Clegg "snubs" farming in ministerial reshuffle, claims Tory MP
A Westcountry MP and former farmer has criticised Nick Clegg for downgrading the role of farming in the Government, labelling the move a "snub" for the industry.
Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, is dismayed the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader made the decision to remove the rank of "Minister of State" from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Former Farming Minister David Health, Lib Dem MP for Somerton and Frome, was replaced by George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, in the ministerial reshuffle this month.
However, while Mr Heath was a "Minister of State", Mr Eustice has been handed a more junior "Parliamentary Under Secretary of State" role.
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A "Minister of State" effectively deputises for the Secretary of State, which is Owen Paterson in Defra, and is held in a higher esteem in Whitehall.
The Deputy Prime Minister's involvement emerged during an Efra Select Committee hearing this week. Questioned by Mr Parish during the session, Bronwyn Hill, Permanent Secretary at Defra, explained the decision was due to a change of priorities in Government.
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."
The swap appears to have involved beefing up the Lib Dem presence in the Department for Transport.
Baroness Susan Kramer is a Minister of State in the department after replacing Norman Baker, who held the post of Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.
Mr Baker was moved to the Home Office, replacing sacked Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne.
Dan Rogerson, Lib Dem MP for North Cornwall, was also brought into Defra at the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State rank.
Mr Parish, chairman of the Conservative Backbench Environment Policy Committee, and who managed the family farm in Somerset after leaving school at 16, 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."
In an interview with The House magazine this week, Mr Paterson explained growing the rural economy is his top priority – with the environment in second.
He said: "Exports are a key part of our first priority here, which is to grow the rural economy. Our second priority is to improve the environment, and the other two are to protect the country from animal disease and protect the country from plant disease. Those are our very priorities at Defra, all of which are inter-twined."