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

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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.

MP VISITS BUILD! PROJECT SITE IN BANBURY

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On Friday 13 November, Victoria Prentis joined Councillor John Donaldson, Cherwell District Council’s Executive Member for Housing, at the Build! Project site in Banbury. Build! offers individuals and groups the opportunity to either build or renovate a property. Those who participate in the project can benefit from a reduced price on purchases or lower rental rates.

Victoria toured The Orchard Build! location and met with many of the builders there. She was given a real insight into what this ambitious project is trying to achieve. By the end of 2015, 250 new homes will have been constructed throughout Banbury and Bicester through Build!.

Speaking about the Build! Project, Victoria Prentis MP said: “It is brilliant that people are being given this fantastic opportunity to build their own homes. Having completed my own self build, I know how rewarding such tasks can be. This level of personal involvement in the building of a house, truly makes it a home. I am looking forward to seeing the transformation of the chosen Build! areas as more people complete their homes and move in.”

More information about the Build! Project can be found at: http://www.cherwell.gov.uk/build

Victoria observes Remembrance events in Banbury

On Sunday 8 November, Victoria Prentis MP joined veterans and Banbury residents to mark Remembrance Sunday.

Several hundred serving soldiers, veterans and civilians paraded through the streets of the town, watched by a large crowd. The parade was followed by a service at St Mary’s Church, after which over 60 wreaths were laid at Banbury’s war memorial in People’s Park. Victoria placed her wreath in her capacity as the Member of Parliament.

Victoria said, “I was honoured to be a part of a very moving ceremony on Sunday. There was so many people present, showing their respects too. It was great to see the people of Banbury marking this solemn day and remembering, with pride, all those who have served and died so that we can live in freedom.

In coming years, Victoria will be attending Remembrance Sunday commemorations in Bicester and Upper Heyford, as well as Banbury.

On Armistice Day, Victoria observed the national two minute silence at Blessed George Napier Roman Catholic School. Victoria joined staff and pupils at a special whole-school service, during which the students were encouraged to focus on their own experiences of bereavement, in order to help them understand the sacrifices made in war on their behalf.

MP CONTRIBUTES TO THE TRADE UNION BILL DEBATE

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”.

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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.”

Victoria comments on maternity services at the Horton General Hospital

Victoria has spoken in the Banbury Guardian this week, outlining her views on maternity services at the Horton General Hospital. Her full statement is below.

“I am committed to supporting Consultant-led maternity services at the Horton, and remain in regular contact with OUHT on this and many other issues. Indeed, I sought clarity from OUHT on the number of births at the Horton this year, and was very pleased to see directly that from February to September 2015 there have been more births at the hospital than in the same period in 2014. I was myself born in our unit, and am pleased that most of our local babies come into the world there.

“The Horton provides fantastic Consultant-led maternity services to those in and around Banbury. However, it is critical that safe choices are made in maternity, and that mothers always get the best care for themselves and their babies. If that means that there are risks that could be accommodated more effectively and efficiently at the JR, or indeed elsewhere, it is absolutely right that these expectant mothers go there. We cannot risk one single mother or baby’s life, under any circumstances.

“Pregnancy, maternity, and post-natal care are issues that I will always be involved in locally and nationally. I’m acutely aware of maternity risks, fifteen years ago having myself almost died giving birth to a son who died soon after he was born. With my next two high risk pregnancies I was happy to accept the local, county and national care offered to me, even though this meant a great deal of travelling to appointments. The successful outcomes were more than worth it. I am now a patron of the Action on Pre-Eclampsia charity, which helps those who suffer from this major cause of maternal and baby death. This week alone in Westminster, I attended the Adjournment Debate on maternity care on Monday, and I spoke at length on Tuesday with Ben Gummer, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health, on changes that can be made to improve service delivery. I went to the launch of the Leading Safe Choices report by the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists on Tuesday afternoon.

“I will continue to monitor this very closely.”

VICTORIA ENCOURAGES ‘SINGING FOR SYRIANS’ FUNDRAISING CAROL CONCERTS

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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 singingforsyrians@gmail.com 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 singingforsyrians@gmail.com or call 07789 713 115.

VICTORIA COMMENTS ON SANITARY PRODUCTS VOTE

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.

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