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7.13 pm

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): This is my maiden speech, and I understand the pride felt by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) and the honour felt by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I understand also the responsibility that lies on those elected to this place. I thank my hon. Friends and other hon. Members for giving me--I am sure that this applies to other new Members--a friendly and warm welcome. We are grateful for the advice that has been proffered on how we should set up constituency offices, for example.

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Advice is one thing that we are not short of as new Members. My constituents have offered me quite a good deal of advice, especially on the issues that I should raise in this debate. The first suggestion made to me on 8 June was that we should discuss how to apply the "offside rule". My constituents showed a higher regard for the powers of the House than I felt we had.

I am the second Member to represent the constituency of Teignbridge. The new constituency was formed in 1983 from the old Totnes and Tiverton constituencies. Teignbridge, contrary to what some removal companies might think, is not in the north-east but is in Devon. It lies between Torquay and Exeter and covers about 660 square miles of beautiful rolling Devon countryside. It extends from the granite tors on Dartmoor to the sandy beaches at Teignmouth and Dawlish.

Many right hon. and hon. Members will have travelled through my constituency. They will have taken rail journeys to the far west from Exeter along the Exe estuary. The route turns south as one comes to Dawlish. It runs along the sea front following the sea wall, the sea being on the left; the cliffs, which are red weathered brescia, are on the right. The route continues to the Teign estuary. It is one of the most beautiful sections of railway in the world, and certainly within the United Kingdom.

If people have not heard of the towns that I shall mention, they will probably know of at least one village in Teignbridge, which is Widecombe in the Moor. They will know also of at least one of its reputed residents, Uncle Tom Cobbleigh, and some will have seen the area on television. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell referred to the famous racecourse in his constituency, but Teignbridge can boast two racecourses--Newton Abbot and Exeter. I am sure that many a punter has sat on a Saturday afternoon waiting for his horse to come last at one of those courses.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) made his maiden speech about four or five years ago, he urged right hon. and hon. Members to visit his constituency and to take a holiday there. That was a good idea. To travel to Torbay, and to constituencies further west, most people have to travel through Teignbridge, where there is much to commend a stay. For those with an historical interest, it is the home of Hornblower--Lord Exmouth, who lived in Teignmouth. It is where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created "The Hound of the Baskervilles". It is also famous for the man who they could never hang, John "Babbacombe" Lee, who lived in the village of Abbotskerswell.

Right hon. and hon. Members may be interested to know that much of what we can do in this place is due to events in my constituency. After William Prince of Orange landed at Brixham, he quickly beat it out of the Totnes constituency and, I regret, through Torbay to camp his troops on Milber Down before sleeping the night at Forde house, which is now council offices. He entered Newton Abbot the following morning, where I am told that he was first proclaimed monarch. What followed was the glorious revolution.

Teignbridge is a mixed constituency. The moorland areas on Dartmoor have suffered greatly over the past six months and are still suffering from the effects of foot and mouth disease. They suffered from the BSE crisis before that. They will continue to suffer unless the TB problem in cattle is resolved.

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There is farming around the Teign valley, which forms a commuter belt to Exeter and contains some of the most beautiful Devon country lanes. There are picture postcard images of thatched cottages with white cob walls.

The rolling hills south of Dartmoor are good beef-rearing country, but they are suffering too. I hope that in the coming months the Government will consider seriously the compensation packages given to farmers and the tourism industry, which is also suffering. I hope that they will ensure that people do not continue to suffer and do not go bankrupt for lack of Government action.

Newton Abbot is at the heart of the constituency. It is a small town of some 20,000 residents, but it is also suffering because of the foot and mouth crisis. It had a weekly market, which is about to resume, but businesses and traders are suffering. As was said earlier, not only the obvious businesses suffer. For example, dry cleaners who do the cleaning for hotels are also affected. I hope that they will be compensated for their losses and that jobs lost in such businesses can be reinstated. I urge the Government to consider the recovery programme that Devon county council has proposed. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have backed that plan, and the Government should support it and the council's ambitions to ensure the economic recovery of the whole of Devon.

Ball clay is one of my constituency's most important exports. At some time, most hon. Members will have sat on products made from ball clay. It is an important mineral resource, which continues to do well. Sadly, the headquarters of WBB, one of the major companies, is in the process of moving out of the constituency and going north. One of my hopes and aims as a Member of Parliament is to encourage businesses to locate their headquarters in the Teignbridge area and in south Devon.

I referred to the two seaside resorts in the south of my constituency. Dawlish is a beautiful seaside town, which is famous for Dawlish Warren, which has a stunning bird sanctuary for any twitchers in the House. Teignmouth is a working seaside town. It has a pier and all the desired attributes of a place by the sea, but it also has a working port. There is therefore a genuine mix of tourism and industry in the same place, which makes it interesting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) referred in his maiden speech to the occasional difficulties of complimenting predecessors. He said:

My predecessor was Patrick Nicholls, but I have no difficulty in praising him and his achievements for the constituency. He was a conscientious constituency Member of Parliament, who held regular surgeries and attended to his constituency work diligently. We agreed about several issues. For example, he was a keen campaigner for the reform of legislation on mobile homes. That issue is close to my heart, and I shall try to pursue it in the years ahead.

Patrick Nicholls took up other issues on which we shared views and about which we sent a joint delegation to meet the Minister. That applied especially to shellfish and the way in which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food interpreted European legislation. We both perceived the insanity of Britain closing shellfish beds for 12 months after failing environmental tests, whereas France and the Netherlands would act after the

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failure of one test and reopen the beds for exploitation when the mussels proved safe to eat. We allow people to eat rotten shellfish for three months, and close the beds for 12 months while healthy fish grow large at the bottom of the river. Patrick and I shared the view that something needed to be done.

Sometimes, Patrick surprised me. During the general election campaign, we took part in joint meetings that the churches organised. We were asked about the term "bogus asylum seekers". Patrick roundly condemned the term "bogus", as I do. We had common cause on several other matters in the debates. I am sure that hon. Members from all parties would like to wish him and his wife well in the future.

Teignbridge was unusual in the general election because we had a turnout of 69 per cent. That may sound good when compared with other constituencies, but it was poor because it was 5 per cent. down on the previous election and almost 12 per cent. down on the 1992 election. Villages with a greater population of elderly people had a higher turnout, and it is clear that places with a younger population and perhaps more working- class areas had a lower turnout. People may say that there is nothing new in that, but I am especially worried about young people. Several young people voted with a passionate opposition to the Government's policies, but more could not be bothered and did not vote--they did not see the point.

What do we have to offer young people? That brings me back to the "offside rule". The "offside rule" comment dealt with people's passion for sport, which applies especially to young people. I am passionate about sport, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) is present because I enjoyed his speech on the opening day. However, I believe that Sol Campbell will not necessarily go to Barcelona; I hope that he will come to Arsenal. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is difficult to get referees to give away teams an offside decision at Old Trafford.

Young people often have a passion for sport that is not reflected in government--local and national--provision for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) has tabled an early-day motion in which he urges the Government to make physical recreation a curricular subject in schools. Physical activity is the best method of helping the health of the nation for the future. We must encourage that not only when young people are at school but after they leave. To do so, we must make sure that the funding is in place and that bureaucracy is cut away so that sports clubs are not messed around for months or years when trying to find premises.

I shall refer to two local clubs in my constituency that experience difficulties. Newton Abbot has a water polo team, which has entered its equivalent of the premier league and will play against the Manchester Uniteds of water polo. Although based in Devon, it must play its home games at Millfield school in Somerset, a drive of an hour and a half. If the local authority is asked to provide a swimming pool of the right size and with the right facilities for water polo, it says that it will not consider the matter, that it may find the capital funding or lottery money, but that it will not do it because of the costs of maintaining and running the pool in future.

The local authority faces difficulties because of the Government's funding constraints. If we are serious about sport and ensuring the provision of sports facilities,

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perhaps the Government should consider ring fencing or providing additional funding so that we have centres of excellence for sport throughout the country.

The River Teign is an estuary in Teignbridge, on which River Teign rowing club is based. It has more than 400 members, many of whom will row past here in the great river rowing race later this year. That club has a problem with bureaucracy and access to funding, which takes time. In the meantime, people are put off the sport. The longer it takes to find facilities, the greater the number of young people who walk the streets and get bored. We want to get people into sports clubs to enjoy the facilities, and fewer bored young people walking the streets at night.

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