The message on the desk in the North East office said, ‘Please ring Lord Davenport’ and there was written the number. Unsure who Lord Davenport was I consulted the internet. The search informed me that, ‘Lord Edward Davenport is one of Britain’s most flamboyant entrepreneurs, a businessman renowned for taking chances and living a life of adventure’. Various pictures of him with Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss and Mick Jagger had me thinking he was clearly quite a fellow and why on earth did he want to speak to me? A further search item was however disconcerting. Lord Davenport was jailed in 2011 for eight years for being the ringmaster of a £4.5 million fraud. So presumably I was about to ring someone detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, maybe he was in Durham Jail or Frankland or Kirklevington? My curiosity aroused, I dialled. ‘Whose speaking?’ bellowed a very lordly voice at the other end of the line. I explained. “That’s me, I’m Lord Devonport, I wanted to talk to you about grouse shooting’. Daven or Devon, similar’ish spelling but clearly not the same person!
Back in Brussels for the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee where we had a major discussion on the impact of the Russian ban on food imports from the European Union (EU) as a result of the dire situation in Ukraine. Russia is the EU’s second biggest customer after the USA , for instance Poland is the largest supplier of apples to Russia. In addition 33% of EU cheese exports go to Russia, 29% of our fruit and vegetable exports and 28% of our butter exports. As it happens the North East exports relatively little by way of food products to Russia so the impact has been much less severe for our farmers. However looking to the future it has to be the case that there will probably always be the potential for volatility with regards exports of food and other products to Russia so producers should be mindful of this and exercise caution.
The Committee also discussed organic farming which is growing at the impressive rate of 10% a year and generating jobs in the process. The EU has 80% of the world market in organics, which means the USA has a much smaller share than I had presumed. An additional positive is that organic farmers tend to be younger, ensuring farming as a way of life is still viable.
We also had the opportunity to ask questions of the Italian Agriculture Minister, Maurizio Martina. Italy are the current chair of the Council of Ministers, hence the reason the Italian Prime Minister, the impressive Matteo Renzi, addressed the Parliament when we were in Strasbourg. The fact that the important post of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs has gone to another Italian, Federica Mogherini, puts Italy very much in the driving seat for the next 6 months - and they are all so young; Renzi 39, Mogherini 41 and Martina only 35!
The email in box has been buzzing, or should that be fluttering, with concerns about the re-emergence of bird trapping in Malta. This activity, for sport, involves the trapping of finches in nets and directly contravenes the legal commitments made by Malta when they joined the EU in 2004. So I have tabled a written question to the Commission asking them to act to enforce the agreed protection of birds in Malta.
With my fellow MEP Jude Kirton-Darling we are getting out across the region and visited Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget in Prudhoe. Thankfully better known as SCA we learned about their work and discussed energy and water use, sustainability in paper production, skills development, and their great record of charitable work. It is a priviledge to visit businesses like SCA as we travel around this great region and see its many great strengths. Fresh from taking part in the Peoples’ March for the NHS from Jarrow to Northallerton Jude spent the week in Brussels raising questions on the major trade deal finalised in August between the EU and Canada particularly on how the agreement will impact on public services here in the UK.
Oh, yes, I just remembered, Lord Davenport was actually in Wandsworth prison and was released in May of this year and I hope to meet Lord Devonport later this year to discuss the challenges facing the rural uplands of the North East.