Heath sacked as two Cornish MPs appointed as Defra Ministers
DAVID Heath has been sacked as Farming Minister as two MPs from Cornwall, George Eustice, a Conservative, and Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson have been appointed as Ministers at Defra.
Mr Heath has been sacked after just over one year in the post, while Richard Benyon, who has served as Environment and Fisheries Minister since 2010, returned to the backbenches, as Prime Minister David Cameron reshuffled his Ministers on Monday.
As of Monday evening, the changes leave Defra without a Minister of State, the rank below Secretary of State. Both Mr Eustice and Mr Rogerson have been appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretaries, the lowest ranking Ministerial position.
By Tuesday afternoon, Defra had still not clarified the roles and responsibilities of the two new Ministers. Mr Eustice, according to his Defra profile, has been given the title Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs, a similar brief that Mr Benyon held that includes environment, flooding and fisheries.
However, after this was initially posted on Tuesday afternoon a message has been added that these responsibilities are still ‘subject to review’.
Mr Rogerson’s profile states that his job title and responsibilities are both still under review.
Mr Cameron’s reshuffle featured Ministers below Cabinet level. His Labour counterpart, Ed Miliband, has simultaneously undertaken a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, which has resulted in Mary Creagh, a strong opponent of the badger cull, being replaced by Merseyside MP Maria Eagle. Mrs Creagh has been handed the Shadow Transport brief.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said he was surprised at Mr Heath’s sacking and paid tribute to the Somerset MP, who he described as a ‘friend of the industry’.
Mr Raymond said Mr Heath had been ‘very supportive’ on the badger cull and had been particularly influential in helping to secure £250,000 for farmers hit by the extreme snow earlier this year, following a trip with Mr Raymond to meet farmers in Cumbria.
“That was his major legacy. He connected very well with farmers when we visited Cumbria,” said Mr Raymond, who said answers about why Defra appeared to have lost the rank of Minister of State.
Mr Heath controversially replaced Sir Jim Paice in Mr Cameron’s September 2012 reshuffle as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg finally managed to get a Liberal Democrat MP into a Defra Ministerial post.
Mr Heath dealt with some big issues, including the horsemeat scandal, ash dieback, CAP, the badger cull and the fallout from the SOS Dairy campaign. While there no major slips, he occasionally appeared uncomfortable when debating policy in public.
There appear to be no obvious reasons for his departure, the most likely being simply a desire by Mr Clegg to spice up his Ministerial team.
Mr Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, was a member of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee until Monday’s appointment as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra. A eurosceptic and likely supporter of Defra Secretary Owen Paterson in his drive for radical reform of the CAP, Mr Eustice is a firm supporter of the Government’s badger cull policy.
Mr Eustice, 42, grew up on his family fruit farm, at Gwinear, and worked there for a number of years before entering the world of politics. He was David Cameron’s press secretary from June 2005 until the end of 2007 and was part of his campaign team during the leadership contest.
Prior to that, he was campaign director for the anti-euro ‘No Campaign’ between 1999 and 2003 before becoming the Conservative Party’s head of press under Michael Howard between 2003 and the 2005 General Election.
He stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the UK Independence Party in the South West of England during the 1999 European Elections.
Mr Rogerson, Lib Dem MP for North Cornwall, is a veteran of the EFRA Committee. He joined it in 2005, soon after he was elected to Parliament, and was still a member until his new appointment at Defra. He has served as Lib Dem Shadow Minister for the Environment, Housing, Arts and Heritage and, most recently, Local Government. He has also chaired the Parliamentary Cheese Industry Group.
Mr Benyon, whose remit included the environment and fisheries, revealed he had left his post on Monday morning,
Commenting on his Twitter account, Mr Benyon wrote: “On back benches! 3 and half really fun years with much achieved. Really appreciate time working with outstanding Ministers and Officials.”
The BBC is reporting that he is one of a number of Ministers to resign from the Government. Mr Benyon, Conservative MP for Newbury, was appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra, in May 2010, as the coalition Government was formed.
His responsibilities have included the natural environment and biodiversity, fisheries, flooding and water, national parks, access and rights of way and land management and soil.
He has largely been a step removed from core farming policies but hit the headlines when he branded the RSPCA a ‘disgrace’ over an advert it ran suggesting the badger cull would lead to the ‘extermination’ of badgers.
Commenting on Twitter before she was transferred to her new post, Mr Creagh said: “Sorry to see @RichardBenyonMP leave Govt Defra team. Hope it’s not a move by Owen Paterson to water down department’s environment enthusiasm.”
Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore, a familiar figure to Scottish farmers, has been removed as Secretary of State for Scotland. He is replaced by Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael.