other signatories of the letter include former Cabinet ministers and Conservative MPs: Dominic Grieve, Caroline Spelman and Cheryl Gillan. Education Committee Chairman Neil Carmichael and Commons Speaker John Bercow, in his capacity as MP for Buckingham, and Oxford East MP, Andrew Smith, also signed the letter.

VICTORIA SPEAKS AT BLISS EVENT TO LAUNCH 2015 BABY REPORT

VP @ Bliss Cropped

Victoria Prentis MP attended Bliss’ parliamentary event on Tuesday 20 October 2015 and spoke about the importance of support for parents. The reception was organised by Bliss, the special care baby charity, to launch Bliss baby report 2015: hanging in the balance. The report covers a range of topics including the supply of neonatal nurses and doctors and availability of psychological and emotional support for parents.

In particular, the report found that at 41 per cent of units parents do not have access to a trained mental health worker, despite parents of premature and sick babies being at far greater risk of postnatal depression. Moreover, one third of units were not able to provide overnight accommodation for parents of critically ill babies or those living many miles from the hospital. It is vital that parents are able to stay close to their baby as research shows that when parents are involved in their baby’s care, it improves their development and recovery, and eases the pressure on health professionals.

Bliss is now calling for urgent action from the Government, the NHS and health education bodies to address these issues and ensure neonatal units have the resources they need to meet national standards for quality and safety.

Speaking after the event, Victoria said: “An estimated 168 vulnerable babies are born premature or sick to parents in Banbury every year, and many more women with difficult pregnancies and births are transferred to the Radcliffe. Bliss has put together an interesting report which highlights some very important issues. Personally, I am very concerned about psychological support for parents.  Approximately 40 percent of mothers with a premature baby suffer from post-natal depression, compared to 5 to 10 percent of those who have a healthy baby. It is vital that all babies have the best possible chance in life, and that their families get all the support they need during what is an extremely difficult time.

 

MP CHAMPIONS BICESTER IN FIRST QUESTION TO THE PRIME MINISTER

Bicester

Victoria Prentis asked a question during Prime Minister’s Questions today, focussing on Bicester and highlighting her desire to ensure sustainable infrastructure alongside new development as the Garden Town continues to grow.

Victoria used her first PMQ to bring her thoughts on growth and strategic development directly to the Prime Minister’s attention. She asked “Bicester is blossoming into a Garden Town, which welcomes sustainable growth. Would my Right Honourable Friend, who knows our area well, agree that the promised funding for infrastructure must be provided in step with development?”

Victoria commented: “It was great to be able to speak directly about Bicester, which is setting a strong example as a growing town. I was really excited to be able to use my first question to raise such an important local issue. The Prime Minister agrees that infrastructure and investment need to go together.

It was fantastic to hear the Prime Minister speak so highly of my predecessor, Sir Tony Baldry, who’s impressive and long-standing efforts have given me a great foundation on which to build.

I was so proud to hear the Prime Minister commend Cherwell District Council. He said if people think councils in the South shy away from positive development and growth, they should look to Bicester. He continued “Bicester shows that we can build, build sensibly, and provide the homes that we want to live in.” I am pleased we have received that recognition.

Victoria speaks in superfast broadband debate

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 12 October 2015:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): I add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) for securing the debate, and to the Minister for listening to our tales of woe today.

I can start on a slightly happier note than some did. It was not in the first week of May this year that my family’s lives were changed significantly, but in the first week of March. Previously, the internet in our small village had not been at all reliable at peak times, or when it rained, as it occasionally does in north Oxfordshire. Then, overnight, my husband stopped commuting and joined the army of those who work at home, I found that I could answer emails in seconds, and the children found to their amazement that they could watch reruns of “Top Gear”, on a variety of devices, in every room of the house. For me, the advent of superfast broadband will for ever be associated with Jeremy Clarkson. Quite simply, reliable fast internet changed all our lives.

I am sure that the Minister is as proud as I am of our local branch of Broadband Delivery UK. I was able to meet representatives of the branch during the recent recess. Better Broadband for Oxfordshire is committed to doing just what its name implies. To date, it has delivered on target, on time and under budget for the two years it has been in existence, and it is ranked fourth in the country for delivery. It can surely be no coincidence that the Minister represents the neighbouring constituency to my own. Better Broadband for Oxfordshire is funded from a variety of interested groups, including our local enterprise partnership, BDUK and our district councils. Despite all this excellent work, however, much of my casework still concerns the lack of broadband.

One issue is that commercial providers of broadband declare an interest in providing services for a particular area. If they are successful, those declarations remain valid for three years, and the service might not be provided until the end of that period. That is a long time for a village or an industrial estate to wait. Better Broadband for Oxfordshire has in some cases needed to challenge those delays, and has on occasion needed to take over the delivery of the service. However, a better solution could be to shorten the period allowed for delivery, and to insist that the service is provided in a timely fashion.

Another big issue in Oxfordshire is attenuation. Much of our network is still reliant on old copper lines, and copper replacement will need to take place if we are truly to realise the potential of broadband, but that will require enormous investment. The older lines are a particular problem in rural areas, especially for farmers. As much farming is conducted online as it is in the cowshed these days. Those of us who have tried to download Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs manuals, or even to fill in a tax return, over a less-than-perfect connection know how frustrating that can be. If a provider can be found to install fibre-optic cables to remote farms, that has to be paid for. There is some confusion over whether an EU subsidy of, I believe, about £3,000 is available to assist farmers in paying for that installation. The National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association take slightly different views on whether the subsidy can be claimed by those who also claim the single farm payment. I would be grateful for clarification on that point. It is important that the Government do not assume that all Government business can be conducted online before we have achieved more universality of service. I hope that, following the “not spot” summit, I shall be able to go back to my constituents in north Oxfordshire with concrete ideas and timetables for the future.

Victoria questions Treasury Minister about employment trends

12. Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): What assessment he has made of recent trends in the level of employment. [901123]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Damian Hinds): Employment stands at 31 million having increased by 265,000 over the past year, driven entirely by more people being in full-time work. We are now moving into the next phase of our recovery, with high-quality employment helping to boost productivity and raise living standards across the country.

Victoria Prentis: The security of a good job and a regular pay packet are of fundamental importance to people in my constituency. Can my hon. Friend assure us that he will keep backing business across the country to create more jobs?

Damian Hinds: I can. The Government’s long-term economic plan is working. Since 2010, we have seen the creation of 1,000 new jobs a day, but the job is not yet done. The Government will continue working through the plan to secure Britain’s economic future.

Victoria asks question on fairer funding for schools

9. Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)) (Con): What progress her Department is making on providing fairer funding for schools. [901094]

 

12. Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What progress she has made on the introduction of a national funding formula for schools. [901097]

 

13. Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): What progress her Department is making on providing fairer funding for schools. [901098]

 

17. Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): What progress her Department is making on providing fairer funding for schools. [901102]

 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): It is deeply unfair that we have a schools funding formula based on historic allocation rather than on actual need of schools and pupils. That is why the manifesto confirmed extra financial support for the least well-funded authorities for 2015-16, protected the schools budget in real terms and committed to making the system fairer. I can confirm that we will be putting proposals before the House for funding reform in due course.

 

Rishi Sunak: I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s answer and hope that he can continue to make progress for the students in my constituency. Will he comment on the recent National Audit Office report that recommended a fairer formula so that pupils receive funding that is related “more closely to their needs, and less affected by where they live”?

 

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is unfair that a primary pupil eligible for free school meals in Richmond receives £472 extra funding while a similar student in another part of Yorkshire receives almost £300 more. That is why we recently announced that the schools block funding rates for 2016-17 have been baked in the extra funding that we distributed in the last financial year to make funding fairer.

 

Mr Laurence Robertson: I welcome the fact that the Government are about to introduce a national funding formula, but may I urge the Minister to do it sooner rather than later, because the longer the unfairness goes on the more difficult it will be to correct?

 

Mr Gyimah: I know the f40 group, of which my hon. Friend is a member, has been campaigning for 19 years for a fairer funding formula, so I can understand his impatience. He is right to highlight the financial pressures that schools are under, especially those in underfunded parts of the country; this is one of the reasons why we are committed to fairer funding. As I said, we have protected per pupil funding in each authority from 2015-16, meeting the commitment to protect the national schools budget.

 

Paul Maynard: The Minister will be aware that Blackpool has amongst the lowest educational attainment in the country. What more, besides the hugely valuable pupil premium and the extra funding for nursery schools, can the Government do to increase attainment among white working-class children in seaside resorts—currently the weakest demographic in the country?

 

Mr Gyimah: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know he has a record of successful campaigning for schools funding. He is right to mention the pupil premium, which is designed to remove the barriers to learning faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The pupil premium will provide almost £5 million in additional funding for more than 4,000 disadvantaged pupils—that is all disadvantaged children, not just white children—in Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and will help them to fulfil their potential.

 

Victoria Prentis: Following on from the previous question, 3,000 disadvantaged children in my Banbury constituency also benefit from the pupil premium. What other measures has the Minister thought about to promote targeted spending, to help to increase fairness in education?

 

Mr Gyimah: I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. She may know that her father, Lord Boswell, was extremely generous in his support to me in my early political career— indeed, he helped me to meet my wife—[Interruption.] Too much information. My hon. Friend rightly mentions targeted support. Some £3.5 million has been allocated to Banbury schools specifically to help to narrow the education gap.

 

Mr Speaker: I think we are clear that the noble Lord is a great man. He is also, famously, the author of the advice: don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. You can put a monkey on a typewriter and end up with the collected works of Shakespeare, but we will all be dead by then.

 

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Minister will know that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously raised concerns about the potential impact of a national funding formula on poorer, more disadvantaged parts of England. Although a new formula will certainly help schools in the Stockport part of my constituency, which are disadvantaged by the current arrangements, can the Minister guarantee that there will be no inadvertent impact on schools in the Tameside part of my constituency, which is a poorer borough overall?

 

Mr Gyimah: Let me be clear: our commitment is to a fairer funding formula for schools. It is not right that schools in Tower Hamlets receive 63% more funding than schools in Barnsley with the same demographic profile. We have to do something about that, but we must take our time to get it right. We will consult widely, and I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will support us in this effort.

 

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab): Figures from the Department show that per pupil funding for St Helens will be more than £150 less than the average across England this year. In addition, our local authority is being asked to take a further £23 million from its budget in the same period. Will the Minister listen to the concerns of staff in schools in my constituency, who tell me that their ability to teach and support children is being hindered and not helped by this Government and their policies?

 

Mr Gyimah: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have protected schools funding in real terms. If schools in his area are getting less funding, perhaps he should be speaking to the local authority, in particular the schools forums, to understand what exactly is going on.

 

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): This is a key issue, which is one of the reasons why the Education Committee will also be conducting an inquiry on the subject, but does the Minister agree that if we reform funding, we will answer the National Audit Office’s firm criticism of the system that it does not make sense for the pupil premium in some areas?

 

Mr Gyimah: I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. The point he makes is, I believe, that some areas are receiving, in effect, double deprivation funding: they are receiving it both through the schools formula and through the pupil premium. We will look at the funding formula in the round to address all those issues.

MP comments on MPs’ pay

Following IPSA’s decision following their statutory review of MPs’ pay, North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis, has set out her views below:

 

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was established in response to the MP expenses scandal; MPs have absolutely no control over their pay level so I’m afraid any decision surrounding pay levels is entirely a matter for IPSA. By law, the increase must apply to all MPs; it will be applied through the usual monthly payroll process which is administered by IPSA.

 

I have thought very carefully about whether to say that I will give the pay rise to charity. For short term political gain, this might be the right thing to do. However, I do not think that how much of my earnings I give to charity, not listing which charities I support, is something I want to make public. This is not a precedent I wish to set.

 

I am a strong supporter and great believer in the charitable and voluntary sector. Indeed, it is undoubtedly volunteering which has let me to think I can make a difference and stand for Parliament. I have always been involved in raising money for charities, as are both my parents. Around fifteen years ago, I took the decision while on a fair civil service salary, that I should contribute more if I gave time as well as money. I decided to give Thursdays to a variety of charitable causes, mostly local ones.

 

I kept a list of charities who had asked me to help, and I tried to get to them in turn. I think it is important that less popular charities should get time and attention too, so I was happy to be involved with organisations such as Oxford Urology and Fine Cell Work, a charity which helps Prisoners. I had my own criteria for choosing, which I feel after much thought, I don’t want to make public; I wouldn’t want others to make assumptions as to why I did help, for example Leonard Cheshire, but not the wonderful Katharine House Hospice.

 

Of particular importance to me were setting up and chairing the Benefactors’ Board for Children’s Services across our local hospital Trust, and acting as a Trustee for NorPIP. I discovered that I loved fundraising. I don’t think it is appropriate to share my personal annual fundraising target; this is a matter for me. However, it may assist you to know that I remain the Chair of the Dorchester Abbey Christmas Concert, for children’s services, which raises around £50,000. This is just one of the many events in which I have been involved over the years, and in which, time permitting, I will of course stay involved.

 

Of course, charitable giving works both ways. I enjoy immensely a variety of other voluntary activities, such as reading in schools, running a children’s book club (which I did for several years in our village hall), acting as a church warden and leading Sunday School; I have gained a great deal from these experiences and am grateful for this. I think it is really important to give time. For example, I loved cooking supper for BYHP earlier this year. Buying the food was of course a charitable donation, but it was the time I spent cooking and chatting with the young people which meant most to all of us. Not strictly charitable, but definitely voluntary, are the events I host for my village at home three times a year. These, like all fetes and community celebrations, are about so much more than money.

 

Now that I am the Member of Parliament, I can no longer give a whole day or two a week to voluntary work. However, I will remain involved with the Children’s Services charity I started, and I still enjoy attending at the very least one charitable event each weekend.

 

I’m also enjoying putting people in touch with each other: to date I have found a new trustee for Banbury Museum, three school governors and suggested new patrons for several organisations. If anyone you know is looking to give some time, then do let me know if you can’t find anything suitable.

 

I am sorry not to give you a 140 character response suitable for Twitter; I have thought about your question in some detail and I’m afraid I am not keen to answer it in those terms.
Charitable giving is very important to me, but I do take the view that the level of commitment at any one time is a personal matter and goes beyond giving a monetary donation on a monthly basis.

 

 

Victoria Prentis
Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire

MP makes speech in Westminster Hall debate on the cremation of infants

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): Thank you, Mr Howarth, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under you, and I will be as quick as I can.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing a debate on this important issue. On average, almost 20 very small babies die around the time of their birth every day in England and Wales. This issue is clearly significant for many families, and indeed for society as a whole.

I also have a constituent’s story to tell, which raises a related but slightly different problem. In 2009, my constituent gave birth to a baby girl who, sadly, did not survive. My constituent was told at the time by the funeral directors that there would not be any ashes, because the body of her baby was too small.

Following the media attention on this issue, which has been mentioned by several Members today, and the campaigning by Action for Ashes, my constituent was moved to contact Banbury crematorium in June. She hoped to find out details of their practice at the time when her baby was cremated. Imagine her enormous surprise and distress when she was told that her baby’s ashes were still at the crematorium, some six years on, waiting for her to collect them. She immediately went to pick up the ashes, as any mother would, and there was no difficulty in identifying them or in the crematorium handing them to her.

I understand that this is not an isolated case. I have written to crematoriums, because I understand that there are more babies whose remains are waiting to be collected; their families are simply not aware that their ashes are in crematoriums. Clearly, that is not acceptable—at the very least there has been a major breakdown in communication between the funeral directors, the crematoriums and the families. It is to be hoped that we can use these sad cases to inform debate and to consider how we can prevent such incidents from happening again.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice for meeting my constituent last week, and for the interest and sensitivity that she has shown in dealing with this difficult issue.

It is no longer necessary to have personal experience of the loss of a young baby to understand their importance in the eyes of their parents, grandparents and wider family. With recent advances in medicine, whereby some babies survive after only 22 or 23 weeks’ gestation, the perceptions of the whole of society towards these very important members of society have altered considerably. We may not be good at discussing death, but we all know that it matters how the bodies of these babies are treated.

The Scottish Government accepted all the recommendations of the Infant Cremation Commission and have established a national committee to ensure that they are implemented. I am keen that we learn from that work and move speedily to ensure that the rest of the UK does not lag behind in its provision for infant cremations.

I understand that both the leading professional organisations in the UK have adopted the wider definition of “ashes” to include remains from clothes, coffins and soft toys. This is good progress, but work must be done to ensure that the definition is applied in practice, and that small babies are always cremated in individual trays. A standard definition, and clear guidelines, would really help in this regard.

Clearly, work also needs to be done to ensure that funeral directors, crematoriums and families know exactly what is going on at each stage of the process. Care must be taken to ensure that both parents are involved in decision making. Obviously, many of the mothers who have given birth to these babies are unwell at the time, and enormous stress is placed on the families. It is very important that everybody is very clear at every stage of the process where the body of their baby is.

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is setting out the case most sensitively and powerfully. I am extremely grateful to her, as will be my constituents, Mr and Mrs Jones of Wigston Magna, whose son, Nicholas, died over 30 years ago. They have been living for the last 30 years with exactly the sorts of problems, traumas and distress that my hon. Friend is outlining. I am most grateful to her, on their behalf, for what she is saying.

Victoria Prentis: The pressures on the couple, dealing both separately and together with the loss of their child, are enormous, as all hon. Members know. Clearly, specialist staff training is needed to make sure that parents are helped in the best way. Many of us, whether we have lost children or other relatives, know that the actions of funeral directors and crematoriums can really make a difference in helping the living survive a bereavement.

Local MP asks question on tackling child abuse images online

Mr Speaker: Order. I was going to give the hon. Lady an opportunity on this question if she wants, because child abuse images online are an extremely antisocial form of behaviour.

17. [900757] Victoria Prentis: They are extremely antisocial, Mr Speaker; in fact, I can think of few more antisocial kinds of behaviour than videoing children and posting their images online. Does my right hon. Friend agree that social media and other communications companies have a responsibility to work with Government and the police to reduce access to indecent images such as these?

Mr Hayes: I do agree with that. Everyone has a role to play in combating this problem, and I welcome the groundbreaking pledges by 20 leading companies at the #WeProtect summit on global action to remove child sexual abuse images from the internet and develop new tools and techniques to tackle this crime. The Government will continue to work with companies, organisations and civil society to make it much more difficult for perpetrators of this heinous, hideous crime.

Victoria intervenes in Westminster Hall debate on the Human Rights Act

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): I am glad my right hon. and learned Friend is a optimist—he may need to be in the present circumstances. One subject we may be able to address in making any changes is extraterritoriality, under article 1, particularly with regard to the military. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) may have touched on that when he talked about the possibility of other legislation being the way forward.

Robert Neill: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that promotion, which is unexpected and undeserved on both counts. I always look forward to the future with optimism as far as those two matters are concerned. Extraterritoriality is an important issue. It has exercised those involved in a number of recent Court judgments, and it is precisely the sort of area where we might find a proportionate and sensible way forward.

I hope we will engage with the profession on these issues, because there is a great deal of knowledge and understanding about this issue. We tend to regard what happens in the Strasbourg Court as a bit of a sideshow, and that would be a mistake, whatever side of the argument we are on.

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