The quiet man of Defra?

Heathland - geddit? By Eva Ekeblad (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Heathland – geddit? By Eva Ekeblad (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

What is the point of the Liberal Democrats exactly?

And what is the point of David Heath?  Who is David Heath, you might ask?

David Heath is the single Lib Dem Minister in Defra and he is the middle-ranking Minister between the boss-man Owen Paterson (excellent at giving out prizes to pork pie people we hear) and Richard Benyon (excellent at disliking cormorants, buzzards and wildlife NGOs, it seems).

David Heath does not appear (note that I say appear) to have made a speech on behalf of Defra since he became a Minister – if he has the Government’s whizzy new(-ish) website isn’t admitting it.  After all, he only has agriculture as his brief so he hasn’t really got anything to say.  See if you can find one here – I couldn’t but i could find speeches by Paterson, Benyon, Paice and Spelman – and a lord.

I could find Mr Heath (he must have got the job because of his name – sounds very bucolic doesn’t it?) when I searched on expenses.  In the first three months of this year Owen Paterson had dinner with the NFU a couple of times and spent £828 on a day trip to Dublin by a scheduled flight – really? Wasn’t Easyjet then was it?  Maybe it was Ryanair and he was charged £800 extra for carrying a red box?

But David Heath cost us £6000+ for a trip to Dubai (the form says it was a day trip which seems unlikely) and £2500 for a trip to Bangkok.  He doesn’t seem to talk to us but he must have something to say abroad, surely? I think we should be told.


Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive


  1. Haematopotamus says:

    8022 comments in Parliament from Mr DHeath (including in opposition) according to TheyWorkForYou, the odd 22 specifically including "biodiversity"
    <a href=
    ici .

    (0.274% but then he is a minister for agriculture, food and rural affairs so has probably had to cut back a bit within the "greenest government ever").

    Now you can all have fun dissecting who said what. (Caroline Lucas 0.50%, Richard Benyon 3.38%, Owen Paterson 0.084% - Yes, that's 4 of 4761. Just another 239 speeches to go before he mentions it again - Nick Clegg 0.000000000% (A maiden biodiversity speech is eagerly anticipated), David Cameron 0.037%, Ed Miliband 0.235%)

    Of course such "analyses" are highly misleading* and although it would be nice to think of Members inserting "biodiversity" into every speech just to improve their ratings, the word that teems with hidden meaning never passed Churchill's lips, Nabokov is sadly better known for Lolita than his frequent entomological references, no-one exclaimed "La biodiversitee, c'est moi!", and which local Chief Exec is even going to pay such lip service to the natural environment let alone do something positive about it.

    On which topic, I seem to recall that some Government department was going to be producing guidance on ecosystems services for local authorities, helping them mesh their day to day operations with the way the world works in order to maximise sustainability, increase quality of life et al, possibly even contribute to the 2020 targets. Actions speak louder and all that... I wonder which Department it was.

    *For which read worthless. Although don't let me stop you (be)rating your own MP.
    Now you can all have fun dissecting who said what.

  2. MK says:

    New strapline for Defra - "giving Lib Dem Ministers a home"?

  3. Roderick Leslie says:

    One area where David Heath does have the opportunity to put his stamp on Defra is over the future for forestry - for which he has responsibility. As I commented yesterday, the Government's response to the Panel report attempts to hide Governance arrangements which far from protecting the FC owned forests and distancing management from Government actually puts in place a Board more directly controlled by the Minister than is even the present situation.

    After Governance, and directly related because with the new Board in place Defra will have undisputed control, comes the money - and that relates directly to Mr Heath's name and your picture because heathland is one of the big areas where Fc spends public money on a 'public good' that will never show a positive return. With Defra body language suggesting the estate might be expected to break even it is increasingly clear that the significance of what happens in this remote corner of Government impacts way beyond 'commercial forestry' - as the panel found out.

    Politically, this is a really fascinating area: the Lib Dems have so far played no visible part, and whilst labour piled in to the debate, in reality it was about a wide spectrum of ordinary people (including many conservative voters, as evidenced by the Telegraph newspapers leading the charge against the Government) versus the Conservative party. Defra's response suggests they have completely failed to absorb this message - I fear it is beyond them as a corporate body. Just as the Conservatives have followed their dogma, Mr Heath now has the opportunity to inject some Lib Dem grass roots responsiveness. The irony is he will be doing the conservatives as big a favour as the Lib Dems because if Defra hold their line it's odds on forestry will blow up again as a public issue before the next election.

  4. Ralph Hobbs says:

    Buglife's excellent critique of DHs appearance on ITV the other night still trying to defend Defra's shambolic stand on neonicotinoids.....

    If anyone missed the programme it's here - (Thurs 18 July episode) 'Fiona Foster investigates why the number of bees has declined by over half in the last 30 years - and why is the UK's Government not backing a European pesticide ban?'

  5. Ian Peters says:

    Thanks for this one Mark, I have shared the link on Facebook.

    I think one of the saddest aspets of this is that I am appalled yet totally unsurprised.

  6. Biff Vernon says:

    "But David Heath cost us £6000+ for a trip to Dubai " - Doubtless there was much for him to learn about farming in Dubai.

  7. Chris says:

    For me, the appointment of DH was another mystifying political move by the LD's. It appeared that at the last reshuffle they swapped having a minister in defense (a policy area in which they previously had little impact) for a minister in environment (an area in which the party used to win plaudits. Used to).

    I can only imagine it was a cunning ruse drawn up by the Tories to make the LD's yet more unpopular, and they fell for it, like they have pretty much every other time. Perhaps there's a strategic master plan in all this, but I don't see it! Pointless.

    • Mark says:

      Chris - welcome and thank you (and I agree!)

    • Joe W says:

      "Perhaps there’s a strategic master plan in all this"

      Maybe DH's appointment was a desperate attempt by the LD's to curry favour with the ever influential BLF ?

      • filbert cobb says:

        BLF - a number of options. Bangladesh, Balochistan, Beard, Billboard Liberation Fronts and the British Lung Foundation.

        I would like to think Beard. Whichever - a poisoned chalice, judging by the increase in the bags under the poor chap's eyes. Is it really worth it?

        • Joe W says:

          Yes, Keith Flett's mob. Although any approval his appointment may have gained, will have been quickly counterbalanced by his disbanding of the AWB.

          "the increase in the bags under his eyes" probably too many late nights out with the member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber.


Leave Your Comment

Your email will not be published or shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>