Owen Paterson new Defra boss


Gill Broad

PROMOTED to head the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the cabinet reshuffle, Owen Paterson says his remit is to get the rural economy moving.

The north Shropshire MP moves from being Northern Ireland Secretary and replaces Caroline Spelman

“I am sorry Caroline Spelman and Jim Paice (farming minister) have been stood down, they did a very good job but the Prime Minister has to bring on fresh people,” he said.

“It is good to be back at agriculture, and I feel there will be direct spin offs for North Shropshire from my new post. I was shadow Defra minister around 10 years ago, and a lot of the issues then are still relevant today, such as bovine TB and problems in the dairy industry.

“I am sad to leave Northern Ireland after five years, I have made a lot of good friends there and there is still an awful lot to do.
“I have kept reading the Farmers’ Guardian so I am in touch with what’s going on in farming, and have regular meetings with farmers in the constituency.”

When he was shadow Defra minister he tabled 600 questions on bovine TB, a record for any MP on any issue.
He challenged the then Labour Government over its refusal to bring in a badger cull in a bid to deal with the escalating problem.
Mr Paterson travelled to America to see how TB was handled in the deer population and has studied the problem in animals in Australia.

“I cannot understand people who want badgers to die of TB,” he said.
“25,000 cattle were killed last year - I want healthy wildlife living alongside healthy cattle - and I believe I am the only MP to have two pet badgers!”

He is backing the proposed badger culling trial adding: “We cannot allow this disease to get worse and worse. We have a vaccine which will be ready in the future but we need to do this now.
“I am from a farming family and know that we have to manage the countryside.”

Mr Paterson will also be trying to help dairy farmers, and paid tribute to the success of local firms such as Muller in Market Drayton and Belton Cheese in Whitchurch.
“It is not for me to get involved in the market, but The Code of Practice which was published just before Jim Paice stood down is very sensible and aims to establish fairer contractual arrangements between farmers and milk buyers.

“The future is getting into processing and widening markets - there is huge scope for exporting finished milk products and I will be exploring that.”

The minister added that there is a Government drive to work with rural communities which he welcomes.

He said a priority is to improve the broadband infrastructure in rural areas and he wants the Government’s new broadband programme to roll out as soon as possible.
“I am also keen to see improvements to the mobile phone signal in Shropshire - I cannot drive between the five market towns in my constituency without losing signal and I will push this with relevant ministers.”

Mr Paterson is attending a meeting in Downing Street this week focussing on food, and will be working closely with environmental groups and on the Government’s flood defences programme.

Mr Paterson, who was born in Whitchurch, lives near Overton. He was managing director of his family leather business in 1994, before becoming an MP in 1997.
He was a Conservative whip between 1999 and 2001. After his time as shadow minister for agriculture, he became shadow transport minister for a year, and was then promoted to shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland in July 2007.

He read history at Cambridge University and is married to Rose. They have three children, Felix, Ned and Evie.


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