Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Infrastructure Bill [Lords]

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 7:06 pm on 8th December 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden 7:06 pm, 8th December 2014

Well, 300 metres is 10 times as deep as the London underground. The Bill states that deep-level land is at least 300 metres down, but normally drilling will be about a mile down because—as the hon. Gentleman will know from serving on the Energy Committee—about 7,000 feet of rock is needed to compress the shale sufficiently to turn it into gas or oil.

Rightly or wrongly, mineral resources in this country were nationalised before the war and, unlike in the USA, landowners do not have the right to extract them. I do not see why landowners should have the right to prevent the extraction of a national resource that is collectively owned by us all. After all, we do not have the right to prevent aircraft from flying over our property, although frankly the chance of an aircraft falling on our property is rather greater than that of anything welling up through a mile of rock and affecting our homes.

In theory we could revert to the pre-war situation, as in America, and give landowners rights over subsurface minerals and their exploration. If we did so, the general taxpayer, who stands to benefit from a 61% tax on profits from any shale gas, not to mention royalties and fees, would be the loser, while landowners lucky enough to own land above any of that natural resource would become richer—I am not sure whether that is the direction in which the party of Keir Hardie or Caroline Lucas are going, but I think we should keep things as they are. The resource is collectively owned; let us open it up for sensible, properly regulated and environmentally sound exploitation.

In the USA, when landowners are given the choice between preventing or allowing the exploitation of land from which they will profit, they overwhelmingly say yes. Despite strong campaigns to discourage the development of the fracking industry in north America, 2.5 million wells have been drilled and not a single person has been poisoned by contaminated water, nor a single building damaged by the minute seismic tremors that fracking can cause.

A lot of letters I receive say, “But this is against the laws of trespass. This is terrible. You’re trespassing under my land, which is as bad as trespassing on it.” Actually there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the law of trespass. My father did not have many political opinions but he was a libertarian. When we went out in the country and saw a sign saying, “Trespassers will be prosecuted”, he would say, “My son, as a free-born Englishman, you have the right to go anywhere as long as you do not cause damage. The landowners are bluffing and cannot stop you.” He was right, of course. Subsequently, Mr Fagan wandered into Buckingham palace and the Queen’s bedroom, but he could not be prosecuted because he had done no damage.