Rooker: Straight-talking Brummie was upfront with farmers

Jeff Rooker served in various junior ministerial posts since 1997, both as an MP and as a member of the House of Lords.

Most recently appointed Minister of State for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health at DEFRA on 6 May 2006, Lord Rooker was also responsible for animal welfare.

It was his second time in charge of a farming portfolio. As an MP, he served as a junior minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1997-99, where he presided over the fallout over BSE and bovine tuberculosis.

A straight-talking Brummie, the factory worker’s son used his first interview since returning to Whitehall in 2006 to tell Farmers Weekly his priority was to sort out the fiasco that was the Rural Payments Agency.

He said he knew enough about failed IT projects that it was not possible to just “tear it up and start again” before adding: “We just have to make sure we get the money out a bloody sight quicker for 2006 than for 2005.”

But bovine TB dominated his time at DEFRA. Lord Rooker proved a controversial choice of minister due to his pro-hunting views. Animal welfare campaigners flooded the Labour Party with emails and letters of complaint after his appointment

Lord Rooker shrugged off any criticism, insisting the government was committed to announcing a new policy to tackle the escalating problem of bovine TB in early 2008, fuelling hope among farmers that their plight was at last being taken seriously.

In the event, he was over-ruled by DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn, who vetoed plans for a widespread badger cull as a means of curtailing the disease. The decision left livestock farmers bitterly disappointed.

From then on, it was only a matter of when rather than if Lord Rooker would leave his post, with his rumoured resignation a widespread topic of discussion among farmers at the Royal Show earlier this summer.

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