A tragedy is unfolding in the Middle East; Israel has suffered the worst terror attack in its history at the hands of Hamas, and Palestinian civilians in Gaza are experiencing a humanitarian disaster. There is no perfect formula for peace, but we can be sure that leaving Hamas in power in Gaza would be a permanent roadblock to a two-state solution.
The Prime Minister has been clear that ahead of a permanent ceasefire, the Government wants to see immediate and sustained humanitarian pauses. This will allow a window for hostages to leave and more aid to enter Gaza. I know that my ministerial colleagues continue to use all the diplomatic tools at the UK’s disposal to bring about a long-term political solution which enables both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace.
At the same time, Houthi attacks on merchant and naval ships in the Red Sea are risking lives, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and disrupting international trade. We have been working to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the region, but the Prime Minister has been clear that we will not hesitate to defend lives and ensure the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats.
As war persists on European soil, I welcome that the UK will be providing £2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine in 2024/25. It has been almost two years since the war began in February 2022. We have been one of the largest aid donors in that time; over £7 billion in military assistance and £4.6 billion in non-lethal aid has been committed to ensure Ukraine’s victory on the battlefield. Under Operation Interflex, more than 30,000 Ukraine recruits have undergone soldier training in the UK to develop and prepare them to defend their homeland.
I know that many constituents have been playing their part, whether through hosting a family in need or volunteering to set up collections for supplies to be transported to those who have sought refuge on the Ukrainian border. Our community spirit locally is something we can all be really proud of.
In providing that vital reassurance against Putin’s menace, 20,000 service personnel from the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force will deploy across Europe to take part in Exercise Steadfast Defender 24 this year. This will see our Armed Forces join thousands of personnel from 31 NATO allies and Sweden in the largest NATO manoeuvre since the end of the Cold War.
With our adversaries busy building barriers and redrawing battle lines, it is vital that our Armed Forces are readily able to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Through ‘Future Solider’, the Government is undertaking the most significant modernisation programme in a generation. We must adapt to these growing threats and ensure that our Army can compete successfully in the grey-zone between peace and war.
This Government will always back our serving troops. They protect and defend our freedom every day of every year which we are all enormously grateful for. I know that the Prime Minister equally remains focused on ensuring that the UK is the best country in the world to be a veteran. With over 4,500 veterans living locally, Banbury has very strong links with our Armed Forces community, with the Armed Forces covenant a central focus of charities, businesses and local authorities in our area.
The Christmas period is often a time for reflection as the year draws to a close. As I write this New Year message, I can’t help but think of all those who lost their lives in 2023 in conflicts and humanitarian disasters around the world. These are undoubtedly dangerous times.
As The King reminded us in his second Christmas broadcast, our sense of shared values is now more important than ever. Care, compassion and community are what bind us together. His Majesty’s coronation was definitely a high point of 2023 for many of us, who are confident the monarchy is in good hands.
Although the years following the pandemic are certainly tough economically, it is good news for everyone that inflation has more than halved since October 2022 to 3.9%. The Chancellor’s plan for the economy seems to be working, but I know many families are still struggling with high prices. That is why it is so important that the Government continues to prioritise measures that help with cost of living pressures this year.
Alongside our strong sense of community in Banbury, one of the things we can be most proud of is our extremely low rate of unemployment as a result of the widespread opportunities we have locally. I was fortunate enough to visit many of our fantastic local employers last year including for example DCS Group and TWE Haulage. Our hundreds of fantastic small businesses really are the lifeblood of our towns and villages which is why we must continue to go out and support them.
Last summer we marked 75 years of our NHS. I know that we are all grateful for the incredible work NHS staff do each day, particularly given the enormous pressure they have faced this past year. Alongside visiting the South Central Ambulance Service northern headquarters in Bicester and many of our general practices, I have as ever visited the Horton for meetings with the Trust throughout the year. There is good news; in 2023, we saw significant investment arrive onsite through the introduction of a new CT scanner, the opening of the new ophthalmology unit and funding for decarbonisation projects. I will continue to work to ensure we get the funding we need. It would be good to do some tidying up of the site this year too; great medicine happens at the Horton, but I think we can all agree the buildings look well used.
One of the best parts about being a Member of Parliament is getting out to our brilliant local schools to meet teachers and pupils. I want to make sure that all children have good access to high quality education. As a historically underfunded local authority, I welcomed the news that core schools budget will be the highest it has been in real terms for the 2024/25 academic year. I also remain focused this year on helping to drive change in Special Educational Needs provision in our county.
Helping my constituents is at the heart of my work as your Member of Parliament. 2023 was a busy year for me and my four staff members who support me. I received over 16,000 casework emails, held regular constituency surgeries in both Banbury and Bicester and enjoyed a number of stops at our local pubs as part of my Summer and Autumn Pub Tours. Alongside visits to schools, businesses and local events, my Christmas card and Coronation card competitions were particular highlights in 2023, as was my ninth Cherwell Democracy Challenge with local sixth form students. I look forward to everything 2024 has in store, meeting more of you and helping all those who reach out to me for assistance.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and healthy 2024.
A key part of my role as your local Member of Parliament is answering correspondence from constituents, whether that be emails, letters or telephone calls. Over the past year, more than 50 parents and carers have got in touch with me about their experience with Children’s Services at Oxfordshire County Council and I have met many more at local community groups. It has been clear to me for some time now that Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) provision across the county is not where it should be. Constituents tell me of the difficulties they have faced to have their voices heard. Missed deadlines, non-attendance at statutory meetings and exclusion from important decisions about their child’s future regularly feature in parents’ complaints.
When I met the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing in March, I was told that the Department for Education knew that Oxfordshire parents were concerned about the retention of specialists, compliance with Education and Health Care Plans and the lack of school places for children with additional needs across the county. Three months later, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission carried out an inspection into the provision. Over 2,000 parents and carers took the time to share their experiences with Ofsted – well above the average for an inspection. The final report – which was published in September and highlighted “widespread and systemic failings”. This evidenced my long-held concerns and those of my fellow Oxfordshire MPs.
For too many children, when they can't manage in a mainstream school, they end up missing key parts of their education as they have to adjust to school on a part-time basis or rely on home learning. I know of some children who have been without educational provision for more than six years. The County Council needs to do much better. It is now time for them to right their wrongs, overhaul their processes and restore confidence in the system. I am having regular meetings with some of the Council leadership, including Chief Executive Martin Reeves. He has given me his personal assurances that SEND is his top priority and has explained how things are changing.
I am hopeful that they have been given a long-overdue wake up call. The promises that have been made must deliver the improvements we need to see. These are some of the most vulnerable children and their parents are at their wits end. Anyone with concerns should contact me via email@example.com.
The Prime Minister recently outlined his practical and realistic approach to reaching net zero. Being honest about the costs does not mean we are losing our ambition or abandoning commitments. Far from it. We really lead the way on tackling climate change and this will carry on, but now in a sensible way that is still stretching but we can achieve if we try hard.
In recent months, many constituents have got in touch with me about the previously planned ban on properties replacing their oil boilers by 2026. From my conversations with residents during my Summer Pub Tour and my recent local farmers’ roundtable, to discussions about our own boiler at home, I know this has been a cause of real worry for many of you. For those of us who live in villages gas is simply not an option, and we rely on oil.
So, I'm pleased that households will not now be required to install heat pumps until after 2035 – and then only when their existing boiler needs to be replaced. In addition, the 20 per cent of all homes which are not suitable for heat pumps will be exempt, which reflects the needs and concerns of a constituency like Banbury which has some very large rural areas.
This represents a much fairer approach to decarbonising how we heat our homes. Families will not be forced to make the switch, particularly at a time when many are worried about the cost of living. For those who do want to make the change now, cash grants through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme have been increased by 50 per cent to £7,500. Please take a look at what is available to help you.
The ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will also be extended to 2035. It is expected that the vast majority of cars sold by 2030 will be electric. We are seeing changes in behaviour, as electric cars become cheaper and the charging infrastructure is growing. Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, Sweden and US states like California and New York all share our 2035 deadline.
We have done well in reducing emissions in recent years. The UK was the first G7 country to legislate to achieve Net Zero by 2050. Since 2010, we have cut our CO2 emissions by 40% - far more than the EU or any other G7 country. UK emissions are at their lowest level since the mid-1800s, accounting for less than 1 per cent of current global emissions. Meanwhile, our new farming schemes will ensure we leave the natural world in a much better state than we found it.
Net zero must be reached in an honest, fair and sensible way and we will only succeed if public support is maintained. We know we must clean up our emissions and be greener. We know this matters to us all and to future generations. We know this won't always be cheap or easy, but if we all make changes where we can and Government policy continues to help us to do so, then we will stay on track.
Coming from a family of teachers, the importance of education was drummed into me at an early age.
Ensuring all children have access to a good quality education is vital. As a local authority which has been historically underfunded, I welcome the news that the core schools budget in Cherwell will be the highest it has ever been in real terms for the 2024/25 academic year.
The Government’s long-term vision is for a school system that helps every child to fulfil their potential by ensuring that they receive the right support, in the right place, at the right time. A broad and balanced curriculum helps ensure that our young people have the opportunity to achieve their full potential and are prepared for the opportunities and responsibilities of later life.
We have some fantastic schools here in north Oxfordshire with teachers who do their very best to support our children’s learning. One of the best parts about being a Member of Parliament is having the opportunity to get out to visit them regularly and speak to pupils. Recent visits have taken me to Hanwell Fields to see how Opening School Facilities funding is supporting pupils to live healthy and active lives; Dashwood Banbury Academy to join a Be Internet Legends assembly teaching online safety; and, The Warriner where I was invited to speak at their Careers Experience Week. This summer I have seen first-hand the impact of recent reforms to the curriculum which have allowed schools to tailor lessons more specifically for their pupils.
When I meet students, I am always so impressed with how engaged they are, particularly about politics. It always shines through at my annual Cherwell Democracy Challenge where teams of students from local secondary schools debate motions on a range of topics relevant to them. Returning for the ninth time this year, my Democracy Challenge coincides with UK Parliament Week which takes place in November. In previous years Banbury has been one of the most engaged constituencies in the country, with more schools, groups and young people signing up to take part in Parliament Week activities than anywhere else. I am really looking forward to hearing more about what the groups get up to and getting involved with some of their plans.
I was thrilled for those who received good A-Level, T-Level, vocational and technical qualification (VTQ) and GCSE results last month. The past few years have not been easy for young people – including my own children – who had to study through the disruption of the pandemic. I hope all those who sat exams this year got the results they were expecting. There are plenty of options available for people to explore, from university courses to apprenticeships. We are lucky in our area to have so many opportunities on the doorstep.
It is hard to believe that seven years have passed since that awful July day when we heard about the threatened downgrade of services at the Horton. It was an extremely difficult time for us all. We fought hard to make sure our voices were heard. Working together we were able to protect A & E and paediatrics. Sadly, owing to staffing problems, the decision was made to downgrade maternity to a midwife led unit. I continue to fight for full maternity services for Banbury. In the meantime, a significant service is still provided. When I visited last month and met the Chief Nurse I was particularly reassured to hear about the good quality pre- and post-natal care which takes place at the Horton for expectant and new mothers across the north of the county. A static ambulance remains outside the unit, ensuring transfers can take place as swiftly as possible if intervention is required.
Like so many of my Banbury constituents, I was born at the Horton and four generations of my family have been treated there. I have always felt very strongly that we must keep excellent healthcare locally. I am in no doubt that this value is now understood by the wider Trust, particularly following a very busy pandemic at the Horton.
There has been significant investment in our hospital in recent years. The working partnership between Katharine House Hospice and the Trust has been a success. In May I was at the opening of the new Surgicube Ophthalmology Unit at the Ramsey Centre which will help bring down NHS waiting lists and improve patient care. For the tenth year running the Hip Fracture team has been celebrated as one of the best in the country. A second CT scanner was also acquired this year to help people receive treatment much closer to home.
It is a disappointment that the Trust has not been successful in its bid for the New Hospitals Programme. But there is no doubt the Horton is here to stay. As we have worked on our future vision, I have always made it clear that we must have Plan B. It is now time to explore those alternative options, and look for other funding sources. The Government has been clear that significant money will be available in these funds. I have meetings with both Chief Executives of the Trust and the local commissioners later this month and will continue to keep you all informed.
I am certain that the Horton must remain a General Hospital. We need it. The Trust must communicate openly with us. Working together we can make sure the Horton continues to provide excellent care for our families now and for many generations to come.
This is always a busy time of year for our farmers in North Oxfordshire. After a particularly dry spell, haymaking is well underway and combines are gearing up for harvest. As Jeremy Clarkson has shown us on Diddly Squat Farm, the summer marks the end of a long and difficult agricultural year. Farmers hope for high yields and good prices to make all of the long hours and sleepless nights worth it.
The need for a good harvest has been no more pressing than in recent years. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and its impact on the global supply chain has left farmers’ input costs spiralling. The invasion of one of the bread baskets of the world has also thrust global food security into the spotlight.
This is something the Government takes extremely seriously. During my time as Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, I published the first ever Government Food Strategy. This committed to bolstering our domestic food security and boosting production through innovation and investment.
I know that farmers and rural communities are at the top of the Prime Minister's agenda, as a proud rural MP himself. This was demonstrated when he hosted the Farm to Fork national food security summit in 10 Downing Street recently. At this summit, the Prime Minister pledged to put UK agriculture at the forefront of our trade negotiations, protecting our standards and sensitive sectors while prioritising export opportunities.
This comes at an important time for UK farming. Having left the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, we are able to set our own agricultural policies for the first time in over forty years. This has enabled us to embark on a bold transition away from unfair direct payments, which simply gave farmers a cheque based on the area of land they owned, towards our new Environmental Land Management Schemes.
Under our new schemes, sustainable farming practices are being incentivised, which reduce our carbon emissions and increase our biodiversity. Investment is also going into large-scale landscape recovery, as well as improving animal health and welfare and boosting productivity. More details were announced on these schemes last month, with more and more farmers signing up all the time.
Our farmers in North Oxfordshire produce the finest quality food with some of the highest standards anywhere in the world. This Government will always back British farmers. We can do the same by buying British and buying local wherever possible.
Access to high-speed broadband and reliable mobile coverage is essential in the modern world. The pandemic only emphasised how much we have all come to rely on the internet to communicate and carry out an increasing number of day-to-day tasks. At the same time however, the more that our lives become focused online, the more we realise where there are gaps in current digital connectivity.
I know how frustrating poor mobile coverage and weak broadband can be. Banbury and Bicester broadly benefit from strong broadband and reliable mobile coverage. But there are many in surrounding villages who have been left behind by the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and suffer from partial mobile coverage. I remember how exciting it was when fibre optic broadband arrived in our village. Our mobile signal is not so good, however. Constituents regularly get in touch with me to share their concerns, which is why I decided to launch my Digital Connectivity Survey. I received hundreds of responses, which have helped me to build a really comprehensive picture of coverage across our area.
In particular, the results highlighted a number of mobile not-spots which still persist in North Oxfordshire. After seeing this, I had a meeting with EE, in which I was pleased to learn that they are committed to playing their part in tackling these through the Shared Rural Network. This agreement between mobile network operators and the Government aims to increase 4G mobile coverage by sharing both existing and new masts. It is hoped that this will increase 4G coverage throughout the UK to 95 per cent by the end of 2025. The launch of the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy in April reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to achieving this.
The results of my survey also demonstrated that there is significant demand for full fibre broadband across North Oxfordshire. Our area has the lowest rate of gigabit-capable broadband coverage in Oxfordshire and one of the lowest in the South East, with coverage 20 percent below the national average. Through Project Gigabit, the Government aims to deliver gigabit broadband to at least 85% of homes by 2025 and over 99% by 2030. Backed-up by £5 billion worth of investment, each month more contracts are being launched to connect homes which the market would not otherwise reach. In a meeting with the BT Group, I was reassured that Openreach are working at pace to rollout full fibre coverage across our area. This is not to mention a number of other providers who are also offering services in North Oxfordshire.
While great progress is being made to upgrade our network, we must ensure that the Government’s ambitious targets are met locally. One of the Prime Minister’s five priorities is to grow the economy. To do this, it is vital that we deliver digital infrastructure that ensures everyone, including in rural areas, has access to good quality mobile and broadband coverage. Mobile and network providers have an enormous responsibility in this rollout. I have further meetings planned with these providers and will continue to work with them closely to ensure they understand the challenges we face in North Oxfordshire.
On May 6 we witnessed history as His Majesty King Charles III followed in the footsteps of 39 monarchs before him in being crowned at Westminster Abbey.
The atmosphere in London is one I will never forget. Tens of thousands of people braved the wet weather – as they did on the day of his mother’s Coronation in 1953 – to watch the immaculately rehearsed procession. I think we were all in awe of the resplendent Gold State Coach which has been used at the Coronation of every monarch since William IV in 1831.
It was a real honour to attend the ceremony inside the Abbey. I was wearing a long wig and gown in my role as Attorney General, and this seemed appropriate on this occasion. It felt at times that little had changed since the first English Coronation of King Edgar in 973. So many of the rituals have endured, from the oath and anointing to the crowning and enthronement.
At the centre of it all was The King, who managed to look both magnificent and very human at the same time. He clearly found the service very moving. It was a modern Coronation for a modern King.
The ceremony was just the beginning of a long bank holiday weekend of festivities. From colourful parades and street parties to village fêtes and family fun days, we made sure we enjoyed our communities across North Oxfordshire.
A highlight was Banbury's Party in the Park. Over 15,000 people of all ages came throughout the afternoon to enjoy the sunshine with live music, great food and drink and fun for all the family. To round off the day, Ivy Rose lit Banbury's beacon, which was followed by a red, white and blue themed firework display. It was brilliant to see so many out enjoying themselves and sending a resounding three cheers to His Majesty.
As we celebrated the start of a new chapter in our nation’s rich royal history, we were reminded just how important our monarchy is in bringing us together. In it is a great strength that uniquely provides us with a sense of continuity and stability. This is perhaps best captured by The King's own vow, echoing the words of his late mother: "I come not to be served, but to serve."
The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria are deeply saddening and have put already struggling communities in a desperate situation. It is really difficult to take in the scale of the tragedy unfolding; more than 41,000 have been killed across the region and at least 25 million people have been affected. I know that many constituents are worried about family and friends at this tragic time. Our thoughts remain with them all.
As the evolving situation on the ground moves from rescue to recovery, I welcome the Government’s commitment of £25 million in new overseas aid which will fund additional emergency relief to help those affected begin to rebuild their lives. Our priority is to ensure humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it most. Constituents who wish to help can continue donating to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Turkey-Syria Emergency Appeal at www.dec.org.uk. It is vital that we continue to do all that we can to support the people of Turkey and Syria.
In February we also marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Thousands have been killed defending their country against this appalling onslaught and millions more have been forced from their homes.
President Zelenskyy’s historic address to both House of Parliament in Westminster Hall reminded us once again of the bravery and determination of the Ukrainian people. The war is still very real and traumatic. I am reminded of this most days by Vika who joined our family in March last year when she fled the shelling at home. Sometimes we hear the air raid sirens from Kyiv through her phone. We also regularly hear from her grandparents who are still living, mainly in their cellar, on the outskirts of Kherson.
Despite the circumstances, we are having a really happy experience with Vika. Like many hosts, we have been much more involved than we first expected and have found it very rewarding. Vika is now part of our family. Homes for Ukraine has so far welcomed 326 people to North Oxfordshire, but more help is needed as there are still many looking for places to live. Visit www.cherwell.gov.uk/ukrainesupport to find out more.
There are many other ways you can help: the UK Help for Ukraine unit at Castle Quay in Banbury need medical supplies, toiletries, generators and tools. If you can spare any of these items, then please donate them to the centre. The brilliant team of volunteers working from there need all the support they can get as they continue to transport much-needed supplies to the Ukrainian border.
Our health service is facing some enormous pressures; there is no question that flu has made this winter particularly difficult alongside high levels of Covid admissions. Hospitals have been dealing with their highest ever number of A&E attendances and the pandemic legacy of delayed discharges has put a real strain on our frontline services. These are not issues unique to us but are mirrored in health systems across Europe.
While the circumstances are challenging, we must keep our foot on the accelerator as the NHS continues to deliver on the most ambitious catch-up programme in its history. Thanks to the incredible efforts of our health workers, NHS England reported last week that waiting lists have fallen for the first time since the start of the pandemic. I know that the Prime Minister remains focused on ensuring better care for patients. His vision is for an NHS where people are more in control, with as much choice as possible. There are no silver bullets; it is a complex challenge that needs a range of responses. But we are making steady progress.
I remain in regular contact with our local health officials: last week I had a catch-up with Nick Broughton, Chief Executive of Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust to talk about mental health provision in Oxfordshire, including waiting times for Children and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) services. I also met our Bicester GPs to hear more about their experiences and listen to their concerns. It is clear that they are working extremely hard to provide consistent, high-quality care to all their patients. I hope to be able to speak to the Banbury GPs in the weeks ahead.
I am conscious that Will Hancock will be standing down as Chief Executive of the South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) after seventeen-years of service next month. Will achieved lots in his time, most notably the merger of the four ambulance services covering Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire in 2006. I look forward to working with his successor, David Eltringham, as SCAS seeks to integrate health and social care further as part of a new five-year strategic journey. David is extremely experienced with a particularly strong patient focus. I have no doubt that SCAS has been left in very capable hands.
The lead up to Christmas is always a busy time of year. Each year I ask local school children to design my Christmas card. This year’s competition for the front cover design was really popular and it was hard to select a winner; it was Year 6 Cropredy Primary School pupil, Ellen Cherry, who was named winner for her cherubic angel watercolour painting. I was delighted to meet her last week along with the rest of the school and present her with her prize. I explained to Ellen that when I showed her design to the Prime Minister he commented how professional it looked! She will also visit Parliament in the New Year with her parents which I am really looking forward to.
I will also be welcoming The Warriner School to Parliament early next year after they were crowned winners of my Cherwell Democracy Challenge. The annual debating competition took place during UK Parliament Week at the end of November. Six schools went head-to-head debating issues including the best age to begin voting and who should play James Bond in the future. A well-fought final debating a motion on British involvement in Ukraine saw The Warriner walk away as this year’s champions, with The Cooper School coming in as close runners up.
Ukraine remains a cause close to my heart. This year we will be joined by Vika and her parents at the table for Christmas lunch and have been busy learning about their festive traditions. It will be very special sharing our own Christmas with them, from lighting the Advent candle to choosing our Christmas tree together. The situation in Ukraine is very serious. I had many meetings last week with the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General, Andriy Kostin, in my role as Attorney General. His team is navigating a horrific catalogue of war crimes. I represented the UK at the G7 meeting of Justice Ministers in Berlin where we discussed the situation further. We are committed to working together with the international community to hold Putin to account for the actions of his forces.
The consequences of the war in Ukraine continue to be felt closer to home, as we deal with the rising cost of living. I know many will be having to face some difficult decisions this Christmas. I hope that the package of support announced by the Chancellor at the Autumn Statement will go some way to help in the months ahead.
It was an enormous privilege to be appointed Attorney General for England and Wales by the Prime Minister. It is a role that has existed in Parliament since at least 1243. Before I was first elected as your MP in 2015, I worked in the Government Legal Department for seventeen years. I provided advice on military, prisons and national security matters and represented the Government in court. It is great to be returning to the law in my new role, and to be working with the many excellent professionals across the Law Officers’ Departments once again.
It has been another busy month in the constituency. As always, it was a pleasure to visit Glory Farm Primary School. I was given a brilliant tour of the school by Headteacher Jane MacLachlan and the senior leadership team, and enjoyed meeting every year group. It was great to see building work well underway for their brand-new classrooms. I look forward to visiting again once the work is complete!
I was also pleased to visit HMP Bullingdon last week to meet Governor Laura Sapwell and discuss future plans for the facility. I was encouraged by the progress which has been made during her tenure. I was particularly interested to discuss recent work to improve the access of prisoners to education and job support, acknowledging the specific needs of prisoners to facilitate reform, and reintegration on release.
It was great to see so many constituents at one of my regular advice surgeries, this time held at Garth House. I enjoyed speaking to those who had booked appointments, including 11-year-old Grace who wanted to speak to me about how we can all do our bit to protect the environment by picking up litter and avoiding single-use plastics. Surgeries are a great way to raise issues with me in person. If you have any concerns you would like to discuss, please do get in touch.
Earlier in the month, I caught up with Superintendent Emma Garside, our local police commander in Cherwell, at Bicester Police Station. Emma told me that the most concerning crimes locally include drug dealing, violent crime and anti-social behaviour. She was keen to share the real progress that has been made in these areas recently. I was particularly pleased to hear that there has been a significant reduction in reports of anti-social behaviour in Bicester in recent months. I am grateful to Emma for meeting me and will continue our regular conversations to make sure that constituents’ concerns on local policing matters are always heard.
Over the past few weeks, I have also launched some new campaigns on important local problems. I know many of my constituents share my concerns about the discharge of sewage into rivers, including the River Cherwell. Last month, I wrote to the Chief Executive of Thames Water, Sarah Bentley, to find out about what is being done to safeguard our River Cherwell and limit sewage discharge into it. I asked her for a meeting to discuss the issue in more detail and understand what work Thames Water is doing to deliver on the new duties placed on water companies. I will post updates on this issue on my website and social media.
Access to high-speed broadband and reliable mobile coverage is another issue that has been raised consistently with me in recent months. While Banbury and Bicester broadly benefit from strong broadband and reliable mobile coverage, there are many in surrounding villages who have been left behind by the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and are frustrated by mobile not-spots.
Our area has the lowest rate of gigabit-capable broadband coverage in Oxfordshire, and one of the lowest in the South East, with coverage 20 percent below the national average. It is absolutely vital that residents have access to a reliable broadband service. We must also work towards achieving universal mobile coverage in line with the Government’s Shared Rural Network programme.
My Digital Connectivity Survey is now live on my website. To help me build a comprehensive picture of where mobile and broadband coverage is weak in North Oxfordshire, please visit www.victoriaprentis.com/digital-connectivity. Paper copies can also be requested by getting in touch with my office. Your experiences will help inform my findings, which will be shared with providers and colleagues in Government.
The death of Her Majesty the late Queen Elizabeth II is an enormous loss for us all. She has been a constant presence in all our lives. Seventy years on the throne made her the longest-serving monarch in our history. As we reflect on the Elizabethan age, we remember her as a guiding light of duty, service and unity.
As I sat in the Commons listening to tributes last Friday, it became clear that she has extraordinary reach. Almost everyone had a personal memory. In my own tribute on behalf of my North Oxfordshire constituents, I remembered her address to the nation during the pandemic when, resplendent in her NHS scrub coloured dress and brooch, Her Majesty praised “the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling,” of our people. These are all qualities she modelled for us and for which we loved her. To them, she added a less definable quality: a presence, a splendour which came from her deep faith and her certainty that the Crown is at the very centre of our constitution. She lit up every room; I will not forget the day she came to Oxfordshire in 2008. Hundreds of people filled the Market Place in Banbury waving flags, including lots of excited school children, as she helped us mark the 400th anniversary of the town’s Charter. Later that day, I met her as she opened the Oxford Children’s Hospital. In her we see a reflection of our own passions which is why we all feel such a deep and personal sense of loss.
As we grieve for one monarch, we welcome the reign of another whose own sense of duty is in the best traditions of his mother and his country. On Saturday, His Majesty King Charles III was proclaimed at the Accession Council at St James’s Palace in London, a historic moment which was televised for the first time. The following day, towns and cities across Britain made their own proclamation to the new king marking a new Carolean age. It was good to attend the Banbury Proclamation which took place at the Town Hall. High Steward of Banbury, and my predecessor, the Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry led the reading with several hundred in attendance. We then managed the National Anthem with the new unfamiliar words, followed by three cheers for the new King.
Returning to London the following day, it was extraordinary to be in Westminster Hall to hear King Charles III address both Houses of Parliament for the first time as monarch. His Majesty spoke very clearly about the enduring example of selfless duty set by his mother. The past few days will not have been easy for him, but he has undertaken his duties with strength and stoicism.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend Her Late Majesty’s Lying-in-State at Westminster Hall to pay their respects over the five days before her funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday 19 September.
May The Queen rest in peace and rise in glory.
God Save The King.