I am sure that most people are wondering why on earth the MP for the small, four-mile-long urban constituency of Glasgow East is speaking in the debate. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend Richard Thomson, who had intended to speak—no doubt paying great tribute to the Turriff Show—has had to return to his constituency, so I have been drafted in at short notice. I am sure the Chamber will be disappointed to hear that.
I thank Mr Holden for securing and opening the debate. I suspect there is a good chance that that was his last speech from the Back Benches; we shall see what happens in September.
Across Scotland, agricultural and county shows are hugely important to the cultural fabric of local communities. Some events have taken place for hundreds of years. Indeed, the First Minister marked the 200th anniversary of the Royal Highland Show this year, emphasising its importance as
“a place where the agricultural sector meet, debate and exchange ideas. And it showcases often to audiences who might not otherwise think very much about these things”— myself included—
“the quality, the variety and the importance of Scottish agriculture and of the Scottish food and drink industry.”
In the past two years, the pandemic has prevented many agricultural and county shows from going ahead, but it is fantastic to see these events go ahead this summer, and to see people from not just across Scotland, but across these islands, embracing and celebrating the rural community. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention the various issues that have affected, and still affect, the farming and agricultural community across Scotland. As Ben Lake said, the conflict in Ukraine, the devastating impacts of Brexit and the ongoing disruptions caused by the pandemic continue to worry our farmers.
North of the border, the Scottish Government are committed to supporting rural and agricultural communities. Indeed, earlier this year, the Scottish Government launched the national strategy for economic transformation, which makes it clear that every part of Scotland, especially rural Scotland, is crucial to the recovery from the pandemic. In March, the SNP Government set up a food insecurity taskforce to advise on the problems that the invasion of Ukraine would cause, including the difficulties caused by increased costs—a point already made in the debate. The taskforce has already reported, and some of the key recommendations have been accepted, such as the establishment of a new food security structure in Scotland.
Alongside pressing the UK Government to do more to support the food and farming sectors, the Scottish Government are using their powers to the maximum in order to address the challenges that face our farmers every day. Indeed, our First Minister has already announced major investment of more than £200 million through the 2022 to 2027 environment, natural resources and agriculture strategic research programme. By contrast, the Conservative Government in Westminster remain committed to a disastrous Brexit policy that undermines farmers, while also failing to address the significant cost of living crisis, which is devastating for our rural communities.
I can absolutely get behind the tone of the debate that the hon. Member for North West Durham has brought to the Chamber. However, when we politicians turn up at agricultural and county shows across these islands this summer, pose for our photo ops—some of which might include sheep shearing—and chat away to our constituents, we must remember what we have voted for. Did we support a Brexit that harmed farmers, and a Tory Government who are failing to act on the cost of living crisis, which is undoubtedly impacting on rural communities?
Agricultural and county shows should showcase the very best of farming and rural communities across these islands. However, such communities can flourish only if they are properly funded and supported, and the success of farmers in Scotland is fundamental to our environment, our economy and our reaching our sustainability goals. They should never, ever, be taken for granted.