It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this final day of the debate on the Gracious Speech, but that pleasure is increased by the fact that I represent the constituency of North
Dorset, which is probably—I will not give way to anyone on this point—the most beautiful constituency, certainly in England. At its heart is Blackmore Vale, made famous in the writings of Thomas Hardy. The village of Marnhull, where my children attend school is very much the centre of the story of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”. Who will ever forget the great scene in which Tess sees Angel Clare country dancing on the village green? I note that there is no all-party parliamentary group for country dancing. The House will be pleased to know that I am not proposing that we set one up.
The constituency of North Dorset has been represented by some colourful characters over the years, including a polar explorer, a former chairman of Crufts—the dog show, I presume—and a Loch Ness researcher. I do not know whether he ever found the Loch Ness monster, but I say to Scottish National party Members that that is not an invitation to field a candidate at the next general election.
This is an important debate, and one in which my predecessor, Robert Walter, took great interest. Robert served North Dorset for 18 years, filling a number of roles in this House. Probably more importantly, his commitment to democracy and his desire to see the eastern bloc and Europe flourish took him into the realms of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, where he did a huge amount of very good work over the years. We wish him well in his next turn of career.
That said, Robert never neglected his constituency. I lost track of the number of people who told me on the doorstep while I was canvassing for the election that they would always vote Conservative because of what Mr Walter did 10 or 15 years ago. Those are big shoes to fill, and it is a legacy I hope to continue. We wish him and his wife Feride well. While on the subject of Feride, I note that Robert, a man who liked to do things for the first time, was the first Member of this House to have a Muslim wedding service here in the Palace of Westminster.
The economy of North Dorset is growing and our employment rates are going up, but there is still fragility there. A number of hon. Friends have already referred to some of the challenges that hold back what in my constituency are not small to medium-sized businesses, but micro to small businesses. We do not have particularly good coverage for mobile phone signals, or indeed for broadband, as referenced by my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake. Those are things that I campaigned on during the general election, and on which I will be pressing Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and other Departments in order to deliver those opportunities for local businesses to grow.
The constituency wants to do well and to see investment, and I am going to be a champion for that. Like many other quarters of the country, we need investment in our road infrastructure. I refer, in particular, to the A350 and the C13. When I was selected as the Conservative candidate, a lady asked me whether I would be joining the 1933 group. I replied, “I think we all join the 1922 committee,” assuming that she was just a little confused about the antiquities of the Conservative parliamentary party. She was, in fact, referring to the local action group set up in 1933 to campaign for the Melbury Abbas bypass. It may well be that in my time in this House we are able to deliver it.
The Gracious Speech put at the heart of the Government’s programme a commitment to growth and to entrepreneurialism, and that is something I want to champion during the years I am here. The people of Dorset are welcoming and they want the constituency to do well. I invite Members of the House to visit Hardy country. Tourism and agriculture in the area are growing. Indeed, the agricultural economy is probably the largest in the constituency. I will be looking to Front-Bench colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we are doing all we can to combat such challenges as bovine TB and ensure stability in the dairy sector. There is a lot to do, and I have the honour to play a part in helping North Dorset thrive. I look forward to it.