Nick Clegg 'snubbed' farming industry, says MP ex-farmer
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.
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 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 involved beefing up the Lib Dem presence in the Department for Transport.
Mr Parish, 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 than it is today and farming is a vital part of the rural economy. Food security is a grave challenge facing governments around the world.
"Many people in rural areas and the food and farming industries will see this as a snub from the Deputy Prime Minister."