DEFRA has been left without a minister of state for agriculture following the government reshuffle on Monday (7 October).
Ministerial roles are being reviewed at DEFRA following the departures of farm minister David Heath and fisheries minister Richard Benyon.
Mr Heath was a minister of state – junior to DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson who kept his job but a rank higher than Mr Benyon, who was a parliamentary under-secretary of state.
Mr Heath and Mr Benyon have been replaced by Tory MP George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) and Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall),
Both Mr Eustice and Mr Rogerson were listed as parliamentary under-secretaries by the government website on Tuesday (8 October).
This effectively leaves DEFRA without a minister of state for agriculture – suggesting a declining role for farming within the UK government.
The website describes Mr Eustice as parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs.
No responsibilities are listed for Mr Rogerson, although he is listed as a parliamentary under-secretary at DEFRA.
The government website says: “These responsibilities – and role title – are subject to review following the ministerial appointments on 7 October.”
The farm minister was once a cabinet position – responsible for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) until the ministry was abolished in 2002.
When MAFF was superseded by DEFRA, agriculture became the responsibility of a junior minister of state, who reported to the cabinet-level DEFRA secretary.
If agriculture is to be the responsibility of a parliamentary secretary, it would suggest the importance of farming has been demoted once again.
A DEFRA spokeswoman said the ministerial roles were expected to be clarified later.
David Heath axed as farm minister