Backbench Business - Christmas AdjournmentBackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:54 pm on 16th December 2021.

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Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage 2:54 pm, 16th December 2021

Let me begin by expressing my sadness that Sir David Amess is not here today. I have spoken in these Adjournment debates on pretty much every occasion since I was elected—albeit only two years ago—and the joy of them was not getting to speak in them oneself, but getting to see Sir David’s tour de force. Most of us decide which of 30, 40 or 50 issues we will raise, but he just raised them all. It was a sight to behold, and I think we will always miss that contribution in these debates as in so many others.

When I thought about the 30 or 40 different matters I could raise, from my campaign for the reopening of Grove station to housing and planning issues, which have already been touched on, I decided on three, all of which happened to begin with A. The first is the issue of the AEA Technology pensioners. As some Members may know, a group of pensioners—predominantly in my constituency, although some are in other parts of the country—transferred to a new company in the mid-1990s when part of the UK Atomic Energy Authority was privatised. They were given all sorts of assurances about their terms and conditions, including the assurance that it was very unlikely that anything negative would happen to the value of their pensions—and guess what? The company went bust less than 20 years later, and their pensions are now worth between a quarter and a third less than they were. A unique aspect of the case is that they were given the advice not to worry about their pensions by the Government Actuary’s Department.

For several years those people have been pushed from pillar to post and from Department to Department, being told, “This is where you should go to seek redress”, “No, it’s that Department”, “No, it’s another Department”, or “Don’t worry, the ombudsman can look at your case”. We have, however, established—and I pay tribute to my predecessor, now Lord Vaizey of Didcot, who worked on this for a while as well—that it is not within the ombudsman’s remit to look at advice given by the Government Actuary’s Department, and the pensioners therefore have no redress whatsoever. The reason I have presented a 10-minute rule Bill on the issue, and the reason I chair the all-party parliamentary group for AEA Technology pensions, is that these guys did the right thing. They were given assurances, and—for want of a better phrase—they have never had their day in court. There has never been someone to look at what happened here. I am also a member of the all-party parliamentary group for justice for Equitable Life policyholders, and we all know what went wrong there.

This is a unique case involving more than 1,000 pensioners, and I will keep going on it because it is so important. I have met the relevant Minister, and I am told it is still the case that the ombudsman cannot investigate. I hope we can either change that or obtain another form of redress, because we should all be entitled to some form of redress to deal with our complaint, even if it does not go in the way we wanted it to.

The second A is the Appleford relief road. Appleford is a small village in my constituency, and as part of a housing infrastructure fund bid by Oxfordshire County Council, it is going to have a relief road very nearby to help to ease some of the traffic congestion in other parts of my constituency. The problem is that until very recently my constituents did not realise how close to them the relief road would be. I have seen images of relief roads, including this one: it is 30 feet high, and it will be right up by their houses.

I have met members of the campaign group, and I think that they have a compelling case. They would be dismissed by some as nimbys, but far from it, they are not opposed to the road itself. They have simply made the very reasonable request for the county council to move it by about 200 metres. It would still be close to them, but not as close as is planned, so the noise, the traffic and the pollution that it will bring would have less of an impact than it would otherwise. The work has not started yet. I think that this is an entirely reasonable request, and I am urging the county council to address the concerns of the residents again. None of us would want that road near us, and even if we have to delay the completion of the works, I think it right that we should do so.

The third A is the A420, on which I held an Adjournment debate last year. The road snakes right across my constituency, and many of my constituents find it very dangerous. The crash data backs them up on that; there are very regular crashes all the way along it. There are bizarre situations where people who live near the A420 have to get a bus down it to be able to cross it, and then get the bus back. They simply want to cross a road that is directly in front of them in their village, but it is too unsafe for them to do so. My constituent Jo is one of the people most recently injured on the road; she is in a neck brace at the moment.

Again, the road is the responsibility of Oxfordshire County Council. We need a bunch of different things, from a proper bus service to safe crossing points, bike lanes, walkways and so on. The road is used an awful lot by heavy goods vehicles; part of what we need to do is to try to deter them from using the road, because it should not be used in the way it is. It is used by lots of vehicles that speed, and it is used as a shortcut when it should not be. It passes a lot of what should be very quiet villages, where people should not experience their houses shaking and all the difficulties of getting on or off or across the road. Again, I hope this is something that we can make progress on, and I will keep pushing on it on behalf of my constituents.

What these three things have in common, along with the many other things I could have raised today, is that they are all about people feeling that their voices are not heard. They have legitimate grievances and complaints, but they feel that the authorities, whoever they are—their local council, a Government Department, a business; it can be anything—are not listening to them and do not give them the time and attention or deal with things that should be relatively straightforward to deal with if there was the will to do so. I constantly tell my constituents, as I am sure a lot of Members do, “I don’t have the power myself to change the situation you find yourself in.” I wish I did, but my role is to keep making sure that their voices are heard in this place, and that is what I will do week after week.

With that, I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, a very merry Christmas, and likewise all the staff in the House of Commons—the Doorkeepers and everybody else. Without them, we would be in a very bad place indeed.