Category Archives: Victoria in Parliament

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.

Victoria makes her Maiden Speech in the Commons

VP Maiden Speech 2

On Thursday 25th June North Oxfordshire MP, Victoria Prentis, made her first speech in the Commons.

Victoria was able to make her maiden speech during a debate on investigatory powers. The full text of her speech is below:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): I am honoured to be called, after such distinguished speakers and in such an important debate, to give my maiden speech.

For me, paying tribute to my predecessor is more than a convention; it is something I do with real affection. Sir Tony Baldry has served our area since I was a little girl. In the 32 years he spent in this place, he helped, as a Minister, to privatise the energy industry, served as Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, and, more recently, sat on the Government Benches as Second Church Estates Commissioner. He acted as the voice of God in this place and was responsible for everything from bats and bishops to blasphemy. Sir Tony believes in God, but he also believed in Mrs Thatcher. In his first political job as a young man, he was proud to act as keeper of the hairspray. He is loved locally as our very own “Sir Cumference”, but it is his loyalty, decency and sheer hard work that will make him so hard to follow.

There is another former Member, now in another place, to whom I must pay tribute. I owe to my father my lifelong knowledge of, and love for, our area and its people. I am one of the very fortunate band of Members able to represent their home-town.

North Oxfordshire is a beautiful place to live. I am sure many Members can picture our river valley, rolling hills and medieval churches encircled by villages. It is true that at home I make cider and keep ferrets.

Four generations of my family have the soil of north Oxfordshire under our fingernails, yet this is only partially a rural constituency. The vast majority of my constituents live in one of our two major thriving and substantial market towns: Banbury and Bicester.

Business is booming. Thanks to the long-term economic plan and the impressive industry of my constituents, we have almost no unemployment. That is not something my predecessor was able to say until the very end of his term here. We excel at food production and engineering, often with agricultural roots; town and country balanced to provide the perfect setting. The Bicester hunt meets in a factory that produces engines for lawnmowers. The diversity of commerce found in converted barns is extraordinary. We have high-end technical businesses, hospitality and national charities where once we had cowsheds.

Many of those businesses now operate internationally. Whatever the result of the referendum, our businesses need an easily accessible market for trade in Europe and strong global trading connections. Bicester village is the most visited attraction outside London for Chinese tourists and is known to many well-dressed Members of this House. All this is, in part, down to our very fortunate geographical position. We benefit from superb road and rail links, with which I am, as a commuter who lives in the middle of the constituency, very familiar. We also have the excellent Horton general hospital, where I was born, which now boasts more consultants than ever before.

It does not surprise me that so many people want to move to our area and join us. The challenge facing us over the next few years is how to manage unprecedented expansion across the area and to ensure that Bicester can blossom into a garden town. We must provide new infrastructure and work hard to ensure that we preserve what matters to us while building for the future.

Although I love my home, I am not blind to its problems. I am proud that this summer, for the first time, students in all our secondary schools will finally be able to take A-levels, but we must raise aspirations much higher. Child sexual exploitation has been a problem for us, but it is being recognised and tackled at all levels, not least by the changes I hope we will make following today’s debate.

As the mother of two girls, I am acutely aware of the pressures now heaped on our children in the social media age. Creative measures to build their self-worth and to protect them must be a priority for us all this Parliament. Only by tackling these difficult issues can we create the one nation we have pledged to deliver. Compassionate Conservatives, such as my predecessor and my father, know that the marginalised and vulnerable must be protected for society to thrive.

As a Conservative, I am committed to standing up for the rights of the individual. I am fortunate to have had a front seat in courts for the development of human rights law over the last 20 years. When I started out as a young Government lawyer, protecting issues of national security, we used to joke that we represented “the powers of darkness”. Since then, battle-hardened by so many inquests into the deaths of servicemen killed fighting for us, those who died in the 7/7 bombings and, more recently, Alexander Litvinenko, it has become ever clearer to me that our Security Services are nothing of the sort. They have been proved repeatedly to be both efficient and decent, and a great example of the values we hold so dear in this country. They, and others in our civil service, get on with the business of protecting us for modest salaries and little public recognition. We are lucky to have them.

We face a grave combination of threats. We must not allow those who mean to harm us to exploit any credibility gap in our regulation of investigatory powers. Checks and balances are welcome, but the process must not become so burdensome as to result in delays that mean we cannot respond to threats as quickly as we need to. As a lawyer, married to another lawyer, I am of course very comfortable with the idea of judicial oversight! This is precisely what judges are trained for and able to provide and they are very good at it, but the system must retain sufficient flexibility to enable us to act at great speed when necessary.

I am indebted to my pupil master, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), for his support throughout my legal career. I was amused to note that he, and several of the initiates on the Opposition Benches, were happy to admit that they find the existing regulatory framework somewhat difficult to understand. I share their concerns, but at this stage of my parliamentary career, I am not going to make any such admissions! Going forward, I would add that we must make sure that the language used is wide enough to encompass threats that have not yet materialised—whether or not they be at a school sports day. Technology is moving faster than regulatory drafting.

Our regulation of investigatory powers should be seen in the wider context of protections that we are fortunate to enjoy in the United Kingdom. As a nation, we should be proud of our record on human rights. In the 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta, our perceptions have quite rightly evolved. The greatness of the common law is that it has evolved with them. The European convention on human rights is a masterful document, and we must remain a signatory to it, but it is very much a product of the cataclysmic events that it was designed to prevent from re-occurring. In this country, the courts are unable to quash an Act of Parliament. It seems we need to re-state that, while our courts should have regard to the decisions of the ECHR, these are on the same footing, and Parliament is sovereign. I am pleased that the Government are consulting wide legal minds in a variety of venues on how to take this forward.

We can now, if we wish, formulate rights for today—including, for example, parental rights and those of children—and we can discuss sexuality and disability rights in a way that would have been unthinkable 65 years ago. I hope that, in so doing, we can deal with some of the more unwieldy aspects of the Human Rights Act. I have seen how the principle of extra-territoriality adds to the burdens on the soldiers whom I was so proud to represent, and how the interpretation of the investigative obligation under article 2 has benefited lawyers rather than bereaved families. I have seen those who face the enemy with bravery quail at the idea of a significant disclosure exercise. We must not allow excessive requests for paperwork and over-burdensome oversight to become themselves deadly weapons.

I am, as I said, battle-hardened, but not battle-weary, and I look forward to fighting hard to represent the people of north Oxfordshire in the years to come.

Victoria is appointed to Justice Select Committee

New MP for North Oxfordshire, Victoria Prentis, has been appointed to the Justice Select Committee.

Victoria said: “I am delighted to have been chosen to sit on the Justice Select Committee. During the last Parliament, the Committee examined a diverse range of issues from sentencing guidelines to the role of the probation service.I look forward to our first meeting and getting to work.”

Further information about the committee can be found here.

Victoria sets out her position on Tuesday’s High Speed Rail motion

Victoria made some enquiries ahead of the HS2 debate on Tuesday 23rd June in the House of Commons.

The motion related to the following amendments which are relevant to her constituency:

  1. Additional land for the temporary diversion of Featherbed Lane and relocation of Featherbed Lane overbridge satellite compound
  2. Realignment of Footpath 303/7
  3. Additional land for the reconfiguration of environmental mitigation at Mossycorner Spinney
  4. Additional land for the widening of bridleways CHW/24/1 and 225/4
  5. Additional land for the reconfiguration of wetland habitat at Moat Farm, Godington

Victoria said:

“These are clearly improvements which have been made following requests by petitioners. In the end, there wasn’t a vote this afternoon; I can assure my constituents that my views on the HS2 project as a whole remain the same.”

My first fortnight as MP for North Oxfordshire

VP Swearing In (1)In the run up to polling day, days merge into one. The team is working hard, and not sleeping enough. Everyone was speaking to as many voters as they could in our area, and going to help in other neighbouring constituencies.

Thursday 7 May was a very long day. At 7am my daughters came to watch me vote for myself in our village hall. That was the first of many polling stations I visited throughout the day (though in the others I was merely thanking the staff)! The rest of the day was spent chasing ‘pledges’ and enjoying lunch in the Old Reindeer Inn in Banbury. As polling closed, we gathered in Spiceball for the count. Over 100 staff were there; some counting and others checking for accuracy. The whole operation was ably led by the Deputy Returning Officer, and his senior team.

It was a long night, with our team, and those of the other parties, sharing in triumphs and disasters around the UK, while drinking coffee in the leisure centre café. Eventually, soon after 7am on Friday morning, we got our results. Sir Tony came to cheer me on as I made my acceptance speech. I then had to do endless press interviews; during one of which my daughters rang up from the school bus as they had heard that I had been elected. There seemed to be a party going on. We then spent the afternoon and evening counting the local election votes. I’m so proud of our results; we increased the Conservative majority and successfully defended all of our council seats. We came very close in some wards, building strong foundations to work from in the future. When we eventually got home we found there was no food in the house, so the four of us went to the Red Lion in Stratton Audley, where the chicken curry was just what I needed.

The weekend was spent thanking the team, our village and our friends. We hosted the annual May Day as usual in bright sunshine on the Sunday afternoon. The Brackley Morris led the procession from the church to the apple orchards, and we drank last year’s cider and ate enormous quantities of cake while watching the May Queen and her attendants.

On the Monday I had to be in Westminster at 8.30am, so I caught my usual train from Bicester North. Thankfully Parliamentary staff were very patient with us, as we received passes and passwords in abundance. Induction sessions were run by the House, but more useful were those run by the Conservative party. These were dominated by the Whips, who like to portray a caring and helpful image these days, and made it quite clear that our presence would be required in Westminster a great deal! The first couple of weeks are difficult in that offices and computers are not in place to deal with the enormous postbag, so meetings took place in a bench in Central Lobby or a café. When I get settled I am hoping to commute home most nights, but for the first week I spent three nights in London. When I got home I was delighted to find that my husband and children had learnt how to use the washing machine, and even cooked beef stew.

I took my seat on the green benches for the first time the following Monday, when we elected the Speaker. This was really the first time I had seen any of the old-timers, or faced the serried ranks of the SNP. As we weren’t sitting, I was able to squeeze in a Constituency day on the Tuesday, which including an outing to watch Fritwell School perform a suitably violent but very musical version of David and Goliath. On the Wednesday, after coffee at 10 Downing Street, I went to stand in line to take the oath. Every MP must do this at the start of a new Parliament, or they have to vacate their seat. The MP in front of me took his oath in Gaelic.

I’m now looking forward to getting stuck in to both local and national issues. It is a great honour to be able to represent the people of North Oxfordshire in Parliament.

Victoria is sworn in to the House of Commons

VP Swearing In (1)

On Wednesday 20th May, Victoria took to the floor of the Commons to be sworn in.

All Members of Parliament, regardless of whether they have served in a previous Parliament, must take an oath or affirmation before they are allowed to speak in a debate or participate in a vote. In fact, if a Member does not take their oath but subsequently sits in a debate or votes they can be fined £500 and they have to vacate their seat!

The full wording of the Oath is as follows:

“I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

Swearing in takes place over a number of days following the Speaker’s Election which took place on Monday. The next time Victoria will take to the green benches will be next Wednesday 27 May after the State Opening of Parliament. It is anticipated that Victoria will make her maiden speech some time during the week beginning 1st June.

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