Category Archives: Victoria in Parliament

MP highlights Syrian refugee plight, and Singing for Syrians support

Victoria Prentis has praised the Government and its commitment to support Syrian refugees in countries neighbouring Syria.

Victoria spoke during the Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions in Westminster on Tuesday morning. She asked the Secretary of State: “What diplomatic support the Government is providing to the countries surrounding Syria to help displaced people.”

Secretary of State, Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, explained that the UK was the second largest donor supporting Syrian refugees in the region.

As part of her supplementary question, Victoria praised those who had found ways to support refugees who had been displaced to countries surrounding Syria, including through the Singing for Syrians campaign that she led. She asked: “Does my Rt Hon Friend agree that the UK can be proud of this response to the UN appeal for aid for those suffering in Syria. Including, if I may say so with you in the chair Mr Speaker, the response of many members of this house – including yourself – to my own Singing for Syrians initiative. Does he agree that other countries should follow our lead?”

The Secretary of State responded, “I very much welcome my Honourable friend’s Singing for Syrians initiative. That, and initiatives like it, show an extraordinary solidarity with Syrian refugees.”

Speaking later than day, Victoria commented, “I was blown away by the level of support shown for the Singing for Syrians campaign, and know it will be an even stronger campaign this year. I loved being able to attend the Banbury Choral Society concert in Banbury, and hear about the five events organised in Steeple Aston! Many villages organised their own events. Local businesses including Brita, Bicester Village, and Dorchester Group, have all made substantial donations. North Oxfordshire really has been very generous with its time and donations, and I am very much hoping that we hit the £100,000 mark.”

“It is right that we do what we can to support those in need. The money I have raised goes directly to pay for the medical teams in Aleppo. I am proud of the government’s record in getting aid to those who need it most.”

MP RAISES LOCAL GOVERNMENT FUNDING ISSUE DURING COMMONS DEBATE

On Monday evening, North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis spoke in a debate on Local Government funding. The debate, which was initiated by Conservative MP Graham Stuart, aimed to highlight disparities in local government funding for rural areas compared to urban areas.

Intervening during Graham Stuart’s opening speech, Victoria said:

I do not represent some rural idyll. I represent two large and growing towns, Banbury and Bicester. I feel particularly strongly about the fact that because of the shortfall in local Government funding my council is having to make some very difficult funding decisions that will affect areas of real deprivation. They will affect, for instance, children’s centres and health and wellbeing centres…that is a worry”.

Speaking after the debate, Victoria added:

Local Government funding is an extremely important issue for North Oxfordshire at the moment. I have visited a number of Children’s Centres and taken representatives from the County Council with me. It is important to see first-hand how valuable these places are to our communities.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to raise this in the Commons, particularly given the obvious differences in rural and urban funding. I have more visits planned in North Oxfordshire, including a Health and Wellbeing Centre on Friday. I intend to continue discussions with colleagues in Westminster too. It is absolutely vital that we do everything we can to protect frontline services.”

VICTORIA CONTRIBUTES TO DEBATE ABOUT THE PROVISION OF COMMUNITY TRANSPORT

On the morning of 16 December, Victoria Prentis MP participated in a Westminster Hall debate, organised by Maggie Throup MP, about the provision of community transport.

Victoria highlighted the excellent work of volunteer drivers in North Oxfordshire, who ensure that the vulnerable, elderly and disabled are able to get to and from hospital. She also spoke of the importance of public transport in helping young people to access work, and the reliance of rural communities on good transport connections.

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): “I am grateful for the marvellous volunteers who operate from the town of Banbury. They provide a good service for those who, sadly, have to travel to hospital, particularly early in the morning, when other forms of transport are not available. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that other parts of the community also need services that are not provided by public buses, such as young people who have finished their education and who need to travel to work? People such as young apprentices also need to be able to take some form of public transport in rural constituencies.”

MPS AND FUNDRAISERS JOIN VICTORIA AT FLAGSHIP ‘SINGING FOR SYRIANS’ CAROL CONCERT

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On Tuesday 15 December, almost 300 people came to St Margaret’s Church, Westminster to sing carols to raise money for the Hands Up Foundation and Christian Aid. The Singing for Syrians flagship concert was organised by Victoria Prentis MP who has spent the past few months encouraging people to organise their own event, or to pass around a bucket at a pre-planned carol concert.

The flagship concert featured readings from ITV Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks, Dickensian actor Sir Timothy Ackroyd and Mayor of London, Boris Johnson MP. There were also solo performances from MPs including Andrea Jenkyns, Bernard Jenkin, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Will Quince. Oxford East and Abingdon MP, Nicola Blackwood impressed the audience with her rendition of popular Christmas carol, “Silent Night”. The St Margaret’s choir also performed a variety of pieces including John Rutter’s Sans Day Carol. Robert Buckland QC MP, Ben Gummer MP, Rt. Hon. Cheryl Gillan MP and Rt. Hon. Caroline Spelman MP also sang in the choir.

Earlier on in the day, Mr Speaker kindly hosted a reception in his State Rooms at Westminster Palace to thank all those involved with getting Singing for Syrians off the ground.

Victoria said: “Both the lunch and concert on Tuesday were fantastic. I am very lucky to have had so much support from colleagues, and am so grateful to all those who performed so brilliantly. Singing for Syrians crystallised as an idea after I attended the Westminster Hall vigil for the refugees in September and I started thinking about all those who are unable to even contemplate leaving the country. Often they are too old, too young or too unwell to leave. Our two charities are doing some really important work in the country and the surrounding region. Hands Up Foundation pay the salaries of the medical team in Aleppo. The money goes directly to the three doctors, two nurses and two porters who are providing vital assistance to those in need in Syria’s largest city. I felt quite overwhelmed, and exhausted, at the end of the day. Sadly, I think the need will be even greater next year. I hope people will continue to organise their own Singing for Syrians concerts in the coming months.

Everything raised through Singing for Syrians will be match funded by the Department for International Development. So far Victoria’s initiative has raised almost £60,000.

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VICTORIA COMMENTS ON HOOK NORTON PLANNING APPEAL DECISION

I am fully aware of the feelings of discontent in the village of Hook Norton (and further afield) after a decision was made by the Secretary of State to approve an application for 54 houses. I share the frustration that villagers feel. Unfortunately, planning falls outside the jurisdiction of a Member of Parliament, and is a quasi-judicial matter devolved to local authorities.

However, I am very keen to do what I can to help. I have spoken to Councillor Barry Wood as Leader of Cherwell District Council to discuss what options might be open to us to challenge this. Councillor Wood and Cherwell District Council are seeking some legal advice. If they decide to take any action, I will of course offer my full support.

I visited Hook Norton on Saturday 12th December. The variety of Christmas trees in the church was astounding – I particularly liked the History Society one. While my husband took the opportunity to stock up on Hooky for Christmas, and my daughters were trying to win on the tombola, I spoke at length with a number of constituents to ensure I understood the particular concerns of the village clearly.

Today I asked a question in the Department for Communities and Local Government session in the House of Commons.

The transcript is below:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): “The interpretation of neighbourhood plans appears to be causing difficulties, in particular in the beautiful village of Hook Norton in my constituency. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how villages can ensure that the neighbourhood plan is adhered to?”

Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Gov. Minister): “A great village that Hook Norton is and is the home to a fantastic brewery. But I do hear what the Honourable Lady says and I will certainly undertake to meet her, or I am sure my honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning will.”

I am glad the Minister recognises my concerns and has agreed to meet me. I was delighted to hear of his support for the brewery (echoed by many sitting in the House).

I will ensure residents are kept updated as I continue to have meetings and discussions on this issue.

Victoria Prentis MP (14 December 2015)

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.

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