Neil Parish

Parish announced he would step down as an MP last Sunday, in the wake of a porn scandal

Speculation is growing over who will succeed Neil Parish as chair of the Commons Environment Food & Rural Affairs Committee, following his resignation last weekend over a porn scandal.

Parish announced a decision to step down as MP for the Tiverton and Honiton seat he won in 2010 last Sunday, after he was named as the Conservative politician two female colleagues had seen viewing pornography in the Commons chamber.

The 65-year old dairy farmer – who had chaired the influential Efra Committee since 2015 – was suspended by his party over the allegations.

He initially insisted he would stay on as an MP pending an official inquiry. However, he subsequently admitted viewing porn on his phone on two occasions, the second of which had been deliberate, citing a “moment of madness” after initially searching for tractors.

Parish had been seen as a solid chair of the Efra Committee in food sector circles, and a thorn in the side of the government on a number of issues – most recently when he slammed the Home Office over its failure to tackle the labour crisis.

Senior food sector sources suggested to The Grocer that Tory whips wanted former Conservative MEP and current Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill as the new Efra chair.

The former Defra minister of state was said to be a frontrunner, but the fact Goodwill was “old and male” may go against him.

Ex-minister for sport Tracey Crouch’s name could also be in the frame due to her work on the government’s football review. She was “sound on environment, but won’t know farming”, one source suggested.

“But there’s a lot to be said to not have an agricultural expert but to have someone who is a really good MP and who will really drill into issues in detail,” they suggested.

Other Tory candidates included current Efra Committee member Neil Hudson, Keighley MP Robbie Moore, who won his seat in the 2019 general election, and Carlisle MP John Stevenson.

If the next election was near at hand, there would be a “relatively short run” at the position, meaning “stalking horse” Stevenson could “easily be elected” and backed by Labour MPs (due to his recent vocal criticism of the PM), sources suggested.

An interim chair is due to be elected from the Committee’s current membership next week. However, a permanent successor to Parish (who will be drawn solely from the Tory ranks) will need to be organised via the Speaker of the House. The timescale for the election was “not yet known”, said an Efra spokesman.

Parish’s resignation was formally confirmed on Wednesday when The Treasury announced his appointment as Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead – a parliamentary mechanism used to allow MPs to resign from office.