Lib Dems out in the cold over policy decisions

The government’s approach to agriculture is under scrutiny after Lib Dem farm spokesman Andrew George criticised the Tory stranglehold on ministerial posts within DEFRA.

Mr George, MP for West Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said he was disappointed senior DEFRA roles had been handed solely to Conservative MPs and that the Lib Dems had been left out of making key decisions around farming.

He also said he did not share farm minister Jim Paice’s view that a badger cull would definitely work to combat bovine tuberculosis and criticised the Conservative’s decision to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board.

But speaking to Farmers Weekly at the Lib Dem party conference in Liverpool on Monday (20 October), Mr George said he would do everything he could to ensure the party had a say on farming policy.

“When you consider we have two ministers in the Department of Business and no minister in DEFRA, it raises the question of why we ended up in that position,” he said.

“I was disappointed [with the decision], but we have to live with it and I will do my best to influence where I can on the way the department operates.”

Mr George said he was not persuaded the AWB needed to be abolished and planned to challenge farm minister Jim Paice about the decision.

He was also trying to work with DEFRA Secretary Caroline Spelman to address tensions between the parties and ensure the Lib Dems had some say about how budget cuts would be made.

But he admitted he was “not yet in the inner circle” of DEFRA ministers.

“I’m trying to form a basis of mutual trust given the fact I’m a free-range, back-bench member of parliament,” he said.

“I need to build up an understanding that I’m prepared to respect confidentiality.”

DEFRA is one of three government departments – including the Departments for International Development and Culture, Media and Sport – which does not include a senior Lib Dem figure.

A department spokesman said ministerial appointments did not come under DEFRA’s remit.

But he added any policy decisions were subject to cabinet clearance, which involved senior ministers from both parties.

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