Category Archives: Victoria in Parliament
On Tuesday 12 December, Oxford West & Abingdon MP, Layla Moran sang in the choir of the 2017 flagship “Singing for Syrians” concert. Over 600 people attended the event at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, which was organised by neighbouring MP, Victoria Prentis, and raised money for the Hands Up Foundation who support a number of projects to help the most vulnerable who remain in Syria.
Alongside the choir, which was made up of fourteen Members of Parliament, a number of celebrities read at the concert, including Samuel West, Julie Christie and Martin Jarvis. Alexander Armstrong performed “Winter Wonderland”. The event raised over £32,000 through sponsorship, the retiring collection and ticket donations.
Victoria Prentis MP said: “I was delighted to recruit Layla to the MP choir. Singing together is a simple yet effective way to raise money for those most in need in Syria. It is really important to me that the choir is cross-party – it shows that we can all work together to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people. They all sang beautifully and showed that the plight of the Syrian people has not been forgotten.”
Layla Moran MP added: “It was a privilege to sing in the choir at such a magical event. In my youth I went to Damascus when my family lived in Jordan. My heart breaks for the people whose lives have been affected by the conflict, and so when Victoria told me about this event I jumped at the chance to do my little bit. I’d like to thank all those in Oxfordshire who held similar events, the Hands Up Foundation for the amazing work they do, and Victoria for putting the event together. I hope to participate again next year!”
Proposals introduced in Parliament to stop mobile phone signals and crack down on crime in prisons have been supported by North Oxfordshire MP, Victoria Prentis.
The Prisons (Interference with Wireless Technology) Bill will enable the Secretary of State for Justice to authorise mobile network operators to work more independently, making use of their special technical knowledge and expertise to prevent, detect and investigate illicit mobiles.
The Ministry of Justice has put in place measures to crackdown on mobile phones. In 2016, nearly 20,000 mobile phones and SIM cards, or 54 a day, were found in prisons in England and Wales. While not a new problem, the scale has been increasing steadily.
Locally, 138 have been found and confiscated at HMP Bullingdon in recent years.
Victoria said: “The use of mobile phones is already illegal but it is clear there is still an issue and we need to be more effective in tackling the problems caused by illicit mobile use. Illicit mobiles can be used to organise criminal activity and it must stop. I want my constituents protected and for those that have been victims not to fear they may be able to be contacted or intimidated. Equally we have a responsibility to ensure prison staff and their families are protected and phones have been used to threaten them.
Taking more effective action to stop illicit mobile use will not mean prisoners cannot talk to their friends and family. They will still be able to make and maintain contact using the telephone services provided in prison, whether that is by traditional phones on prison landings or increasingly through phones provided in their cells as these are rolled out across the prison estate.”
The Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Lewes MP Maria Caulfield, has the potential to make prisons safer places and help to tackle the severe problems caused by illegal mobile phones in prison. It has now passed its Second Reading and will move on to Committee stage shortly.
On Friday 1 December, commuters returning to their North Oxfordshire homes were surprised by a Hallelujah Chorus flash mob at London Marylebone station. Forty professional singers broke out into song during the evening rush hour in aid of Singing for Syrians, the charity initiative set up in 2015 by Member of Parliament, Victoria Prentis with the Hands Up Foundation.
Conducted by musical director, Nicholas Cleobury, and accompanied by trumpeter, Kevin Kay-Bradley, the choral flash mob followed Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus with carols on the station concourse.
Singing for Syrians is a nationwide campaign which raises money for the Hands Up Foundation who support a number of projects helping the most vulnerable who remain in Syria. They pay the medical salaries of doctors in rural southern Aleppo, run a kindergarten in Idleb and fund two prosthetic limb clinics. It is estimated that over 30,000 Syrians are amputees in need of urgent treatment.
North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis, who was at the station to watch the flash mob unfold, said afterwards: “When the first singer broke into song everyone around her was completely taken aback, particularly as she was dressed in Chiltern Railways uniform. As others joined in across the station, it was an extraordinary sound and sight which really did raise the roof.
“The whole point of Singing for Syrians is to show that we all have the power to do something. By coming together in a positive and uplifting way, and singing at the tops of our voices, we can all make a difference. The flash mob could not have made that clearer. Hopefully people will be inspired to hold their own event or come along to the flagship concert at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 12 December. I would encourage everyone to look at www.singingforsyrians.com.
“My thanks to Chiltern Railways, BNP Paribas and Redshift Media Production for making the flash mob possible.”
On Tuesday 28 November, Victoria Prentis MP spoke in a debate on the Autumn Budget. The focus of her speech was on house building, and the infrastructure that needs to be in place for people living on new developments.
The following account is taken from the Official Record from Tuesday 28 November 2017.
Victoria Prentis (Con) (Banbury): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) when she speaks so passionately about education. I must confess that her remarks about the Prime Minister have encouraged me to focus my speech on house building, which the Prime Minister and her Chancellor quite rightly view as the most important issue facing us.
For my constituency, the biggest excitement from the Budget is, of course, the funding to support Oxfordshire’s statutory spatial plan, which commits to 100,000 new homes by 2031. Cherwell District Council is the national leader in house building—an achievement only made possible by strong local leadership and the sheer hard work of the many volunteers who got our local plan adopted. I see a new finished house almost every day when I return home from Bicester North station, and three houses a day are currently finished locally. I built my own house; it is what we do in our area.
I hope that £30 million a year for five years will help to alleviate the pressure on our infrastructure by enabling us to move forward with larger projects such as the London Road crossing. When we talk about infrastructure, we so often mean roads and railways, but locally we are learning on the job that infrastructure means so much more than that. Those on the Treasury Bench will be pleased to learn that vast products and expenditure are not the only way forward when we look to build new communities. It is noticeable that the residents of well-built houses are happy, and more effort needs to be put into ensuring high standards in building across the board. This is a no-cost measure that the Government are working on.
Where we do need to invest for growth, it does not need to be in enormous, prestige products, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) outlined. House builders need to deliver on time. Even when they do, councils must be prepared to spend relatively small sums to alleviate the difficulties caused by enormous growth—for example, for around five years of stretched budgets while new schools are created. Children do not arrive in neatly packaged classes of 30 four or 11-year-olds, and existing schools also suffer while numbers are in flux.
I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) that GP services in high-growth areas need small amounts of additional funding to tide them over in times of enormous growth. My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is on the Front Bench, will appreciate that people seem to need their GP more when they move to a new area in order to sort out their existing medication and to deal with difficulties in changing specialists. We need to ensure that the infrastructure spending on such issues is readily available.
Mapping needs to be done before the build. Post boxes and street lamps should be provided without the intervention of an MP. Development can only be a positive experience if we bring hearts and minds along with us. I am afraid that closing maternity services at our local Horton General hospital at the same time as building 23,000 new houses does not sit well with us locally. Many new houses in our area have three or more bedrooms, and it would not come as a surprise to learn that some couples want to have babies to fill those new rooms.
Finally, and quite separately, a high point of the Budget for me was the announcement of a consultation into the horror of single use plastics. I encourage everybody in the Chamber to get out their phone, look at the App Store and add the Refill app; it tells users what to do and helps to get rid of single use plastics.
Victoria Prentis, Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire, has welcomed plans for further restrictions on the use of pesticides harmful to bees and other pollinators.
Following advice from the UK’s pesticides advisory body, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Rt Hon Michael Gove, has announced restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides as part of his commitment to maintain environmental standards across the UK.
Victoria commented: “Bees have been a big issue since I was first elected. Nearly 200 constituents have taken the time to contact me to express concerns about the impact of pesticides on bees. As the proud owner of three hives, I understand the importance of ensuring the safety of pollinators across the UK and the positive environmental impact that they have. I know many of my constituents will join me in welcoming this announcement.”
On 7 November, Victoria Prentis’ cat, Midnight, was named the winner of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s annual ‘Purr Minister’ competition. Each candidate submitted a ‘Manifursto’, and the final winner was decided by public vote. Midnight’s pledges included a compulsory cat-related Purr Minister’s Question every Wednesday, a new Feline Select Committee, and a promise to monitor Buttons the office mouse.
Victoria said: “I am thrilled that Midnight’s dedication to the campaign has paid off. I know that he will be getting to work on implementing his manifursto commitments straightaway. Finding good homes for all the rescue cats currently living in temporary accommodation is a top priority. No doubt Midnight’s first Purr Minister’s Question Time will be a lively affair.”
On Friday 3 November, Victoria Prentis MP supported the Second Reading of Steve Reed’s Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, also known as Seni’s Law.
During the course of her speech, Victoria praised a number of local groups who provide vital support to members of the community. She spoke about the comprehensive range of services provided by the Heyford and Bicester Veterans Group in partnership with both local and national organisations, including drop-in advice sessions with Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and others. Victoria also mentioned Restore, a mental health charity she visited recently in Banbury, and the local branch of Mind, who encouraged her to speak in the debate when they met in September.
Speaking afterwards, Victoria said: “Having visited a number of local mental health charities in recent months, I was keen to speak in the debate to emphasise the good work they are all doing. It is clear that we are very fortunate to have such a broad range of groups and charities run by dedicated volunteers. The Government is committed to improving mental health provision and launched a review into the outdated Mental Health Act last month. It is an extremely important area of reform, and I welcomed the opportunity to support this Bill, particularly after so many constituents had contacted me about it.”
Following the launch of Petals (Pregnancy Expectations Trauma and Loss Society) in Banbury, Victoria Prentis took part in the Parental Bereavement (leave and pay) debate on Friday 20 October. The Parental Bereavement Bill, introduced by Kevin Hollinrake MP, aims to allow bereaved employed parents a day-one right to take time off work if they lose a child under the age of 18. Employees with 26 weeks of continuous service will be eligible to receive parental bereavement pay.
Currently, there are no legal requirements for employers to provide paid leave for grieving parents. In the debate, Victoria discussed the nature of the bill including the responsibility of employers to support grieving parents. She commented: “It is so important that politicians and the Government put in place the legal mechanisms to ensure that this is possible. We must work hard to allow for conversations to be had”.
Please see below a full transcript of Victoria’s speech, taken from Hansard. Having passed Second Reading it will now go to Committee. You can follow the Bill’s progress here.
The debate took place the week after Baby Loss Awareness Week. More details of Victoria’s involvement in BLAW can be found here.
Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)
We are an example of employees, as it were. You are not our employer, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you are somebody with authority over us making adjustments to cope with grieving parents. We have very kindly been called at the beginning of this debate, because that really does help.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). I am very pleased to have worked with my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Colchester (Will Quince), and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), over the past couple of years on coping with the loss of a child and on how we can change the law, as well as change the conversation in society as a whole. It is therefore an enormous pleasure to speak as a co-sponsor of this Bill. I will not detain the House any more than I absolutely have to because we want to get on with it and get it passed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester did a lot of the spadework last year with his ten-minute rule Bill. I am sorry that that did not progress, but very pleased that the Government have had the opportunity to make a manifesto commitment to bring about this area of change. To me, as a former Government lawyer, the most exciting word in the Bill is “pay”. It is great that the Government is going to put its money where its mouth is and really support bereaved parents and their employers to cope when something very tragic happens. This Bill is long overdue. Historically, it has been down to the employer to decide how bereaved parents are treated. Although I have had excellent and supportive care from my employer, I know that that is not the case for everyone. I was sorry to hear of the examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton raised.
Grief can, to a certain extent, be managed. That is something that I was told by my consultant soon after I gave birth, and at the time I thought it was a ridiculous idea that anyone could ever put grief into a box and raise the lid only when it suited them. However, the similarity of experience among those who are bereaved is quite astounding. Grief is something that can be managed, and life can go on after something dreadful. It is so important that politicians and the Government put in place the legal mechanisms to enable that to happen as easily as possible.
In the early days, bereaved parents may well, depending on the circumstances, be suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder—they will certainly be suffering from shock—and they might need to tell and retell their story. They will have to deal with funerals and administration. They might have to deal with the police, inquests and all sorts of ghastly and unpleasant registration that no one thinks about before it happens to them.
It is particularly good that the grief of fathers is recognised in the Bill, because they have traditionally been overlooked. We know the very sad statistics about the high incidence of marital breakdown following a tragedy. Anything we can do to assist families to stay together must be done.
In the all-party group on baby loss we have worked very hard on the bereavement care pathway, and I am thrilled that we have brought the Government along with us. I think that counselling is a very valuable part of the recovery from a tragedy such as this, and anything we can do to build that into employment practice is worth doing. I was very lucky; I had a very supportive employer in the civil service. I had a job I loved, and I had sympathetic and imaginative colleagues. My own experience of grief certainly made me a better manager when the time came for me to help the people I worked with to manage their own tragic situations.
I do think that there is a role for good bereavement practice at work. I found it very helpful to know who knew what had happened, so one thing I introduced as a manager was to get everybody to sign a card that was given to the bereaved person as they returned to work, so that it was obvious that everybody knew what had happened and everybody acknowledged the extent of the tragedy. That enabled us all to move on and to have conversations, if appropriate—or not, if appropriate.
There are many things that employers can do to ease the burden, and I think the ACAS policies are a great place to start. It is important to recognise that members of staff will need extra support, possibly for many years. Anniversaries are difficult, although I think we often build them up in advance to be worse than they are on the day; they do not turn out to be quite as bad as we think they will be. We can all imagine scenarios that may be particularly difficult for those who have lost a child, including future pregnancies and the illness of other children in the family. A hospital visit of any kind can be very stressful for somebody who has been traumatised in hospital. I call on employers to do everything they can to try to imagine what it is like.
This is, however, a happy day for us. I offer many congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, and to all of us who are supporting this Bill, I say, “Thank you.”
On Wednesday 25 October, Victoria Prentis MP was successful in the shuffle to ask a Prime Minster’s Question. She chose to ask about housebuilding and local infrastructure, including schools, roads, healthcare and post boxes.
The below account is taken from the Official Report (Hansard) from Wednesday 25 October 2017:
Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): Cherwell tops the leader board for new housing. Will the Prime Minister assure me that the right roads, school places, post boxes and especially healthcare provision will be in place to support both my new constituents and the ones I have at the moment?
The Prime Minister: First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend and say how pleased I am that Cherwell District Council is doing what we want to do and what we recognise we need to do to tackle our dysfunctional housing market, which is to build more homes? She is right, however, that infrastructure is also an important part of that, which is why we have committed £15 billion for our road investment strategy, why over half a trillion pounds will be spent on the NHS during this Parliament, and why a record £41 billion will be spent on core funding for schools this year. That, I am pleased to say, is the record of Conservatives in government.