March 4 2015 Latest news:
Shaun Lowthorpe, Business editor
Friday, July 25, 2014
Q: We were due to speak last week, but then there was a Cobra meeting following the Malaysian air crash. Has it been a hectic start?
LT: In the last week I have had two cabinet meetings and one set of oral questions in the House. In the past 48 hours in the job I’ve been to the Country Game Fair and the Royal Welsh Show. It’s been pretty full on.
Clearly with the Norfok constituency I represent a lot of the issues are pertinent to Defra, whether that’s flood defences or protecting our natural environment. These things are key to South-West Norfolk.
My predecessor Owen Patterson did some terrific work in promoting exports and opening up new markets and encouraging more Buy Local.
What I want to do is continue with that work in terms of promoting food and farming. Food and farming is the number one manufacturing industry in our country, responsible for a lot of skilled jobs.
Q: The prime minister is known for keeping ministers in post and not reshuffling. Is this a long term post should you win the general election?
LT: You absolutely never know. I was obviously delighted to get this job. It’s an area I am extremely interested in, to be responsible for things from air quality to the natural environment, and food and farming, and water supply. These are all the essentials of life.
You never go into a meeting with the prime minister expecting something. I think there is more work to do, particularly in changing perceptions of food and farming.
We have got some of the most advanced technology here in Norfolk – look at the work the John Innes does. And I am delighted that George Freeman has been promoted to minister for Life Sciences.
Q: Do you think we need to encourage greater take up of GM foods in this country?
LT: I do think we should look at that and follow the science on GM. We know some of these technologies can mean fewer pesticides are required.
Q: Were you suprised that both you and Michael Gove were given different jobs? Would you have liked to have stepped up in education?
LT: I am extremely happy here. Education was a fantastic department to work in, and it was something I was passionate about.
Actually there is a lot of crossover – the first thing I did was how schools can source their food differently.
Making sure children understand where food comes from is something I put in place as an education minister. I think Nicky Morgan [the new education secretary] has already made a fantastic start to the job.
Q: There were suggestions that the reshuffle, and particularly the promotion of women to the cabinet, was more about tokenism ahead of the next election. How do you respond to that?
LT: There are all kinds of things that get written in the media. The way I see it is that I am doing a job that I am passionate about.
Q: Do you believe in climate change or are you a sceptic?
LT: I believe that climate change is happening and I think human beings have contributed to that.
My role in Defra is to make sure we adapt as necessary climate change, to make sure we protect people and wildlife.
Q; You previously worked for Shell. Some people may view that negatively given your new role?
LT: Having worked for Shell it has given me a lot of good experience in terms of making things happen. I worked in natural gas. But I always understood that fossil fuels will not last forever and we need to find alternative sources of energy.
Corporations have a view. My views are informed by what I think, and also representations made to me by scientists and organisations.
Q: You campaigned heavily against the King’s Lynn incinerator. Now you are a minister likely to make decisions on this are you still opposed to incineration?
LT: Clearly it was Owen Patterson that took the decision to withdraw the PFI credits. Any decision I would obviously have to take on its own merits. I have always said I was never against incineration. I felt the (King’s Lynn) decision didn’t stack up (economically) and it was too big given the amount of waste Norfolk needed to deal with.
Q: Can you still fight for Norfolk now that you have your new job?
LT: I remain a constituency MP, and it’s really important working with my Norfolk colleagues on pan-Norfolk issues such as dualling the A47 and improving infrastructure. With RAF Marham there are huge opportunities to expand the engineering facilities there and I will carry on working on that.
Norfolk has huge potential and the case is extremely strong. The county has been hard done by in the past.
Q: What of your own ambitions? Did you see yourself making it to this level when you started out?
LT: Not really. I was interested in politics. I have had a business career but have found politics interesting.
I have always focussed on what I can do to make things happen and to change things.
With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.