David Johnston – 2022 Speech at the Sir David Amess Summer Adjournment Debate

The speech made by David Johnston, the Conservative MP for Wantage, in the House of Commons on 21 July 2022.

I join colleagues in paying tribute to the fact that this debate is called the Sir David Amess summer Adjournment debate. It is a fitting tribute to him and a fitting reminder to us that however good or entertaining we think our speeches are this afternoon, none of them will be as good as the one he would have given were he with us.

The first thing I want to talk about is a man called Merv. He is an 86-year-old man in my constituency who lost his wife after 56 years of marriage in 2014, meaning he was on his own. Thanks to a fantastic local organisation called the Didcot Good Neighbour Scheme, run by a fantastic woman called Sandy Sparrowhawk, I have been matched with him to go round and see him every week, which I have been doing since last September. It is supposed to be for him, but it is the highlight of my week, because whatever is going on here—heaven knows lots of things go on here—when I go to have my cup of tea with him on a Friday after all my visits, he never fails to cheer me up with his stories of being in the Army and of driving coaches.

He is a great football fan—a misguided Chelsea supporter—and we have a real laugh. We now know that loneliness affects not just mental health but physical health, and it only takes up a small amount of my time. I would encourage everyone here and outside to do it, because it makes a huge difference to both people.

I have passed up no opportunity since my maiden speech to raise the infrastructure issues in my constituency. We still need Grove station reopened, we still need the A34 and A420 improved, and we still need more GP surgeries. The two districts I cover are in the top 10 areas for house building relative to their size, and we have not had any new GP surgeries. I hope what we can do through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is get to a position where we start to put this infrastructure in first, rather than promising it after the houses have been built, because it never arrives. The other thing I hope we might do with that Bill is require new houses to be built to the latest environmental standards set by Government, rather than the one that existed when planning permission was granted, often five or six years earlier. We are building thousands of houses that we know will need retrofitting.

While on the subject of the environment, I am currently the lead sponsor of the Local Electricity Bill, which now has 309 MPs supporting it. If Members are not yet backing it, please do so. People argue whether to have fracking or nuclear or oil and gas or onshore wind, but they do not argue about having more community energy, with local communities able to sell it to local people. That would help to achieve our net zero goals and promote competition while offering vast environmental benefits.

Finally, when we come back, we will understandably focus on the economy, the cost of living and Ukraine, but there are two other issues that I hope will receive some focus. One is the reform of public services. We all get too many complaints about visas, driving licences, passports and planning applications. It is not just that it takes too long to get a response, but that the response is not human enough. The second is an increased focus on social mobility. It is a decades-long problem, but we slightly lost focus during covid, which made it harder. We all need to do more if background is to be no barrier to people achieving their potential.