Category Archives: Victoria in Parliament

MP SPEAKS IN DEBATE ABOUT MARRIAGE REGISTRATION CERTIFICATES

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 8 December 2015:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady, and to speak in this debate, which we are all grateful to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) for securing. I should probably declare an interest, given that two members of my staff intend to get married—not to each other—in the next year, so I was under a certain amount of pressure to attend this debate. We talk of nothing but wedding dresses in the office.

It is almost 19 years since I married my husband on a cold and frosty December day. Since then, the idea of marriage has evolved considerably, but it remains important to many of us. It is noticeable that the mothers in this debate—I hesitate to call it “the audience”—go particularly shiny-eyed when we talk about our daughters getting married. As the mother of a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old, I am already thinking of those happy days that I hope will happen one day—but not too soon.

We should recognise that families today look very different to how they looked even 20 years ago, when I thought about getting married, and extremely different to how they looked two centuries ago, so I will focus on how we adapt to that change.

Dr Huq: I did not declare my interest as a mother before; I do so now.

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point that the constitution of families has changed dramatically. Is she aware that, according to Gingerbread, there are now 2 million single parent households, which is 25% of all families with children, and 90% of those single parents are women. Given those figures, this erasing of women from history, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) has called it, seems even more anomalous.

Victoria Prentis: The hon. Lady makes a point that I will come on to shortly.

First, however, I will again quote the Prime Minister, from his speech to the Relationships Alliance summit, which I referred to earlier. He said:

“We all know that a strong family begins with a strong relationship between two loving people who make a deep and lasting commitment to each other…in Britain we recognise and value the commitment that people make to each other. And that’s just as vital whether the commitment is between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and another woman.”

As we have heard from other Members this afternoon, it was in that same speech that the Prime Minister announced plans to address the “inequality in marriage”, to enable mothers’ names to be included on marriage certificates as well as fathers’ names.

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I have discussed this issue at length with one of my constituents, who has been in a relationship for a considerable time; in fact, we are all eagerly awaiting her engagement as well. She pointed out that she is estranged from her father, who subjected her and her siblings to sexual abuse over a number of years, and has not seen him since she was 10. As a result, she would not want his name to be included on her own marriage certificate.

I looked into this matter and I understand from guidance from the General Register Office and from my own diocese in Oxford that:

“If either party does not wish to put their father’s details in the Register or they do not know who their father is, you should not put ‘unknown’ or leave the column blank. You should put a horizontal line through both columns to show that no information was given.”

Although that would reflect in some ways my constituent’s wishes, it would also mean that there would be no mention of her mother, who understandably had to act as both mother and father to her during the very difficult circumstances of her upbringing. I feel strongly that a marriage certificate should recognise such a scenario.

Christina Rees: There is a rare exception by which a mother’s details can be included; it is if she has been authorised by a court as the sole adopter. Then a couple can make a special request to have her details put on the register and in the certificate. The other way that it can be done is via a loophole, whereby the mothers’ names can be included if the mothers are witnesses, but that is the only other way I can see round this problem.

Victoria Prentis: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. Sadly, this matter involving my constituent never came before a court, so it is not possible to resolve it in that way. It is now important that we move forward to reflect the fact that families do not look how we once thought they always would.

Julian Knight: My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech and I was greatly interested in her significant point about survivors of abuse and their involvement in this situation. In that regard, is it not, frankly, just a bit of a farce that we have to look for loopholes in order to recognise women on a marriage certificate? Would she like to reflect on that?

Victoria Prentis: I could not agree more. Personally, however, I am not sure whether including the mother’s name on a certificate goes far enough. In the speech that I referred to earlier, the Prime Minister also set out his plans to make adoption by same-sex couples more straightforward. That is important because increasingly we are seeing same-sex couples with children who will eventually want to get married themselves. In such circumstances, they will not have a “father’s name” and a “mother’s name” to note on the certificate, but might have two fathers or two mothers.

I wonder whether this is the moment to go one step further and provide two fields on certificates for “Parent 1” and “Parent 2”, or whatever terminology we see fit to use, after consultation. It seems to me that that would cover most scenarios. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what consideration has been given to such a suggestion.

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Of course, any change is a step in the right direction. It must be possible, given that the mother’s name, surname and occupation are already included on a civil partnership schedule, to include those details in wedding certificates. I simply add that, given it has taken us this long to get this far, I hope that we will not have to wait a similar length of time before we recognise different forms of parental relationship.

 

VICTORIA’S POSITION ON BRITISH AIRSTRIKES AGAINST DAESH IN SYRIA

Recently I have been contacted by many constituents regarding British participation in anti-Daesh airstrikes in Syria. I recognise the strong feelings held by people on both sides of this debate.

I have given this matter a great deal of thought over recent weeks, particularly since the horrific events in Paris. I listened carefully to the Prime Minister’s statement to the Commons last week and have also read his full response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on the extension of British military operations to Syria. A link to the Prime Minister’s response can be found at the bottom of this article. I also listened and considered the contributions made by both sides today in the House of Commons, in what was a very thought-provoking debate. Personally, I believe a very clear argument has been made for limited, and very targeted, intervention in Syria.

I also sat down and talked at length about this matter with the Defence Secretary last week, so I can assure my constituents that my decision to support the Government in the vote is the result of extremely careful consideration. While I recognise that some people will find this disappointing, I think we have to recognise that the scale of the threat we face from Daesh is unprecedented. It has already taken the lives of British hostages and inspired the attack on the beaches in Tunisia, the worst act of terrorism against British people since 7/7. In the last 12 months, our police and security services have disrupted no fewer than seven terrorist plots to attack the UK, every one of which was either linked to, or inspired by, Daesh. I am in no doubt that it is in our national interest for action to be taken to stop them.

Upon request for assistance from the Iraqi Government, British aircraft of the Royal Air Force are already delivering the second highest number of airstrikes over Iraq. However, stopping Daesh means taking action in Syria too, because Raqqa is its headquarters. I am persuaded that directed attacks on Raqqa and other Daesh targets in Syria are necessary.

Having been a senior Government lawyer before my election to Parliament, the legality of any decision matters to me enormously. As the Prime Minister made clear during his statement to the Commons last week, it is important to recognise that the threat posed by Daesh is underscored by the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2249. The resolution states that Daesh “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security”, and calls for member states to take “all necessary measures” to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Daesh. Crucially, it states that we should “eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.

We cannot defeat Daesh with military action alone. The Prime Minister’s approach is based on the counter-extremism strategy to prevent attacks at home, the diplomatic and political process to work with our allies, humanitarian support and longer-term stabilisation, alongside military action.

Moreover, Britain has given over £1.1 billion (surpassed only by the USA) in humanitarian assistance. It is absolutely right for this to continue. Importantly, we have also committed to contribute at least another £1 billion for post-conflict reconstruction to support a new Syrian Government when it emerges, which will be essential. Personally, I am also trying to raise funds for those who remain in Syria, through my Singing for Syrians concerts.

I believe strongly that peace cannot be achieved through a military assault on Daesh alone, but the strategy must start with degrading and defeating Daesh. Throughout its history, the people of the United Kingdom have stood up to defend our values and our way of life. We can, and we must, do so again.

Victoria Prentis MP (2 December 2015)

 

Annex: Prime Minister’s Response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Second Report of Session 2015-16: The Extension of Offensive British Military Operations to Syria

MP WELCOMES FUNDING FOR PERINATAL MENTAL HEALTH CARE

Victoria Prentis MP has welcomed an additional £600m funding for mental health care, including talking therapies, perinatal mental health and crisis care. The funding, which was announced in yesterday’s Autumn Statement, follows a speech Victoria made in Westminster Hall to mark World Prematurity Day, in which she singled out mental health as one of the key areas for improvement.

In her Westminster Hall speech, Victoria highlighted that 40 per cent of mothers of premature babies are affected by postnatal depression soon after birth, compared to 5-10 per cent of mothers generally. She emphasised the need for access to counselling for both parents as well as, where necessary, siblings and grandparents. Victoria also said that it was “not acceptable” that on 41 per cent of neonatal units, parents have no access to a trained mental health worker. She spoke of the lack of access to suitable mental health professionals as “needlessly cruel” and highlighted the wider implications for the family, particularly when there is a strong correlation between marriage or relationship breakdown following the birth of a very sick baby. Before concluding, Victoria called on the Minister to ensure progress is made towards a joined-up approach to neonatal care.

Speaking after the Chancellor’s announcement in the Autumn Statement, Victoria said: “I was delighted to hear the Chancellor’s commitment to provide £600m funding to mental health care, including perinatal mental services. Dealing with bereavement or the birth of a very sick baby is an incredible strain on all family members. It is a travesty that so many families do not have access to mental health professionals when they really need it. This is a really positive step in the right direction. I look forward to finding out more about how the money will be spent. I am conscious, however, that there is still plenty more to do. I will continue to raise this issue with the Minister at every opportunity.

VICTORIA SPEAKS IN DEBATE TO MARK WORLD PREMATURITY DAY

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 24 November 2015:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, although it is not a great pleasure to listen to the debate. The quality, of course, is excellent, but the subject matter

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is so sad. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for organising the debate.

It is fair to say that when our son died because he was born prematurely 15 years ago, the focus was, rightly, on the medical situation. I was extremely unwell with pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome, which is a leading cause of maternal death worldwide; I am now the patron of the charity in this country. Bliss has reported, and others will speak, about funding and skills shortages in neonatal units. My own experience is that skilled staff worked hard and did all they could for us medically. More could and probably should have been done to create memories. I have spoken and corresponded with my hon. Friend the Minister about that and hope that his excellent work on it will bear fruit. The Minister for family justice is also doing great work for the families of babies who die to ensure best practice during the cremation and burial process.

Today, I want to focus on the other medical services that can make such a difference to premature babies and their families in the long term. This is an issue of growing importance. Just as the elderly are living longer, the very young are surviving in cases where even a few years ago, they would not have done. That is, obviously, good news but, just as with the very old, prematurity presents its own challenges.

First, I turn to mental health, which my friend the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) has mentioned. According to Bliss, 40% of mothers of premature babies are affected by postnatal depression soon after birth, compared with 5% to 10% of mothers generally. For those whose babies die, I suggest that 100% need access to counselling, for both the father and the mother, and possibly for siblings and grandparents as well. It is not acceptable that on 41% of neonatal units, parents have no access to a trained mental health worker and on 30% of neonatal units, parents have no access to any psychological support at all. Not only is allowing mental health problems to go untreated needlessly cruel, but it has wider implications.

The Prime Minister made it clear how important family is to him in a speech last year, when he said that

“for those of us who want to strengthen and improve society, there is no better way than strengthening families and strengthening the relationships on which families are built.”

Sadly, however, a very large number—so large a number I am not even going to mention it—of marriages and relationships break up under the strain of a bereavement or the birth of a very sick baby, and more must be done to face that problem head-on.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I am on a Bill Committee upstairs, but I wanted to come down to this important debate. I raised some issues about summer-born children in a debate recently. Does my hon. Friend agree that in the long term, unless a family’s wishes about delaying the start of education are recognised, and unless that is embedded in the code by the Department for Education, significant problems will be experienced not only by the premature child but by the family?

Victoria Prentis: I agree, not least because I am the mother of a daughter who was born on 28 August. Although she was not premature, I am very aware of the difficulties that prematurity carries with it throughout the lives of children who are born too early.

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Julian Knight: My hon. Friend touched on the question of divorce following the sad death of an infant. I wonder whether she would like to reflect on the need for more marriage guidance and support structures for those who face that awful situation, and more widely on how working towards a seven-day NHS will help to alleviate many of the problems that come about with premature birth.

Victoria Prentis: Turning first to the difficulties in relationships, it is true, as I have found out personally and with great difficulty, that fathers and mothers grieve differently. The interface between two very unhappy people can be, as I know from personal experience, very difficult indeed to manage. I am fortunate that my husband and I had been married for a long time before our son died, and we were able to hold it together. We also come from very stable families who were able to provide us with a great deal of support, as was the Church. It is an enormously difficult area for people, however. On the seven-day NHS, yes, it is always terrifying to look at the units at weekends with lower numbers of staff on duty, and to wonder how those people are coping.

I return to poor mental health. It is important to focus not only on the parents but on the babies. From my work with the Parent-Infant Partnership UK, I know that long-term difficulties emerge from a lack of bonding between depressed parents and their children. The sad by-line “two is too late” is substantially true. If prematurity is not to have a multi-generational impact, early action must be taken quickly.

There are simple, practical solutions that would ease the strain on families. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) has been working hard to ensure that more beds are provided in mental health mother and baby units nationwide. We heard, at an excellent lecture that my hon. Friend hosted last week in this place, from a psychiatrist who admits women from Cornwall to his unit in Birmingham. Travelling puts additional burdens on families under strain. Probably 50 or 60 more beds are needed nationwide to meet the commitments we have made to give mental health parity of esteem.

Other associated health professionals need to be in at the off, working with premature babies and their families. Professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians and speech and language therapists form a vital part of the care that premature babies need. Such care can have an enormous effect on development and quality of life. I will give the example of a child who is well known to me—a little boy born very prematurely to well-informed parents, who were not told about the importance of physiotherapy to his development. That must be seen in the context of the fact that 20% of premature babies have a cerebral palsy diagnosis. That little boy is now 10, and, rather than playing football with his friends, he has had a punishing sequence of operations and casts on his legs. His parents were told at their last appointment that physiotherapy from babyhood might have alleviated the need for all that. According to Bliss, 43% of neonatal units had no access to an occupational therapist, even via referral to another service, and 12% of units had no access to a speech and language therapist. As ever, early intervention saves trauma, time and money.

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The Government have wisely seen the need for co-ordinated care for the elderly, with named GPs and someone in charge of the entire patient experience. So often, we speak of the need for a joined-up approach to end-of-life care. Only a few weeks ago, the Minister responded to a debate on palliative care and spoke of the importance of integration between sectors. We are making great progress on that front; the Economist Intelligence Unit recently reported that we have the best palliative care in terms of access to services and the quality of those services. Perhaps the time has come to look at the needs of premature babies and their families as a whole and to do some joined-up thinking to ensure our neonatal care is also the best in the world.

VICTORIA JOINS OVER 100 MPS TO CALL ON THE CHANCELLOR TO INVEST IN BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE

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Victoria Prentis MP, has signed an open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, urging him to continue investing in fixed and mobile broadband as part of the Spending Review, and in the future.

Victoria was joined by more than 100 cross-party MPs and Peers to highlight the importance of investment in broadband infrastructure immediately and in the long term. Currently, 17 per cent of the UK still does not have the option of a superfast broadband connection, and, even worse, some 500,000 households still lack even basic broadband. The letter also emphasised the social significance of access to broadband in the digital era, which in some areas can be the difference between isolation and access to vital services.

In the letter, the MPs said: “We urge you to consider the important of continued state investment in both mobile and fixed broadband infrastructure as part of the Spending Review, so that the digital divide does not widen and deepen, and so that we can provide the same digital opportunities to everyone in the UK, regardless of where they live.”

“Continued investment will ensure that we will not split the super-connected from those for whom the 21st century economy is another country. We urge you to invest in creating one digital nation.”

Victoria commented: “Superfast broadband is an incredibly prominent issue in my constituency. Having received access to superfast broadband only in March this year, I can personally say, it has changed my life. Without universal access to a reliable, high speed broadband, many areas near Banbury and Bicester are being held back in more ways than one. It is brilliant that MPs across the political spectrum have come together to support this important matter.”

Other signatories include the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson MP, and the former Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, Simon Hart MP.

MP CONTRIBUTES TO THE TRADE UNION BILL DEBATE

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 10 November 2015:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): The Trade Union Bill was my first experience of sitting on a Public Bill Committee. Our sessions were lively and often educational, like the previous speech. The bit about St Thomas Aquinas was greatly enjoyed in all parts of the House.

As a former public sector worker myself for 17 years, I know what it is like to cross a picket line. I enjoyed questioning union greats, including Len McCluskey. Today those on the Conservative Benches have been called Dickensian, Stalinist and draconian, but many of us firmly believe that trade unions are valuable institutions in British society. It is vital that they represent accurately the views of their members. This Bill aims to ensure that hard-working people are not disrupted by under-supported strike action, but it is the human rights considerations that run through the Bill that have been of particular interest to me.

The rights of workers to make their voices heard are, of course, important, and striking is an important last resort. We recognise that it is part of the armoury of trade union law. Article 11 of the European convention on human rights provides to everyone

“the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests”.

It is, however, important to recognise that article 11 is a qualified right.

Ian Lavery: Is the hon. Lady aware of the letter that the Prime Minister sent to Ministers only days ago—it was sneaked out—on the change to the ministerial code, informing Ministers that they can now ignore international law? Does that have anything to do with this issue?

Victoria Prentis: I am not aware of that letter, although I am aware that there is a debate on the issue. I am talking about the European convention on human rights. There is no proposal from the Government to renege on that at any time in the future, as far as I am aware.

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): The hon. Lady talks a great deal about human rights and the European convention. Can she help me by telling me where article 11 talks about armbands and letters of authority?

Victoria Prentis: I would like, with your leave, Mr Deputy Speaker, to finish my point and come on to armbands later.

Article 11 allows for proportionate restrictions on the exercise of—[Interruption.] I am referring to article 11(2), which states:

“No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society”.

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The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly acknowledged, as recently as last year, that it is legitimate under article 11 for the Government to legislate to impose conditions on the right to strike where there is evidence that that is justified.

The Court has also acknowledged that the Government have a wide margin of appreciation in deciding how to legislate. Clause 9, as we have heard, introduces a set of requirements on the supervision of picketing, following some sensible concessions that were made by the Minister following the consultation period. The picket supervisor will have to wear a badge, armband or other item to ensure that they are easy to identify. This is hardly onerous.

Jo Stevens: The hon. Lady referred to article 11(2), which sets out the circumstances in which the right of freedom of association can be interfered with, including the protection of national security and the prevention of serious crime. All we have heard Conservative Members talk about is the “temporary inconvenience” that strikes cause. I am afraid that that is not listed in article 11(2).

Victoria Prentis: I do not believe that the wearing of a badge or armband, or some other means of identification, is onerous in the way that the hon. Lady suggests. In fact, it is something that unions widely do already as part of the code on picketing, which actually says that everybody should wear an armband.

I must admit that in Committee I was somewhat bemused by this part of the argument and the briefs provided by Amnesty International and Liberty in the evidence that was given. Both are excellent human rights organisations that undertake extremely important work around the world dealing with executions and torture, yet the wearing of an armband by one person so that they are identifiable during a strike presents them with a big issue. I do not agree. We are not asking everybody taking part in a strike to wear an armband, but simply asking the organiser of a particular event to do so in order to identify themselves.

Rachael Maskell rose—

Victoria Prentis: I am going to finish, if I may.

This seems to be an entirely reasonable and, more importantly, proportionate measure. There is a clear public interest in ensuring that trade unions take responsibility for the conduct of the pickets that they organise. It is only fair that the rights of those who belong to unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers, including those in my constituency, who rely on key public services.

Victoria speaks about school funding in Westminster debate

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 5 November 2015:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): “Thank you, Mr Walker, for reminding us that school firework displays can be such a good way of raising money. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) for elegantly making a point that we often hear from our children. After all, children have an even more highly developed sense of fairness than do the rest of us. My three-year-old niece frequently says, “It’s not fair!” My hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman have made their point much better than she could.

I am grateful to you, Mr Walker, for calling me first among new colleagues. We are somewhat jumping on the bandwagon of the huge amount of work that has been done by so many in this room, and we are grateful to them. We are also grateful for the wonderful F40 campaign, which has proposed an approach to schools funding that is, to my mind at least, very sensible. I know that progress has been made, and we in Oxfordshire welcomed the extra money that we received this year. I am grateful to the Minister for his support, not least for the visit that he made earlier this summer to Heyford Park free school. He came to see at first hand how Oxfordshire schools are doing what they can with the resources that are available to them.

Oxford may be a byword for excellence in education—although not necessarily to those of us who went somewhere else. However, such excellence is not, sadly, found in all educational establishments across the county. In Banbury, we still have areas of real deprivation. Worryingly, in an area of almost full employment, many of our children and their parents lack the aspiration to push themselves to the limits of their educational attainment. Our headteachers have many concerns. We have a very public problem with child sexual exploitation, which we are working hard to address. Staff and volunteer governors, and indeed our children, are all working hard but the results are not as good as they could be. I do not want to trade figures with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who mentioned Tower Hamlets, but we in Oxfordshire receive £2,663.64 less per pupil than do those in Tower Hamlets. That is even worse than his figure.

Yesterday I met two headteachers, one from Bicester and one from Banbury. They gave me some practical examples of the problems caused by lack of funding. One told me that she had been unable to recruit a head of maths because she could not offer a suitable salary to attract good candidates to the role. I should add that house prices in our area are significantly above the national average. The maths department suffered without strong leadership, and the students’ results were quickly affected. A new head of maths has been recruited but has not yet arrived from Jamaica.

The other headteacher told me that after his school gained its best exam results on record, he had had to make staff redundant. He remains six teachers down. Both schools have large key stage 3 classes because there are simply not enough teachers to teach them. That is a particular concern for those in the lower sets in maths and English, who would most benefit from smaller classes at that important stage of their development. F40 has helpfully calculated that were its formula to be introduced, each school in my constituency would receive £125.50 more per pupil. When I mentioned that figure to the headteachers, they said that it would make a real and significant difference. It would amount to three or four extra teachers in my secondary schools.

This morning, I spoke to the reception teacher at one of our strongest primaries, and I asked her how she would spend the extra money. Without hesitating for a moment, she suggested two areas. At the reception stage, she would like a teaching assistant to do targeted work on communication and language skills with small groups of children. She would spend the rest of the money on one-to-one interventions on English and maths in year 5, which would make an immediate difference to results and, much more importantly, would make a difference to the life choices of children who have been helped in such a way.

So much work has been done by the people in this room to find a solution to the funding formula. I hope that this is the moment to make progress.”

VICTORIA ENCOURAGES ‘SINGING FOR SYRIANS’ FUNDRAISING CAROL CONCERTS

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Victoria Prentis, the Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire, is encouraging people around the UK to come together and sing to help support the people of Syria in their desperate time of need.

Victoria has been working with the artist, George Butler, to organise a nationwide series of carol concerts this Christmas to raise money for Christian Aid and the Hands Up Foundation, of which Mr Butler is a trustee. Both organisations are currently involved in aid relief in Syria, where the conflict has created the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. As the violence continues and winter descends, the needs of the millions of Syrians forced to flee their homes will only intensify.

Singing for Syrians is a new initiative encouraging individuals, churches and communities from across the UK to come together and host fundraising carol concerts to help people whose lives have been torn apart by the terrible conflict. Basil Eastwood, the former Ambassador to Syria, has championed the concept.

The funds raised will be used to help Christian Aid and the Hands Up Foundation meet the urgent and ongoing needs of Syrians affected by the devastating conflict. Working through partner organisations inside Syria, as well as in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon and Iraq, this support includes providing emergency food, water and sanitation, as well as education programmes, psychosocial support for women and children, and support for medical teams inside Syria. During the bitter winter months refugee families will receive much needed blankets, warm clothing, food stoves and fuel for cooking.

Speaking about Singing for Syrians, Victoria Prentis MP said: “Before I was elected, I found that carol concerts were a great way to raise money while having a good sing.  It therefore seemed obvious to me that concerts would be a good way to raise money for the most desperate people who remain in Syria.

I am particularly concerned about the elderly and those with poor health, who are too weak to contemplate leaving the country. Hands Up and Christian Aid are doing some great work on the ground in Syria and the surrounding countries. Singing for Syrians provides a brilliant opportunity to raise funds for these charities to help these people. Whether you pass around a bucket at an already planned carol concert, organise your own event from scratch, or come to the St Margaret’s concert on 15 December, I really hope people will get behind this initiative.”

Organisers of Singing for Syrians concerts around the UK will be invited to a special carol concert in St Margaret’s Church, in the grounds of Westminster Abbey, on 15th December. Tickets are available via Biletto with a suggested donation of £10. There will also be a private reception at Speaker’s House.

Members of the public are invited to contact singingforsyrians@gmail.com to receive a free ‘How To’ pack full of ideas on how to organise your own concert, and for any other enquiries.

If you would like further information please contact George Butler at singingforsyrians@gmail.com or call 07789 713 115.

VICTORIA COMMENTS ON SANITARY PRODUCTS VOTE

On Monday evening MPs rejected, by 305 votes to 287, an amendment to the Finance Bill which would have forced a negotiation with the EU for a reduction in the 5% VAT.

Following the vote, Victoria said, “I think it’s really important to understand that what we were voting on was the insertion of a new clause into the Finance Bill which would have put an obligation on the Treasury to write a report setting out the impact of exempting women’s sanitary protection products from value added tax. We were not voting directly on whether we should zero-rate sanitary products. Of course they are essential items for women. Currently, they are subject to a reduced VAT rate of 5 per cent  which is the lowest rate across the whole EU. I would be very supportive of zero rating. However, products requiring a VAT exemption are set out in EU law and any change would require the support of all the member states which, without greater reform, is an extremely difficult task.

During the debate the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke MP, said that he would raise the issue with the European Commission and other EU member states in order to explore the possibility of changes in the future.

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.

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