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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:08 pm on 21st July 2022.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and it is a great pleasure to follow Stephen Crabb, who gave us a wonderful picture of just how important county shows and the smaller shows are to rural life and to the fabric of communities in Preseli Pembrokeshire.

I join the right hon. Member in congratulating Mr Holden on securing this very important debate. He has timed it perfectly, as it comes at the end of Royal Welsh week. However, I congratulate him primarily on a tour de force of a speech, which covered the county agricultural shows in his constituency, their long history, and the importance of agriculture and rural life to his communities and parishes. He eloquently described in great detail how integral these shows are to the social and economic fabric of the communities and parishes that he represents. It will not surprise hon. Members to hear that I will make the same case for the importance of agricultural shows in my constituency of Ceredigion.

We have already heard an interesting point that I had not considered before coming to this afternoon’s debate. The origin and purpose of a number of these agricultural societies and agricultural shows was not only to showcase farmers’ wonderful produce and stock, but to exchange best practice and techniques. That was an important endeavour, and it played such an important role in the agricultural revolution. As a rural MP, I think the importance of the agricultural revolution is often downplayed when we consider the history of the United Kingdom; as the hon. Member for North West Durham said, without the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution would not have followed.

The Cardiganshire Agricultural Society was established in 1784; the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire told us that the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society was founded then, too, so there was something in the waters of west Wales in that year. I am afraid to say that it was not Mr Knox who founded ours, although I note that he was an Under-Secretary of State for America, so in 1784 he perhaps had a bit more time on his hands, after the 1783 treaty. However, the purpose of that society was to promote agricultural techniques and to share best practice. I am pleased to say that it continues in existence, and continues to meet regularly. I have a fond memory of attending one of their annual dinners in Lampeter some years ago, when I was a relatively new Member of Parliament. It is fantastic that their sharing of best practice continues to this day. Such bodies are of integral importance. They represent broader networks of societies, both at parish and village level, but larger towns would also hold an annual agricultural show.

The first Cardigan county show was held in 1854, so there was a bit of a gap after the society was established. I am pleased to say that we have continued to have annual shows, except during the covid pandemic and in a few other instances over the decades. It is a staple of the local calendar. We have missed it for the past two years; perhaps I underestimated just how much I would miss agricultural shows—not just my home show of Lampeter, but all the other shows that we Members of Parliament have the privilege of—well, a convenient excuse for—attending.

I am pleased to say that in Ceredigion, we have the best part of 20 agricultural shows. Despite the two-year gap forced by covid, they are all back up and running. The first one started in June, and they will continue through to the beginning of September. Obviously, produce and livestock is on show, but they also serve as important social hubs for rural communities. The larger county shows that we have in Cardigan and Aberystwyth are really impressive spectacles and feats of logistics—I am in awe of them—and they are made possible by the committees of volunteers who are in charge of them.

The smaller shows also serve an important function. The right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire mentioned the number of challenges that agriculture faces. In Wales, there are changes to agricultural policy, the disruption of covid-19 and Brexit to some extent, and the challenge of losing large tracts of agricultural land to planation for forestry and offsetting schemes. Our farmers come under the cosh, whatever direction they face. Farming is, as I am sure hon. Members know, a lonely profession at times, so the local show is a great opportunity for local farmers to take the day off and socialise with each other. They go to shows to share problems and advice, but also to enjoy each other’s company. We have missed that for two years, so I am pleased that this year we will have the whole host of shows again in Ceredigion.

Some shows have merged; they have had to change quite a bit. We now have a great variety of displays and attractions. If anybody needs a holiday suggestion this year, I invite them to Ceredigion. We have it all. We have the core elements of an agricultural show, livestock displays and goods—vegetables and preservatives, you name it—but we also have speed shearing events, which are fun. Virginia Crosbie may wish to attend a few of those events in Ceredigion before she tries her hand at shearing at the Anglesey show later in August. We also have the harness racing—several racing events, as it happens—vintage displays and tractor runs, and of course we have the Barley Saturday celebration in Cardigan. If Members have not been able to attend that yet, I very much recommend that they catch it next year.

These events are a celebration of our rural heritage, but they also look to the future, and allow us to share techniques and technology. Perhaps most importantly, shows allow young people, especially at the local show level, to try their hand at showing animals, or exhibiting vegetables, fruits or preservatives. They given them a chance to compete. I pay tribute to the Ceredigion Federation of Young Farmers Clubs, or YFC Ceredigion, the county organisation for the young farmers clubs; the opportunities they give to our young people are second to none. YFC Ceredigion had a good time of it in the Royal Welsh Show this week, where it won the display competition. I believe YFC Ceredigion is playing rugby later against Brecknock in the final; I do not think the match has kicked off yet. I wish the team the very best in that endeavour. YFC Ceredigion also managed to win the after-dinner speaking category of the competition run by the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs.

There is a close link between large shows and the network of local, smaller shows at which young people first experience competing in a whole range of categories and codes. Those shows feed up to the counties and ultimately the Royal Welsh Show. We have heard a little bit about the Royal Welsh already. It is a fantastic event —a really impressive week—and I pay tribute to the organisers, who even managed to provide air conditioning for some of the livestock sheds in this week’s warm weather. Fay Jones perhaps will not thank me for reminding the House that the first ever Royal Welsh Show for agriculture was held in Ceredigion, back in 1904, although I am willing to concede that the present location in Builth Wells is just as good for the animal event. Without the smaller shows and the county shows after them, the Royal Welsh would not be the great success that it is.

In closing, I thank the scores of volunteers who serve on the committees of these small shows, ensuring that everybody is registered in time, that the information and entries are in order, and that the insurance is sorted out. It was a particular challenge this year to secure marquees for the produce tents. Those volunteers do it year in and year out, often without seeking any thanks or celebration, but it is a great pleasure—once again, I thank the hon. Member for North West Durham for giving me the opportunity to do so—to place on record how much we appreciate their efforts. Without their tireless work to make sure that small and county shows go ahead, the rural community could not come together every year to share and celebrate our rural heritage, and to keep a little bit of that social fabric intact. I am sure that all rural MPs will agree that there is a real and specific type of community spirit in rural areas, and rural agricultural shows make an invaluable contribution to the endurance of that spirit.