DEFRA ministerial downgrade ‘snubbed’ farmers

A Conservative MP and former farmer has expressed his disappointment over the decision to remove the rank of farm minister in the government.

Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said downgrading the role of farming in DEFRA was a “snub” to the agricultural industry.

George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, replaced former farm minister David Heath, Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome, in the recent ministerial reshuffle.

However, while Mr Heath was a minister for state, Mr Eustice has been given the more junior role of parliamentary under secretary of state.

Mr Parish, a former farmer who is also a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee, criticised deputy prime minister Nick Clegg for downgrading the role of farming in government.

Mr Clegg’s involvement came to light during an EFRA Select Committee hearing last week when Mr Parish questioned Bronwyn Hill, permanent secretary at DEFRA, about whether the decision was due to change of priorities in government.

“Agriculture has never been a more pressing issue then it is today and farming is a vital part of the rural economy.”
Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton

She said: “My understanding is, because the position of minister of state was occupied by a Liberal Democrat, David Heath, it was for the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, to decide whether he wanted to retain that post or to use it in another part of government.”

Commenting on these revelations, Mr Parish, who left school aged 16 to help manage the family farm in Somerset, said: “I am of course disappointed that the deputy prime minister has downgraded the status of agriculture in this government.

“Agriculture has never been a more pressing issue then it is today and farming is a vital part of the rural economy. Food security is a grave challenge facing governments around the world. By 2050 the global population estimated to reach nine billion and it will take innovation and political will to increase food production to meet this demand.

“Many people in rural areas and the food and farming industries will see this as a snub from the deputy prime minister and I hope he will reconsider and give farming the support it deserves.”

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