Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Double change at Defra worries farmers

The double change at Defra of secretary of state and farm minister has worried farmers and their friends, although new secretary of state Owen Patterson is said to be on message on badger culls: Defra

Patterson asked Hilary Benn 500 questions on badger culls when he was at Defra and has been on a study tour in the United States to look at bovine TB and its control.

Caroline Spelman was never fully convincing as a safe pair of hands in what admittedly is a disparate and challenging portfolio. However, what really worries farmers is the departure of Jim Paice as farm minister who was seen as having an understanding of the industry and a sympathy with farmers as one himself. Ironically, Dave Cameron sacked him by mobile phone when he was announcing the new code of practice for dairy farmers which many saw as his biggest achievement. Tributes to him from farming leaders here: Paice

However, the arrival of David Heath in his place means that the Lib Dems at last have a representative in Defra, a suprising omission given where they hold many of their seats. It also means an end to the experiment of Isles of Scilly MP Andrew George as Lib Dem liaison person, something that never really worked.

Whether the presence of a Lib Dem will mean any change in policy remains to be seen. The real need now is for Britain's voice to be heard effectively in the CAP negotiations in order to bring them to some kind of reasonable conclusion and not hopelessly behind schedule.

Elsewhere Lib Dem Jo Swinson, until now PPS to Nick Clegg, is reportedly in at BIS and will be responsible for the Grocery Adjudicator Bill, a key topic for those in the food chain.

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