Mon, 15 April 2024

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By Earl Russell
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If elected chair of the EFRA committee, I would be dogged in keeping the environment at the top of the government’s agenda

3 min read

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee chair election is this week – and we need a chair who can lead on all areas within Defra’s brief.

If successful, my immediate priority will be to bring the Committee's and government's attention towards supercharging food production. We all know that food prices are rising in the shops – with the prices of fuel, fertilisers and labour shortages pushing costs up – but it has not been treated with the same urgency as the fuel prices. As I said in the Queen’s Speech debate, the Department of Energy has been working on an energy security strategy; Defra needs to be working on food security with the same singleness of purpose.

Too often I hear from farmers and fishermen that the sector is willing to step up and increase production – increasing our food security and holding prices in the shops – but many are likely to sow less, rear less and produce less because of their concerns about the future.  We need to give them the support they need – both for the consumers who buy the food they produce, and for the rural and coastal communities around them.

My immediate priority will be to bring attention towards supercharging food production

I represent one of the most rural constituencies in the United Kingdom – 80 per cent of the land in West Cornwall and Scilly is farmed, and nearly three-quarters is protected by nature reserves, areas of outstanding natural beauty and other environmental designations. It is also home to the port that lands more fish than anywhere else in England. Food production and protecting the environment are totally compatible, and I want to see the rest of the country following Cornwall’s example of environmental land management. 

Since I have been elected, I have taken a keen interest in tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity and the environment.  Unlike other candidates for Select Committee chair, I rebelled against the government on storm water overflows in the Environment Act – and it was because MPs like me stood firm on this point that the government introduced landmark action on storm overflows in the Environment Act.

While I’ve been in the EFRA Committee, I’ve been able to push for the changes that farmers need – I secured an extension to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme so that farms could employ workers from abroad for a longer season, and not just on specific crops.  This was valuable for farmers in Cornwall – where the growing season starts earlier than in the rest of the country – but also meant more crops, more tax revenues and cheaper prices.  It’s exactly the sort of flexibility we need, and of which we are in control over after Brexit.

Our rural and coastal communities need someone who will stand firm in all of Defra’s work – supporting farmers and fishermen, and working for rural communities.  Our more deprived communities need someone who will tackle the cost of food.  And all of us need someone who will keep the environment at the top of the government’s agenda.  I’m known for my way of asking constructive but tough questions of ministers, and I want to be a dogged chair of the Select Committee. 


Derek Thomas is the Conservative MP for St Ives.

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