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Fracking: Policing

Volume 785: debated on Monday 9 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have reviewed their policy of making no funding stream available to meet additional policing costs incurred as a result of fracking.

My Lords, it is not correct to suggest that there is no such established funding mechanism available. Police and crime commissioners can apply for special grant funding to help meet the additional costs of unexpected events, including policing protests at hydraulic fracturing sites. The Home Office has previously provided special grant funding for the policing of fracking protests.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I was at Preston New Road two weeks ago, which is the front line of anti-fracking protests in Lancashire. The remarkable thing was how many local residents were protesting, because every level of local government had turned down the fracking application from Cuadrilla, yet the Government came in and overturned all those local decisions. How does that fit with the Government’s manifesto promise to allow local people to decide for themselves? The Government have not only broken their promise but have also incurred hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of extra policing costs, which the public have to pay.

The noble Baroness raises a number of issues. Peaceful protest is a vital part of our democratic society. However, it is important that protesters protest within the law. The noble Baroness mentioned Lancashire. In the last few weeks, 26 people have been arrested in Yorkshire, two of whom have been released under caution and 22 have been charged, including for assaulting a police officer. That obviously relates back to costs: if people stayed within the law, perhaps the taxpayer would not have to pay for all these additional policing costs.

I suggest that the Government follow Scotland’s example and ban fracking, in which case there would be no policing costs in this regard. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, I think it is a great shame that Scotland has taken the decision that it has. It has had a moratorium on fracking since 2015, and it appears that this is now permanent. However, we believe that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely in the UK, and that there are strong regulations in place to protect individuals. It is important because it will reduce our gas imports, create jobs and heat our homes.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that there is a moratorium on fracking in Wales. In those circumstances, is it not a bit ironic that the Gwent police force was sent up to Lancashire for the purposes of controlling the protesters? Given that the costs of such an exercise can sometimes become very great, can she give an assurance that all the costs incurred by Gwent will be paid for from central funds?

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, mutual aid between different police forces is very well established, and the costs for meeting those things are, of course, sorted out in the wash.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that if the police and the authorities were to give in to the nimbys who are against fracking, the nimbys who are preventing planning consent being given to deal with the housing shortage crisis would be at it as well? It is nimbyism and it needs to be put down.

I refer my noble friend to my previous answer about protesting being a vital part of our democratic society. However, he raises a very important point. The most recent figures from the public attitude survey carried out by BEIS show that the vast majority—90%—of the public feel that they simply do not have enough information about fracking. That and not the fact that it is taking place is where the problem lies.

My Lords, I too have been reading the Conservative Party manifesto—it is sad but there we are. Perhaps I may quote from it. It says that it is necessary to,

“maintain public confidence in the”,


“process … uphold our rigorous environmental protections, and … ensure the proceeds of the wealth generated by shale energy are shared with the communities affected”.

Has that happened yet?

The noble Lord will know that there is no active fracking at the moment but I am pleased that he spent the Recess reading the Conservative Party manifesto. The important thing is that advances in technology are happening all the time, and fracking will be an important part of our energy security going forward. For example, the noble Lord may have seen recently that superhydrophilic filters have now been invented. They remove 90% of the hydrocarbons, bacteria and particulates from any post-hydraulic fracturing feed. These are all good things. I think that we should support fracking and of course make sure that the local communities benefit too.

Further to my noble friend’s comments in relation to Scotland, does she not recognise that Grangemouth refinery is in part dependent on such gas supplies? The SNP welcome it, yet it has now said that it is not willing to have such supplies developed and researched in Scotland.

I agree with my noble friend. I said that it was a great shame about Scotland, but we must recognise that Scotland has a 50-year history and heritage of oil and gas exploration and drilling. It is a great shame that it will not be participating in this and a great shame that Grangemouth will potentially suffer.

My Lords, the Lancashire PCC sought help from the Home Office to pay for the extra costs of policing fracking protests following a government decision overruling Lancashire County Council. This request has so far been declined, and the Minister for Policing has stated that,

“there is no central government funding stream available”.

Can the Government say whether the Lancashire PCC, who is responsible for the county’s police force’s budget, has the statutory power, if he so chooses to use it, to instruct his chief constable not to provide policing in connection with the fracking protests until such time as the Government agree to help with the additional expenditure incurred on the grounds that there is no provision within his police force’s budget for such expenditure and that money is not available from other parts of his budget? Is the answer yes, he has those statutory powers, or no?

I will have to revert to the noble Lord on whether he has those statutory powers. However, special grant funding has been used to support fracking protests before. In 2014, Sussex got £905,000. Greater Manchester applied for funding but it was refused because it was not a significant amount of its budget. However, in the case of Lancashire, the application for £3.1 million is still under consideration and no decision has yet been made.

My Lords, one of the attractions of fracking is that it produces fuel onshore. The noble Baroness will be aware that over 30% of the energy supply in this country comes across the sea. As the Government seem intent on scrapping or selling the bulk of the Royal Navy, does that make fracking even more important to us in the future?

I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and I am pleased that we got on to the Navy. However, to turn to ships, the noble Lord raises a very important point. One-third of our energy demand comes from gas and we currently import a huge amount of gas. By 2030, we could be importing three-quarters of the gas that we use. That will come in ships from the US, which is a very long way away. That is why we need fracking in our country.