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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:59 pm on 21st July 2022.

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Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 1:59 pm, 21st July 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I start by thanking and paying tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Holden for the intelligent and eloquent way that he set out the issues. It was an enjoyable speech to listen to, and informative as well. It is a timely moment to secure a debate on county agricultural shows in a week when, as my hon. Friend said, the historic county flags are flying around Parliament Square. It is delightful to see Pembrokeshire’s county flag among them.

The four-day Royal Welsh Show has been taking place this week. It is another great success, and it is great to see it back after the difficult covid years. It is a good moment for this debate, as we look ahead to the summer recess that is about to start. Many of us will be getting out and about in our constituencies, and going around our county shows. As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham said, the smaller—often village-sized—shows are still an important part of the fabric of rural and agricultural life in the 21st century.

My county show—we refer to it as “the county show” —is the Pembrokeshire agricultural show. It is the pre-eminent county show in Wales. It is one of the last remaining three-day shows. Covid has been a huge interruption to the show. It is back this year in a two-day format, but I hope it will return to the full three days in future years. It attracts more than 100,000 visitors every year. It always falls in the middle of August, when there are thousands of tourists visiting the beautiful beaches and countryside of Pembrokeshire.

What we get at the Pembrokeshire County Show is an incredibly impressive shop window on agricultural and rural life in Pembrokeshire. It is not just about farming, although that remains at its heart. It also brings in other industries from the private sector, such as car and machinery dealerships. All kinds of voluntary groups and charities have stands. Myself and Conservative colleagues in the Senedd have a stand, and run advice surgeries. No other event in the Pembrokeshire calendar brings together so many people from so many different backgrounds to celebrate agriculture, farming and rural identity. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham makes about identity and cohesion in a community —that sense of community feeling—is really important. For us in Pembrokeshire, the county show is a great vehicle for expressing that.

It is the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society that runs the Pembrokeshire show. I put on record my thanks and pay tribute to the team from the society, particularly the new chairman this year, Mansel Raymond. Those Members who have been involved in dairy issues may recognise the name from his time chairing the National Farmers Union dairy board. He is a very successful farmer in the community; he takes over from Stephen James, a previous chairman of NFU Cymru. They and their teams have done a fantastic job of keeping the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society running during these difficult years of covid, getting it to the position where we can run the show once again this year.

The Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society was actually founded in 1784; it goes back more than 230 years. It was founded exactly at a time when the agricultural revolution was feeding into the industrial revolution, which my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham talked about. The founder of the agricultural society was one William Knox; he was not a Welshman but from Scotland, a relative of John Knox. He was a former Under-Secretary of State for America who found himself in Pembrokeshire. The society had some difficult years, but it was re-founded in 1901, specifically with the purpose of running the flagship county show every summer. That has happened every year since, and for the last 63 years it has happened at the Withybush airfield site, just outside Haverfordwest, which is of course the county town of Pembrokeshire.

It is a tremendous show, Dr Huq, and if you ever find yourself in west Wales in the middle of August, I hope you take some time out to visit the Pembrokeshire show. Indeed, I have seen many colleagues over the last 20 years, from all sides of the House, visiting the show when they have been on holiday in Pembrokeshire. They always have a great time.

For all the activities, the stalls and the fun, leisure aspects that tourists and visitors enjoy, at the heart of the show remains agriculture, farming and competition. There are livestock competitions and other types of contest. Farming remains at the heart of the show, which is a really key point that I want to stress, because farming is the backbone of rural life. Some shows around the country have morphed over recent years into more generic country fairs; they have a place and are fun as well. But for the county agricultural shows that we are discussing this afternoon, the key point is that they have farming strongly at their heart. As I said, farming is the backbone of rural life.

I chair the Welsh Affairs Committee, and it is great to see some colleagues from Wales present this afternoon. We recently completed an inquiry into the social and cultural benefits of family farms in Wales, taking into account the signing of new trade deals and some other trends in agriculture. I think that all members of the Select Committee would agree that maintaining vibrant farming is really important, not just for the economic benefits to rural communities, but for protecting something that is quite unique and special about our heritage. That has particular importance for us in Wales, where I think it is fair to say that the farming community is probably the most important vehicle for incubating and protecting the Welsh language, which of course goes to the very heart of our identity in Wales. All these things link together and come together very effectively in these annual agricultural shows.

In the report that the Select Committee produced on family farms in Wales, we highlighted a number of risks that I think it is important to put on the record. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham has already touched on them. We made the point about keeping farming principally about food production. There is also the point about tree planting in Wales. We observed as a Committee that more and more high-quality agricultural land is being purchased for tree planting in Wales. That represents an almost permanent loss of agricultural land for these activities. I have a particular concern that some of that land is being purchased by corporations with no real connection to Wales at all. They are, in my view, practising a form of greenwashing: it allows those corporates to say that they are offsetting their carbon emissions. I do worry. I worry about farming when farming is being pushed more and more away from core food production. I worry about farming when more and more land is being given over to tree planting. That of course has benefits, but when it means a permanent loss of quality agricultural land, that is a concern.

The Pembrokeshire County Show will be happening again this August. It is a fabulous shop window on our rural community. However, smaller shows are happening as well. We have the Nevern Village Show and the Fishguard Show. My local show is the Clarbeston Road Show, in the next village along from where I live. They all have their particular characteristics. They all have their local characters and individuals who give so much of their free time to volunteer and to make the show happen. Those people are the bedrock of our communities, and we salute them this afternoon.