Agricultural and County Shows — [Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:40 pm on 21st July 2022.

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Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham 1:40 pm, 21st July 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the importance of agricultural and county shows to rural Britain.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. Thank you for stepping in today. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate, and Members—I know many cannot be here—from all parties across the House and all parts of the United Kingdom for coming to support it, including the Members who have in their constituencies the Royal Highland Show, the Royal Welsh Show, which happened in recent days, and the Balmoral Show, which is run by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society.

Britain has a long and proud tradition of agricultural and county shows. The 350 that take place a year fuel economic activity in our rural communities, and provide incalculable value to the societies that they celebrate. They showcase the very best of farming—a sector that contributes about £115 billion a year to the economy.

One reason I am so keen to talk about the subject is that the first show in England, I am reliably informed, took place in 1763 in my patch of North West Durham, in the town in Wolsingham. Since then, the shows have become central to the social fabric and economy of the parishes, villages and towns of North West Durham, and they have become wildly popular in modern Britain, with over 7 million people attending them annually. Agricultural shows span the length and breadth of North West Durham. They range from some of the largest fairs, such as the Wolsingham Show, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the town every year, to smaller ones, such as the historic Stanhope Show, which is over 180 years old. The very smallest, such as the Blanchland and Hunstanworth Show, right up in the north Pennines, celebrate some of the most rural parishes.

County Durham has a rich history of farming, stretching back thousands of years. The Normans enclosed large areas of it as the County Palatine of Durham back in the early middle ages. Around that time, some of the land in the rural north Pennines was cleared for farms, for mining and particularly for small-scale cattle raising and sheep farming on the hills. In the 19th century, people in Weardale often subsidised their work in the mines with smallholdings and subsistence farming.

Today, for places across County Durham and across the country, county shows still provide a strong link between that rich agricultural history and present day society. Although agriculture has fundamentally changed over the centuries, and county shows have evolved as well, the shows are still unique points at which our towns and villages can come together. Agricultural shows provide people with a unique opportunity to celebrate what makes our local rural communities so special. They incorporate a huge range of rural activities, such as dry stone walling, which I tried my hand at last year at the Weardale Show in St John’s Chapel, and sheep shearing, which I know many hon. Members are always keen to take part in.

Despite the huge diversity in attractions, animals and events on display, what the shows have in common is the local pride that they instil in people and in the small local communities they serve. I am thinking particularly of the fact that cattle are still very much at the heart of even the larger shows in my constituency, such as the Wolsingham Show. Having the winners paraded around the ground is very much the highlight of the day, even with the much broader attractions that are now on offer.

These shows enrich our local communities. They help to reinforce social cohesion, and are an invaluable asset to modern Britain. Unfortunately, as we have all seen, over the last couple of years covid put a stop to some of them. I was at the Eastgate Sheep Show back in May, which was able to go ahead for the first time since my election as an MP in 2019. This year, I hope to see people return en masse to our county and agricultural shows, to help our communities rediscover their social benefits. We all took those benefits for granted not that long ago, but we now realise just how important they are. I look forward to visiting the Weardale Show in St John’s Chapel, the Wolsingham Show and the Stanhope Show later in the summer.

Farms are intrinsic to the identity and image of rural Britain. Without them there would be no such green and pleasant land that we all enjoy. They play a really important part in ensuring that our rural communities are connected to our local towns. While farming practices have changed, meaning that we do not need huge proportions of the population working the ground and the land anymore, farms provide a symbol for many people in those small towns and villages, and a real connection with the land that feeds our nation and other nations across the world.

I would welcome any Member coming to visit my patch this summer. British tourism is incredibly important, and it is not just the agricultural shows themselves that are the driver. They also provide a real anchor for many other rural activities, particularly rural pubs, which I am a keen supporter of, as a member of the all-party parliamentary beer group, and the hospitality trade, which in so much of rural Britain was also hammered during the covid pandemic. I urge anybody thinking of travelling around the country this summer to anchor it with a rural show, and to spend some time in those rural villages too.

In the modern era, farms are at the frontier of so many environmental measures, with farmers committed to working as much as possible in harmony with nature, while producing sustainable and nutritious food and products from their land. I am glad that when we come back in September, the trade agreements that we have negotiated will be addressed on Second Reading, and I am glad that the Department has had the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to ensure that Britain’s agricultural interests are looked after. The Government are driving forward changes to Britain’s agricultural sector, following our exit from the EU. I hope that environmental land management schemes will, over time, provide a real environmental link, while ensuring that good food production is maintained in the UK.