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.

8 Dec 2015 : Column 295WH

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.

8 Dec 2015 : Column 296WH

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.

 

MP SUPPORTS SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY IN NORTH OXFORDSHIRE

On Saturday 5 December, small businesses in North Oxfordshire marked ‘Small Business Saturday’ (SBS), a national campaign which highlights small business success stories and encourages people to shop locally.

Now entering its third year, SBS is the UK’s most successful small business campaign. Last year, 16.5 million people shopped in a small independent business, spending more than £500 million on the day.  The initiative is supported by all major political parties and has been growing in popularity since 2013.

Speaking on the day, Victoria said, “We are very lucky to have a brilliant variety of small businesses in North Oxfordshire, not only in our towns but also in the rural areas. Small businesses are a vital part of British society and deserve our support all year round. It is very encouraging that the number of small businesses in our area is continuing to increase as confidence returns to the economy.

MP VISITS NEW SHOPPING PARK AT BANBURY GATEWAY

BANBURY MY WILD WINTER 052 Cropped

On Saturday 5 December, Victoria joined retailers, local dignitaries and Banbury residents at the official opening of Banbury Gateway Shopping Park. The event took place in Ed’s Diner, one of 14 leading high street shops which have opened in Banbury’s newest shopping park. Victoria spoke about issues surrounding recruitment and parking, and welcomed several new brands to Banbury, which she said would complement the brilliant variety of business already operating in the town.

The opening coincided with Banbury Gateway’s ‘My Wild Winter’ event, which saw a day of free activities at the shopping park, as well as discounts and offers in the shops. Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust were there to educate shoppers on how to look after local wildlife this winter, and Victoria tried her hand at outdoor ice-sculpting. ‘My Wild Winter’ was organised by The Crown Estate (the owners of the Banbury Gateway Shopping Park) and the Wildlife Trust in order to help promote wildlife and nature at its shopping parks.

BANBURY MY WILD WINTER 020 Cropped

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

VICTORIA VISITS BICESTER HEALTH AND WELLBEING CENTRE

Victoria meeting service users

Victoria Prentis, MP for North Oxfordshire, visited the Health and Wellbeing Centre in Bicester on Friday 27th November. Victoria was given a personal tour of the facility and met with many of the dedicated volunteers and those who use the services there. She saw first-hand how the Centre is used by people of all ages and abilities as a place of rehabilitation and for socialising.

Oxfordshire County Council is consulting on a number of proposals, linked to efforts to make significant savings in its budget. Many concerns have been raised over the potential closure of the Centre, which was described by one user as a ‘lifeline’. Victoria has met with the Leader of the Council, Councillor Ian Hudspeth, to discuss these issues further. The consultation on this issue is now closed, and an update is expected in December. More details can be found at the following website: https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/public-site/budget-201617

Following the visit, Victoria commented: “The Centre offers a number of vital support services to the local community. It provides those who are most vulnerable with a source of companionship and practical support. I was blown away by the enthusiasm and commitment of those who work and volunteer at the Centre. I am proud to have such a place in my constituency.”

 “I am determined that the needs of those who rely on the Centre will be met, and hope a solution can be found which allows the Centre to remain. I will continue to monitor this matter closely.”

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

24 Nov 2015 : Column 296WH

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.

24 Nov 2015 : Column 297WH

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.

SCHOOLS CELEBRATE DEBATING IN FIRST CHERWELL DEMOCRACY CHALLENGE WITH MP AND COUNCIL LEADER

Students at the Cherwell Democracy Challenge

On Friday 20th November six schools from across the Cherwell district competed in a debating contest, at Cherwell District Council, to celebrate democracy as part of Parliament Week.

The schools – Banbury Academy, Gosford Hill School, Sibford School, The Cooper School, The Warriner School, and Tudor Hall School – competed in two rounds on local and national issues. Teams were judged by local councillors and members of Cherwell’s Democratic Services team.

The teams from each school were as follows:

Banbury Academy Dellen Attwood

Amy Degg

Will Pascoe

Callum Scobie

Gosford Hill School Maryellen McBride

Alice Bickmore

Alohan Chudry

Robert Sanson

Sibford School Finn Ridley

George Lindsay

Julia Beaumont

William Edmonds

The Cooper School Chris Guttridge

Niall Murphy

Joel Reynolds

Ben Stoddart

The Warriner School Will Thompson

Nimrah Sharif

Kit Lamb

Ellie Gordon

Tudor Hall School Greta Scott

Georgina Woodward

Lucinda Mills

Harriet Hope

After scoring was over and the two finalists were announced, the remaining schools participated in a ‘Question Time’ style event with local representatives. The students had the opportunity to put questions to Victoria, Councillor Barry Wood, Paul Angus (Managing Director of Banbury Sound), and Councillor Barry Richards. Questions focussed on international security and terrorism.

The Question Time event

The Question Time event

The two final teams were The Cooper School against Tudor Hall. The teams competed in the Council Chamber, where all other teams were able to observe and intervene when appropriate. Locally elected Councillors were also invited to join this session. The motion was “This House believes that only clever young people have a right to learn.”

The final was judged by a panel comprising Victoria, Councillor Barry Wood, and Anita Higham. The panel’s vote constituted 60% of the final score, with 40% coming from a ballot of students in the audience. Finally, the winners were announced as The Cooper School team – Chris Guttridge, Niall Murphy, Joel Reynolds, and Ben Stoddart.

Debate preparation

 

Victoria commented “it was lovely to watch these very talented young people in action today – a privilege in fact. I was impressed with the determination and commitment I saw, and the willingness to take on board feedback that was given throughout the day.”

 

“The two finalists led a very impressive debate, equalling one another with regard to drive, persuasiveness, style, and clarity. It really was the vote from the audience that decided the winner – no truer a sign of democracy in action. I cannot wait to meet more students at next year’s event!”

 

Councillor Barry Wood addressing students

Councillor Barry Wood addressing students

 

Councillor Barry Wood, as Leader of Cherwell District Council, commented: “Cherwell District Council is proud to have been part of the Cherwell Democracy Challenge alongside our MP. We look forward to organising the challenge again next year. It was inspiring to watch the young people push themselves and showcase their debating skills. I was grateful to have the chance to judge the final teams; but want to also extend a thank you and well done directly to each young person who participated – you were all very impressive.”

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

Broadband No11 Cropped

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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