Category Archives: Victoria in Parliament


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”.

10 Nov 2015 : Column 316

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.”


S4S MASH UP Cropped (2)

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 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 or call 07789 713 115.


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.


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.


VP @ Bliss Cropped

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

Victoria speaks in superfast broadband debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria questions Treasury Minister about employment trends

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

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

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

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

Victoria asks question on fairer funding for schools

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

1 12 13 14 15