Who will be the next chair of the Efra Committee?
Last month’s resignation of Tory MP Neil Parish left more than just his Devon constituency seat vacant, it also left the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee without a chair.
This week’s election of a new Tory chair will be closely watched by the sector looking for someone who can shape policy and champion their interests.
Nominations for the new Conservative chair of the Efra committee closed at midday with a ballot of MPs tomorrow to elect the person to replace Neil Parish, a dairy farmer who had headed up the cross-party committee since 2015 and challenged the government approach to rewilding and farming labour shortages.
'It is vital that the next chair is someone who understands the realities of country life'
Sector stakeholders are clear about what they would like to see from whoever takes over the committee responsible for scrutinising the work of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
“It is vital that the next chair of the Efra Select Committee is someone who understands the realities of country life and will hold the department and the government to account,” the Countryside Alliance—which campaigns for the countryside, for rural communities and field sports such as hunting, shooting and fishing—said in a statement.
CPRE, the countryside charity, said it was vital for the new chair to prioritise a smooth transition to Environmental Land Management schemes, support new entrants financially, and set targets for expanding the UK’s hedgerow network.
“Hedgerows are not only beautiful and popular, they play a vital role in delivering multifunctional landscapes by capturing carbon and allowing insects, pollinators, birds and other vital wildlife to spread across the countryside, keeping our crops and soil healthy,” said Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE.
The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation said it, “would like to see farm animal welfare, including farmed fish and protecting the environment and nature prioritised by the new EFRA chairman.”
Commons committees play a significant role scrutinising government policy with their inquiries, which involve gathering written and oral evidence from related individuals--including ministers—over several months before publishing a final report on the issue with recommendations.
As justice committee chair Sir Robert Neill said, Commons select committees play “a critical part of the checks and balances within our parliamentary process”.
The Efra committee has 11 current inquiries, including on the Animals Abroad Bill and Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, and rural mental health, and the Australia free trade agreement where it relates to food and agriculture.
The chair is usually the voice of the committee in its reports, which can often be of national interest. While committee chairs are not usually household names, their sectoral expertise and grasp of policy means they are often called upon by media to comment on relevant news and announcements, giving them a higher profile than most backbench MPs.
“The elected chair will be responsible for setting the tone of the committee, adjudicate between different interests, build rapport among committee members, and provide guidance for the secretariat,” Dr Marc Geddes, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Edinburgh, who has spent 10 years researching select committees, told The House.
While the chair does not have the power to override the committee, their job inside the group and public role gives them sway. Chairs—who receive a salary for their work, which is currently £16,865 are also able to shape parliamentary discourse thanks to an informal perk that gives them a guaranteed spot on the order paper in a debate session that’s of relevance to their brief.
“While committees are important groups of MPs, the priorities of the chair will often shine through, and who will likely act as spokesperson for the committee inside and–increasingly– outside of parliament,” Geddes said.
Four MPs have been nominated for the Efra chair since the process opened on 11 May: Dr Neil Hudson, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Derek Thomas, Sir Robert Goodwill and Anthony Mangnall.
You can read their statements on HouseLive.
Dr Joshua Wells is a consultant for Dods Political Intelligence.
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