Parliament 22nd May 2015

Liz Truss’s reappointment as DEFRA Secretary of State has been welcomed, Catherine Paice reports.

The last thing, as we lurch further to the right, that rural politics needs is someone with no idea of what’s been happening at a crucial time for rural policy. The Conservative manifesto pledged (again) a long-term vision for British farming, promising to work with the industry to “grow more, buy more and sell more British food”. Ms Truss (Con, SW Norfolk) will be well placed to help steer this in the right direction and the Prime Minister’s reappointment of her gives her an opportunity to take control.

The Tories want the industry to lead change, so this is a chance for farmer representives to push for the Rural Payments Agency to sort out the payments mess; regain a steer on the bovine TB battle; renegotiate our relationship with Brussels; review the approach to agrochemicals; continue to reduce red tape; drive forward a British food focus; catch up with broadband; and attract more people into the industry. Ms Truss is articulate and popular, but she will need to be confident about her brief.

George Eustice (Con, Camborne and Redruth) has made an encouraging impression, and rejoins Ms Truss as Minister of State at DEFRA. He comes from a farming background, and his family run a fruit farm, restaurant and farm shop, South Devon cattle and a herd of Lop pigs in Cornwall. Completing the team is Rory Stewart (Con, Penrith and The Border) as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. Mr Stewart is the treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Upland Farming and has a keen interest in rural and upland farming policy. For farmers, the DEFRA line-up has not looked as good as this for years.

David Cameron was expected to appoint an unenthusiastic minister to run the Department of Energy and Climate Change, or even abolish it. Instead, he has promoted probably the most committed candidate available: Amber Rudd (Con, Hastings & Rye), formerly a junior minister there, has warned about the “devastating” likely impact of global warming and champions renewables (but solar panels on roofs, not fields). Also significantly, Greg Clark (Con, Tunbridge Wells), an active and popular constituency MP but so far low profile in the House, replaced Eric Pickles as Communities Secretary. A highly regarded Shadow Energy Secretary, he could drive the move to support development in the countryside without sacrificing protections.

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