Christmas Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:07 pm on 17th December 2020.

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Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage 4:07 pm, 17th December 2020

Before I talk about the many things I want to talk about today, I will mention two other things quickly. First, I pass up no opportunity to mention the need to reopen Grove station in my constituency, which my constituents have wanted for over 40 years. Thousands more houses have gone into that area, with very congested roads. I have told my constituents that I will keep going and going until we are successful with this.

Secondly, I want to mention is a man called Dave Wells. He got to the final of “MasterChef” this week. He is a Didcot resident, and the whole of Didcot is hugely proud of him for getting that far. He did not win, unfortunately, but, as we know, “MasterChef” is a big deal. Over 5 million people watched the final, which I think, Mr Deputy Speaker, is just shy of the number that will be watching us right now on the Parliament channel. It is a hugely proud moment for the people of Didcot, and I have been exchanging messages with him to try to get his new restaurant in the constituency somewhere. I am agnostic about where, whether it is Didcot, Wallingford, Faringdon, Wantage or any of the villages I represent, but let us get it somewhere, because I think that would be another welcome attraction to my constituency.

The first main thing I want to talk about is Royal Mail. Our postmen and women have worked incredibly hard, including throughout the lockdown period, but a few weeks ago, I started to get a regular stream of emails every day from constituents whose mail was not being delivered. This was regular mail, such as letters, magazines and birthday cards. There was one couple whose 65th wedding anniversary cards had not arrived. It seems to me that if they can make 65 years of marriage, they deserve to have their cards arrive on time. Even more seriously, hospital appointments were being missed because this mail was not arriving.

It is clear that postmen and women have worked really hard, but I called a meeting with Royal Mail last week. Something is clearly not going right with the service at the moment. It is a busy time, there have been staff shortages and there are additional constraints because of covid and the need to restrict the number of people in Royal Mail buildings. I was interested to hear from Royal Mail that it characterises what has happened as its having gone from a letter service delivering parcels to a parcel service delivering letters. Apparently, had I been able to visit the mail rooms this year, as I know Members of this House do every year, I would have seen everything being delivered by Royal Mail, including very large TVs, but also, as I understand my right hon. Friend Mrs May saw on her visit, washing machines. Clearly something is going on with the way Royal Mail is operating that means people are not getting their regular post. It is very distressing to them. Constituents of mine are still reporting a problem, and we need to get to the bottom of what that is, because in the new year the price of first-class stamps will go up 12%, and I do not think there will be a 12% increase in the quality of service that our constituents receive.

The second main thing I want to talk about are health services in my constituency, which has two aspects to it. The first is Wantage Community Hospital, which was closed in 2016 because legionella bacteria were found. My constituents expected that closure to be temporary, but, as the House might guess, that hospital has still not reopened. That is a cause of distress to constituents, who very much loved the local community hospital. They are fearful that perhaps it will never reopen, or that perhaps the site might be sold off.

I have regular conversations with local health leaders about the hospital, and I do not believe they have any intention to see it permanently closed or, indeed, to try and sell it off. They make the case that probably what the hospital needs is to offer different services from what it was offering before it closed. That is a case for them to make, and the decision making has been delayed again because of covid, but my constituents do deserve resolution as soon as possible.

The second key aspect of health services that I want to talk about is health services in the inner Didcot area. We have three patient participation groups in Didcot, and their chairs do a great job. They have calculated that in terms of the pressure on patient numbers, the population of Didcot has increased by 38% in five years, yet we have no new surgeries. That raises one of the regular problems of house building.

My constituency has had thousands and thousands of new houses. As I have said before in this place, most people are not opposed to house building. Although they may not like house building directly outside their window, most people are not opposed to it; they just want to know that housing is high quality, does the right things by the environment, is genuinely affordable and, importantly, is matched by the infrastructure that the growing population needs, because thousands more houses are due to go into this area. We had a big development at Great Western Park, which again had no new GP surgery coming with it, despite the best efforts of the three PPG chairs and people such as Councillor Ian Snowdon. The current GP surgeries are bursting at the seams, and we need some form of new health hub in Didcot that relieves the pressure on GP appointments, but also provides a wider range of health services, given that the population of this area will continue to grow.

The final thing I want to talk about, as a number of Members have, is what a year it has been. It has been an awful year for everybody, and it has been worse for those who have lost a job, lost a business or, even worse, lost a loved one. I think there are few things we can say to offer real condolences to those people, although I offer them here today.

I know that, as we go into 2021, we will still be fighting this virus; more people will lose their jobs, their businesses, and indeed their lives; we will all be facing awful economic circumstances. Yet we got through this year—the country got through it. We saw tremendous effort, energy and achievements by our public services, not least in health and education, and by our private services—politicians generally default to public services, but let us not forget all the private services, such as the shops that remained open and kept serving us, and the great innovation by many of our business. There was also a tremendous community response, where people stepped up to serve their neighbours in whatever way they could. I saw that from Wallingford to Shrivenham in my constituency, and I know that every Member of the House saw it in their own constituency.

I am hugely proud of Britain and what it has achieved this year, and hugely proud of the British people and everything they have done, despite what an awful year it has been and despite all that they are going to be facing. With the vaccine and the other positive developments, I think we can look forward to a better 2021. I wish every Member of this House, everyone who works here and everyone who works anywhere else a happy Christmas and a very good new year.