Shale Gas Production

– in the House of Commons at 12:35 pm on 15th March 2022.

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Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield 12:35 pm, 15th March 2022

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to confirm what the Government’s current stance is on shale gas production in the UK.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

In response to Putin’s barbaric acts in Ukraine and against the Ukrainian people, we need to keep all our energy options open. We have always been clear that the development of shale gas in the UK must be safe and cause minimal disruption and damage to those living and working in nearby sites. This is not a new position. Shale gas and new approaches could be part of our future energy mix, but we need to be led by the science and have the support of local communities. That was in our general manifesto, on which my hon. Friend and I stood at the last election.

The pause on fracking implemented in November 2019 on the basis of the difficulty in predicting and managing seismic activity caused by fracking remains in place, and we will continue to be led by the science in our approach. We are clear that shale gas is not the solution to near-term issues. It would take years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of shale gas could be produced. Additionally, fracking relies on a continued series of new wells, each of which produces gas for a relatively short time. Even if the pause were lifted, there are unlikely to be sufficient quantities of gas available to address the high prices affecting all of western Europe and it would certainly have no effect on prices in the near term.

As the Business Secretary has said, we will continue to back our vital North sea oil and gas sector to maximise domestic production while transitioning to cheaper, cleaner home-grown power at the same time. We will shortly set out an energy supply strategy that will supercharge our renewable energy and nuclear capacity, as well as supporting our North sea oil and gas industry.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield

Last Wednesday, the Secretary of State for Business told this House that

“it did not necessarily make any sense to concrete over the wells”.—[Official Report, 9 March 2022; Vol. 710, c. 354.]

Given that the wells at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire are the only two viable wells in the whole of the UK, pouring concrete down them would be the end of the shale gas industry in the UK. That would be an inappropriate step at this time. We are in the midst of an international crisis, and as the Prime Minister has said, the west has become addicted to Russian gas. We must rectify that immediately; it is a national emergency.

The House was assured last week that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and No. 10 agreed that those wells should not be filled. However, Government rhetoric is not being matched by action on the ground, and Cuadrilla, the company that owns the wells, has spent the last six days trying to get hold of anyone in the Government or the Oil and Gas Authority to get confirmation that it no longer needs to carry out the abandonment process, but it is being ignored. Officials are dragging their heels and, with just days to go, Cuadrilla is legally obliged to plug the wells by 30 June. The OGA keeps confirming that. The Business Secretary says that Cuadrilla should “formally request an extension”, but that is nothing but jobsworth mentality. It is just kicking the can down the road, and we will be back here having the same argument in a few weeks’ time.

Can I ask the Business Secretary why he does not just give practical effect to the words he uttered last week and instruct the OGA to reverse the decision to concrete over the wells? That is what Cuadrilla is waiting for. Either the Government think those wells should be filled or they do not. To concrete or not concrete, that is the question; to frack or not to frack. If we do not want to see concrete being poured down our only viable shale gas wells in the middle of an energy crisis, the Business Secretary needs to act quickly.

As western civilisation grapples with an energy crisis, I am at pains to understand why the Government are risking jeopardising Britain’s long-term energy security over some tiny procedural nonsense. The course of action is clear to me—[Interruption.] I hear some chuntering in the House today, but I challenge any MP in this House to come to my constituency and speak to some real people who are struggling with their gas bills. Not one person in this place has to worry about paying their gas bill, so those Members should hang their heads in shame.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank my hon. Friend for his engagement, and I know he has a long-standing interest in energy on a number of fronts. I commend him for his continuing interest.

Nothing has changed in Government policy relating to fracking and shale gas. On the international crisis, my hon. Friend says the west is addicted to Russian hydrocarbons, but I would say that the UK is not. Last year we imported 4%, but typically we get less than 3% of our gas from Russia. The figures for oil are higher, but they are nothing like the eyewatering percentages we see among our European friends and partners.

On the holes in Preston New Road, Lancashire, the Oil and Gas Authority—the independent regulator—proactively approached Cuadrilla as recently as this week to ask whether it will apply for an extension. However, Cuadrilla has not made a straightforward application to do so. As with any licensee, Cuadrilla can apply for a straightforward extension from the Oil and Gas Authority if it wants to extend the deadline.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and I met the Oil and Gas Authority today, and it is ready to consider Cuadrilla’s letter and potential application. The Government hope the regulator would consider it favourably.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Shadow Secretary of State of Climate Change and Net Zero

I congratulate Lee Anderson on securing this urgent question. He is right to try to smoke out the Government’s position, and it is no wonder he is confused—I think he will remain confused after the Minister’s reply.

Let us be clear that the Government placed a moratorium on fracking because they said it is dangerous and they could not rule out

“unacceptable impacts on the local community.”

The Business Secretary said in 2020 that “fracking is over,” and just a few days ago he wrote

“it would come at a high cost to communities and our precious countryside”.

Yet last Wednesday, just three days later, the same Business Secretary said

“the Government are open to the idea.”—[Official Report, 9 March 2022; Vol. 710, c. 355.]

Yesterday, at Chatham House, the Minister ruled it out. The Government are all over the place.

I will ask some questions, because this issue does matter. It is about our energy security, it is about communities that are deeply worried about the impact of fracking, and it is about the climate crisis. Has the Minister or his Department seen any scientific evidence since the 2019 moratorium that suggests fracking might not be dangerous and might be safe? If he does not have any evidence, why is he approaching the Oil and Gas Authority to ask it not to concrete over the wells, which was the original decision? If he does not think fracking is safe, why is he sowing uncertainty in communities across our country? If he does not have any evidence, will he assure the House that no review of fracking—no nods, no winks and no nudges—will be announced in the relaunch of the Government’s energy strategy? Clarity on this matters.

Finally, would it not be the best thing that the Government can do to guarantee energy security—the Minister should be clear about this—to have a green energy sprint by ending the onshore wind moratorium, ending the objection to solar power, embracing tidal power, moving forward with nuclear and having a properly funded national energy efficiency programme?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman at the Dispatch Box. He says he is confused, but I have been absolutely clear that Government policy is unchanged from the 2019 manifesto. I am not sure what he finds confusing about Government policy being unchanged.

We did not put our 2019 manifesto on an Ed stone, but it is available online for anybody to see the manifesto pledges on which all Conservative Members ran. Government policy is unchanged, with or without an Ed stone. The right hon. Gentleman says we are sowing uncertainty. No, we have given absolute certainty. Government policy is unchanged from the pause announced in December 2019. There is no review. This is a science-led policy, and support from local communities would be needed if there were to be a change.

Finally, we heard about the “green energy sprint”, which is extraordinary. Since the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in 2010, we have increased the proportion of our electricity generation coming from renewables from 7% to 43%. In any normal terms, that would be a sprint, but it is also a marathon, in the sense that we have done that over 12 years. It has been almost a “sextupling” of the amount of energy coming from our renewables since he was in office. He talks about nuclear, but he will also remember the 1997 Labour manifesto, which said that Labour saw “no economic case” for new nuclear power stations. He has the cheek to come to the Dispatch Box today to urge that we get on with nuclear. The Government are getting on with nuclear and with renewables, doing exactly the green energy sprint that he has suggested.

Photo of Mark Menzies Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde

Let me outline at the start that this does affect my constituency, and I am disappointed that my hon. Friend Lee Anderson did not have the courtesy to give me advance notice that he was going to be asking a question pertaining to my constituency.

These are not viable wells. Will the Minister just confirm that? The wells in 2012 that caused the first national moratorium were concreted over, with the blessing of Cuadrilla. The last thing it wanted to do at that point was frack again in those wells, so it dug 3 miles away. Both those wells have triggered the second national moratorium, so they are not viable wells. Will the Minister confirm that and stop this nonsense now?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend illustrates well the point about the importance of keeping local community support if this were to happen. As stated in our manifesto, this was based on what local communities felt at that time. I do not think any local community felt it more strongly than my hon. Friend’s in Fylde. On the process, we have been clear that if Cuadrilla were to apply to the Oil and Gas Authority to extend that deadline, this would be considered by the OGA in the usual way. I repeat that the Secretary of State and I spoke to the OGA just this morning to confirm that.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

It is a rare thing in the Chamber but I completely agree with Mark Menzies and the Minister’s opening remarks: now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. Given that we have this energy crisis, now is the time to stay strategic and not make daft decisions. Clearly, doing fracking would not do anything to change the west’s reliance on gas, even if, as the Minister’s says, the UK does not rely on Russian gas. He can reconfirm that fracking would not release enough gas to change the international market price, so we would still be paying the same wholesale prices. Is it not the case that there is not enough geological and scientific coring information, to the right depths, to understand the viability of extraction, let alone the risks of seismic tremors, which, as we have already heard, occurred at Preston New Road? Therefore, fracking should be ruled out, in the way the Scottish Government have done. Do we not need to invest heavily in renewables? We keep hearing about nuclear from those on the two Front Benches, but committing £63 billion of capital and financing costs to Sizewell C is madness. Our approach should be straightforward renewable energy. I keep going on about pumped storage hydro. Last week, the Secretary of State said that I had been going on about it for 18 months and that it is a good solution but he needs to assess value for money. When are we going to get that value for money? When are we going to get a change to the transmission grid charging system, which is blocking the deployment of Scottish renewables? We need to invest more in tidal stream, to increase the floating offshore target and to set an onshore wind target as well. Let us maximise investment in renewable energy.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that response. He is right in the first part of what he says: fracking is unlikely to change gas prices—or UK fracking is unlikely to do so. It is certainly unlikely to change it quickly, which is what I said in my opening statement. He is also right to point to the importance of following the science, and geological information is really important. However, I have to say to him that on nuclear he continues to be wrong. The SNP’s ideological hardcore opposition to nuclear is against Scotland’s interests. We have just seen the closure of the Hunterston nuclear power station, which provided enough nuclear energy to supply every home in Scotland for 31 years. It was a great Scottish, as well as UK, solution. Our other great source of gas is the North sea, where I would like to see the SNP approach becoming more constructive and supportive of the North sea transmission deal that the UK Government did a year ago.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements

I support what my right hon. Friend is saying about the need for more renewables and for nuclear. We all support the objective of net zero by 2050, but we are now in a gas supply crisis. The Government insist that we are in a European market; Europe is heavily dependent on Russia. We need to produce as much gas as we can. It is a simple question: is shale an option for the Government in the immediate term, or not? That is what we need to know; otherwise, the wells will be concreted over, which the Government said they do not want.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank my hon. Friend for his support for renewables, nuclear and net zero, all three of which belong together, right at the centre of Government policy. He said that there was a gas supply crisis, but I would not characterise it that way. The UK has very secure sources of gas supply: around about 50% comes from the UK continental shelf; a further 30% comes from Norway, our great friend and NATO ally; and 20% is bought on the international market. There is obviously an issue with the price, but I do not share in my hon. Friend’s characterisation of a gas supply crisis.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked whether shale is an option. I repeat that Government policy in this area is unchanged: if people can show that the scientific base and the local community support is there, Government policy would be to allow shale if that turned out to be where those two key considerations led.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

As the Council of Europe rapporteur on hydraulic fracturing, I know, as may the Minister, that 5% of the methane produced by fracking is leaked through fugitive emissions. As methane is 80 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide, that makes fracking worse for global warming than coal, so instead of looking at fracking will the Minister redouble his efforts on renewables, in terms of wind farms in England and marine in Wales? Will he also look to store renewable energy in organic batteries which, when produced at scale, are cheap and do not result in pollutants?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

There were a few questions there. In respect of the data on emissions, it is impossible to judge what UK fracking emissions would look like because data has not been produced on that.

The hon. Gentleman says that fracking is worse than coal; I can be certain that there are more emissions in the production of liquefied natural gas than in the UK continental shelf natural gas. That is for sure—there is two and a half times as much. I would expect the hon. Gentleman to rally behind our call to maintain the UK continental shelf production that is currently ongoing and to import, hopefully, less LNG.

The hon. Gentleman talks about redoubling in respect of renewables. We have Europe’s largest installed offshore wind capacity, which we are already committed to quadrupling. That is twice the rate of the redoubling for which he called.

Photo of Mark Jenkinson Mark Jenkinson Conservative, Workington

The moratorium introduced ridiculously low seismic limits that appeared to have been written by someone who did not understand the Richter scale. Should not the decisions be taken by local planning authorities, with community involvement, and the limits set at levels similar to those we might see for development in London, for example? Should we not be locking in the community benefits of fracking sites?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I strongly commend my hon. Friend for his support for Government policy on energy, and particularly nuclear. He mentioned seismic limits; I was not the Energy Minister at the time, but I believe that tens of thousands of complaints came in to the Geological Society at the time of the drilling. That showed the magnitude of the public impact of some of the drilling at the time.

On my hon. Friend’s point on local consent, I refer him to what I said earlier about the importance of the need to bring local communities on board in respect of any of these projects. With pretty much every type of energy production, we need to bring the local community on board, and that is the case for fracking as well.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

There has been much hand-wringing in the House about the cost of energy, energy security and our reliance on outside sources, yet within our own country we have sufficient gas to do us for 50 years. Does the Minister think it is sensible to turn our back on the jobs and taxes and to spend money to buy gas overseas when we have an indigenous source, a pipeline across the United Kingdom and one of the richest and deepest shale gas seams in the world?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We are not turning our back on anybody. We have been absolutely clear that it is vital for us to keep our energy diversity and our energy security. We are not turning our back on anybody or anything, but Government policy on this issue is unchanged: we need to see both the scientific evidence and the local community support before we can proceed, as we set out in our 2019 manifesto.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

It is reassuring to hear from the Government that the support of the community is going to be at the heart of any decisions, because I can tell the Minister that in Rother Valley there is no community support for fracking. In Harthill and Woodsetts, where there is the potential for wells, nobody wants fracking—in fact, the fracking site in Woodsetts is mere yards from an old people’s retirement home. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will focus more on renewables, and not on fracking, because every single minute that they spend talking about fracking is a minute not spent talking about renewables and a minute that engineers are not working on renewables? We need to get renewables online, not fracking.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend, who also takes a keen interest in energy matters, and particularly renewables, makes a really strong point about the need to maintain local support and local consent for these projects. He is quite right that we have a strong focus on renewables. The Prime Minister himself describes the country as the Saudi Arabia of wind. The commitment to renewables comes right from the very top of our Government and exists throughout the Government.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Labour, Lancaster and Fleetwood

In his contribution, Lee Anderson characterised his constituents as “real people”; I assure him that the people of Lancashire are real people. The people of Lancaster and Fleetwood whom I represent are completely opposed to fracking in Lancashire, and I am sure that I speak for my friend Mark Menzies as well when I say that.

The reality is that shale gas production is currently paused. The Minister says we would need support from local communities; does he hear loud and clear that Lancashire says no and people in Lancashire do not want fracking? Will he reassure my constituents that the wells will be concreted over and that the Government will consider turning the pause into a ban on fracking?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

What happens to the wells is soon to be a matter of discussion between the Oil and Gas Authority and Cuadrilla. On what the hon. Lady said about maintaining local support, the support of the local community is incredibly important. It is stating the obvious to some extent, but as Energy Minister I have discovered that for all energy projects—whether offshore wind, onshore wind or solar—we need local community support, and fracking would be absolutely no exception to that.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mark Menzies, who has done so much over many years to support his constituents, who have been adamantly opposed to shale gas extraction. However, frankly, the Opposition talk a load of tosh when it comes to how we are going to meet our net zero ambitions. My right hon. Friend the Minister has set out our amazing achievements in renewables and in our commitment to achieving net zero. Nevertheless, to meet the exponential increase in electricity demand in order to make the transition, we have to look at the lowest-emission fossil fuel, which is gas. If we have safe and secure resources in this country, which we undoubtedly do, it is absolutely right that we talk to communities about whether they would like to have free gas in return for committing to shale gas extraction in their area. That is only right.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

A huge part of the Government’s delivery on renewables in the past 12 years is down to my right hon. Friend, first as Energy Minister and then as Secretary of State at my Department. In both those roles, she drove forward a big increase and made some of the early, tough decisions on renewables, so I absolutely pay tribute to her.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right on gas: the Climate Change Committee itself has said that the use of gas can still be consistent with reaching net zero in 2015, and—let us face it—it is vital for our energy mix today. She also made some strong points about how we keep local consent and local communities on board. In respect of all forms of energy, that is one of the central principles that the Government are keen to maintain.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

The Government say that the policy has not changed, but I wonder why it is so hard to make a decision. Ellesmere Port had a public inquiry more than three years ago for a shale gas development and we still have not had a decision from the Minister as to whether that will proceed. Is not it time that the Government stopped trying to have their cake and eat it, actually made a decision and rejected fracking once and for all?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The policy is clear and laid out in our 2019 manifesto. It is not possible for me at the Dispatch Box to comment on individual decisions as they may be being assessed by the Department, but the policy in 2019 is clear that there is a pause on future fracking developments.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

I thank the Minister for what he has just said, which my constituents will welcome. Many in this House seem to think that I represent South Dakota rather than Blackpool, which has eight out of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in the country, all of which are deeply fearful of higher energy costs. Does not the Minister agree that this debate about fracking is a complete distraction from the task in hand of finding speedy, effective and efficient measures to reduce energy costs in the short run, not a further long-term gamble on unproven technology that is many years away from delivering anything meaningful to my constituents?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend has represented Blackpool incredibly ably for the past 12 years and knows his community well. He makes, again, a strong point about the importance of community consent. He also makes the point about the speedy implementation of alternative, cheaper and cleaner forms of energy. That is why we announced, just a couple of weeks ago, a contracts for difference renewables auction on an annual basis to do precisely that.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

Renewables are the cheapest form of energy. It is a well-established industry; fracking is not. Reading the room, I think it is very clear that that is understood here, so why do the Government not ban fracking altogether? The Government have already made new commitments to renewables, but is not now the time, given this new challenge—there is a new challenge; we might not call it a crisis—to double and treble on the plans that are already in the pipeline and make and plan for even more renewables than the Government are currently doing?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The hon. Member calls on us to double or treble renewables. That is not good enough. We are going for the quadrupling—the quadrupling—of our offshore wind capacity in this decade. It is already the largest in Europe. We are not just doubling or tripling —we are quadrupling that capacity.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

Around 85% of the beautiful constituency of Thirsk and Malton is covered by shale gas exploration licences, and we will need gas for many decades into the future, so, in principle, I am not against it. I happen to think that it would be easier to do exploration in the North sea. The energy experts who spoke to the Treasury Committee yesterday were clear that one thing hampering that is the lack of willingness from our banks to extend moneys to invest in exploration, because they are focusing on environmental, social, and governance goals rather than the national interest. Will my right hon. Friend work with the Treasury to make sure that our banks do support exploration because we will need this gas into the future?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank my hon. Friend for that incredibly important question. I agree with him: in principle, I am not against shale gas either. He also raised the important question about banks and lending, particularly to the North sea. Let me be absolutely clear from this Dispatch Box: this Government welcome continuing investment in the North sea. That is absolutely part of our energy security and part of our energy resilience. If there is any further sign that banks need a signal from the Government—either from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy or the Treasury—let me send that signal today: we want to see continuing investment in our UK continental shelf.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does the Minister accept that biogas from landfill and sewage waste produces cheaper electricity than almost any other form of gas? If that is so, can we do more to up the volume of that production, as, I think, National Grid suggested some seven years ago?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The hon. Member raises a very good point and a strong point. In terms of what defines something as being cheaper, there are different ways to cut that. It will depend on what the prevailing prices are of alternative sources of energy. He will know that, for example, gas prices are more than 15 times their five-year historic high, so much depends on what the other prices are out there. But as I said earlier, a strategy will be launched by the Government before the end of the month, which will address a number of the different questions in terms of where our energy supply will come from in future years.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

Diverse organisations such as the Climate Change Committee and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which I chair, agree on one thing: gas will be part of our energy mix to 2050 and beyond. That makes domestic supply a very sensible endeavour. I just put the benefits to the Minister: 75,000 potential jobs; tens of billions of investment; billions in terms of tax revenues; massive savings of CO2 compared with LNG inputs, which are truly horrific on CO2, given that they come in on a diesel ship; and the balance of payments positivity. Is there anything in that list that my right hon. Friend disagrees with? Finally, I implore him to send a note of thanks to the US Government who took the dash to shale gas extraction some time ago and it is on the back of that that they have mitigated a lot of our energy failure.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his continued interest. I am always happy to meet with his group to discuss these issues. He is absolutely right: domestic supply is very important. This is not the time to be wanting to increase imports of foreign LNG. That is one reason why we want to see a robust UK continental shelf producing UK natural gas. The point he makes about investment, jobs, tax revenues and so on would be considered in the round, but I point out the earlier point about seeing the scientific evidence first and the local community support as well.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

Many Wirral West residents are extremely concerned that petroleum exploration and development licence No. 184 covers Wirral West. The Government’s failure to ban fracking leaves my constituency at risk of this dangerous technology that would extract fossil fuels at the very time that we should be moving to renewables. I led a successful campaign against underground coal gasification in the Dee estuary in 2013 and last month the Government told me that they no longer support the development of UCG. Can the Minister reconfirm whether that position is still the case, or whether it has changed, and will he ban both fracking and UCG?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I have laid out clearly that our policy on fracking is unchanged. The hon. Member illustrates well the need to keep community support. When it comes to renewables, this Government’s record is one of the best in the world in delivering on renewables. We have the world’s largest installed offshore wind capacity, a new dedicated pot for tidal, and a lot of progress on solar and on onshore wind. All these things are helping the UK to produce a very diversified set of energy sources, which is a key part of our response to the current crisis.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I commend the Minister for his clear answer today that, if an application for shale gas is made, there will be no political objection from the Government, but it must be determined on the basis of the support of the local community, by which I presume he means the local planning process. Can he confirm that that approach, based on local community support, will also apply to large solar farms?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We have an established process in place for large solar farms and I am not changing policy on that. Solar offers a great addition to our armoury of renewables and it has been a big success in this country in recent times. When it comes to commenting on individual applications, I obviously cannot do that because that is the quasi-judicial role of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

At COP26, Wales signed up to the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance, and we have comprehensively rejected fracking or any new hydrocarbon developments. Shale production will not meet our current energy needs; it will take too long, be too expensive and condemn our climate targets. Will the Minister assure me that he will respect Wales’s opposition to fracking, honour our COP26 pledges and not give in to climate deniers and fossil fuel opportunists?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I remind the right hon. Lady that energy is reserved. However, I refer her to my earlier point about local community support being important in all our energy policy.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

The important thing in all these matters is to remain pragmatic. We will need gas even after we hit 2050, because gas, for example, will be the way we make hydrogen and hydrogen is clearly part of the way ahead. The reality is that the Minister knows that. I ask him, whether on shale gas or the North sea, to remain completely pragmatic—as Conservative Governments should be—to recognise that fact and not to allow this new ideological religion to take over everything. If we want to ask somebody, let us ask them whether they feel their gas prices should be rising at the current rate, or whether they would like lower gas prices.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend on both the importance of hydrogen and on the importance of being pragmatic. He and I were both elected on a 2019 Conservative party general election manifesto and Government policy is unchanged from that manifesto. That is the height of pragmatism: to stick to our manifesto and keep our options open.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

It is unfortunate that the boss of Cuadrilla has, with the support of Lee Anderson, used the Ukraine crisis to reopen the discredited case for fracking. Will the Minister simply agree that we are better off investing in the renewable technologies of the future in terms of both our energy security and of meeting our climate commitments?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We are investing massively in renewables. Our current round of allocations in the contracts for difference auction is larger than in any previous round. Within that, we have announced big support for offshore wind and other technologies and, for the first time, a dedicated £20 million pot for tidal.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Real projects take time and money, as my right hon. Friend knows all too well from his work on nuclear and elsewhere. That is why we are here today. There has been inadequate communication between the decision makers in authority and the company, which knows it has to act now if it is to meet the deadline to put concrete in the wells. Will he please personally intervene to ensure that there is effective communication between the authorities and the company, so that we do not have to bring urgent questions such as this to the House?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his ongoing interest in all matters relating to energy, but I must say to him that Cuadrilla was told almost a year ago, in June 2021, of the requirement to decommission the two wells by the end of June 2022. It was given a huge amount of notice to do that. I mentioned earlier that the Secretary of State and I have spoken to the Oil and Gas Authority today, and I believe that further communication will happen with the company.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I am glad the Minister has acknowledged that fracking would do nothing to increase our energy security, given that the energy would then be sold on global markets at international prices. I am also grateful that he talks of the importance of public consent. He will know that, given that only 14% of people support fracking and the fact that it would require 6,000 wells to replace even half the gas we are currently using, that will not happen any time soon. However, I urge him to do more on energy demand. This whole debate has been about energy supply—where is the action on reducing demand? That is where the Government are dragging their feet and that needs to change now.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We have comprehensive investments going on through the heat and buildings strategy and other initiatives to ensure that energy demand is also addressed. But may I say this, because I think the hon. Member missed the last couple of occasions to put questions to the Dispatch Box? One thing I am sure of is that I am glad we did not follow the advice of the Green party back in 1989, when it scored its record result in an election with 15%. Its advice was that it was impossible to take action on emissions while simultaneously growing the economy. I am really glad that we decided to ignore that advice, because in the intervening 30 years we have grown the economy by 78% and reduced our emissions by 44%, comprehensively proving the Green party totally wrong.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I speak as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment. After the 1973 oil price shock wreaked economic havoc across the western world, different countries responded in different ways to ensure it never happened again. Denmark went for increasing wind power, Japan went for increasing solar, France went for increasing nuclear power and in Britain we went for increasing oil production in the North sea. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should learn the lessons of history to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes, and that the response to high international energy, oil and gas prices should not be to press pause on net zero, but to push full steam ahead with it, growing renewables and nuclear power?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I think I am meeting my hon. Friend’s APPG either this week or next, and I am looking forward to that. He makes some strong points. Net zero is not part of the problem; it is part of the solution when it comes to both the transition and energy security. He talks about not repeating the mistakes of the past and he mentions nuclear. I will put on record that I am glad to see the conversion of the Labour party from saying it was anti-nuclear in its 1997 manifesto to now backing the Government’s nuclear programme. I welcome that conversion.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

My constituents in Formby have experienced test drilling, and they have very real safety concerns. I can assure the Minister that there is widespread community opposition to fracking in my constituency. Will he give my constituents certainty that fracking is ruled out? I will tell him how he can do it—by ending the moratorium on onshore wind and giving full-throated support to tidal energy, both of which are realistic options in the Liverpool city region.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We have just announced a dedicated pot for tidal energy in the CfD round. In terms of providing certainty, may I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he goes back to the 2019 Conservative party manifesto? The policy is unchanged from that. As a friendly, cross-party suggestion, if he wants to give his constituents some assurance, he could perhaps reprint that manifesto in full and distribute it to all his constituents, saying that there the policy is unchanged.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk

Gas suppliers are asking energy-intensive businesses, including a major paper mill in my constituency, for large up-front payments. As the Government review their energy strategy, will my right hon. Friend look at a proposal for a Government-backed payment guarantee scheme to help companies to manage cash flow and avoid the need for prepayment?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Of course we are acutely aware of the difficulties that some energy-intensive industries face. My ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend Lee Rowley, is looking at that all the time, and we review the situation constantly, but those schemes are often a matter for the Treasury and for agreement with the Treasury.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Back in 2014, the people of Warwickshire were very vocal in their opposition to proposed fracking licences across the county by Cluff Natural Resources. I am sure the Minister would agree that our objective must be to reduce energy demand. Why was it, then, that his Government tore up the zero-carbon homes legislation of the previous Labour Government, which would have seen 1 million new zero-carbon homes built from 2016, reducing the demand for energy in this country?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I think the hon. Gentleman is inviting me to go back down memory lane to 2010. I will tell him this: thanks to the actions of this Government, the number of homes that are energy efficient and clear those minimal criteria has massively increased in the past 12 years. Ensuring that energy-efficient homes are there is something that this Government are delivering on.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Evidence to the Treasury Committee yesterday reiterated that fracking is not worth doing, but also pointed out that part of the problem is the UK Government’s poor and inconsistent stewardship of our resources in the North sea compared with our neighbours in Norway, who have had a long-term and consistent plan for their resources. What commitment do the Government really have to their own transition plans—that was a question yesterday—and will they invest in renewables, which will benefit not only the environment and our economy but our energy security in years to come?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I will give the hon. Lady two pieces of advice. First, she may want to visit north-east Scotland herself and see who the people there, particularly the people in and around Aberdeen, think are more supportive of the offshore sector in its entirety, including oil and gas and renewables—the Scottish Government or the UK Government, because the answer is normally the UK Government. Secondly, she asks whether I am still backing the North sea transition deal. That is a deal done by this Government, so of course we are still backing it. I keep asking her colleagues whether they back the North sea transition deal, and I never hear anything. If she is now announcing that the Scottish National party is backing it, then that is one clear gain from today’s contributions from the SNP.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

It is time that the Government’s policy moved from a pause on shale gas production to a full stop. The people of this country have moved on, and so has the science. On Friday, the Under-Secretary, George Freeman, was in York looking at the BioYorkshire project, which will change and transform the future of our energy supply through the biofuels industry. Will the Minister not invest in that instead of old technology that simply will not deliver?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We do invest in biofuels. My hon. Friend had a very good and productive visit, and I thank everybody in York who received him. We do invest, and we make sure that this is part of our diversified energy mix. Diversification is absolutely key in the space of energy, as other countries have perhaps learned to their cost.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

We cannot allow the current crisis to be used as an excuse to greenlight fracking, and, as the Minister said, any potential benefits to prices would not even be seen for years to come. The Government should be focusing on identifying other solutions such as investment in wind or solar power, or using new agricultural policy schemes in the UK to increase nitrogen use efficiency to reduce the waste of artificial nitrogen fertiliser. What alternative projects is the Minister considering?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. On hydrogen, I can confirm that one project pretty near to her constituency—the Whitelee wind farm just south of Glasgow, which I went to in November—is looking at how wind power, in this case onshore wind power, can be converted into hydrogen, with £9.8 million of UK Government support. That will drive buses and dustcarts in Glasgow city for many decades to come. It is exactly that sort of innovative project that the UK Government are backing.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister very carefully about whether he would respect Wales’s policy of refusing further coal and gas. I am sure that most people in this House will appreciate that this aspect of energy is devolved to Wales, but he replied that energy is a reserved matter. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how awareness could be established within this Government as to which powers are reserved and which powers are devolved to Wales?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Well, Mr Speaker, I have nothing to change from my answer. What I can say is that we do have a very constructive relationship with the Welsh Government on areas of energy, as I always had on trade. They hold key levers in areas that are important on delivering energy, such as planning and skills, so of course it is in our interests, on behalf of the people of Wales, to work together as the UK Government and the Welsh Government.