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e: robert@robertcourts.co.uk
26 APR 2017

We require a strong and stable government

The Prime Minister has announced that a General Election will be held on 8th June. Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to dissolve.

I wholeheartedly back this decision. The choice is a clear one about strong local and national leadership. The Government and our Prime Minister must receive an electoral mandate from the people of the UK as we begin our negotiations to leave the European Union. This is a crucial time in our history and it is essential that the Prime Minister's negotiating hand is strengthened, safe in the knowledge that she has the backing of the country.

I understand that, particularly in West Oxfordshire, we have had a lot of elections recently. Many of you might feel that this is an all too familiar process. However, we do need this general election now in order to secure the strong and stable leadership our country requires at this pivotal moment.

I will be standing as a hard-working local constituency MP, continuing to ensure that West Oxfordshire has influence in Government. I am excited to have the opportunity to continue to speak up for West Oxfordshire, and work tirelessly on your behalf. There is so much more we can do together to make West Oxfordshire better for everyone.

Since October, I have been campaigning on all aspects of my plan, both locally and in Parliament. Education, healthcare, businesses, transport, broadband and housing development have dominated my postbag and my diary, and I look forward to being given the chance to continue with this work after the General Election should you elect me as your Member of Parliament.

Nationally, the choice is clear: leadership in the national interest under Theresa May or a weak and unstable coalition Government with Jeremy Corbyn as our Prime Minister.

Locally, it has been an honour to serve you since the by-election and I hope very much to be able to build on the flying start I have made since then. There is so much more to achieve and I am looking forward to setting out my vision for our constituency over the next five years.

In West Oxfordshire, this election is therefore about two issues: stable, strong leadership for the country, and ensuring that West Oxfordshire has influence in and on Government and on a compassionate, forward looking, positive programme. That is what I offer, and that is what I seek. I look forward to meeting many of you around the constituency over the coming weeks, in the run-up to the 8th June.

Over the course of the campaign period, I want to reassure constituents that I stand ready to offer any help I can with casework issues; politics should not take precedence over this essential duty. As I will be based here in Witney during this time, you are welcome to contact me at robert@robertcourts.co.uk or by phone at 01993 702302.

Published on 29.03.17 in the Witney Gazette.

29 MAR 2017

Our democracy stands defiant after attack

Last Wednesday, a quarter to three. The House of Commons. A chill breeze of rumour ripples around the Chamber. Members, in the process of voting, hurry in, asking colleagues on the green benches - what has happened? Someone has been shot, or stabbed? Someone has been hit by a car - is there an attack? On us? Someone hit on the Bridge? It must be road rage, an accident, a misunderstanding. Shots fired?! The armed police, those courteously consummate professionals, are running in the corridor, telling people to get down, to stay where they are. The Prime Minister has been rushed out of the voting lobby and away? An attack? Within the Estate? Surely not? Not here, in Westminster, at the heart of our democracy?

The Deputy Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, a decent, no-nonsense northerner, stands hurriedly to his feet, arms stretched, a strained look on his usually relaxed and friendly face. "Order. I am now going to suspend the sitting. The House is now suspended, but please wait here."

The day had begun as a typical Westminster day. I attended an early briefing on the Armed Forces, handled constituency casework, attended a briefing on affordable housing innovation, before going into the House for Prime Minister's Questions. The afternoon brought the Pensions Schemes Bill. Not something that will set pulses racing, but bringing in further protections for savers; I served on this Bill and was in the Chamber for the debate. I was not one of those MPs caught in Central Lobby, or in the corridors, as the House's security swung smoothly into action: blue lights flashing above Churchill arch, doors slamming closed, wooden bars drawn across, bolts clicking shut. Lockdown.

It is sometimes easy, in the cut and thrust of politics, to lose perspective. MPs - even new ones - are used to abuse, or even threats. It is not, after all, so long since the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox. But this brings it home. An officer has lost his life. Citizens of ten countries - our friends from all over the World - are in critical condition. Blameless pedestrians on Westminster Bridge have been maimed. And so the storms of political strife subside - for a time - for what does the noise count before the cold silence of PC Palmer's grave? One of those courteous and professional men that I greet in the morning has been lost. One of those who ensure that I can do the job you have sent me to do. He leaves behind a wife and family.

His sacrifice was the epitome of duty and professionalism. The Palace was defended; the attacker did not get more than twenty yards into the estate. Every day the staff of the Palace, the police and all our emergency services do an incredible, and often unsung job. How sad that this was illustrated so vividly, so soon. I pay tribute to them all.

But back in the Chamber, there was some solace. A party of schoolchildren, kept in the public gallery, are singing to keep up their spirits. They wave at MPs, who wave back. And then it comes. A hush settles over the assembled MPs, asking for news and reading the media on creaking internet - "the Mace, the Mace!" We understand, and silently, we stand. The white-gloved Sergeant at Arms takes the Mace - the symbol of Parliament and the ability to debate the government of the country, freely, peacefully, under the Queen's protection - gently from the bench and carries it reverently from the Chamber.

Which brings me to my final point: the nature of what you have sent me to Westminster to do. In my maiden speech I quoted Winston Churchill, born and buried in this constituency, on the nature of what Parliament is about: "to substitute argument for fisticuffs." It is tragic that an individual, driven by a perversion of an honourable religion, cannot accept that lesson, but those of us who have been entrusted with the conduct of your affairs will not be cowed. We continue with our business. I spoke in a debate about Equitable Life pensioners on Thursday. The Prime Minister spoke with cool, calm, defiance. I continue to work for you regardless of party or politics. Our work, and our democratic traditions, will continue.

As I left Westminster last week to return to Witney, the flags on the Ministry of Defence outside my office, on the Palace and on the Abbey flew at half-mast. London is mourning, but there is a calm mood of steady defiance. Come what may, the UK's democracy has been here before. We have prevailed. We will again. Democracy is safe.

Published on 29.03.17 in the Witney Gazette.

01 MAR 2017

Thriving defence industries on our doorstep

When I entered into Parliament, I knew that defence was an area that I really wanted to focus on, given its central role in West Oxfordshire in industrial and military terms. I have been working to celebrate and ensure its continuing success in our constituency every week since then.

West Oxfordshire has a thriving defence industry, with world-leading companies based in and around RAF Brize Norton, the largest RAF base in the country, and beyond. Both the commercial and military sectors work together to provide invaluable skills and expertise which contribute to the local economy and provide fantastic opportunities and careers to residents. I have been involved in many different facets of the defence sector to champion the importance in ensuring our national security, and to celebrate the benefits this brings to West Oxfordshire.

In January, the Ministry of Defence negotiated a £410 million contract with Airbus Defence and Space that will secure at least 200 highly-skilled jobs here in West Oxfordshire. Airbus are based in RAF Brize Norton and will provide in-service support for the UK's Atlas A400M aircraft, securing a key part of the RAF airlift fleet until 2026. This investment is a great vote of confidence in West Oxfordshire and we should celebrate the fantastic opportunities this will continue to bring to the community.

I am sure all readers know of the key role Brize had in ensuring that troops and equipment were able to travel safely to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past fifteen years and, more solemnly, the moving repatriation ceremonies touched us all. As Britain's role in international conflicts has changed, Brize continues to be at the centre of the British Armed Forces, with troops and equipment being regularly deployed to humanitarian operations around the world.

RAF Brize Norton is situated in the heart of West Oxfordshire, and the people who live and work at the base are an integral part of our community. Its presence is an important part of the identity of our area and its impact is felt further than neighbouring Carterton.

For example, I recently visited the Airbus helicopter base in Kidlington, an important employer for many constituents. I was so interested to see all the world-leading work they are doing, in the civilian and military spheres.

I also went to see these cutting edge projects myself at RAF Brize Norton, meeting with those working hard to develop the UK's 21st century military and civilian capabilities. It was fantastic to see the day to day activities of personnel, both military and civilian. As a huge admirer of the RAF's consummate professionalism, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see many of the fleet up close, including the A400Ms and large C17 transports and to talk with their crews. As warfare and the role of the military evolves, it is important for our armed forces to be able to adapt to these changes and stay at the cutting edge of technology.

This was clearly illustrated to me by my recent visit as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces visit to Scotland, where I saw the new Queen Elizabeth Class of aircraft carriers under construction.

These will be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy and will represent a step change in capability, enabling the delivery of increased strategic effect and influence around the world. This will include the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales, which are due to being sea trials later in 2017.

This was a fantastic chance to see first-hand to result of investment in our defence facilities, keeping the UK at the cutting edge of naval technology; the effect of these hugely capable ships, being felt nationwide through the extensive supply chain.

I will continue to do all I can to support and champion the defence sector and the fantastic contribution being made by West Oxfordshire. Although we are leaving the European Union, the UK continues to be a strong presence on the world stage. Britain will lead the way in our security and humanitarian work, shown through the Government's commitment to spend 0.7% and 2% of GDP on international aid and defence respectively. Here in West Oxfordshire, defence remains an essential part of our identity and economy and I will do all I can as your Member of Parliament to ensure we stay in the centre of government thinking.

If any readers have an issue which they want me as their MP to help with, do email me on robert.courts.mp@parliament.uk or write to me at Robert Courts MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Published on 01.03.17 in the Witney Gazette.

01 FEB 2017

We're taking a stance on mental health help

Over the past few weeks, I have been delighted to see that my personal work to highlight the importance of mental health awareness and treatment has been reflected by announcements from the Government.

Just before Christmas, I had the pleasure of visiting Bridewell Organic Gardens in Wilcote near Witney. On a frosty morning, I met with the staff who help to keep the gardens running.

Bridewell was established to support those suffering from poor mental health through gardening: building skills and creating a much-needed support network. Clients maintain the garden, tend to the animals and manage the vineyard, all taking place in a beautiful part of West                                                                                                                   Oxfordshire.

I was so impressed with the work being carried out at Bridewell, and so keen to give mental health treatment the priority it deserves, that I raised this issue in Parliament when the House of Commons resumed after Christmas. I told the Secretary of State for Health about Bridewell, praising the great work of the staff and volunteers. I urged him to investigate similar schemes to ensure that those suffering mental health problems are offered the full range of treatment options, including those that are innovative and highly effective. I was delighted that he readily agreed to do so.

I am therefore delighted to report that the Government shares my determination to ensure that mental health is treated with the same importance as physical health. A further step was announced by the Prime Minister earlier this month. There will be support available for every secondary school in West Oxfordshire, with each school now being offered mental health first aid training to increase awareness and help tackle the unacceptable stigma around the issue. This will be alongside more support in the community and more online services, so that everyone has access to help at every stage of life.

Child and adolescent mental health services in West Oxfordshire will also be reviewed to help identify what is already working and what we can improve, so more children and young people get the mental healthcare they need and deserve. Together, we will transform the way we approach mental health in West Oxfordshire.

As a hidden illness, I am glad that the Government is recognising its importance, because I am very familiar, from my professional background, with the devastating consequences if help is not easily available. Working in the law, I have met many whose lives have been very seriously affected by mental illness, perhaps in association with drug abuse, perhaps in the aftermath of an accident, or perhaps with no clear trigger. Mental illness can affect those from every walk of life, at all times of life, and is a tragedy if it is not recognised and addressed.

In our own area, we are particularly concerned with the mental health of military veterans, and I am in awe of the work carried out by charities such as Combat Stress and SSAFA. As I said in my maiden speech to Parliament, "a person may leave the conflict, but the conflict will never leave the person." I will continue to fight for veterans' welfare. But war is an extreme human experience, and it is important to recognise that a person's mental health can be adversely affected through a number of experiences, not just the life-threatening situations endured in war, but personal misfortune: perhaps the loss of a child, the stress of an unhealthy workplace, or medical complications. These must all have their rightful place at the centre of our concern.

For example, I was very concerned to read a new report from The Silver Line this week suggesting that increasing numbers of old people are phoning the charity with problems, such as depression, but refusing to tell their family or doctor, with the result that problems go unrecorded and untreated. This simply underlines the point I wish to make; I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that mental health continues to openly discussed, and I support any further support given in the community. Clearly, more work needs to be done at all levels of society. I will continue to prioritise this important issue, campaigning to improve the support and treatments on offer alongside raising awareness.

If any readers have an issue which they want me as their MP to help with, do email me on robert.courts.mp@parliament.uk or write to me at Robert Courts MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Published on 01.02.17 in the Witney Gazette.

28 DEC 2016

There is nothing more important than health

I can hardly believe we have reached the end of 2016 already. Since becoming the Member of Parliament for Witney, my diary has been jam-packed with events both in Westminster and here in West Oxfordshire.

One issue dominating my postbag has been local health services, particularly the proposed closure of Deer Park, and concerns surrounding Chipping Norton Community Hospital and the Horton General. That is why I have made healthcare my top priority since my election.

I met with the Deer Park Patient Participation Group, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Virgin Healthcare to discuss the proposed closure of Deer Park in my first few weeks in Parliament. I wanted to understand the situation in real detail and to encourage everyone to work together to find a solution that works for patients.

I have discussed the issue exhaustively with all parties, urging them to reopen a dialogue and making my view of the importance of this surgery plain. It is critical that the right outcome is found for patients and I will continue to fight for them. That is why I escalated this to the Minister, David Mowat, meeting with him to ensure that the issue is fully investigated.

I have also had a number of meetings with the OCCG and other Oxfordshire MPs to discuss the upcoming Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) which will decide the future of Oxfordshire's healthcare economy. I have been very clearly against the splitting of the consultation process, which I feel would not enable the public to look at the whole impact of the proposals. I have escalated this all the way to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, meeting with him to discuss the consequences of this proposal and to make my concerns crystal clear.

In addition, I have also discussed specific constituency cases directly with other Ministers in the Department of Health, lobbying on behalf of individuals, and understanding what can be done to improve services for those most in need.

Nothing is more important than health, for you and your loved ones. Services must be up to scratch to cater for everyone in West Oxfordshire – now and in future as this area develops. I will continue to fight hard to ensure that healthcare in this constituency is the best it can possibly be.

On a lighter note, I am excited to be celebrating my first Christmas as an MP – switching on many Christmas lights all over the constituency! I will also be celebrating my first Christmas as a dad, with my baby son Henry and wife Kathryn. I am looking forward to spending a little time with my family – here in West Oxfordshire, away from the hubbub of Westminster – reflecting back on 2016 and looking to the year ahead in which I will be working hard, driving the interests of West Oxfordshire forward at every opportunity.

I would like to wish all readers of the Witney Gazette a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Published 28.12.16 in the Witney Gazette.

30 NOV 2016

Settling in and getting to grips with issues

What a whirlwind month this has been – I am so grateful to have been elected as your Member of Parliament and I have greatly enjoyed getting fully stuck in to the job. After the by-election, I have been getting settled in Westminster and getting to grips with all the issues facing my constituents.

Living and working in West Oxfordshire means that I very much appreciate all the strengths of the constituency – as well as a few issues which could be improved.

I will be celebrating all the amazing things that take place in West Oxfordshire and promoting the fantastic things there are to see and do. This is why I brought Chipping Norton's nomination in the Great British High Street of the Year competition to the attention of the Prime Minister in PMQs earlier this month. I will have my fingers crossed for Chipping Norton, and Imogen Haverty who is nominated in the Under 25 High Street Hero category, when the results are revealed in December.

However, I am keenly aware through my surgeries and inbox that there are many issues which residents are passionate and concerned about.

As many of you know, the proposed closure of Deer Park Medical Centre is a great source of concern for Witney residents, and was a key topic during the by-election campaign. Residents want the surgery to remain open. Patients want a guarantee that they are able to see a doctor or a nurse when they need to. This has been a concern I have heard again and again at street stalls and on doorsteps.

I have kept my promise to make this my top priority since being elected. I have met with the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and I will be meeting with Virgin Care, who currently provide services at Deer Park. It is so important that these important stakeholders are working together to find the best possible solution for patients, and I continue to make the case for Deer Park in the strongest possible terms.

I have also met with the Deer Park Patient Participation Group to fully understand the concerns of those directly affected and to discuss what I can do to help. We will be keeping a continuing dialogue to ensure that patients are being fully considered and consulted throughout this process.

It is not acceptable to roll over and accept this closure especially when preceded by so little consultation. There are 4500 people being treated at this surgery, to say nothing of the thousands more if Witney expands. There will be a knock on effect on other surgeries, increasing waiting times. I will continue to fight hard for constituents about this issue until a proper outcome can be reached.

I wanted to become an MP to represent all those in my constituency – that means advocating all the fantastic things happening in West Oxfordshire as well as fighting residents' corners. I am excited to continue to work both locally and in Westminster over the coming years – and I look forward to my monthly column in the Witney Gazette!

If any readers have an issue which they want me as their MP to help with, do email me on robert.courts.mp@parliament.uk or write to me at Robert Courts MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Published 30.11.16 in the Witney Gazette.


Maiden Speech 30th November 2016

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