THE row over David Cameron’s first major Government reshuffle has intensified as Labour attacked the decision to appoint a reported climate change sceptic to the role of Environment Secretary as a “lurch to the Right.”
Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh, the MP for Wakefield, said the decision to promote Owen Paterson to the environment brief would worry green campaigners everywhere.
Mr Paterson, formally the Northern Ireland Secretary, is a Tory Right-winger who passionately supports fox-hunting and has described wind turbines as a “massive waste of consumers’ money”. His appointment as Environment Secretary on Tuesday was warmly welcomed by Lord Lawson, one of the country’s leading climate change sceptics.
But his opposite number Ms Creagh said: “David Cameron has lurched to the Right, appointing a Eurosceptic, climate sceptic, free marketeer as Environment Secretary.
“Farmers and environmentalists alike are deeply worried about Owen Paterson’s ability to build alliances to get a good deal for the UK on the Common Agricultural Policy, tackle the food poverty crisis and protect our water, air and countryside here at home.”
It emerged on Tuesday night that outgoing Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman will be joined on the backbenches by her Farming Minister Jim Paice, who was also sacked in the reshuffle after 23 years on the Tory frontbench.
Mr Paice was an extremely well-known figure in agricultural circles after a lifetime in the industry, but was forced to make way after the Liberal Democrats demanded their own Ministerial seat within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Their Somerset MP David Heath will take his place.
“Obviously I am disappointed at losing my position,” Mr Paice said in a statement. “It was a job close to my heart, and throughout nearly two-and-a-half years I tried hard to help the industry to adapt to change.”
The new-look Cabinet met for the first time yesterday with Mr Cameron urging his team to put all its efforts into kickstarting the stalled economy.
The Prime Minister insisted every department had to view itself as an economic arm of Government as he welcomed new recruits to the session in Downing Street.
“I think what really matters now with the Cabinet changes, with the extensive Government changes that I have made, is that we really demonstrate that this is a Government that means business,” he said.
Addressing the Ministers – who included rehabilitated Lib Dem David Laws – Mr Cameron said: “Every department around this table is actually involved in the effort to get the deficit down and get the economy moving.
“Every department is an economic department.”
Mr Cameron revealed he has set up a new Cabinet committee with the job of making sure initiatives to boost growth have a real impact on the ground.
The Growth Implementation Committee, chaired by Chancellor George Osborne, will meet monthly to drive forward measures to cut red tape, streamline planning rules and get big infrastructure projects moving, Downing Street said.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman dismissed suggestions the creation of the committee reflected a sense of panic within Government that its efforts to promote growth had failed.
“This is building on what we have already been doing,” he said.
Business Secretary Vince Cable will be Mr Osborne’s deputy chair, sitting on the committee alongside fellow Lib Dems Danny Alexander and David Laws. Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin and former chancellor Kenneth Clarke will also be involved.
The Government’s growth push threatens to be overshadowed by the ongoing row over expansion at Heathrow Airport, however, following the demotion of Transport Secretary Justine Greening on Tuesday.
Mr Cameron signalled yesterday that a cross-party commission will be set up to try to find consensus on the deeply divisive issue of airport capacity in the south east of England,
The Prime Minister told the House of Commons that he would not break his manifesto pledge ruling out a third runway at Heathrow during this Parliament, but added that a decision was needed on the fraught issue of air access to London amid growing business clamour for more flights.
Labour said it had been calling for a cross-party commission for a year, and accused Mr Cameron of “weakness and dither”.
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