Who is Defra’s new Minister, Victoria Prentis?

by Abi Kay

In last week’s reshuffle, the Prime Minister appointed a new junior Defra Minister, Victoria Prentis. But what are her views on food and farming? Abi Kay explores.

With long-serving Farming Minister George Eustice winning a promotion to become Defra Secretary, his old role has become vacant.
It has not yet been officially confirmed, but the expectation is that Victoria Prentis will take on the agriculture part of Mr Eustice’s portfolio.
So who is she?

First elected to Parliament in 2015, the pro-hunting Banbury MP has a long-held interest in food, farming and rural issues, contributing to debates on rural broadband and mobile coverage, local Government funding in rural areas, rare livestock breeds, flooding, tourism and the rural economy.

Her father, the former MP for Daventry, Tim Boswell, was a farmer, and also served as a junior Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Though she has a professional background in law, Ms Prentis describes herself as a ‘hobby farmer, cider-maker and bee keeper’, raising pigs, sheep and cattle in the village of Somerton, Oxfordshire.

Future agriculture policy

In debates on the Agriculture Bill, she made clear she believes future agriculture policy needs to focus on food production as well as the environment to keep prices low and supplies secure.

She went on to point out productive land was being lost to housing developments.

In order to allow farmers to plan for the long term, she called on Government to provide as much information as possible on how much they would be paid post-Brexit, and pushed for any new schemes to be easy to apply for.

On standards, she has said food imports must meet the same standards as domestic produce, citing the example of crops sprayed with neonicotinoids which are banned in the UK.

She also pointed out the ban had forced farmers to spray oilseed rape several times a year.

Fly-tipping

During her time in Parliament, Ms Prentis helped to organise the Great British Spring Clean and has contributed to debates on litter and fly-tipping.

Wildlife

In 2018, she was named species champion for the corn bunting as part of an initiative which partners MPs with wildlife organisations.

But she has ‘urged caution’ around rewilding, saying removing all human impact on the environment brings risk, including species loss and the change of key landscapes such as the Lake District or North Yorkshire Moors.

Seasonal labour

Ms Prentis has discussed seasonal agricultural labour in Parliament several times, saying the UK needs 95,000 workers.

In 2016, she went even further, claiming seasonal workers required more freedom than others to move around because they are unique in having to be technologically skilled and physically strong.

Transport

One of Ms Prentis’ pledges to her constituents is to protect local transport infrastructure and bus services wherever possible.

She was strongly opposed to the HS2 project, citing concerns about the business case and environmental damage.

Tory leadership

In 2019, Ms Prentis backed Rory Stewart for the Conservative Party leadership.

She said he had a ‘strong track record of negotiation and diplomacy’ and supported his position on a no-deal Brexit, claiming it would be damaging for small and medium-sized businesses.

This article was taken from our sister publication Farmers Guardian

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