Infrastructure Bill [Lords]

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 6:55 pm on 8th December 2014.

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Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 6:55 pm, 8th December 2014

This Bill covers a wide range of topics, some of which do not affect Scotland, but those that relate to energy most certainly do, and it is those areas on which I shall concentrate my remarks.

Part 4 of the Bill opens with provisions relating to community energy. By and large, we support the efforts to allow communities or community groups to buy a stake in renewable energy facilities in or close offshore to their communities.

I hope that those provisions will lead to more communities taking a stake in such important facilities—indeed, some community organisations are already making efforts to raise funds to invest in local renewable energy—and to greater involvement and acceptance of renewable generation. Should the Bill succeed, I hope it will lead to alternative visions of how we deal with off-gas grid properties, which are so often left out of the thinking on energy costs and energy efficiency.

I also hope that more community involvement will encourage energy companies to consider the wider interests of the community when proposing new developments, such as encouraging economic regeneration by supporting other businesses or by looking at ways in which they can help to deliver better broadband services to allow businesses to prosper.

I also note that amendments are proposed to the Petroleum Act 1998 that are designed to implement the recommendations of the Wood review to maximise offshore oil and gas extraction. I would disagree strongly with the Minister on what should be done with oil and gas revenue, but we are inclined to support the relevant parts of the Bill because both the Scottish Government and the UK Government strongly endorsed the Wood review.

Unfortunately, there are other aspects of the Bill with which we do not agree. New clauses were introduced in the other place relating to the process of hydraulic fracking. I have raised my concerns and asked specific questions on this matter at least twice in this House but have yet to have a clear answer, so I will try again—third time lucky, but I am not holding my breath.

In his introduction to the debate the Minister said that oil and gas was a reserved matter. That is true, but, unfortunately, the clauses on fracking cut across Scottish land law as well, which is very much a devolved matter. Given that the Smith commission proposed the devolution of those proposals to Scotland, it strikes me that now is the right time to do that. We should get all these provisions in one place while fracking is still at a very early stage. If we do not do that, it will be much more difficult to deal with it at a later stage. I should make it clear at the outset that I do not support fracking. Although we have heard much about its potential, I note that even in Denton, Texas, the very home of fracking, a recent referendum voted to end it. Other states in the US are turning against it because of environmental concerns. We should take note of such concerns, because if there are concerns about the impact of fracking in the wide open spaces of the American west, how many more would there be in densely populated islands such as these?

I wish to concentrate today on some specific questions relating to the process of fracking. Although development is at an early stage in Scotland, it is already causing a great deal of public concern. A large area of central Scotland, stretching through to my own constituency in Angus, has been identified as having potential for shale gas extraction. Much of the power over such developments lies with the Westminster Government rather than the Scottish Parliament. Westminster has the power to grant licences under the Petroleum Act to search for and develop shale gas, while local authorities and the Scottish Parliament have powers in respect of planning, which clearly give them some powers to restrict fracking. In his opening statement, the shadow Minister made the point that the Scottish Government have not introduced a moratorium. My understanding is that it is very difficult to do that, because planning is initially carried out at local authority level, and any such moratorium or attempt to put in standard conditions would lead to judicial review and endless legislation. It would be much simpler if all the powers relating to fracking were in one place. In that instance, the Scottish Government could take action by refusing the licences.