I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Government to introduce a ban on hydraulic fracking for shale gas; and makes provision as set out in this Order:
(1) On Tuesday 29 November 2022:
(a) Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that Order) shall not apply;
(b) any proceedings governed by this Order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;
(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private);
(d) at 3.00 pm, the Speaker shall interrupt any business prior to the business governed by this Order and call the Leader of the Opposition or another Member on his behalf to present a Bill concerning a ban on hydraulic fracking for shale gas of which notice of presentation has been given and immediately thereafter (notwithstanding the practice of the House) call a Member to move the motion that the Ban on Fracking for Shale Gas Bill be now read a second time as if it were an order of the House;
(e) in respect of that Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.
(f) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this Order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.
(2) The provisions of paragraphs (3) to (18) of this Order shall apply to and in connection with the proceedings on the Ban on Fracking for Shale Gas Bill in the present Session of Parliament.
Timetable for the Bill on Tuesday 29 November 2022
(3)(a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at the sitting on Tuesday 29 November 2022 in accordance with this Order.
(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 5.00 pm.
(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 7.00 pm. Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put on Tuesday 29 November 2022
(4) When the Bill has been read a second time: (a) it shall, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme Order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put; (b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.
(5)(a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (3), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by The Chairman or Speaker for separate decision;
(d) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a designated Member;
(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other Questions, other than the Question on any motion described in paragraph (15) of this Order.
(7) On a Motion made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
Consideration of Lords Amendments and Messages on a subsequent day
(8) If on any future sitting day any message on the Bill (other than a message that the House of Lords agrees with the Bill without amendment or agrees with any message from this House) is expected from the House of Lords, this House shall not adjourn until that message has been received and any proceedings under paragraph (9) have been concluded.
(9) On any day on which such a message is received, if a designated Member indicates to the Speaker an intention to proceed to consider that message—
(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 14(1) any Lords Amendments to the Bill or any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly;
(b) proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under subparagraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed;
(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private) in the course of those proceedings.
(10) Paragraphs (2) to (7) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme Orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments to a conclusion as if:
(a) any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member;
(b) after paragraph (4)(a) there is inserted—
“(aa) the question on any amendment or motion selected by the Speaker for separate decision;”.
(11) Paragraphs (2) to (5) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme Orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of a Lords Message to a conclusion as if any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member.
(12) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme Orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order as if any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member.
(13) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies.
(14)(a) No Motion shall be made, except by a designated Member, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.
(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.
(c) Such a Motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.
(e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.
(15)(a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies except by a designated Member.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(16) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(17) No private business may be considered at any sitting to which the provisions of this Order apply.
(18)(a) The start of any debate under Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) to be held on a day on which proceedings to which this Order applies are to take place shall be postponed until the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies. (b) Standing Order 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply in respect of any such debate.
(19) In this Order, “a designated Member” means—
(a) the Leader of the Opposition; and
(b) any other Member acting on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition.
(20) This Order shall be a Standing Order of the House.
We have called this debate to provide the House with the right, which it should have, to make the decision on whether fracking should be allowed to restart across our country. The Business Secretary made it clear last week that he will not give the House a binding vote on the principle of the fracking ban, despite the Conservatives overturning their manifesto promise to keep the ban in place, despite the concern in all parts of this House and despite the concerns of the public.
If our motion is passed, it will mean that on 29 November, in six weeks’ time, the House will debate a fracking Bill. We have done this because we know what would have happened if we had had a simple Opposition Day motion on fracking. The Government would simply have abstained and ignored the vote, as they have done in votes on the windfall tax, fire and rehire, and the cut to universal credit, and as they will no doubt try to do with the motion that has just been passed. This is about faith in politics. The Government are seeking to break their manifesto promise without even getting the consent of this House. Today, we give all Members a chance to make this crucial decision on fracking.
Now let me go through the substantive arguments against fracking. There are four key questions for the House and the country. Will fracking make a difference to the price of energy? The answer is no. Is there categorical evidence that it is safe? The answer is no. Is it consistent with any remotely serious response to the climate crisis? The answer is no. Crucially, do people want it? The answer is no.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I, like many of my colleagues, am not in favour of fracking and would like us to maintain our manifesto commitment. But he also knows that because he is playing party political games this afternoon, there is no way that we could vote for his motion. Is he more interested in genuinely opposing fracking or in playing party political games and trying to score points on this issue of great importance to our constituents?
I am glad we have a Conservative Member who wants to uphold their manifesto commitments. It is a refreshing change, I have to say. But here’s the thing: he should be directing his point to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State was explicitly asked on the radio last week whether he would give the House a binding vote on this issue—I think the case for that is massively strengthened by the fact that the Conservative party is breaking its manifesto promise—and he said no. We are forcing this debate because it is the only way we can give the House a binding vote on this issue.
I want to talk about price. I know he is not exactly flavour of the month, but the recently departed Chancellor of the Exchequer said in February that
“even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow…no amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price…private companies are not going to sell the shale gas they produce to UK consumers below the market price. They are not charities, after all.”
The Climate Change Committee says the same. Even the founder of Cuadrilla, Chris Cornelius, says:
“Even if the UK were to generate significant gas, we are not likely to see lower gas prices—any more than living next to a farm would mean paying less for milk.”
The reason is that prices are set in the European market, and the best evidence from the British geological survey is that fracking can meet less than 1% of European gas demand, and even that in a number of years’ time. Hence it will make no difference to price, and no amount of hand waving from the Secretary of State will change that fact.
I am very glad the hon. Lady has done her research about what I said on 24 September 2013, because so have I. [Interruption.] I think she should listen. This is what I said:
“I believe when George Osborne says fracking is a panacea he is totally misguided”,
and that the “notion” it could “solve Britain’s energy problems” was “just nonsense.”
I went to say that it needed to
“meet safety concerns and the needs of local residents”.
No. Since then, it has been shown that fracking cannot meet safety concerns or the needs of local residents.
The second question I want to explore is whether fracking is safe, which has long been the subject of debate—a debate we led in 2013. The Conservative manifesto said:
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
It is important to go back to what happened in 2019 and the reasons why the Government introduced the moratorium. The then Business Secretary, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom)—hardly a tofu-eating, woke lefty—said that
“it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.”
It is not surprising that the right hon. Lady concluded that. Has the current Business Secretary read the official report from the time? I have, because I am a nerd. It said it could not rule out an event of 4.5 on the Richter scale, having already seen a 2.9 Richter scale event at Preston New Road. Let me tell the House what the impact of such an event would be by reading from the report. It would
“be widely felt…there could be widespread building damage in the study area, with cracked plasterwork affecting approximately 10 percent of buildings, more serious structural damage (of varying degrees) affecting 5.4 percent of buildings”—
including chimney failure. It continued:
“Some damage would be caused to buildings outside of the study area.”
That is why the Government banned fracking and said that they would not restart it unless the British Geological Survey said it was safe.
In the words of the then Business Secretary in April this year:
“Unless the latest scientific evidence demonstrates that shale gas extraction is safe, sustainable and of minimal disturbance to those living and working nearby, the pause in England will remain in place.”
No ifs, no buts. In its report published last month, the British Geological Survey said that it could not provide that assurance. Instead, it said that hydraulic fracturing
“can trigger earthquakes large enough to cause structural damage. These events were not predicted in advance of operations.”
Here is the key point for the whole House: there certainly is not the compelling evidence about safety that the Government promised would be the basis of any lifting of the ban. This is as clear an example of a broken manifesto promise as we are ever likely to see.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case against fracking with which I fully agree. Does he agree with me that, for all the potential downsides he has referenced, there is absolutely no guarantee that any shale gas extracted would be sold in the national domestic market? It would go to the highest bidder. There could be real downsides for our communities with no obvious uplift in supply.
The hon. Gentleman puts it incredibly well. That is why what the Government are coming up with is such a nonsense idea.
The Government are breaking not just a manifesto promise—no doubt they will say that the manifesto was drawn up before the Russian invasion of Ukraine—but a promise made by Ministers in April this year. The Business Secretary’s response is not to abide by the promise but to try to shift the goalposts. In his immortal words, which I hope MPs will take back to their constituents,
“tolerating a higher degree of risk and disturbance appears to us to be in the national interest”—[Official Report, 22 September 2022; Vol. 719, c. 40WS.]
I think that could be a description of the Government. This is a matter of trust. How can communities across this country trust a Government who say one thing categorically in their manifesto, repeat it in April, and then go back on their word with no mandate from the British people?
My right hon. Friend talked about the Government imposing the ban because of the risk of disturbance to local communities. There was a proposal to frack in Marsh Lane, which happens to be in a neighbouring constituency—that of the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who I think has responsibility for planning and will perhaps deal with fracking. There would be dozens, if not hundreds of lorry movements a day down rural lanes—that is what “disturbance” means—and lots of wells drilled that would despoil the local environment. That is the reality of fracking, which every Conservative Member should think about if they are prepared to accept fracking in their local areas.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. In terms of trust, he will know that the Government have set up a new consultation to determine what public consent is. Does he agree that it is a monstrous waste of time and money to try to determine something that does not exist? There is no local consent for this; plenty of Government Members do not actually want it. If the Government really want to know what consent is, why do they not have a general election?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not give way for the moment.
The decision on fracking is potentially environmentally damaging, with emissions from fracking up to 50% higher than those from conventional gas. If every country follows the lead that the Business Secretary suggests by extracting every last drop of their fossil fuel reserves, global temperatures will rise by more than 3° C, which will spell catastrophe for our children and grandchildren. That should be patently obvious to anyone, not least the person in charge of fighting the climate crisis.
No, I will not. I want to make some progress, because many hon. Members want to speak.
On the crucial issue of what the public think, I suggest that the Business Secretary looks at the surveys conducted by his own Department. Some 78% of the public support onshore wind, 83% support tidal and offshore wind, and 87% support solar, but just 17% support fracking. Suddenly, in a sign of desperation about how grossly unpopular and unwanted the policy is, the Government say that they want to design a system of local consent.
I will not give way for the moment.
I do not know why the Business Secretary wants further evidence about what communities think. We already have the answer from the public: fracking is deeply unpopular and communities do not want it. Indeed, Fylde Council, which is controlled by his party and at the centre of the main UK experiment in fracking, just passed a unanimous motion saying that the ban should remain and that he should honour the manifesto commitment.
My right hon. Friend knows how the planning system works as well as I do. Councils can refuse planning permission and support their local communities, but fracking companies have the ability to appeal that decision to the Planning Inspectorate, for which, as he knows, public opinion is not a material planning consideration. Is this not just smoke and mirrors to get these unpopular proposals past those on the Tory Benches, when everybody knows that public opinion counts for nothing?
I find myself in strange agreement with many of the arguments being made from the Opposition Dispatch Box, but will the right hon. Gentleman be clear that the vote that we are having tonight is on not banning fracking, but a procedural matter for the House of Commons? Will he be truthful to the public about what we are voting on tonight?
We are voting on our proposal to bring in a Bill to ban fracking. I say to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a large amount of respect, that we are not going to get a vote on the principle of fracking, because the Business Secretary has said that. I know that the hon. Gentleman is against fracking, so this is his chance to stand up for his constituents and say no to fracking.
I will say more about the issue of consent and the Government’s amendment, and I will say something to the House as a whole and to Conservative Back Benchers, which goes to the hon. Gentleman’s point. They should not fall for the Government’s weasel words in this debate. The way to stop fracking is to vote for our motion. If they do not, their constituents will know that they had the chance to stop fracking and refused to do so.
We now discover, however, that that is not all they will be voting for tonight, because the genius minds of the Government Whips Office are now seeking to turn a vote on this important issue into a vote of confidence in the current Prime Minister. Let us picture the scene: the Government Whips are confronted with a vote on fracking, one of the least popular causes in the country, with the Government falling apart around them. They could decide to retreat, but that would be yet another U-turn. They could concede a vote of this House on the fracking ban, but they would lose and fracking would be dead.
Then, at the 11th hour, one galaxy brain says that the way to force the vote through is to make it a vote on not just one of the most unpopular causes in the country—fracking—but the most unpopular cause in the country: the current Prime Minister. We might call it the “frack me or sack me” strategy.
In normal times, such an idiotic idea would have been dismissed out of hand, but these are not normal times. The Government see this as their leaky life raft, but I say to the House and to Conservative Members that they all know the Prime Minister will be gone in a matter of weeks, if not days, if not hours, and they know fracking will go with her, so why defend the indefensible? Why not be on the right side of history and their constituents?
Just like this Government, fracking is a dangerous, extreme idea that the British people do not support, and I appeal to all Members of the House, particularly Conservative Members, to have the courage of their convictions. Today is a day when they can put their constituents before their party and vote to give this House the decision on a fracking ban. It is time to consign fracking to the dustbin of history.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “Government” to end and insert
“to consult to ensure there is a robust system of local consent, and clear advice on seismic limits and safety, before any hydraulic fracturing for shale gas may take place; and believes that such consultation must consider how the views of regional mayors, local authorities and parishes should be reflected as well as the immediate concerns of those most directly affected.”
I thank the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) for raising this important topic. I recognise that many Members and their constituents have concerns about shale gas, and that is why we will consult on the system of local consent and provide clear advice on seismicity and safety before any hydraulic fracturing for shale gas takes place.
I am sorry to intervene so soon on my right hon. Friend’s speech, and I am grateful to him for giving way. He will be aware of deep concerns in Sussex about fracking, and they are concerns that I share, not least because our 2019 manifesto said:
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it”
is safe, which I do not think it does. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, in the Government’s consultation paper he has just referred to on local consent, they will include an option for local referenda arranged by local authorities and overseen by the Electoral Commission?
Not at the moment.
We want to ensure that the consultation considers the views of regional Mayors and local authorities, as well as the immediate concerns of those most directly affected. I also want it to consider the views of MPs, as well as the use of local referendums, as I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb). We will consult on the mechanism, but I can assure the House that any process of evidencing local support must be independent rather than directly by the companies themselves, and if evidence of appropriate local support for any development is insufficient, that development should not proceed. Local communities will have a veto, so I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) that if the people in his constituency do not want fracking, they will not have it.
Could my right hon. Friend confirm, for clarity’s sake, that the moratorium will remain in place while the process of consultation is agreed and that it will remain in place until it is approved by a positive vote in this place following a debate on the Floor of the House? Can he also confirm that the Government will indeed press their amendment today to a Division, if time allows and such circumstances are created?
Let me be clear to my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) that once the consultation on the mechanism for ascertaining a community’s view has been completed, the results will be brought to the House for approval, which I think he was also asking. If the House does not approve, fracking could not go ahead. Even if the House were to approve a mechanism, local communities would still have to consent in accordance with the mechanism. I reiterate: local communities will have a veto.
I want to take the Secretary of State back to the word “unless” in our manifesto, where we said that we would not support fracking
“unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
Will he confirm that the sense of that word is that we would need, at very least, a new rapid evidence review about safety? Will he commit to that and to the manifesto on which he and I were elected?
I thank my right hon. Friend for graciously giving way. He might want to clarify that this debate is a bit of a game, and is not exactly about fracking. If we are talking about fracking, scientific evidence and data is so critical—it is everything we base our policies on. Does he agree that the data should not just be about seismic activity, and that the effect on water will be critical? I do not just mean water that is put down the drilling space; I mean the effect on hydrology in future years. It is critical that the Government are seen to be serious about the scientific evidence on this.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend on both counts. She is right to say that trying to take control of the Order Paper is parliamentary interweaving rather than the substance of the debate. To take control of the Order Paper, people need to have won a majority in the election. That is how our system works The experience that we had in 2017 to 2019 proved how bad it is for Parliament when the Order Paper is messed around with, so I think that part of it is bad.
On the point regarding water, my hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. That is one of the keys to how things could be done safely, and we must be certain that the water used on site, and water that may be near sites, is safe.
That is very kind of the Secretary of State. I am not concerned about the threat that local consent will go the wrong way in my constituency, because I do not believe for a minute that my constituents would give consent to fracking in our area. The shadow Secretary of State took an intervention about the Planning Inspectorate, and the Secretary of State said that local people will have a veto over that issue. Will he be clear that the Planning Inspectorate will not have a veto over local people?
Let me be absolutely clear: local communities will have a veto. If fracking does not get local consent—what form that local consent must take will be consulted on, and it could be, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton asked, by local referendum. That is what the consultation will be about. If local consent is withheld, that is a veto and it will not be overruled by national Government.
In fairness, the Secretary of State is trying to address the serious concern that he knows exists on these Benches, and many of us are grateful to him for that. I think he said this in response to my earlier intervention, but I would like him to clarify this point. When he brings back the local consent process, the tick-box programme, if the House votes against it, the moratorium on fracking by its very definition will remain in place. Will he confirm that point for absolute clarity, and say that today is not the end of the matter?
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Is the neatest way of assessing local consent to take away the right of appeal to a planning inspector in these matters, so that the decision of the local planning authority is deemed the expression of local consent and is the final decision?
It is absolutely true that the motion tabled by the Opposition does not reflect what was in our manifesto. It calls on the Government to introduce a ban on hydraulic fracking—followed by the three and a half pages of procedural stuff, which is what the motion is really about—whereas our manifesto said that we would introduce “a moratorium”.
In the Secretary of State’s letter to us, he says:
“With time, we will gain more understanding of how we can best develop this potentially very substantial UK asset.”
May I put it to him that, with time, we will gain more understanding of whether we should develop this potential asset? Would he accept that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are not pre-empting local consent in the letter that I sent out, so he is right.
I think that the time has come for me to return to my text—at least, for a moment or two. I do understand, as we have discussed, the concerns that people have about the safety of hydraulic fracturing. The excellent report by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering from 2012 suggests that shale gas extraction can be managed safely and effectively in the United Kingdom owing to our high regulatory standards and many decades’ experience of extracting oil and gas both on and offshore. I return to the quotation from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North. As was reported in Wales Online on 25 September 2013, he said:
“Of course, there could be a role for it if it can meet safety concerns and the needs of local residents”.
So he should vote against his own motion, because he accepted that there should be a role for it.
The Government are absolutely determined to build our energy security. At a time when energy costs are a worry for many, I can say that we are starting from a tolerably good place. The United Kingdom is blessed with a healthy mix of different sources of energy, including a strong wind resource, one of the few significant oil and gas reserves in Europe, several gas import terminals and a well-managed electricity network. We have also made strong progress in building new renewable electricity generation such as offshore wind and plan to accelerate that further while also developing new nuclear capacity.
However, we cannot escape the fact that we are a nation with a structural reliance on gas. Even though we will be reducing our reliance on gas on the way to net zero—indeed, we may be using just a quarter of the gas that we use now by 2050—gas will remain the essential transition fuel.
Gas may have been out of sight and out of mind for some years. Perhaps we were not sufficiently prepared. However, we must not take our local gas supplies for granted. This year, the energy world changed. Putin’s war against Ukraine and the weaponising of gas supply to Europe has cut off a major source of supply to the European markets that we are connected to and ignited a global rush for gas resources. So while there is no immediate threat to UK supply, we cannot let our domestic production fade away and end up ever-more reliant on imports. No responsible Government would gamble with the gas supply. That is why, in the near term, our priority is keeping our domestic production online. The North Sea Transition Authority has launched the 33rd oil and gas licensing round, which is expected to deliver more than 100 new licences and put more UK gas on the grid. That is why we are discussing making the most of our shale gas resources.
I always try to be helpful. The way out of the dilemma, if you like, is green hydrogen. I repeat what I said some days ago in this place: there are advanced plans in my constituency and the north of Scotland to generate 50 MW of energy, and that will shortly go up to 300 MW. Again, I invite His Majesty’s Government to come and see our plans. It would be helpful to all concerned.
Does the Secretary of State share my bemusement at some of the arguments? We know that we will need gas and that we will spend billions of pounds importing it from regimes that we cannot depend upon, and we know that we have gas in the north of England that could generate thousands of jobs and give us the security of our own supply. What is not to like about that?
The hon. Gentleman always wants to intervene on every point. He always says, “On this point” so it is hard to believe it really is on this point.
It makes no sense to become more reliant on shale gas produced overseas. Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change’s analysis notes that while current evidence on the emissions footprint of UK shale gas and liquefied gas imports is not yet definitive, available estimates indicate that emissions from those imports could be higher than those that would arise from commercial UK shale gas production by between 2 and 63 grams of carbon dioxide per kWh of gas consumed. Using our own resources is therefore more environmentally friendly and will help us to get to net zero.
My right hon. Friend is making some very valid points. It is about not just domestic gas supplies and electricity production, but the chemical industry, and most importantly, the fertiliser industry. One of our plants has already shut down and the others are switching from natural gas from UK sources to ammonia from the United States, whose cheap shale gas enables that industry to keep going. If we cannot produce our own fertiliser, food production in this country is under great threat.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who puts it very clearly. Using our own resources is environmentally friendly, but we have to make sure there is popular consent for it. I feel that the British public would not welcome the disruption and shortages that would be caused by Labour’s policy of taking gas out of the network by 2030.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being so generous in giving way to people, particularly those on his own side. In my constituency, and in the constituencies of Ellesmere Port and Neston, and Chester, we had a public inquiry only recently, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, and our communities rejected shale extraction. That is local consent. Why do we again have to jump through hoops and go through the same process?
The hon. Gentleman should be supporting what I am saying. He shows the value of local consent. The reality is that it will not always be given, and I am very well aware of that.
Let me move on to seismic limits. We have been clear that any future exploration or development of shale gas will need to meet rigorous safety and environmental standards. Drawing on lessons from around the world, we will make sure hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is done safely. Last month, the British Geological Survey published its report. This is a really important way of looking at what the seismic experience has been and comparing it with other forms of production, both of energy and other forms of manufacturing industry. The report makes it clear that forecasting the occurrence of felt seismic events remains a scientific challenge for the geoscience community. However, it also makes clear that to improve our understanding, we need more exploratory sites to gather the necessary data. We think this is a sensible thing to look at and that it would be unwise not to look at it, but it must have community support.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he seriously consider two aspects of fracking? First, it is unsafe in a country like the United Kingdom, which has a very small landmass and a large population. It might be safe somewhere with thousands and thousands of miles of barren land, but not in a country like ours. Secondly, does he really want to see applications for disgusting hydraulic fracturing across our beautiful country?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is always a great contributor to this House. She is right to raise the issue of safety, which will be fundamental to any proposal for the extraction of shale gas.
The world has changed and our energy policy needs to recognise this. This Government will make the difficult but necessary decisions to secure the nation’s energy supply. Exploring our potentially substantial shale gas reserves is potentially an important part of that. But this must not be looked at in isolation, which is why we are exploring all avenues available to us, including solar, wind and nuclear, but we cannot ignore the importance of local gas production. However, let me reiterate the commitment—I reiterate this particularly to my hon. and right hon. Friends—that there is an absolute local consent lock. Any process to determine local consent must be run independently, and this House will vote on any scheme that we bring forward.
As the licensing of fracking and the planning process are devolved, I was not initially planning to participate in the debate, but given that the Government have effectively made it a motion of confidence in them, it is only right that we do so and outline the thoughts of the Scottish National party. No matter what the official Government line is, the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), made it clear that the Tory Government are making this a vote of confidence in them. I oppose fracking, and the SNP Government have ruled out fracking in Scotland, producing an effective ban on it, so I agree fully with the motion in that respect. It is not for us to impose our views on what happens in England, but we will vote for the motion to show that we have no confidence in this utter, utter shambles of a Tory Government.
We have heard interventions on the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), from Tory MPs who say that they are opposed to fracking and want to represent the views of their constituents who oppose fracking, but that they will vote for the Government amendment and against the motion. That makes no sense. If they have any backbone, I urge them to vote for a ban on fracking.
SNP Members are huge champions of local democracy, so does the hon. Member accept that if a local council were to support the idea of fracking, that does represent local consent? Does he agree that the support of the local council should be the crucial issue involved?
That brings me to the point that I was going to make. If this is all about local democracy and democracy itself, why are the hon. Member’s Government making his MPs vote in a way that they say they do not want to vote? How can we trust them to implement some form of local democracy when MPs are getting forced to vote for the Government amendment against their will?
At least the hon. Member is being honest in his speech. He has made it clear that the only reason why he is intervening on what he believes is an English issue is that this is a vote of no confidence in the Government. Surely he understands, therefore, why this ceases to be a debate about local democracy and where we get our gas from. This is all a bit of political playing by the Opposition.
I was at Lancashire County Council when this issue first came to it seven years ago. It was rejected then and overruled by the planning inspector. Since then, we have seen that the public do not want it, councils do not want it, the Secretary of State’s Back Benchers do not want it, the leader of the Secretary of State’s council, I believe, does not want it, and Ministers do not want it—at least not in their own backyard. Who actually wants fracking? I cannot think of anybody.
I gently say to Opposition Members that many of us—as we have heard from a number of colleagues in the Chamber—do not support fracking, and if the Opposition want to win hearts and minds, the way to do it is not through political games and stunts such as this, which would introduce a Bill. There is no way that we can support the Opposition taking control of the Order Paper. If they want to be serious about fracking, let us have a serious debate on fracking. When the Government bring forward the motion, we will be able to vote, whether we support fracking or not. The way to do this is not to hijack the Order Paper and play political games with legislation.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman says that anyone who votes for the Government amendment is voting for fracking. That is not correct. As he knows and you know, a vote for the Government amendment is a vote for the Secretary of State to bring back a definition of local consent for this House to vote on before any fracking can conceivably move forward. Can you, from the Chair, advise the hon. Gentleman of the truth of the matter?
It is great to hear Tory Back Benchers tying themselves in knots to argue about why they are voting for the principle of fracking.
Let me get back to local consent. The Government amendment refers to consulting
“regional mayors, local authorities and parishes”.
That is quite a vague concept and could open things up to cronyism and political machinations. However, I welcome the sentiment of the Secretary of State, who is now talking about local referendums. It is good to know that the Tory Government now believe in the principle of referendums for people to exercise their democratic right; I look forward to Scotland being able to implement that next year. I welcome that damascene conversion.
The Tory Government’s new-found enthusiasm for shale gas is not based on credible evidence. They have put forward arguments that it will increase energy security, that it is required because of the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and that we need to move away from our reliance on Russian oil and gas imports, but really they have arrived at a solution to a problem that does not exist. It is quite clear that the UK had minimal reliance on Russian imports and has already managed to eliminate the small percentage of oil and gas imports from Russia.
If the argument is that shale gas will reduce prices, that is quite clearly not true either. The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng)—the then BEIS Secretary, now the former Chancellor—admitted that any shale gas would be an internationally traded commodity on the international market and that traders would determine prices. The only way that that will not happen is if there is another damascene conversion and if the Government are planning some sort of nationalised energy company that will frack the shale gas, control it and put it on the domestic market at low prices. Otherwise, it will be all about the international market.
The harsh truth is that there is not even enough firm evidence of the reserves available in the basins that can be used for extraction. Without that knowledge, any talk of increasing energy security and reducing imports is pure fantasy at this stage. Any talk of jobs or of boosting local economies also remains completely speculative—there is no evidence for it.
Our country is fortunate enough to have massive potential for the development and harnessing of renewable energy. Does the hon. Member agree that in resorting to fracking, the Government are essentially admitting that they have no interest in developing the skills, infrastructure, jobs or industries necessary for a green industrial revolution in this country?
I agree. We have only to look at the renewable energy revolution that has happened in Scotland. Of course, for Scotland to fully embrace that potential, we clearly need the powers that come with independence and we need to get away from the decision makers on the Conservative Benches.
At a time like this, I am thankful for devolution, because my Northern Ireland Assembly colleagues were able temporarily to prevent fracking in Northern Ireland by banning permitted development rights. Does the hon. Member share my concern that the Prime Minister is taking advantage of the cost of living crisis? Coupled with the removal of retained EU law, this policy risks environmental degradation across these islands and does nothing to sustainably manage the climate crisis or the energy crisis.
The hon. Gentleman is kind to give way; others would not. He may know that satellite data on fugitive emissions of methane in the United States shows that 5% of methane from fracking has leaked. As methane is 80% worse for global warming than carbon dioxide, that makes fracking worse than coal. How can anybody who is serious about net zero support fracking?
The hon. Gentleman has made the point very well, and it is one of which we need to take cognisance. We have to doubt the Government when they say they are committed to net zero by 2030. We have to wonder how serious they are about that. They know that 2030 is a while away—it is future Governments away—so they can do what they want now, and pretend they are still in favour of abiding by that net zero commitment.
Even if we accept some of the Government’s arguments, the exploration and appraisal phases of a fracking site last for, roughly, between two and five years, so it is not possible that fracking can produce any sort of quick-fix solution to the problems that they think they are trying to solve.
If this Tory Government are so worried about people’s energy bills, they must ask themselves why they did a screaming U-turn on the so-called energy price guarantee this week. The Prime Minister had told us previously that she would prevent household energy bills from rising to an astonishing £6,000 a year, but presumably the UK Government now believe that—unfortunately for the majority of households in the UK—bills might rise to that level at some point after April 2023, when they are scrapping the guarantee. They may not think the bills will become that high, but the energy prices paper produced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy contains an estimate of £4,400, and other papers produced this week speculate that average bills could easily hit £5,000.
Even if the Government introduce measures which they say will protect the most vulnerable, bills as high as that—allied with record inflation—will still cause misery to millions of people. These are, of course, households that have already seen mortgage rates and costs increase as a direct consequence of the Prime Minister’s ideological mini-Budget. Bad decisions made by the Government are already affecting household expenditure, and such measures are obviously not the solution. National Energy Action estimates that even under the current support scheme, with average household bills of £2,500, 6.7 million households will be in fuel poverty, and it is clear that if bills became much higher than that, millions more would be in that position. A year and a half ago, when the price cap set bills at an average of £1,100, constituents of mine were already struggling, and some were in fuel poverty. If the bills go up by much more, there will be misery for many. Fracking does nothing to help them in the here and now, and I urge the Government to start thinking about the support that they will have to provide to bring household energy bills down for people.
Other measures that should be taken include energy efficiency installation. The Government need to increase, massively, their commitment to upgrading homes to the target of EPC band C. Energy efficiency installation clearly reduces energy demand. It reduces reliance on gas, at least for energy generation, it brings down household bills, and it creates jobs.
As for energy security, it is not so long ago that the UK Government blocked the six years of onshore wind development. Given that onshore wind is the cheapest form of energy generation, they have arguably added costs to consumers’ bills. That form of electricity generation could have reduced reliance on gas, and on imports, in the UK, so why was onshore wind development banned? It is because some loud Tory Back Benchers were against wind turbines, and the Government used that—and some voices in the community—to argue that local consent for the turbines was not there. That was using a few people to destroy local democracy. In fact, it was local democracy in reverse: overturning offshore wind development across the UK was imposing the view of a few people in the shires, and elsewhere in the UK, and making energy more expensive for the rest of us.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the main reason people are opposed to onshore wind is that it is extremely land-intensive? Compared with the area that 10 fracking pads would take up, 725 times more land would be required for windmills, which are of course a blot on the landscape.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and for proving where he is on the whole climate change denial aspect. Studies and surveys show time and again that people are in favour of onshore wind, and we know that people are against fracking, so his argument is completely at odds with what the public think, and probably what his own constituents think.
On energy security and further reducing reliance on gas, the Government need to introduce a pricing mechanism for pumped storage hydro. Dispatchable energy is one way to hit peak demand. SSE already has all the permissions in place. The funding is there to build the Coire Glas scheme in the highlands. All that is needed is a funding mechanism. The predecessor of the Secretary of State said at an evidence session of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that the Government had not agreed a pricing mechanism and were not doing anything on it because it was a predominantly Scottish technology. I urge the new Secretary of State to get over that mindset, and to realise that pumped storage hydro is for the good of the grid and the good of the UK as a whole.
The bit of the jigsaw that would be helpful to both the Scottish and UK Governments is floating offshore wind production. We have the skills in Scotland for all parts of fabrication, and we have some of the mightiest oil platforms ever built. Surely that is the way forward. Finally, to repeat my point, electricity generated out at sea could be taken in and lead to the generation of green hydrogen.
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman, and I recommend that he reads the report by Landfall Strategy Group, which illustrates that Scotland could have 385,000 jobs created in the future by developing a green hydrogen strategy. That would certainly benefit his constituency. I have been up to the port in Eigg, and it is fantastic to see what its plans are for the future.
There is so much more that the Government can do. Fracking is not required, and it is not the answer to reducing people’s energy bills. It certainly will not do anything to help the transition to net zero. It is opposed by the majority of the public. Seemingly just a few people in the Government are trying to force their will on the rest of Parliament, and possibly these communities.
The Secretary of State has brought a proposal to the House. There is clearly disagreement across the House on the issue, but at least he is opening up an honest debate on a very important matter.
The hon. Gentleman has made a number of criticisms of the Government’s general energy policy. I would like to know how the SNP will balance out energy security, given that it opposes nuclear, and oil and gas exploration.
Scotland is already a net exporter of oil and gas, and the equivalent of our domestic electricity consumption is already generated with effectively 100% renewable energy. We export electricity, so it is clear that in terms of energy Scotland can stand on its own two feet. It is time that we are able to realise the benefits of being such an energy-rich country, because right now it seems to me that the broad shoulders of the UK are preventing us from realising the benefits that we should have.
The SNP has introduced a ban on fracking. We will not issue any fracking licences in Scotland. I would like to think that the UK Government will respect that aspect of the devolution settlement and not try to overturn what we are doing in Scotland. If they do so, it will add a further few percentage points to those who believe that independence is the future for Scotland.
I have already indicated that there is a six-minute limit, but because of the pressure on time, and because I want to be fair to everybody, the limit will be six minutes for Mr Menzies and Barbara Keeley, and then drop immediately to four minutes so that we can get as many people in as possible. I call Mark Menzies.
As always, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). Anyone listening to us can tell that we clearly come from the same part of the world.
The matter before us today is of great importance to my Fylde constituency. I begin by saying to those on the Treasury Bench that my vote today is very much conditional on what the Secretary of State has already said and on what the Prime Minister said to me at Prime Minister’s questions. The moratorium was a manifesto commitment that each and every Conservative Member stood on, campaigned on and was elected on, and it is no secret that I would much rather the moratorium remained in place.
The manifesto commitment said:
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
We in Fylde will not forget that fracking in our communities has twice led to national moratoriums. For people in Fylde, this is not a debate of what might happen; it is about not repeating events that have happened. Those events impacted on our countryside, our people, our homes and our communities.
I continue, as I always have, to take an evidence-based approach, but the geology has not changed; neither has the science. The industry has had more than a decade to show that fracking can be carried out safely in Fylde. Every time it has tried, the same thing has happened. We cannot keep doing the same thing, hoping for a different outcome. The 2019 seismic event proves that. The only conclusion I can reach from the evidence is that Fylde and its geology remain wholly unsuitable for fracking.
If this motion remains unamended, I simply cannot support it today. As someone with genuine concerns, I thank the Labour party for giving the House the opportunity to debate this critical issue, but I am afraid that the motion goes too far. Simply taking control of the Order Paper is not something I can support. Just as I opposed it during the Brexit votes, I am unwilling to reopen that Pandora’s box. Once we do that, where on earth does it end?
My only objective is to get the right outcome for the people of Fylde. I gently remind the Labour party that it was the last Labour Government who issued the fracking licences in Fylde. They issued those licences without the gold standard of regulation for which I fought for many years and secured. That includes the traffic light system and the seismic limit of 0.5, and the fracking industry signed up to both.
The 2.9 event in Preston New Road in August 2019 was 251 times more powerful than the industry’s own safety limit. In reply to me this afternoon, the Prime Minister mentioned that she will look at the regulations. Well, I urge her and the Government to ensure that any look at regulations has, at its heart, the desire to maintain a safe approach to seismic limits.
If the industry were to have its way and the limit were raised to 3.5—bearing in mind that Preston New Road was 2.9—the limit would be 1,000 times more powerful than the previous limit of 0.5 and four times more powerful than the August 2019 event that led to the second national moratorium.
My vote is based on the good faith that the Prime Minister has shown me and my constituents over recent weeks, and the promises that she made earlier in this House. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is very excited by the prospect of local compensation and incentives to local communities, but he should not confuse that with the thought that communities can be bought. The people of Fylde are not for sale and their principles are not up for auction. They will look at this on the facts and the safety merits first and foremost.
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware but, when fracking was happening in Fylde, I went out there to protest against it. He talks about carrying the people, but Bolton South East and the whole north-west have been against fracking. The Secretary of State is listening, and I tell him that we in the north-west do not want fracking.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and the point she makes is a powerful one that stands on its own.
In his letter, the Secretary of State has confirmed that the Government will launch a consultation next month to assess how local consent is to be gauged and has committed to put this vote to the House—I welcome that. I also welcome the fact that he has agreed today to ensure that there is, in effect, a local veto—or whatever words people wish to use for it—and that the voices of the people in Fylde will be listened to in a fair, transparent and independent way. I thank him for listening to them. It is not up to the fracking companies to determine whether local consent exists; an independent, transparent alternative to that must be found, and I thank those on the Treasury Bench for agreeing to it. May I also make it clear that it is important that the local planning process must remain in place and that we rule out any nationally significant infrastructure projects referral? If we are committed to localism, I can think of no more important issue than the one before the House today.
Ultimately, I am able to vote for the amendment because I believe that the people of Fylde share my conviction that the answer from our communities is no to fracking, and when they say no to fracking, I expect the Government to deliver and to hear that no does mean no.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is about not only seismic activity and local consent, but climate change, and that the Government should listen to the Climate Change Committee and produce a report about the climate impact of fracking?
The hon. Lady makes an important point.
On energy security, let me say that there is nobody more committed to it than myself; we manufacture all the nuclear fuel for the UK in my constituency, at Westinghouse. But in order to make up the shortfall of the amount of gas we import, we will be looking at drilling somewhere in the region of 6,000 to 10,000 wells. The quantities we are talking about are astronomical and the timescales involved mean we are not going to get gas into the network any time in the next two years. There is no infrastructure to get the gas from these wells into the grid. The alternative is building gas-fired power stations to turn this into electricity and feed it in through wires, but again the timescales involved simply do not exist. So the energy security argument, important though it is, does not even stack up in the timescales the Government are talking about.
In conclusion, I welcome the fair, transparent and meaningful consultation that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have committed to today. That gives the people of Fylde the opportunity to reject fracking and, more importantly, to have their voice heard.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Home Secretary has been sacked or has resigned this afternoon—this is utter chaos. The Prime Minister appears to have appointed and sacked both a Chancellor and a Home Secretary, two of the great offices of state, in the space of six weeks. This is no way to run a Government. Have you had any indication from the Prime Minister that she will come to this House to answer questions arising from this?
The former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), says in her resignation letter that she sent
“an official document…a draft Written Ministerial Statement about migration, due for publication”
from her personal email, and that this was against the rules. This raises huge questions about why a Home Secretary who was responsible for security was breaching basic rules. There are also rumours that in fact this statement on migration had not been agreed across the Government, there were major disagreements and that it had been blocked by the Chancellor. She also says in her letter that she has
“concerns about the direction of this government”
and the breaking of “key pledges”. She says very pointedly that they have made mistakes and that
“hoping things will magically come right is not serious politics.”
There is clearly huge chaos at the heart of the Government. Home affairs is far too important for this kind of chaos. This is about security, public safety and the issues covered by the great offices of state. Given that the Government seem to be imploding, we clearly need not simply a change of Home Secretary, but a change of Government. Can we get a new statement to this House?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order and for advance notice of it. I was made aware of the departure of the Home Secretary in the usual way, but the right hon. Lady is asking whether I have been notified in the usual way as to whether there will be a statement. I have not been notified as such, but should the situation change, Members will be notified via the annunciators and other means. As it stands at this moment, there are no statements to be made today.
We are still on the six-minute limit, and then we will drop to four minutes. I call Barbara Keeley.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Fracking is an outdated, dangerous and expensive way to produce energy. It causes disruption and distress to local communities and, crucially, it will not provide the clean, secure energy that our country needs, as laid out very effectively by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) when he opened the debate.
I have a former exploratory site for fracking at Barton Moss in my constituency. The energy company IGas drilled the site to a depth of about 10,000 feet in an exploratory exercise over the course of six months between 2013 and 2014. During that time, there was much local opposition and a fierce protest, which resulted in months of demonstrations. Some 150 police officers were involved in policing the protest every day, and a total of 120 people were detained. Greater Manchester police had to pay £1.7 million for the cost of policing the protest, which came out of our local policing budget. At the time, the Manchester Evening News ran a survey of 2,500 local residents, which showed that over three quarters of local people were opposed to fracking.
I want to explain why I have always opposed fracking and why the reasons for my constituents’ opposition are so justified. Some of the issues are local to Barton Moss. The exploratory fracking site is close to an area of raised peat bog, which is a rare and precious resource where it has not been ruined by over-extraction. There are real concerns among my constituents about dewatering the precious mosslands and the harmful effects of pumping water into underground rock to force out the shale gas in this mosslands area. People are also very concerned about air pollution, which is particularly worrying at Barton Moss because the site is next to the M62 motorway—itself a cause of high levels of pollution. Other environmental risks are not specific to Barton Moss, but they have an extensive evidence base.
I want to quote from a report by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which was produced by local academics at the University of Manchester. It says:
“The depth of shale gas extraction gives rise to major challenges in identifying categorically pathways of contamination of groundwater by chemicals used…in the extraction process.”
An analysis of those substances suggests that many have
“toxic, carcinogenic…or other hazardous properties. There is considerable anecdotal evidence from the US that contamination of both groundwater and surface water has occurred in a number of cases.”
Perhaps the Government should listen to their own experts. A few weeks ago, the British Geological Survey published a report on fracking, which was commissioned by the Government. It said:
“Hydraulic fracturing can trigger earthquakes large enough to cause structural damage. These events were not predicted in advance of operations.”
Clearly, the science does not show categorically that fracking can be done safely. For the Government to allow fracking now therefore breaks another election promise.
The hon. Lady was speaking earlier about the protests in her constituency. I am perhaps the only hon. Member of this House to have been arrested, tried and acquitted for protesting about fracking. Does she share my concerns about the Public Order Bill, which was passed yesterday? Peaceful protest, which is entirely legitimate, against things like fracking might well be closed down by that draconian piece of legislation.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case on behalf of her constituents, but does she share my puzzlement about this? The Government have made a screeching U-turn today and finally committed to a local veto. Every Member who has spoken representing areas where there has been fracking or there might be fracking has made it quite clear that there is no prospect of getting local consent; there will be a veto everywhere. Why are we going through this whole process when every one us of knows what the outcome will be?
It is as much of a puzzle to me as it is to my right hon. Friend.
Going back to the report of the British Geological Survey, on the same day on which it was published, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced his intention to revisit the safety limits on fracking. He said that
“tolerating a higher degree of risk and disturbance appears to us to be in the national interest”.
I do not know whether that answers my right hon. Friend’s question, but it is weird. Now the Secretary of State’s amendment to the motion indicates that he will seek
“clear advice on seismic limits and safety”.
Which is it—tolerating earthquakes and dangerous tremors, or listening to the evidence commissioned by his own Department?
Fears about pollution, contaminated water supply and seismic events are by no means far-fetched. An earthquake caused by fracking near Blackpool measured 2.9 on the Richter scale. It led to the works being stopped immediately and the company responsible apologising.
Other concerns about drilling for shale gas extend beyond the environmental. In 2014, a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report forecast that house prices were likely to fall by up to 7% within a mile of fracking wells, and that the price of house insurance would also rise within five miles of fracking wells. It is right that we end our reliance on Russian oil and gas, but fracking is neither the solution nor part of the solution. The Government should instead be focusing on boosting the UK’s use of renewable and nuclear energy.
Fracking is an issue of great importance to my constituents and a vote on it should not be used as a confidence vote by this failing Conservative Government trying to bully their Members into line. There is an alternative. Labour’s plan for energy would quadruple offshore wind and double onshore wind capacity. Instead of blocking new solar projects, as the Prime Minister is planning to do, Labour would triple solar power, which is up to nine times cheaper than gas. It is irresponsible to revisit the question of fracking when we know that it will have profound environmental impacts and make life very difficult for those people living near a fracking site. It is ignoring what happened in the past. It is ignoring scientific and expert opinion. It is reckless and it is dangerous.
The flimsy measures in the Government’s amendment to today’s motion are another case of their moving the goalposts to achieve their own ends. Before it was about safety, but the report that they commissioned is not to their liking. Now it is about consent, but the Secretary of State should know that we already have
“a robust system of local consent”.
It is called listening. I know that my constituents do not want fracking, because they have made it very clear indeed. When will the Government respect the evidence, respect the experts and respect the public, and finally put the threat of this awful process of fracking to rest?
We often wonder why we in this House are not taken very seriously. I will tell Members why. We are in the depths of an energy crisis. We have shown ourselves—Europe as a whole—to be too reliant on a dictator who has been conducting an illegal war, and the problems have come home to roost. Here we are speaking about trying to ban a source of domestic energy while we are short of it, and we wonder why people out there think that we are stark staring mad.
Of course, today’s debate is not about fracking—it is not about fracking at all—but about taking control of the Order Paper. We have seen that before during the height of the Brexit wars. My dear friend the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) was part of that. I am really sorry that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) is not in his place. I did try to intervene on him, but he did not show me the courtesy of taking my intervention. If he had been in his place, I would have shown him that courtesy now.
There are a couple of things that need to be said. It has been said here that fracking will make no difference to the price of gas. I do not know about anybody else in this House, but when I did O-level economics, the first week—no, probably the first lesson—taught me that if we put more supply of something into a system, the price tends to come down. Further than that, even if Labour’s economics are true and the price will not change, would one rather spend tens of billions of pounds per year on foreign imported liquefied natural gas, even at a high price, or spend that money at home? That is a very clear decision.
Has the hon. Gentleman not listened to his own colleague, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), saying that it would take at least two years to get any fracking going, or to his other colleague, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), who said just a few weeks ago when he was still Business Secretary that no amount of fracked fuel in this country would make a difference to the global gas market, because the quantities are too small?
I thank the hon. Lady from the Liberal Democrats for that point. I remember a former leader of the Liberal Democrats saying, about 12 years ago, “What is the point in nuclear?” because it would take 11 or 12 years to get it on stream. I think that 10, 11 or 12 years on from 2010 would be about now, and that would have been quite useful. Of course, it will take time to get fracked gas out of the ground. The best time to have done it was a few years ago; the second-best time to think about it is now.
I refer hon. Members to a House of Commons Library report dated 14 January this year, called “The energy price crunch”. As ever, House of Commons Library reports are excellent, and this one was very clear. Table 4.2 shows a very easy chart, which I will describe to hon. Members. It shows the output of UK-produced gas from the North sea, which peaked around 2004, when we were net exporters of gas. Since that time, we have been using only about 75% of that peak usage, and that may be for many reasons. We may have better-insulated houses, and that is to the good. I feel pretty sure that one of the main reasons is that any energy-intensive business has simply offshored somewhere else, but let us put that aside.
What has happened, very distinctly, is that we are now only producing one third of what we did at peak. We are using 25% less, but we are producing only one third of what we once did. Where do people think that gap is being filled from? That gap is being filled from international resources. There are three countries alone, forgetting Norway: £64 billion we have spent over the past 10 years on importing LNG from Russia, Qatar and the United States.
Surely it must be better to have those tens of thousands of jobs at home, as well as the many billions in investment and the profits and tax revenues—remember those? They are pretty helpful; they pay for things such as the NHS, or perhaps the insulation that we would all very much support. What would also be quite useful is balance of payments, because we have always run a pretty bad show on that. But if CO2 is your thing—it is certainly my thing—why are we importing LNG and emitting 5 million tonnes of extra CO2 just in the process of importing it, rather than doing it domestically?
This debate is a valid one—it is happening for other reasons, which we are all very aware of, as shown by Labour—but I support fracking. Let us give it a go. There is no Government money involved; it is all private.
Lancashire County Council’s ecology adviser described Aurora’s assessment of earthquake risk at the Altcar Moss fracking site as
“superficial, outdated and not justified”.
My constituents in nearby Formby agree with the ecology adviser. Their houses shook when tests were carried out. My constituents have been saying for years that the Conservative plan is a charter for earthquakes, because that has been their experience, as it has been elsewhere nearby in Lancashire. Conservative MPs stood on a manifesto that said:
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically”
that it is safe. Changing the safety threshold does not change the level of risk, and changing the safety threshold when the science has not changed will not convince my constituents or people across the country.
I can tell the Government that people in Sefton and in west Lancashire will not support fracking, and if the Government think they can manipulate fake consent, people simply will not be fooled. As for the environmental impact, the Environment Agency says that contamination of groundwater has not been addressed by fracking companies. Natural England says that fracking applicants have not produced evidence that their plans would have no significant effect on wildlife.
I turn to the Government’s claims. First, on the gas price, fracking will not help because the price is set on the European market. Secondly, on the immediate challenge of supply, fracking will take time to produce gas even if the Government choose to ignore local people. It will not deliver in the short term. Thirdly, on the climate, producing more fossil fuels will just make the climate crisis worse. Have we not seen enough evidence of the acceleration of the climate crisis, with storms, floods and extreme heat in this country, let alone around the world? We need to do everything we can to end our reliance on greenhouse gas-producing fuel. Introducing fracking will add carbon emissions to our atmosphere. Fracking is climate action delay, and to delay is to deny the reality that we face a climate disaster and all its consequences unless we act with all speed.
The only sensible way forward is to invest in wind and solar to deliver renewable electricity self-sufficiency, as the Opposition would do by 2030; to invest in insulating 19 million homes; to invest in new nuclear, in tidal, in hydrogen and in carbon capture and storage; and to create a publicly owned Great British energy company that we can be proud of and that will deliver in the national interest. Labour’s energy plan would lead to a million jobs, lower bills and energy security. Labour’s long-term plan will create a world-leading renewable energy industry that enables us to export our technology around the world.
Our plan is the right way to address the energy challenge. Fracking, whether in Formby or anywhere else in Britain, is completely the wrong way. My constituents are right to oppose fracking. Labour in government will make that investment in renewable energy and ban fracking for good.
I do not support ending the moratorium on fracking, because I do not believe that new scientific evidence has yet emerged to justify doing so. It has been welcome to hear the Prime Minister and the Chancellor talking in recent days about the importance of our 2019 manifesto, and I agree both with the triple lock on pensions and the moratorium on fracking. I support the UK maximising the domestic supply of gas, as the Secretary of State has said, to support the transition to net zero. I support the production of new technologies for heating, including hydrogen, and I agree on the importance of our supplies for energy security, but we should do those things in ways that are proven to be safe.
I will not vote for the Opposition motion, and I urge all Conservative colleagues not to do so. It is a blatant attempt to seize control of the Order Paper, as the Opposition tried to do so many times in their efforts to thwart Brexit. I welcome the assurances of my the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) that there will be consultation with parishes, councils and other local bodies to ensure that there is a tough requirement for local consent, but there cannot really be such a thing unless local planning committees can simply say no. If they do, I cannot see how fracking is ever likely to impact on energy prices, certainly not in time to have an impact on heating costs this year or the next.
I therefore want to put on record my concerns and those of thousands of my constituents. Let us take action to help people with the cost of living, protect our environment and deliver on our 2019 manifesto.
Frankly, it is becoming difficult to adequately express my horror at the state of this Government. Every single decision seems calculated to destroy—to destroy our economy, our public services, our international reputation and our environment. This utter nonsense about fracking is another example.
Truth is, there is very little prospect of fracking in West Ham, and I do not think our communities will be affected by consequent earthquakes or polluted water supplies, but in recent weeks I have had loads of emails from constituents extremely concerned about the direction the Government are taking. They are worried about the communities that could be affected, because they know how local consent can be and is manipulated to suit the agendas of the powerful. My constituents point to the constant Tory failure to prevent vile sewage pollution and ask why anybody would trust the Government when they say that fracking wells will not destroy local water supplies. The Tories have proved time and again that they are simply not willing or able to stop greedy companies, whether privatised water utilities or frackers, from destroying our environment in the pursuit of profit.
The issue of fracking is about the safety of our world and the future of our children, so of course the people of West Ham want to have their say. They do not want us to respond to the cost of living crisis simply by increasing our dependence on the exact same technologies that caused it. They do not want to pretend that fracking can make a difference to energy costs without blighting our lives, because it will not. My constituents want us to get to work on speeding up the green transition they have been promised. They point out, quite rightly, that wind and solar power are enormously cheaper than gas, and that these technologies are getting more and more efficient with every passing year.
In this place, we need a focus from the Government to plan, to invest and to lead partnerships with green business. We know that if we do that, there will be huge economic benefits in terms of lower energy bills and jobs in all our communities, and we can slash our dependence on fossil fuels from Russia and other anti-democratic bullying states. We cannot move away from that dependence by extracting fossil fuels at home; there are not enough of them, and the costs—social, economic and environmental—are too high.
In addition, we are rapidly approaching COP27. Effectively, we are asking and expecting poor African states such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo to do the right thing and develop their economies with the minimum amount of dirty energy. We are talking about countries that have much larger fossil fuel reserves than we do, enormously lower emissions than we do, and much higher vulnerability to climate heating than we do, and we are asking them to choose a greener path to development when Ministers here shamefully talk about extracting “every last drop.” It is madness as an energy strategy. It will be devastating for local communities, who transparently do not want it, and it drives a wrecking ball through the patient climate diplomacy that this world desperately needs.
There is of course one great example of fracking in West Ham—fracking good football, which many of us watched at Upton Park and now at the new stadium.
Today’s is an interesting debate. Unfortunately for all the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who made in many ways a very good speech about some of the hazards of fracking, it has been spoiled by the three and a half pages of the Order Paper that are all about a procedural takeover of this Chamber, which straightaway rules out voting for the Labour motion.
In an interesting contribution, the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), focused on the fact that in his view there is no support for fracking anywhere in the country. That view has been echoed by several Opposition speakers. Now, I do not support fracking. I do not think it should happen and I do not think it will happen, but this is a democracy, and it is perfectly possible that there are parts of the country—it might be South Thanet or Ashfield, although not the centre of the City of Gloucester—where people might support it. That is where the question that the right hon. Gentleman himself raised in 2013, and which the leader of the Liberal Democrats has previously said is vital, must be addressed: the question of local consent. I think that the Secretary of State is on a journey on this. He started, frankly, by assuming that local consent could be a consultation done by the fracking company with a few houses around where a fracking site might be. That was clearly not sustainable—it is not genuine consultation and does not take into account enough views.
My view, for what it is worth, is that there are two crucial elements of local consent, which I hope the Secretary of State will bring back to the House after his consultation. First, planning should be controlled locally and not by the inspectorate nationally. Secondly, local councils should be recognised as the expression of local democracy. That is absolutely at the core of compassionate Conservative values and is a view shared by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. A vote by a full council is the most important part. Along with those two considerations—I hope that the Whips are listening; they are talking among themselves—it is crucial that we have a free vote, on the Floor of the House, on the local consent definition, to give all hon. Members confidence that there will be no fracking in any constituency unless there is absolute local support.
I am sorry that there are no Scottish National party Members present, because it may interest the House that, when councils in Scotland make a planning decision—for instance, to refuse a wind farm application—it is quite frequently overturned by the Scottish Government. The rhetoric about local power can be hollow.
The hon. Member makes a good point and it is disappointing, in a way, that SNP Members are not present to hear that, because they are huge supporters, in theory, of renewable energy.
A great deal that the Secretary of State has said and written about renewable energy, not least a very good article in The Guardian a week ago, is excellent and is something that we would all get behind, as would, I suspect, all Opposition Members. I would love him to do more to support tidal lagoons, which could have been done by now in Swansea; it seemed expensive at the time, but it is good value now. There is more that can be done on marine energy, which contributes to baseload. There are lots of other things, such as rules about onshore and floating offshore wind, about which he is absolutely on the right track and so are the Government. Hon. Members and the wider public should recognise that the Government are doing a huge amount on renewables, but the question of local consent on fracking is crucial.
I think we are all broadly in agreement on that; I hope that the Minister is in listening mode.
The perfect solution would have been to get back to the 2019 manifesto, as the Prime Minister has urged us to do in many instances. That would have taken us back to the moratorium, which was a settled position that the whole country accepted. None the less, I recognise that some hon. Members think there may be virtue in fracking. As the Secretary of State likes to say—his nine-word mantra—everything has changed because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. That is true, and there may be worse to come—who knows what nuclear weapons might be deployed and what impact that might have on energy and all the rest of it.
We should accept, as should the Labour party, that there may be a role for shale gas should the scientific evidence support it and should local consent indicate that communities support it. It is fair enough for the Secretary of State to say that we should look at it, but I urge him to have a free vote on the definition when it comes back to the House.
Fracking—again! To be honest, since the moment I was elected to this House I have spoken in probably every single debate on this subject, because for my constituents in Lancashire this is something that really matters. It has a tangible effect on their lives with the fracking application on Preston New Road, and with Roseacre in the constituency of my friend the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies). This matters because of the climate emergency, which we risk losing sight of if we keep focusing purely on tackling the energy crisis and the cost of living crisis. Important as they are, we cannot forget that the planet is burning. Therefore, in all the conversations we have about energy, we must bear in mind that there is a climate emergency that needs to be addressed.
For a bit of background, after I was elected in 2015, Lancashire County Council passed its first motion opposing fracking, which was followed three months later by Lancaster City Council passing a motion against fracking. Then Cuadrilla got permission and started fracking at Preston New Road, and at that point there were subsequent motions objecting to fracking in councils across the county, including Lancaster City Council’s second motion. It was clear that there was cross-party consensus and huge public dismay about fracking, which is why, when during the general election of 2019 the Conservative party changed its policy and stood on a manifesto pledging to ban fracking, there was a sense of widespread relief in our red rose county.
There was cross-party consensus, and the people of Lancashire thought that the issue had been put to bed—they thought they could be safe knowing that there would not be earthquakes and there would not be fracking wells littering the Fylde coast—but, no, fracking is back, and we still do not want it. Local councillors of all political colours are backing motions at councils right across the county. Those include, this week alone, one at Fylde and one at Lancashire County Council, with both those Tory-run councils voting unanimously to pass anti-fracking motions. Councillors are telling me that they do not understand what this local consent looks like, so I suppose my question to the Minister is: what on earth does he mean by local consent? Many people have been very concerned by the Business Secretary’s comments at the Conservative party conference, when he talked about fracking companies going door to door to canvas support for fracking. I do hope that that will not be included in the consultation, and I would like the Minister for Climate to rule that out in his closing remarks in this debate.
The people of Lancashire do not want to have fracking forced upon them. Yes, we live in tough times and, yes, energy bills are going up, but fracking will not solve the energy security or price issues the UK currently faces. We need the Government to put far more energy into looking at energy demand reduction, such as home insulation. Frankly, the only viable long-term route to lower bills and energy security is to get off fossil fuels. Fortunately for the Minister, the answer is staring us clear in the face, because forms of clean energy such as solar, wind, tidal, hydrogen and nuclear are all options that this Government should be throwing their full weight behind.
That is why the last Labour leadership at Lancaster City Council led the way in installing solar panels on public buildings, such as our Salt Ayre sports centre. It is why the big employers in my constituency, such as Lancaster University, are seeking permission for more wind turbines. It is why local businesses such as NanoSUN in Lancaster, are looking to harness hydrogen, and it is why the nuclear power stations at Heysham 1 and 2 provide my constituents with thousands of jobs. Lancashire will play its part with enthusiasm in a green energy revolution. We know it makes sense when solar and wind power, for example, are nine times cheaper than gas, but fracking? No, thanks. Fracking is expensive and unsafe, and we know that communities in Lancashire do not support it.
I rise to reaffirm my opposition to fracking in Rother Valley. I believe I am the only colleague in the House who not only has two potential fracking sites in my constituency—Harthill and Woodsetts—but actually lives in one of the villages threatened, Harthill. My position since being elected has been consistent: I oppose fracking in our area. Indeed, it was the very first thing I spoke about in the House of Commons Chamber after being elected, and I rebelled against the Government on the issue in May 2021, being the only Conservative to vote to ban all fracking, including exploration.
I was therefore looking forward to reconfirming this in the House today, but the motion before us is not about fracking; it is about confidence in this Government. It is about who runs the country—the elected party, the Conservatives, or Labour, which lost the general election. This, unfortunately, is a cynical attempt by Labour to play party political games. This is not a game. These are people’s lives. These are people’s communities. This is a dastardly, cynical move to create division, and to weaponise the issue rather than working together on a cross-party basis to put in a ban on fracking. That is what is wrong with the state of our politics. All that matters is cheap points—[Laughter.] Labour Members are laughing at people in Harthill; they are laughing at people in Woodsetts. This is cheap point scoring, ultimately chasing misleading headlines rather than working with us on this side of the House to make better policy for our communities.
Fracking is unnecessary, harmful to the environment, and it will have no impact on international gas prices. It is yesterday’s technology, not an answer to today’s problems. I have had several meetings with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on this matter, and we heard him today in the Chamber. He has made it crystal clear that there must be a majority of local independent community support for fracking to proceed—he used the word “veto”. Let us be honest: in some parts of the country there may indeed be that support. I am the elected Member of Parliament for Rother Valley. I am not the Member for the Rhondda—I represent Harthill, not Hartlepool, and Woodsetts, not Woking. Who am I to dictate to the rest of the UK what other communities want? That is undemocratic.
In my local villages there is no community support for fracking, and today we have been given a cast-iron guarantee that these changes will at last put communities, even down to parish level, at the heart of any future decision—no more worries about the changing nature of Government, and those directly affected by this issue will ultimately have the final say. That is correct. Harthill and Woodsetts are riddled with old mine workings, and the fault lines are already severely weakened by coal extraction, right beneath where companies wish to frack. My constituents do not wish to live next to an industrial site. The traffic movement associated with fracking presents a huge risk to pedestrian safety, and could destroy local flora and fauna and ruin the unspoilt countryside. The proposed site in Woodsetts is only yards away from residential homes of the elderly and vulnerable, which is deeply depressing.
Let me again be clear: I am against fracking in Rother Valley, but I am also against this disgraceful attempt by Labour to overturn the Government. The policy the Government have announced today gives more power to local residents to reject fracking—I want them to reject fracking. I reassure the House that when there is the local community vote, and the vote that actually matters to communities—and as a resident of Harthill I will get a vote—I will not only vote against fracking in Rother Valley, but I will be leading the charge against it.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. Why on earth would the Government seek to perform another manifesto U-turn and support fracking—their amendment effectively lifts the moratorium on fracking? Two reasons are stated. One is an attempt to drive down energy prices, and the other is to tackle security of supply. Those are two massive issues. There is enormous energy poverty in my constituency in Cumbria, and everybody is rightly worried about the lack of energy security, particularly given the evil actions of President Putin. But if those were the real reasons, one would not pick fracking, and I am astounded and bemused as to why the Government have done so.
The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), former Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated that fracking would not materially affect the market price of gas. That is obvious, so that is pricing out the window. The fracking industry lobby group stated that shale gas would contribute less than 1% of Britain’s gas needs, and the British Geological Survey stated that shale gas under the United Kingdom is 15 times less in volume than originally thought. Fracking will have no impact on price, and it will do nothing meaningful when it comes to volume.
What fracking will do is add another fossil fuel into the mix at a time when we should be keeping all fossil fuels in the ground. Of all the threats that we face as a country and a community, climate change is undoubtedly the greatest, and fossil fuels should be kept in the ground. Fracking will also create massive seismic risk. The north-west of England, Cumbria and Lancashire, are two of the most geologically active places in the country. Fracking is madness. Opting for fracking is divisive and expensive, whereas renewables are popular and cheap.
Green hydrogen is an essential part of the mix, and I agree with my hon. Friend. If the Government were trying to change policy quickly to do something that would make a radical difference quickly, they would be opting for renewables. After Canada, the United Kingdom has the greatest tidal range on planet Earth, and yet we are tapping almost none of it. Why are we not investing in wind and solar and allowing farmers to diversify?
When my leader, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, he was responsible for the United Kingdom increasing renewables by 20% every year, and that dropped by 3% when he left office. The hon. Member is concerned about leaders changing their mind, yet the Conservative party is led by someone with more flip-flops than Benidorm, so we will not take any lessons from the Conservative side of the House. Renewables are the answer. They are quick and they are popular.
Other people need to get in. The Minister needs to be patient and wait his turn.
My concern is: what does this decision say about the Government? It is not rational to choose shale gas and fracking when it is obvious that it will not have an impact on reducing prices or improving energy security. Instead, the Government could be moving towards tidal, marine, hydro, wind and solar. It is not rational.
It is also not rational that, earlier, the Treasurer of His Majesty’s Household, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), the Government’s deputy Chief Whip, wrote to every Conservative MP saying that the motion is not about fracking and is a matter of confidence. That causes a great problem for Government Members, who must vote either to end the moratorium on fracking—only 19% of the British people support fracking, and the overwhelming majority, including those in my constituency, are opposed to it, so that would be enormously unpopular—or to bring down the Government. That is an irrational thing for the Government to seek to put before the House.
We are beginning to see a pattern of irrational behaviour at the centre of our Government. If we care about our energy supplies, the cost of energy, the enormously painful cost of living—a threat to every single family in the country—and our economy, we cannot have those people in high office and leading the Government party consistently acting illogically and irrationally. The Government’s proposal is irrational. That is why they should give way. We should oppose fracking. I will vote to oppose fracking today, and I challenge Government Members to ignore their Whips and to vote to end fracking.
Let me be clear for my constituents: I do not support fracking and will not vote for it in the future. My constituents’ concerns are clear. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) was right that the Secretary of State gave a commitment that local residents would have a veto over any plans for fracking. I am encouraged by that. The moratorium will therefore stay in Sussex, because I am pretty confident that my residents would not support fracking.
I echo the concerns raised on planning. We see on a daily basis refusals for planning being overturned by the planning inspector. I want reassurance from the Minister that that will not happen in cases involving fracking. This may be an opportunity to look at the role of the planning inspector overall as well as how we can respect wishes locally on fracking.
Let us also be clear that the motion is to agree on the date when there will be a vote on a Bill to ban fracking. The vote today is not on banning fracking. I am amazed at the sheer brass neck of the Opposition, who often criticise the Government for rushing through legislation by having all stages on one day, and yet that is exactly what they propose. They often say, “These issues are too important,” “Too many colleagues want to speak,” and, “There is not enough time to debate amendments,” and yet their motion is for all stages of a Bill in one day. Is that an indication of the Government-in-waiting who they claim to be?
I pointed out to the shadow Secretary of State his hypocrisy: when he was Labour leader, he said to the Labour party conference that there was a role for fracking. However, that bears no resemblance to the brass neck of the Liberal Democrats, who as usual said one thing when they were in government and, now that they are in opposition, say another.
I will not; there is not enough time. When the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), was Energy Secretary, not only did he lift restrictions on fracking, but he voted against a ban on fracking in 2015. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) said, he was quoted in 2013 as saying:
“There is an awful lot of nonsense talked about fracking. I love shale gas—it is much cleaner than coal and we need more gas. I hope we get loads of it”.
I will say the same thing to my constituents today and tomorrow: I will not support fracking, whether I am a Government Minister or a Back Bencher. I hope that when the matter does come to the Floor of the House, and I will not support fracking when it does, my constituents will see that I stand by every word I say.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
That was the 2019 Conservative manifesto. We will only allow fracking where there is local consent. That was the Prime Minister in her leadership bid this summer. There is no new science and there is no local consent. Indeed, in July this year, the Government commissioned a report from the British Geological Survey, which has already been quoted today, to investigate the impact of fracking. The report showed no new science, but concluded that forecasting earthquakes as a result of fracking “remains a challenge”.
Extracting shale gas through fracking in the hope of offsetting the energy crisis will not work. Implementing the process is expensive and returns simply not enough to make a significant difference to our energy sector. It was the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) who stated that fracking
“won’t materially affect the wholesale market price”.
It would do nothing to cut bills, costing far more than renewables, and it is unsafe. Even the founder of the fracking company Cuadrilla has stated that fracking is neither safe nor viable in the UK. It is clear that nobody in the UK other than the Government want this plan to go ahead.
Given that 50% of the last round of fracking licences were in Yorkshire, people in Barnsley are concerned about the Government’s disastrous plans to reintroduce fracking. Only 17% of the public support the practice. The Business Secretary claims he would be happy to allow fracking in his back garden, but he does not speak for the rest of the country and he certainly does not speak for the people of Barnsley.
First of all, may I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, a long-standing friend, for how he has approached today’s debate? The assurances he has given to the House should be taken seriously and with the sincerity with which he made them. They have been enormously helpful.
My opposition to fracking is well known. I would say to anybody who is uncertain about the merits of new exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels that they should watch—on playback if they did not see it on Sunday —the concluding episode of “Frozen Planet II”. Only an idiot would think that our planet could sustain new forms and new exploitations of fossil fuels into our environment. I am not entirely sure why this has been made a matter of confidence, and I am still less certain why His Majesty’s Government have decided to resurrect an issue that I thought had been interred, quite properly, some little while ago. However, I am absolutely convinced that fracking is not going to happen. These are bald men fighting over a comb. It is not going to occur. No local community is going to grant consent. I would love to vote against fracking tonight, but like my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) I want to keep my voice and my vote to help shape the future of the party I have been a member of since 1985, and I am not prepared to throw that away on something which, as I say, is not going to happen.
I agree with those who have called for a free vote. There should be a free vote once my right hon. Friend has undertaken the consultation and the matrix of that consultation has been sorted out. It is not, however, an esoteric point to say, as a point of principle, that His Majesty’s Opposition should take control of the Order Paper. We have, dare I say it, quite enough chaos at the moment without adding to it. It is a strange day when the Labour party is trying hold us to a manifesto commitment I was proud to stand on in 2019 to maintain a moratorium. The key thing is that the moratorium remains in place unless or until a new regulatory system is introduced. From listening to the debate today and having been privy to conversations with many colleagues on the Conservative Benches over the past few days, it is my very firm belief that that day will never dawn.
I remind Members why we are here today: the site on Preston New Road rocked houses, damaged communities and terrified residents not just on one occasion, but on two or three. Quite rightly, the Conservative Government put a ban on fracking until they could be convinced that it could be safely drilled out and would cause little disruption to communities.
When the Prime Minister was on Radio Lancashire, host Graham Liver—we have a very good host, and I congratulate him on his wedding—cornered the Prime Minister in the first 30 seconds of speaking to her when he said, “What has changed?” She did not have an answer. He asked three or four times but she still could not answer. She just kept saying that she was very clear that people would be consulted. He asked her what that consultation would look like. She did not know.
Government Members accusing Opposition Members of taking over the Order Paper is an absolute joke. Your Government put in the ban. Your Government said that the ban would not be lifted—
Their Government put in the ban. Their Government said that they would lift the ban when safety had been assured, but that has not happened. So they can play politics and find an excuse to vote against their conscience, but they cannot blame Opposition Members. I do not support fracking, Lancashire does not support fracking, and the Government have failed to deliver any assurance that it is safe.
I love shale gas and I hope we get loads of it—we have certainly had loads of it today from Opposition Members—but it is not up to me, and it should not be up to people in this place to decide whether they want fracking to go ahead in the country. The Prime Minister has been consistent in saying that local people will have the final say on whether fracking goes ahead. We learned today that local people will also get a veto. That is right.
I keep coming to this place just to remind myself, most of the time, how out of touch a lot of MPs are. How many people in this place actually worry, in bed at night, about paying their gas bill or their electricity bill? Nobody in this place worries about how to pay the next bill that drops through the door. They would sooner side with the people we have seen out on Downing Street today gluing themselves to the pavement again than think about the hard-working taxpayer in places like Ashfield. Not once today has any Opposition Member mentioned fuel poverty. All they have banged on about is fracking in order to possibly save their own skin at a general election.
Let us be clear: nobody would support fracking in their area if it was dangerous and did not provide a cheaper supply of gas or give incentives to local communities. We all know that—we are not daft. The GMB union, which, I believe, is the Labour party’s biggest funder, supports the idea of fracking. It said:
“If it can be shown to be safe for workers and communities, fracking offers part of the solution to the energy crisis.”
Now then—if the Labour party disagrees so much with the GMB on that very important issue, maybe it should stop accepting donations, but, of course, it will not do that.
Let us be honest: most people do not think twice about where the energy comes from when they switch the kettle on in the morning. They expect electricity and gas to come to their house and they expect to be able to afford it, but my constituents are fed up with having to face increased energy bills, especially after seeing successive Governments give up on our domestic supply of fuel over the years. We now import about 40% of our gas, which means money going into foreign Treasuries and going to foreign workers when it could be here.
If local communities in Ashfield do not want fracking, I will support them. If there is a community in Ashfield who do support it, I will support them. I cannot understand why we are even here to debate this, other than because of the mischief of the Labour party.
The shadow Secretary of State can very well shake his head. What I say to him is, please come to a place like Ashfield. I know you don’t visit your own constituency very often, but come to a place like Ashfield and talk to some real people.
That’s me done, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Until recently, the debate on climate change was about the science and about whether global heating is caused by humans. It is important to say, however, that although the climate deniers argued about science and hockey stick graphs, that was not what gave their arguments momentum.
Let us be clear. There has long been overwhelming evidence that human CO2 emissions are causing global heating. The motor of climate denial was never a rational, scientific debate; it was about defending the financial interests of the fossil fuel lobby. Pseudoscientific arguments were the only form that that defence took. Now, after decades of campaigning, protesting and lobbying, the monumental efforts of climate campaigners have meant that it is politically very difficult to deny the reality of the climate emergency. The overwhelming scientific evidence has been joined by the international grassroots political movement calling for climate justice.
We are now seeing a different strategy for protecting oil and gas profits. We are being asked to choose between tackling the cost of living crisis and tackling the climate emergency, between energy security and meeting our Paris obligations. The decision to reverse fracking is part of that new and very cynical strategy. It is an argument that says that black is white, up is down and pulling more fossil fuels out of the ground is somehow a form of environmentalism. We should completely reject that argument, because it is nonsense.
The twin ecological and climate emergencies are two of the greatest existential threats that we face. They demand that we restore our natural environment, keep fossil fuels in the ground and make a transition to clean, renewable energy. Fracking takes us in exactly the opposite direction. The Climate Change Committee has warned that the moratorium should not be lifted without an independent review of the evidence on the climate impact. Has that review been done? No, of course not.
The process of fracking produces methane, which contributes to rising global temperatures. Research by NASA has shown that leaky gas production is one of the main drivers of methane emissions on the planet. In fact, during a single week of 2019, in a site in Lancashire, 4.2 tonnes of methane—equivalent to 142 flights—were released. Extracting shale gas is also environmentally damaging because the geography of the UK means that it is more likely to cause earthquakes and chemical flowback, with waters at significant risk of contamination and further significant ecological damage.
None of this will lower our energy bills or increase our energy security. Gas prices are set not by domestic supply, but by the international fossil fuel markets. Even if domestic production significantly affected international prices, the wells here would not make a difference to those prices. That is a falsehood.
Today’s debate is less about fracking and more about the Labour party’s next social media campaign. If the Opposition had wanted to show the true strength of the House’s opinion on fracking, they could have tabled a normal motion today, calling for the moratorium to be reintroduced at a later stage, or they could have amended a parliamentary Bill. With either of those routes, they would have had a reasonable chance of carrying many Conservative colleagues with them, but instead they have chosen the one route that they know no Government Member could possibly support: a confidence vote. I do not support fracking, but I am even less keen on the idea of letting the Labour party play at being in government for the day. I remember what happened last time.
My views on most things, and certainly on fracking, are no secret. I do not buy the argument that it is less environmentally friendly; gas is gas, whether it is drilled here or overseas, and the carbon footprint of gas produced in the UK is smaller than that of liquefied natural gas shipped from overseas. Nor am I convinced by the argument that it is unsafe, but I do think that it is unsuitable in a country like the UK with a high population density, especially as even relatively small tremors can be felt by the local community. As the British Geological Survey, which has its headquarters in Rushcliffe, says, our ability to predict such tremors has not improved since the moratorium was put in place.
My main objection to fracking, however, is that, after all the division and local anguish it has been causing, even the industry itself estimates that it will produce very little gas. We would be better off focusing on increasing output from our North sea industry, renewables and nuclear. I am relieved that we will have a binding vote on the process for gaining local consent, because that is vital: communities must know that they have a legally enforceable route to either accepting or rejecting fracking under their homes.
My final observation tonight is for our own Front Benchers, for they have enabled the Opposition to force colleagues to choose between voting against our manifesto and voting to lose the Whip. They should take a look at the faces of colleagues behind them—colleagues who have fracking sites in their constituencies—and they should hang their heads in shame. A Conservative Government will always have my confidence, but their leadership today has severely tested my trust and the trust of many colleagues, and I would advise them not to do so again.
The fight against climate change is one that everyone but this Government seems to be deeply worried about. In Wales, we are proud that our Labour Government remain steadfast on the fracking ban which has been in place for seven years and will continue.
It is even more disturbing that this Prime Minister, in the absence of a public mandate, has decided to tear up her own party’s 2019 election manifesto, and any hopes of a stable future, by bringing back fracking; but is that any surprise when this Government are imploding? Will the Secretary of State even be here tomorrow? It is heartening, though, to see Conservative Members publicly declare their support for us and against the Government’s option on Twitter, coming out one at a time—particularly the right hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who is also chair of the Government’s net zero review panel: I think that that is quite telling.
The energy crisis is costing lives, and action absolutely needs to be taken to curb the suffering, but fracking is not the answer. Indeed, it makes the position worse. This crisis has been created by an over-reliance on oil and gas. We cannot increase that, but the Government refuse to understand that it is not possible to tackle one crisis without tackling the other. Instead, they have chosen to ignore the warnings, the science and the pleas, making this a deliberate attack on not only the environment but public health.
In England alone a third of drinking water is supplied by groundwater, and the British Geological Survey has said that groundwater can be contaminated by fracking. One concerning risk is from flowback water coming from the fracking process itself. Water that flows back contains a high concentration of salinity. This is known to cause hypertension that can lead to pregnant women developing pre-eclampsia, exposing the them to potential stroke risks and organ failure, with some babies being stillborn. Medical experts have written to The BMJ stating those arguments. In complete contrast, the Government’s own Minister for Climate, the right hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), has claimed that fracking is “good for the environment”—although that same Minister publicly published his support for the fracking ban in March this year.
Fracking will not solve any of our energy problems, and it will not provide the essential support that the country needs right now. Drilling is irrelevant to the energy crisis, let alone being a complete abdication of duty to the environment, local communities and the climate. This latest move drives a coach and horses through any chance of credibility for global leadership on climate issues. The Government must keep that ban now.
Let me start by praising my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), who spoke so eloquently. I endorse every word that she said about the way in which the Government have handled this matter, and I share her sense of despair, frustration and fury. Although at present I frequently find myself saying, “We are where we are, and we have to get on with it”, I would much prefer the manifesto commitment to a moratorium on whose implementation I stood for election to endure. However, I have to welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to hold a substantive vote on the process by which consent will be determined, and I echo the view expressed by others that it should be a free vote.
This is a polarising issue in my constituency. Opinion locally has always been broadly opposed to fracking, which I have always respected and taken note of, but there has also always been a vocal supportive minority, whose voices have become louder as higher energy costs have begun to be felt, even if fracking is not a solution to the problem of higher energy prices. Everyone in my constituency deserves to have their say, so my aim over recent weeks has been to ensure that the Government’s commitment to local consent was a meaningful one, and not one placed in the hands of companies such as Cuadrilla Resources.
Any process should be independent—indeed, a local referendum would be my preference—because all areas of the Fylde coast should be able to participate in the discussions, as they will feel the consequences. Blackpool, as a unitary authority, has no involvement in Lancashire’s planning decisions, but it will bear the seismological consequences just as much as the parish of Roseacre. I am particularly annoyed by suggestions of financial inducements that will be proffered by the shale gas companies trying to influence the decision making. They must not form part of the decision over consent.
Getting the consent system right, which means that it needs to be in a broad area, not a narrow parish within 15 metres of some pad, will allow all my constituents, either in favour or against, to feel that their voice was listened to. Perhaps fundamentally, carried out under my principles any rejection of fracking locally would be a permanent people’s “no”, on the record—not some temporary politicians’ “maybe” that could be reversed by yet another U-turn or new Government, which is what Labour’s ban, I am afraid, offers us. Let the people of this country put on the record their views about fracking in their local area. Then we as politicians should pay attention to that and act accordingly.
We are here because the previous Chancellor lifted the moratorium on fracking, and his previous boss, Crispin Odey of the hedge fund Odey Asset Management, has put millions of pounds of investment into fracking. He is the same one who made hundreds of millions of pounds when the pound went down following Brexit, having supported leave. He is the same one who made a lot of money out of sterling going down after the mini-Budget. Strange, isn’t it?
The Government have lifted the moratorium and said, “You can go ahead with fracking, so long as you have safety and local consent.” That may be bribed—we do not know what will happen there—but I do not think that it is sufficient, because we need to think about the environment. I was rapporteur on fracking for the Council of Europe. We found from satellite data that 5% of the methane being pulled out was leaked through fugitive emissions, which means that fracking is worse than coal for global warming, because methane is 80 times worse than carbon dioxide. We recommended —46 countries—that no one went ahead with fracking. As a result, when Macron was first elected and did not have many policies, he took that policy off the table and banned fracking, as we have in Wales.
Fracking consists of sending millions of tonnes and cubic metres of chemically impregnated water—often hundreds of chemicals, which are carcinogenic—into the ground. Half of them come back. Half of them stay underneath so that they can contaminate the water table; the rest have to be processed. In the United States, they are dumped in Arizona. Well, we are not the United States and we do not have the space.
We have lorries running around the countryside, smashing up our environment. We have mini-earthquakes causing disturbances. We have air quality data from the United States showing that local people have runny eyes and all sorts of problems. That is why we have banned it in Wales. We are focusing on tidal lagoons, wind farms, solar energy and spatial planning. There is a way forward for a sustainable green energy future. The answer is not fracking; it is environmentally unsound. We should dismiss it even if there was consent and the safety concerns were alleviated, which they will not be. This is absolutely appalling. It is Tory fracking, and people should vote Labour because of this appalling decision to lift the moratorium.
Fracking is an issue that ignites very strong feelings among my constituents. Since the Government announced a change in direction on this issue, I have been very much looking forward to a genuinely free and fair debate in this place, where I could go on the record and outline my concerns, and those of thousands of my constituents, about fracking returning to the Fylde coast.
However, this is most certainly not the free and fair debate I have been hoping for. This Opposition day debate is a very different beast. The motion is not about fracking at all; it is an attempt by the Labour party to take over the functions of Government. It would overturn the Standing Orders and procedures of this House that say only the elected Government of the day get to decide parliamentary business. It would allow Labour to legislate against the wishes of my constituents, who elected a Conservative Government at the last general election. We will not and cannot allow the Labour party to seize control of the Order Paper. If they want to do so, they should do something they have not done in 17 long years and win a general election. The Opposition know full well that Conservative Members who share their legitimate concerns about fracking cannot vote for their motion today. Instead of engineering a constructive and fair debate, Labour has contrived to weaponise this issue. Truly shameful behaviour.
While I have the opportunity, I state once again that the vast majority of my constituents do not support the return of fracking to the Fylde coast. The environmental and safety thresholds and protections were breached when fracking previously took place at the Preston New Road site, only a few miles outside my constituency. As a result, fracking stopped in 2019.
The war in Ukraine has woken up the west and demonstrated that we cannot rely on authoritarian foreign regimes for our energy supplies. As such, I support the Government in striving to maximise more of our domestic energy reserves, particularly North sea oil and gas, and nuclear power. Although I can see why the Government have put fracking back on the table, it should only take place where it is safe and where it is supported by local communities, as the Government have reiterated time and again, and as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has made clear once again today. I wholeheartedly support that position.
I welcome the steps the Government are taking to determine how local consent can be established, and I look forward—
Fracking will not solve the energy crisis. Indeed, the shale gas extracted by fracking would make no difference to gas prices and is a more expensive alternative to renewables. Further, fracking would demonstrably increase the risk of local earth tremors, as recently confirmed by the British Geological Survey.
On the wider environmental impact, Greenpeace says:
“Not only is fracking bad for our climate, it risks causing air, water and noise pollution. It uses toxic chemicals that may not be regulated well enough. An accident could mean that these chemicals leak into water supplies or cause pollution above ground. In fact, this has happened many times in the US.”
With all this in mind, why on earth would the Government pursue a strategy that poses such risks and flies in the face of efforts to tackle climate change? Well, the author and climate commentator Naomi Klein calls it
“the Shock Doctrine: the exploitation of wrenching crises to smuggle through policies that devour the public sphere and further enrich a small elite.”
This bandit capitalism extends beyond just fracking into the way the Government approach our whole energy system. The pursuit of markets at all costs, with little state intervention, keeps leading to the same problems: complex, poorly designed mechanisms, open to gaming and profiteering, that deliver poor value for money and poor environmental outcomes, if they deliver at all. When that system fails, as it is failing now, well, it is everybody else’s problem.
A new generation is now calling for change, a green new deal and a green jobs revolution that distributes costs and rewards progressively, deepens economic democracy and kick-starts an industrial strategy to rebuild and light up Britain. We get it on this side of the House, but I am worried that we will miss this chance. Worse, I am frightened that, although numerous Conservative Members may speak out against fracking, the fact remains that they are still in a Government led by an environmental and economic vandal.
The clock may well be ticking on the Prime Minister’s days in office but, as Naomi Klein sadly states,
“When powerful ideologies are challenged by hard evidence from the real world, they rarely die off completely…A few true believers always remain to tell one another that the problem wasn’t with the ideology; it was the weakness of leaders who did not apply the rules with sufficient rigor.”
That is why today is so important. That is why across this House we have a moral duty to vote in favour of this motion, to introduce a Bill to ban hydraulic fracking for shale gas once and for all.
I was very grateful that the Secretary of State today gave confirmation at the Dispatch Box about a local veto. As other colleagues have said, that local veto on fracking must be paramount. There can be no local authority overturning what has been decided by local people in a referendum or other similar independent method of decision making. Although some colleagues have spoken about local authorities being bastions of listening, that is not always the case. Unfortunately, some would be cynical enough to pass fracking applications in just a couple of opposition-held wards and then claim that the planning committee was the democratic representative. We would then find that those wards, which were never going to vote for the administration, would be unable to hold the council to account. It is important that local authorities are not able to hornswoggle smaller communities within the local authority in that way and that, by the mechanism that the Secretary of State has rightly set out—I look forward to further detail on it—we enable local residents to prevent local authorities from trampling local rights.
I am incredibly pleased that that has been confirmed, because I fear that Wigan Council, which is in a huge dispute with local residents and is fighting tooth and nail over a number of incredibly unpopular planning applications in just a handful of areas in my constituency despite thousands of objections, is fundamentally unwilling to listen to objectors. I am delighted that that would not be the case with fracking and that the veto would remain at the community level. With that, I shall sit down. I have made my point very clearly that the local voice must be paramount, and if people do not want fracking, they should not have it.
The Government must ban fracking once and for all. It is an outdated, dangerous and expensive way to produce energy. It will not provide the clean, secure energy that our country needs, nor will it help us to meet our legally binding commitment to net zero. As Friends of the Earth has pointed out, fracking risks contaminating water, it poses risks to public health and the environment and it is unlikely to reduce energy bills. The Government’s written statement of November 2019 said that the moratorium on fracking would
“be maintained until compelling new evidence is provided which addresses the concerns around the prediction and management of induced seismicity.”—[Official Report, 4 November 2019; Vol. 667, c. 56WS.]
Likewise, the Conservative party manifesto of 2019, on which Members opposite stood and were elected, said:
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
Nothing has changed, and I ask the Minister to explain what he thinks has.
The recent report by the British Geological Survey found:
“Forecasting the occurrence of large earthquakes and their expected magnitude remains a significant challenge for the geoscience community.”
Recently, the Secretary of State has said that
“tolerating a higher degree of risk and disturbance appears to us to be in the national interest”.—[Official Report, 22 September 2022; Vol. 719, c. 40WS.]
So it appears that as well as being reckless the with economy, the Government are being reckless with the environment and the health and safety of communities. The Climate Change Committee has made it clear that moving away from fossil fuel consumption will both benefit households, as it will reduce exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices, and reduce emissions.
The Government speak of consent, but reports that households could be handed £1,000 to consent to fracking in their area are of real concern. Greenpeace has rightly labelled that as a cynical ploy and said that the Government must be hoping they
“can buy off people’s concerns while they are struggling with the cost of living crisis.”
There currently exists a petroleum exploration and development licence, PEDL 184, covering an area of north-west England that includes my constituency. The licence allows a company to pursue a range of oil and gas exploration activities, subject to the necessary drilling and development consents and planning permission.
No wonder my constituents are worried. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not want to see fracking. We on these Benches will stand up for our constituents today and oppose fracking. The Members opposite should stand by their manifesto commitment and do the same.
I will start with words from page 55 of the Conservative party manifesto, because it is very clear and it is there in black and white. It says:
“We placed a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect. Having listened to local communities, we have ruled out changes to the planning system. We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
I read out those words because they should mean something. They should mean something to everyone on the Government Benches, who were elected on those words. If they do not mean anything to Conservative Members, I am sure they will mean something to the people who voted them in and who will be watching very closely how the vote today, because the science has not categorically shown that it can be done safely.
I thank the Tory Whips for making this a confidence vote in the Prime Minister, because after the week that she has had, I think that is more likely to lead to Back Benchers voting with us than against us. But if they are not persuaded by that, I hope they do not fall for the spin that we have heard about our needing fracking to deal with the rising cost of energy, because it was not so long ago that the now former Chancellor said that
“those calling for the return of fracking misunderstand the situation.”
He also said:
“Even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes—and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside. Second, no amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon. And with the best will in the world, private companies are not going to sell the gas they produce to UK consumers below the market price. They are not charities, after all.”
Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, just as a discredited former Chancellor can be right about something. He was certainly right about that.
I will say a few words about consent. The dictionary definition of consent is
“permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.”
Let us be clear that that is not the same as getting a payment in lieu of consent, and it does not mean having a refined planning process to create the illusion of consent. I am afraid the Government amendment does not take us to a place where I am convinced that we will have genuine consent, and whatever is said from the Dispatch Box does not really mean anything when Cabinet Ministers are falling on a daily basis. Let us be clear that consent is not the same as consultation, and the amendment talks too much about consultation rather than consent. Consultation is not as robust and definitive, and it is certainly not what people would expect.
The Business Secretary said last month:
“Compensation and consent become two sides of the same coin.”—[Official Report, 22 September 2022; Vol. 719, c. 796.]
I would say that they cannot possibly be two sides of the same coin. Compensation is payment in recognition of a loss, which does not in any way mean that people have agreed to suffer that loss. If the Government really do want to get consent for fracking the countryside, they should put it in their manifesto and call a general election. We will see whether they get that consent.
I am pleased to be called to speak in today’s debate, which I believe the Government Whips have called a confidence motion in the Prime Minister. I do not know who is more excited for her to receive her P45—is it our side or theirs?
The Prime Minister promised that
“fracking will take place only in areas with a clear public consensus behind it”,
but the Business Secretary ruled out local referendums and suggested that fracking companies themselves could
“go around door-to-door…and ask people if they will consent.”
Aside from being a truly ridiculous idea, appointing fracking operators as the arbiters of local consent would create an obvious conflict of interest and would undermine the authority of democratically elected councils. If the Business Secretary is so keen to start digging up people’s areas and causing earthquakes, I look forward to the Government’s newest site opening in North East Somerset in the coming weeks.
It might surprise some people, but I agree with many Government Members. The hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) spoke passionately last week and again today about his constituents, who were labelled Luddites by the Business Secretary. Given that I was a county councillor in Lancashire when fracking was debated some years ago, and that I am now the Member of Parliament for Bury South, I know the people of Radcliffe, Whitefield and Prestwich are certainly not Luddites, and neither are the people of Lancashire.
I am against fracking. It is unpopular, it industrialises the countryside, it contributes to climate breakdown and, importantly, it fails to address the energy crisis.
But it is not just me who thinks that; it is the public. One person said,
“it would take up to a decade”,
to extract what we need by fracking and that it was pointless—that was the Chancellor of last week. It will create,
“enormous disruption…for little economic gain”;
said the Chancellor of this week, four months ago.
The Defence Secretary opposed proposals for a fracking site in his constituency. The Tory party chairman, the right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Sir Jake Berry), signed the Defence Secretary’s letter opposing fracking. The Levelling Up Secretary said, “There isn’t strong support” for fracking, and I agree. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport did not want it in her backyard, and I do not blame her. Now we know that the Prime Minister’s Cabinet do not have faith in fracking, or in her, I look forward to many Conservative Members joining me in the Lobby today.
Today we have heard from colleagues across the House making clear their opposition to fracking. It was particularly powerful to hear from MPs from the Lancashire area, already affected by the seismic shocks of previous drilling, whose constituents live in fear of that happening again.
Fracking is dangerous and polluting, it will not provide energy security for this country and it is deeply unpopular. The Government finally seemed to get that in 2019 with their manifesto commitment to a fracking ban; as has been said, everyone on the Conservative side of the House stood on that manifesto and made that promise to their constituents. Yet it has taken only a matter of days for this new Administration to bring fracking back, not through a vote, a consultation or a debate in this House, but through a decision taken by the Secretary of State alone, who has not even turned up to hear the winding-up speeches, with no scrutiny and no accountability —[Interruption.] Oh, sorry; I did not see him there.
The Tories’ manifesto promised that the ban on fracking would remain in place unless evidence proved categorically that it was safe. However, the recent report from the British Geological Survey commissioned by the Government has offered no new evidence whatsoever to suggest the situation has changed. As the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) said, the geology has not changed—how could it?—and the science has not changed either. So what did the Secretary of State do when he could not find the evidence he wanted? He decided to change the rules on how big an earthquake can be and still be considered safe. I would laugh, but there is nothing funny about this.
Labour has been absolutely clear that we will always oppose fracking, whether in Opposition or in Government. I am proud that the Labour Government in Wales are keeping the ban.
Let us not forget that this reckless decision comes in the middle of a climate emergency. At COP26 this Government made a commitment on the world stage to prioritise the clean energy transition and end public support for the fossil fuel sector by the end of 2022. How is that going? One year on, they are not only bringing back fracking for gas, but issuing hundreds of new licences for fossil fuel extraction. No wonder the Prime Minister is trying to wriggle out of attending COP in Egypt next month.
Let us call this what it is—it is climate vandalism. The decisions of this Government are undermining our climate targets and trashing our reputation on the global stage. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) said, it is taking a wrecking ball to years of patient climate diplomacy. I am sure the COP26 President would have something to say about that.
The Minister for Climate, who is replying to this debate, may be willing to swallow his pride and claim that fracking is green in exchange for a seat down the far end of the Cabinet table, but on the Opposition side of the House we will be honest about fossil fuels. They are expensive, they are polluting our air and they are destroying our planet. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) made clear earlier, the only solution to the energy crisis is a green one.
Removing the ban on fracking shows that we cannot trust a Tory promise even if it was embedded in their manifesto, so how can we trust what is being said today about ensuring local consent? Let us be clear: the amendment does not say there will be a veto or explain how consent would be obtained. It is very weak on the detail and it does not promise a binding vote by this House on what that consent would look like.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, why do we even need to do this? We know that the Government’s own polling shows that only 17% of people support fracking, although I would imagine that a large proportion of those who would say, “Not in my backyard,” were quite happy for fracking to happen in—as I think a Lords Minister once called it—the “desolate” north.
I am sure the Government’s committing to a ban on fracking today, and committing to bringing forward their own Bill if they do not want Labour to seize control of the Order Paper, would come as a great relief to many of the Government’s own MPs.
Our message to colleagues on the opposite Benches is this. Fracking is not necessary, it is not wanted and it is not inevitable. I say to each of you on the Opposition Benches—on the opposite Benches, I should say—[Laughter.] That was forward thinking on my part. I say to you that you have a chance today to ensure the voices of your constituents are heard, and that our planet is protected. If you support our motion today, we will secure a binding vote on 29 November on a Bill to ban fracking, in the absence of any willingness from the Government to bring such a Bill forward. You will all have the opportunity to ban fracking before a single drill starts up in your constituencies. You know that that is what your constituents want you to do, and that there is no excuse for not doing it. Do the right thing, and support the Labour motion today.
It is a great pleasure to wind up this debate, to which there have been so many excellent contributions from across the House. Perhaps not for the first time, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—he is an extremely clever man, for whom I have a great deal of respect—has been a little bit too clever by half. Perhaps if more drafting had gone into this, instead of seizing the Order Paper we could have had a different style—[Interruption.] It was an attempt to seize the Order Paper. Quite clearly, this is not a confidence vote—[Interruption.] Obviously, this is not a confidence vote; it is an attempt—[Interruption.]
I will not give way. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is getting over-excited. He has described himself as a nerd—accurately, of course. Perhaps he should have spent more time looking at parliamentary procedure.
I am proud to say that this Government have led the way in reducing emissions and moving towards net zero. When the right hon. Gentleman left power in 2010, not only was there that note that said there was no money left, but less than 7% of our electricity—around 6.8%—came from renewables. It is the Conservative party that has delivered the green revolution and will continue to do so. That means that more than 40%—[Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, are they allowed to maintain this ridiculous stunt? It is bad enough—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has brought calm to the Opposition to point out that only 7% of electricity came from renewables when they left power, but the figure is more than 40% today. If we look at energy efficiency and people who are struggling to heat their homes today, what percentage of houses had an energy performance certificate rating of C and above when Labour left power? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) wants to tell me from a sedentary position, but I will tell him that it was 14%. What is it today? It is 46%. The Conservative party is moving this country towards net zero, and not only are we doing that at home but we are leading internationally as well.
The Minister is absolutely right about the green revolution, in which our region in the Humber is playing such a big part. I ask him to reflect on the speeches that have been made today. If this was a clear vote on whether or not we should have fracking, I would be in the Lobby with the Opposition. On any binding vote, I will stick to my manifesto and election commitment to oppose fracking absolutely. Will he reflect on that? He was talking about how much we should be investing in green energy, and I urge him to continue in that vein.
May I at least answer this without being permanently harassed by the right hon. Gentleman, who should learn to sit? My hon. Friend has seen the transformation of the whole economics of offshore wind. He has seen this Government put in place the contracts for difference, which are being copied all around the world.
For the guidance of the House, the Minister said something very important from the Dispatch Box: he said that this is not a confidence motion. I think Conservative Members want to know, because if he confirms that statement, they can vote for our motion in the safe knowledge that they can be confident in the current Prime Minister. Will he confirm that?
The right hon. Gentleman was so excited to repeat something I had already said multiple times. Colleagues on this side of the House are perfectly clear. They are not going to surrender or allow the Labour party to become the Government for a day by seizing control of the Order Paper.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We will continue to lead the world and drive forward offshore and onshore wind and solar energy, we will have SMRs and gigawatt-level nuclear, as well as support for AMRs, and we will come forward with proposals to support hydrogen and CCUS. We are looking all across the piece to drive the green revolution, but as part of that work we need to secure the gas and oil we rely on at the moment as we manage and drive down our usage on the path to net zero.
I really need to press the Minister on this question of a confidence vote. Many of us have been told today by our Whips that if we vote for, or abstain from voting against, this motion, we will lose the Whip. Will he please confirm whether that is the case?
That is a matter for party managers, and I am not a party manager.
Community support is so important. That is why, as we heard the Secretary of State say today, we have pledged that there will be the community veto we have heard so much about from colleagues including my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), for Winchester (Steve Brine), for Gloucester (Richard Graham), for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), for Worcester (Mr Walker), for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), for Blackpool South (Scott Benton), for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), and for Leigh (James Grundy), as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), my right hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), up the coast from me.
It is interesting to see on his feet the Liberal Democrat Member who in his speech suggested that not a drop more gas or oil should come out of the ground, forgetting that 75% of our energy needs today are met by fossil fuels. It is this Government who are leading the green transformation to take us away from fossil fuels. It is this Government who are driving forward net zero, not only here but, equally important, all around the world. It is my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) who, as President of COP26, has moved the world from having just 30% of global GDP covered by net zero pledges in 2019 to more than 90% today. It is that transformation of the global position on the pathway to net zero that has been critical, as well as the development of net zero at home.
That is why we will continue to make sure that we develop. It is why we are issuing licences and blocks in the North sea, so that we can produce domestic oil and gas as we manage that pathway down. We will—
claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Question put accordingly (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
The House proceeded to a Division.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There are very strong rumours that the Government Chief Whip has apparently resigned. I wonder if it is possible to get some clarity—[Interruption.] More than rumours—[Interruption.] Well, if Government Front Benchers want to say no. I seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, on whether or not that can be confirmed, given that this is a matter of parliamentary discipline?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could clarify that the Minister closing the debate we have just had from the Dispatch Box informed his colleagues that it was not a vote of confidence, when we saw earlier, in writing from the Government Deputy Chief Whip, that it was. Could it be possible that Government Members voted in the Division just now without any clarity on what it was actually they were voting for?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, which of course is not a point of order for the Chair. My concern is that what is said on the Order Paper is correct and accurate, and it is. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the point he raises, but it is not one on which I can judge. Ministers are responsible for their own words.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I urge you to launch an investigation into the scenes outside the entrance to the No Lobby earlier. As you know, Members are expected to be able to vote without fear or favour and the behaviour code, which is agreed by the whole House, says that there shall never be bullying or harassment of Members. I saw Members being physically manhandled into another Lobby and being bullied. If we want to stand up against bullying in this House of our staff, we have to stop bullying in this Chamber as well, don’t we? [Interruption.]
Order. We are talking about behaviour. We will have a little bit of good behaviour for a moment on both sides of the House.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter about behaviour. He knows better than anyone else that we have an extremely good system for investigating allegations of bullying, intimidation or bad behaviour. If the hon. Ge