(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to make a statement regarding the lifting of the moratorium on shale gas extraction.
Indeed, the hon. Lady is right to be saying that I need to find the right page because I am having some difficulty in finding the right page immediately, but do not worry. [Interruption.]
Order. Is there another copy we can give the Secretary of State? [Interruption.] He has got it.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for asking his urgent question. I am glad to be able to announce that the moratorium on the extraction of shale gas is being lifted, and a statement about that has been laid before the House.
As I set out in the previous urgent question, it is important that we use all available sources of fuel within this country. It is more environmentally friendly to use our own sources of fuel than to extract them in other countries and transport them here at great cost, both financially and in terms of carbon. It is therefore something we need to revisit, and we need to revisit the seismic limits to ensure that shale gas extraction can be done in an effective and efficient way.
This is obviously a case of “the dog ate my homework”, and it is hardly surprising. Let us start by taking the Secretary of State’s excuse for lifting the fracking ban—that it will make a difference to the energy bills crisis. It will not, because gas is sold on the international market. The current Chancellor said so in February of this year:
“No amount of shale gas…would be enough to lower the European price” of gas. In an article published yesterday, even the founder of Cuadrilla said that the Secretary of State is wrong. First, why does he not admit the truth that anyone who knows anything about this subject says his claim that fracking will cut bills is nonsense?
Next, let us come to safety. The 2019 manifesto, on which the Secretary of State and every Conservative Member stood, said:
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
They are lifting the ban, but they cannot supply the evidence, and the British Geological Survey report published today certainly does not do it. So in the absence of the evidence, his approach is to change the safety limits. He says in his written statement laid before this House that
“tolerating a higher degree of risk and disturbance appears to us to be in the national interest”.
I look forward to him and his colleagues explaining his charter for earthquakes to the people of Lancashire, Yorkshire, the midlands, Sussex, Dorset and, indeed, Somerset who will be part of his dangerous experiment. Let me tell the Conservatives that we will hang this broken promise round their necks in every part of the country between now and the next general election.
The Conservative manifesto also said:
“Having listened to local communities, we have ruled out changes to the planning system.”
Does the Secretary of State stand by that promise, and how will he abide by the Prime Minister’s commitment to local consent? The truth is that he does not understand that we cannot escape a fossil fuels crisis by doubling down on fossil fuels. Renewables are today nine times cheaper than gas. The only way to cut energy bills and have energy security is with zero-carbon home-grown power, including onshore wind and solar, which his wing of the Conservative party hates and he continues to block. For communities in every part of our country, today shows that they can never trust a word this Government say again, and he has shown he is willing to break his promises to support dangerous fringe ideas that put the interests of fossil fuel companies above those of the British people.
There was plenty of energy in that, Mr Speaker, but it was, I am afraid, more sound and fury that signifies nothing. We know that shale gas is safe. It is safe in the United States, where it has been one of the biggest contributors to the decline in carbon emissions of any activity that has gone on in that country. We know, even if Labour Members wish to ignore it, that seismic activity of 2.5 and below on the Richter scale takes place millions of times a year across the world. Our standards for ground-level movements for construction work are double those that have ever been achieved by any shale gas exploration in this country. There is a huge margin over what we allow for building work against what has actually happened in terms of shale gas. The right hon. Gentleman seeks to deny the ordinary rules of supply and demand. He ought to be aware that when we increase supply and demand remains steady, that has an effect on pricing, and pricing is always set at the margin. The price of any commodity is set by the final user who demands that commodity. If supply exceeds demand prices fall, and any increase in supply helps to reduce costs.
But there is another point. We have—all of us— constituents with gas boilers, and we are going to have them for many years to come. Do we really want them to be dependent on strange dictatorships that wage war in this world, or do we want to have our own security, and our own supplies? Do we want to maximise what we receive from the North sea and from underneath our feet? This seems to me to be just good common sense. It is safe, it is shown to be safe, and the scare stories have been disproved time and again. The hysteria about seismic activity fails to understand that the Richter scale is a logarithmic scale. It seems to think it is a straight arithmetic scale, which of course it is not. Bringing on the supply will bring us cheaper energy, which we need, and that will help our constituents. It secures our supply, which will ensure that our businesses can continue to operate whatever the weather. This is of such importance, and it is sheer Ludditery that opposes it.
There is nothing Luddite about the people of Lancashire or Fylde. I want to say how disappointed I am that Parliament was not informed about this issue before the media was, and that as a local Member of Parliament, I was not given that courtesy, despite having requested information for two weeks by contacting the right hon. Gentleman via his Parliamentary Private Secretary. I have sent letters, I have sent WhatsApps—nothing back. Can we be crystal clear on one thing? At the Manchester hustings—this is a matter of public record and people can find the clip—the Prime Minister made it crystal clear, no ifs, no buts, no caveats, that fracking would take place in the United Kingdom only where there was local consent. That was crystal clear. If the Prime Minister is to remain a woman of her word, and a woman in whom we can believe—and I believe she is—will the Secretary of State outline how that local consent will be given and demonstrated in my constituency of Fylde?
My hon. Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her speech on energy on
We obviously want to work with local communities, and it is really important that companies that seek to extract shale gas come up with packages that make what they are proposing to do welcome to local communities. That is of fundamental importance and is what the Prime Minister has set out.
I call Stephen Flynn, SNP spokesperson.
There can be no doubt that this particular political earthquake is absolutely bonkers. The UK faces two problems when it comes to energy: energy prices and energy security. Let us be clear that when it comes to energy prices, producing shale gas will make absolutely no difference whatsoever. On energy security, this Government could and should be turbocharging renewables, and creating a contract for difference for hydrogen, to ensure that we have hydrogen boilers in future and are not reliant on the gas boilers of the past. But luckily, in Scotland there will be no change. There will be no fracking whatsoever. We, unlike the Tories, stick to our word. It is great to know that that will not change, but the one thing that will change is that we will be long gone from the shackles of this place by the time shale gas is produced in England.
It is amusing to think that the economics of independence were all dependent upon oil and gas, and now they are not going to have any, which does not seem to me to be entirely consistent. Using our national resources is a sensible and wise policy, and that is what this Government are looking to do.
Except that thermal energy has no seismic limit on it, whereas there was a 0.5 limit on shale gas, which made it almost impossible. That was a policy that was designed to stop any shale gas being extracted.
We need to get on with the exploration and the test drilling to see how realistic the forecasts are. A report in 2012 set out the potential for shale gas, which is very large, but the question that the hon. Member raises—how much of that will be realistically extractable?—is the right one, and it requires drilling to take place to find out.
Obviously, looking to these measures to increase security and supply is incredibly sensible in the long term, not only to get prices down but to deliver energy security. However, for the many constituents of mine still struggling with energy prices now, particularly those off grid, can the Secretary of State outline a few of those measures and say how he intends to go further in offering short-term support?
I must say that I am fascinated that the Secretary of State thinks that he knows more about the geology of the UK than the geologist who founded Cuadrilla, who said quite clearly that the UK is unsuited to widespread fracking.
My question comes back to the issue of consent. The Prime Minister said that fracking will go ahead only in places where there is support from the local community. That begs the question why on earth the Secretary of State is even pursuing this idea, as there is no support from local communities, but how is he going to measure that, particularly given that this terrible and deeply unpopular decision coincides with the Government’s draconian new anti-protest laws?
In relation to Cuadrilla, the gentleman in question I believe left the company 10 years ago, so he is somewhat out of date in terms of the company that he purports to represent. The current management of Cuadrilla are in favour of this.
I think local support is important, and one of the things that companies that want to drill for shale gas will have to do is come up with packages that are attractive to local communities. That will ensure that people get some financial reward from shale gas being extracted near them.
I would like to press my right hon. Friend further on how community support will be defined and measured, because I have many concerned constituents who want to know that they will have a genuine route to rejecting fracking applications that do not have local support, and I am still not clear what that would be.
There are parts of the country, particularly in relation to nuclear, where there is local consent and very enthusiastic support for the development of additional energy sites, so it is perfectly possible to measure and see local support.
The homes of people living near the proposed fracking site at Altcar Moss shook as a result of the tests that the Secretary of State referred to earlier. He said that shale gas was safe, but his Government paid compensation to residents living near fracking sites in Lancashire. The Government’s own report says that little progress has been made in reducing and predicting the risks. When is he finally going to admit that fracking is a non-starter in this country?
In relation to seismic activity, there is no particular dissimilarity to that from mining, and mining is not subject to seismic limits.
Despite what the Secretary of State said, is it not the case that forecasting the occurrence of seismic events as a result of fracking remains a challenge to the experts? Is it not therefore creating a risk of an unknown quantity to pursue shale gas exploration at the present time? Is he aware that the safety of the public is not a currency in which some of us choose to speculate?
Unusually, I disagree with my right hon. Friend. It is all a matter of proportionality. As I pointed out, the movement on ground level from construction is about double that we have had from any instance with shale gas. We know what has happened before. There are not limits on mining. There are not limits on ordinary oil extraction. It is only shale gas that has limits, and there is no evidence that shale gas is worse than any of those other activities. So, I think, on a balance of risks, my right hon. Friend is not coming to the right conclusion.
“We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
The science has not proved categorically that it can be done safely, so he is reneging on his solemn promise, which all Conservative Members stood on, to the British people in 2019. This is not a legitimate thing for this Government to do, is it?
I must reiterate that the former chief executive of Cuadrilla resigned 10 years ago. He does not represent the company and that is important. The House would be put under a misapprehension if it were to think that he is currently involved. As regards the last manifesto, I happily stood on the last manifesto because I had read the 2012 report that went through most of the myths against shale gas and showed that they were wrong and that the extraction of shale gas is safe.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the strong objections many of my constituents have to fracking. The Prime Minister has been quite clear in saying that it will take place only if there is strong local support. However, that poses many questions. What is the local community and how do we define it? How do we ascertain whether it can command local support? What incentives, if any, will be provided to local communities that have fracking imposed upon them? My constituents are understandably anxious about fracking returning to the Fylde coast. When will they receive an answer to some of those questions?
My hon. Friend asks a very important question. It is important for the national interest that we have secure supplies of gas—that is important across the House to all constituents—but this will affect some residents much, much more than others. Therefore, it is only right that they are compensated and receive some financial benefit for the inconvenience. The majority of the inconvenience comes not from the extraction of shale gas, but from the building of the shale gas well in the first place and the associated lorry movements. It is important that people benefit and are rewarded for doing something that is in the national interest.
What studies has the Secretary of State undertaken of the effect on aquifers where fracking has taken place, which are deeply polluted and run well beyond the local communities he is seeking support from to reintroduce fracking to this country? Surely, he must understand that the dangers will be here for decades to come—long after whatever small amounts of gas have been extracted? It is future generations who will suffer because of this policy.
It is no surprise that I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I refer him to the 2012 report, which went through that and through what had happened in the United States for comparison purposes. First, it found the evidence on the pollution of aquifers was not actually any good: most of the stories were invented or were scare stories. In addition, the UK has a very good regulatory regime. The combination of ignoring the scare stories and decent regulation means that one can be confident that aquifers will not be damaged.
I welcome this announcement; it is one of the few from Front Benchers that will actually make us a lot richer, if we pursue it. It will also make us more resilient in a very difficult world. The key seems to be what advantage the communities that may be affected can get through financial support. Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the Treasury? It seems to me that if local people give their consent, that is in the national interest.
I am very grateful: my hon. Friend makes exactly the right point, both ways around. This is in the national interest and will make the country richer, but it is absolutely right that those affected should be rewarded. To my mind, that means direct financial reward, not a theoretical one. The last time that we discussed fracking, the idea was that communities would be delighted if they got £10 for the village hall. I do not think that is the right way to do it. This needs to be direct, to the individuals who are affected. I have had preliminary discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, but I do not have a formal thing to announce.
Residents in the northern part of my constituency are rightly concerned about the impact of tremors on their often older buildings, and they are worried about the impact of the extraction of coal bed methane through fracking on their rural way of life. Will the Secretary of State explain in detail—he has not so far—exactly the mechanism through which communities will be able to refuse consent for coal bed extraction and shale gas fracking? Compensation is not consent.
Compensation and consent become two sides of the same coin. People will be able to negotiate the level of compensation and it will be a matter for the companies to try and ensure widespread consent by offering a compensation package that is attractive. [Interruption.] Opposition Members howl and wail about this because, actually, we are trying to use market forces. It is amazing—a Conservative Government using market forces!
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have been fracking our shale gas two years ago? But we are where we are, and the best available time to start is immediately.
The Government’s figures show that only 17% of the public support fracking. In Barnsley, 3,000 people signed a petition against it. There is no local consent in the area I represent. Given that the last round of fracking licences was for Yorkshire, how will the Secretary of State ensure that northern communities are not disproportionately affected by this outdated and dangerous way to create energy?
This is definitely not outdated; it is a very effective, modern way of extracting energy. I would say to people: do they want cheaper and more secure energy or not? If the answer is yes, fracking is going to be part of the answer.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend; that is an important and fundamental question. The answer is that we need to do the test drilling first to see whether the reserves can be achieved in the way that the 2012 report hoped, but I cannot give a firm commitment on that, because we have not done enough test drilling yet.
To come back to the 2019 Tory party manifesto, which each Government Member stood on, it states on page 55 that a moratorium on fracking would be lifted only if
“the science shows…it can be done safely.”
A change in Tory party leadership is not a change in scientific evidence. Will the Secretary of State enlighten the House as to why the Government think they are above both logic and science?
Because all the evidence says that it can be done safely, as it is in the United States, and as the 2012 report that I have referred to many times indicated.
I have been quite shocked by the luddites on the Opposition Front Bench, who have been quite open in saying that they will weaponise the issue in a general election. For those who fear the unknown, may I tell my right hon. Friend that the 0.5 limit on the Richter scale is nothing compared with the 1.5 limit on the Richter scale that Lichfield is currently enduring from pile-driving for HS2? If we can live with that—though we do not really like living with it, Mr Speaker—we can certainly enjoy the benefits from fracking.
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely right and wise point: Opposition Members’ motto for the next election is, “Let’s be cold and poor.” That is really the prospectus that they are putting before the British people. As regards seismic activity, there are millions of seismic events of a magnitude of 2.5 or lower in the world every year. We should not assume that every seismic event is the San Francisco earthquake.
Lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses while making it harder for working people to access benefits, and now lifting safety limits on seismic events, or earthquakes to you and me, while protecting and subsidising oil companies’ excessive profits and accelerating climate change— does not this decision really show whose side this Tory Government are on?
His Majesty’s Government are on the side of people who need energy, businesses that need energy and an economy that needs to grow. The Labour party is in favour of no growth, coldness and high prices.
The Costa Coffee that I visited on Tuesday morning rivalled the House of Commons Chamber this morning for robustness of debate and strength of opinions expressed. I sought to reassure constituents that they would have the opportunity to have their say because local consent was required. I have been listening carefully to the Secretary of State this morning, but I have yet to hear any explanation of how local consent will be determined; indeed, any reference to local consent has been absent. Let me try once more: will my constituents be asked whether they want fracking, or not?
As I have said, and as the Prime Minister has said, we will be looking to have the support of local communities. That is important. There will be a responsibility on companies, when they bring forward proposals, to work out how they can get that local consent. It seems to me pretty clear that that will involve giving money to people to encourage them, because they will want to have the benefit locally while they are doing something that helps the country nationally.
In Wales, we know the cost of dangerous fossil fuel extraction so that others can profit remotely. It is particularly acute today on the anniversary of the Gresford mining disaster, in which 266 men and boys were killed, 200 women were widowed and 800 children were left fatherless. The coal mine was owned by the Westminster and United Collieries Group, which subsequently destroyed the safety records. The men killed remain 2,000 feet down—only 11 bodies were recovered—but Gresford was mooted as a fracking site. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he understands that powers on fracking remain with our Senedd, and that he has no intention of trying to return those powers to Westminster?
Even before Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine, fracking had advantages because of the benefits for jobs, for investment, for tax revenues and for the positivity of the balance of payments, which I would rather were accruing here in the UK instead of our sending tens of billions to Qatar and other places. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the carbon dioxide savings from domestic energy supply? It has been calculated that 5 million tonnes of CO2 are emitted just from the cooling, declassification and transport of liquefied natural gas. That has to be a moral outrage.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he takes his argument through logically, unlike many Opposition Members. If we wish to reduce carbon emissions, we are better off using gas as a transition fuel that comes from our own resources, rather than importing it. That must be true: we have those resources, we need the transition fuel, and therefore we should try to extract it domestically.
Today’s panicking, Trumpian announcement has been brought about by the failure of successive Tory Governments who squandered the opportunity that coal, oil and gas—our indigenous resources—offered to transform our economy into a carbon-free economy. Will the Secretary of State confirm that on his target list for fracking are areas in Yorkshire and elsewhere in the north which are often described as “red wall”, and may I bring to his attention the fact that there is no local consent in those areas for what he is proposing this morning?
It will be important for the companies that wish to extract gas to ensure that there is local support, and to come up with packages that ensure that it is forthcoming. It is important for local communities to welcome the extraction of shale gas, and I think it very likely that they will.
When we are faced with a Russian leader who uses gas supplies as a tool of warfare, it is entirely prudent to examine again the viability of all our domestic energy resources, but may I encourage my right hon. Friend not to lose sight of some of the other big, exciting potential opportunities that are opening up—for example, floating offshore wind power in the Celtic sea? Will he meet me, and other colleagues with an interest in the Celtic sea, to discuss what further steps he and his Department can take to further those projects?
I should be absolutely delighted to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss that. It is something that the Government are looking at. We are very enthusiastic about examining all possible sources, and I think that floating offshore wind is potentially a very good one. We want to establish whether we can expedite offshore wind projects so that they happen faster and we have supplies coming in. We need to be considering—and we are considering and discussing with other countries—how we can expedite carbon capture and storage and move towards hydrogen. The long-term issues are ones that we are focusing on and dealing with, but we have many years of needing gas, which is why I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support for this announcement.
It is this Government who have made onshore wind less economical, it is this Government who have made solar power and panels less economical, it is this Government who blocked wave and tidal power in the Swansea bay, and it is this Government who have failed to invest; and now they are trying to cover it up with a fracking giveaway for which there will never be any local consent. Will the Secretary of State—and he has been asked this numerous times—confirm that people in local areas will have a say through a local referendum, and that the result will be binding?
This Government have only been in office for about a fortnight. I know that they have been busy and have not quite managed to do everything that the hon. Gentleman suggests. As regards local consent, I refer him to the answer that I gave some moments ago.
I have listened carefully to the Secretary of State, and I have to say that the local consent plans do not seem to wash. It seems to come back to communities’ being bought off rather than having a vote. Can the Secretary of State confirm once and for all that residents across Bolsover who are concerned about fracking will be given a vote to object to these schemes locally?
I think I have made it very clear that the companies will have a deep responsibility to develop packages that make the extraction of shale gas attractive to local communities. It is very important for them to succeed in that.
The people of Ellesmere Port have already signalled their opposition to fracking. A planning application was submitted a number of years ago, the local authority rejected it, there was an appeal, many residents gave evidence against the application and after three years it was finally decided that it would not be accepted. Chester zoo, a big employer in my constituency, said today that it was opposed to fracking, and many of my constituents are repeating their objections. There is no local consent in Ellesmere Port and Neston, so will the Secretary of State send the fracking companies the message that there is no point in their coming to ask, because they will not get our agreement?
Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and ye shall find. It is absolutely important that we try to get local consent, and that will require the drilling companies to be innovative in the packages that they come up with. We should not be ashamed of paying people who are going to be the ones who do not get the immediate benefit of the gas but have the disruption: that is a perfectly logical thing to do.
May I ask once again how the Secretary of State will measure local consent, because I have absolutely no confidence in Labour-run Kirklees listening to local wishes? It does not even distribute the section 106 payments from planning applications to local communities fairly. How would we ensure that those impacted by any fracking wells get any benefit?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. It is fundamentally important that the cash benefits go not to some faceless bureaucracy but to the individuals affected. In the United States, that has made the extraction of shale gas enormously popular, because people quite like improving their standard of living, and I think that the same is true in this country.
Using our domestic resources, as my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay mentioned earlier, reduces our carbon emissions —it is really straightforward.
Fracking is an outdated, dangerous and expensive way to produce energy, and it will not provide the clean, secure energy that our country needs. In my constituency, an exploratory fracking site at Barton Moss needed a police operation, which cost Greater Manchester police £1.7 million in 2014 and involved 150 police officers across five months. Fracking did not have community support, and Greater Manchester police had to pay the heavy price of policing the demonstrations against it. Why are the Government forcing it back on the community in my constituency?
This cannot be justified on environmental or economic grounds. The investment allowance will give gas producers 91p in every pound invested in new frack pads. Warwick Business School calculates that fracking could produce 330 billion cubic metres at a maximum—about 100 billion therms. At today’s spot price, from about 20 minutes ago, that would be £289 billion. Given that the taxpayers are covering nine tenths of the investment, why should they not get nine tenths of the profit?
The hon. Gentleman is making the argument for fracking. If there is that amount that we can get out, we should get it out as quickly as possible, and then we should ensure that it is distributed properly so that the people who are affected benefit, so that the companies that have invested benefit, and, yes, so that the taxpayer benefits. The oil and gas we get out of the North sea has been an enormous benefit to the taxpayer and has helped us have energy security. It is a beneficial thing to do. As regards the economics, it is straightforward: private companies will not invest if it is not a good deal. That is the basis of economics, and it is the right basis of economics.
I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but I am sensing some tremors of dissent on the Conservative Benches. Fracking is expensive and dangerous, but it is also a disaster for our climate. Does the Secretary of State recognise that, if every country matched his plans to extract every ounce of gas, the planet would warm by 3°, spelling climate disaster? Does he not understand that this is a plan born of climate denial and economic illiteracy?
This is an alternative replacement source for gas that we are going to use anyway. It is not increasing our demand for gas, and the hon. Gentleman misses the ABC of economics.
Yesterday, the Business Secretary confirmed that his Department will review the level of seismic activity that is permitted to take place at new fracking installations. Meanwhile, the Government’s energy security strategy rules out lifting the draconian planning restrictions that were imposed on onshore wind by the Cameron Government. Onshore wind is one of the cheapest, most popular and fastest to roll out forms of energy production available. Meanwhile, fracking, as the Chancellor himself has said, is hugely costly, will do little to reduce domestic energy costs, and risks inflicting immense damage on local communities and our precious natural environment. Will the Secretary of State concede that the Government have got their priorities wrong?
The thing we are lacking at the moment, most acutely, is affordable gas. Gas is the fuel that provides electricity at the margins, so when the wind is not blowing and demand is high, it is gas that provides the marginal unit of electricity. Gas is therefore fundamentally important to our energy security.
The present Chancellor said only a few months ago that “No amount of shale gas” extracted across rural England would lower energy prices, and indeed, that private companies would not sell their shale gas to UK customers at a cost lower than the market price. Ruining our countryside—in Sussex, East Surrey and around Bath—is not the answer. Why in his first week in office has the Secretary of the State ended the moratorium on fracking but not lifted the de facto moratorium on onshore wind?
We need to get as much energy as possible. Fracking does not ruin the countryside; fracking sites are actually surprisingly small for what they do. We have been expanding offshore wind dramatically—that has been a very big component—and we are continuing with increasing renewables, but we still need the base supply that can be brought on when there is a surge in demand, and that is dependent on gas.
The public will see this decision as a deceit. There is no economic price advantage to it, as we have heard, while it is damaging to the environment. The claim that the public will have some say in consenting to the proposals will ring hollow in my community, where the district council opposed a 5G mast and that was overridden. Why does the Secretary of State think that there is any advantage to this policy, when we cannot even put in onshore wind in Warwickshire? I believe it is the only county in this country where there is no onshore wind.
The Secretary of State’s constituency of North East Somerset borders mine; it would be helpful if he could confirm that we are not expecting any fracking or seismic events in the local community. Small and medium-sized businesses in Bristol South were innovative in green and future energy, but they had the legs cut from under them in 2015 when his Government “cut the green crap”. What assurance can he give businesses in Bristol South on future energy development?
The subsidies that are paid, when they are paid, have to be reasonable and proportionate and we are finding that, with some of the old contracts that we have based on the gas price for renewable energy, it has led to very high prices. North East Somerset was the site of the old Somerset coalfields, which were a very successful part of the economy historically. I think everyone in this country will have to do their bit to help with energy security.
I believe that this decision is completely consistent with the manifesto commitment on the safety of shale gas. The reason it has come to the fore now is the very high price increase in gas and the issue of energy security caused by Putin’s invasion of Russia. That has fundamentally changed, and so on the balance of arguments and practicalities, with a safe and well-proven technology, it is right now to extract shale gas as far as we can do so.
As the 2022 Government security strategy acknowledges, onshore wind is one of the cheapest and easiest renewables to bring on stream. That same strategy is wishy-washy and lacks any drive for fast-tracking new wind generation. Will the Secretary of State now recognise the urgency of the current situation, revise the strategy, give onshore wind in England the boost that it needs, to complement the investment in wind that Welsh Labour has continued to promote in Wales, and therefore reduce our reliance on electricity produced from gas, which is currently at some 47% of the total?
What we do with renewables is still going to leave us dependent, when the wind is not blowing and when there is a surge in demand, on gas. That is an important part of the strategy; we are building up our wind and nuclear supplies, and we have plans for more nuclear to come on, but for the transition we still need gas, which is what this announcement is about.
Is the truth not more fundamental: when a party stands on a manifesto promise, regardless of what it is, it should stick by that? Can the right hon. Gentleman rule out today any link between the proposal that has been announced and any donations made during the leadership election?
Fracking takes huge amounts of water. We have just seen record levels of drought across the entire country, with drier summers predicted for the future. In periods of drought, will Tory Ministers be prioritising precious water supplies to people in their homes or to big fracking companies?
The Secretary of State talks about fracking being in the national interest, but the truth is that fracking is in the corporate interest, which is why this Government are pursuing it. This is going to do nothing to lower people’s energy bills. Renewables are nine times cheaper than gas. At the time when we should be moving away from and ending our reliance on gas, is this push not really about serving the interests of those energy giants, many of which have close links to his party? Is it not about time the Government acted in the interests of the people in Yorkshire and across this country?
What is the hon. Gentleman going to say to his constituents when there is no gas going into their boilers to heat their hot water and their homes? This ridiculous hostility to gas as a transition fuel is absurd.
Onshore wind power was, in effect, stopped by the Secretary of State’s Government, yet it is proven in the UK, cheap and ready to go now, and it provides zero-carbon power—it does everything that fracking does not. So will the threshold for community support for fracking be as tough as that for onshore wind development, where one objector can stop it?
The Secretary of State has admitted the environmental impact of fracking—the drilling platforms, the wells and the lorry movements—which are significant and substantial. The planning system is best placed to deal with those, so in 2018 the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government produced our “Planning guidance on fracking” report. We concluded that fracking decisions were best made by elected local planning authorities. We do not know what the Government’s view is, as four years after that report we still have not had a response from Ministers to our recommendations. Will he assure us that by the end of October, when we come back, the Government will have responded, four years late, to that report?
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House is present, and I think that was very much a business question. I would say that I will make sure it is passed on to her, but I hope that she will feel that it has been passed on in any case.
I have been listening to Members on both sides of the House gradually teasing out what the Secretary of State really meant when he said that “compensation and consent” are
“two sides of the same coin.”
Why does he not just come clean and tell it as it is: the Government intend to change the payment of bribes for planning consent from a criminal offence to the official policy of His Majesty’s Government?
The hon. Gentleman is a wise and good man, but that point is completely fatuous. Paying people for inconvenience is a perfectly reasonable and commercial thing to do.
The truth is that this will not provide any immediate relief for consumers. When in Wales we have taken measures to try to support our energy security, it was the UK Government who pulled the rug out from under tidal power and tidal lagoons, and who failed to make progress on Wylfa Newydd. Will the right hon. Gentleman be absolutely clear on this? The Welsh Government have issued a moratorium on fracking—this is very clear, with 1,900 submissions to consultation. Will he absolutely rule out attempting to undermine that position and that consent—that view from the Welsh Government?
As I have said before, there is no plan to change the devolved situation, and that is not a matter for my Department anyway, so I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. As regards tidal power, the costings simply were not economic, and that has been a problem with tidal proposals.
The Secretary of State has talked a lot about common sense and using our natural resources, so will he explain why the Government are not dropping the moratorium on onshore wind?
We have had an enormous amount of offshore wind come on, and it is a very important part of renewables. It has been a very effective way of getting very large quantities of power, and that has been the major concentration of Government policy in recent years.
The matter will be dealt with in a governmental way, as is normally done when we seek to work out what the consents are. There are perfectly proper processes for establishing the views of local communities.
Fracking is the most unpopular and least effective way of producing energy, and it risks substantial geological impacts. Yet there is no evidence that it will reduce the price of gas, according to the Government’s own advisers. Onshore wind, solar and hydro, including pumped storage—new cutting-edge technologies—are all much cheaper, much safer and more popular. Why does the Secretary of State dislike these technologies so much, and whose interests are being furthered by fracking?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that I dislike those technologies. I actually think that pumped hydro is a particularly interesting technology, because it can be used with wind power to act, effectively, as a battery. So there is support for these technologies. In this urgent question we are discussing shale gas, but that does not mean that my Department is not looking at all forms of energy. We need a wide range of supply, we need security of supply and we need supply that is cheap, or as cheap as we can get it.
It appears that the only person who believes that fracking will lower our gas prices is the Secretary of State. That view is certainly not backed up by anyone in industry, and there is no question over the environmentally damaging nature of fracking. However, one thing that he is perhaps not aware of is the strength of opposition to fracking in communities such as mine in Lancashire, where sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre have seen huge police presences just to manage the protesting. There is no public support for fracking, so will he make it very clear whether my constituents will be given a decision on whether fracking happens in Lancashire?
A number of people have said that fracking is environmentally unfriendly, but it is more friendly than importing liquefied natural gas from abroad—it has a lower carbon footprint, and that is fundamentally important. I am well aware that there have been objections to fracking, but I would also note that there have been stories, widely reported, that some of the opposition to fracking has been funded by Mr Putin’s regime.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that he has now put his Government in the absurd position of wanting to impose fracking on communities that do not want it, while not allowing onshore wind turbines in communities that do want them? Onshore wind turbines are cheap and quick to erect, and normally bring about cheaper energy bills for local communities. Will the Secretary of State finally—without reference to offshore wind and everything else he is doing—please answer the question directly: will he lift the ban on onshore wind?
Only a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister quoted the Conservative manifesto when she said that she was going to reverse the rise in national insurance because the party had pledged not to increase it—apparently that was a solemn pledge. The manifesto also said that there would be no fracking where there was no local consent, but apparently that was not a pledge. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether local communities will be consulted before testing takes place, and who will pay the bribes? Will it be the taxpayer or, as he says, the market forces?
The socialists do not like people being paid for things. It seems perfectly reasonable to pay people and, if we inconvenience them, to compensate them, and that will be part of the overall package if shale gas can be extracted.
Are the Government aware that fracking not only breaks a promise made to the public in the Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto, but will not cut bills? It is a grossly unpopular method, and a method that will warm our planet. Indeed, it is wrapped up in climate denial.
I have been listening to the Secretary of State’s plea for good common sense. I have always believed that good public policy is made from good research and evidence of what works where. He has not said anything—nor has anyone on the Opposition Front Bench—about energy from waste. Energy from waste works successfully up and down our country—in Sheffield, Leeds, Southampton and London—and it not only produces good energy, but heats many, many homes in the community at low cost. When will the Government look at that and stop diverting attention to fracking?
I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his important point. We do actually export waste, I think, to Denmark for the Danes to turn it into energy. It seems to me that it might be better to do it domestically. He has made a very helpful suggestion. I have already talked about it in the fortnight that I have been in office. If he wants to make further representations to me on it, I would be very open to hearing them.
Can the Secretary of State reassure me and my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran that the pernicious and insidious United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, or any other sinister mechanism, will not under any circumstances be used to impose fracking in Scotland, against the expressed wishes of the people of Scotland and Scotland’s democratically elected Government?
The United Kingdom Internal Market Act is like the Koh-i-Noor diamond; it is one of the jewels of our constitutional settlement.
My constituents will be extremely alarmed to hear the Minister’s remarks about the exploitation of dangerous fossil fuels. They have made it abundantly clear to me that they care about the environment, they care about the next generation, and they take climate change seriously, so I ask him, on behalf of my constituents: will he think again and ban fracking?
The hon. Lady refers to dangerous fossil fuels that people depend on for heating their water and their homes every day, that businesses depend on for being in business, and that people put in their cars to get around the countryside. We need to ensure that we have a sensible transition. Gas is fundamental to that. Simply wishing the world to be a different world will not be a successful policy.
Yorkshire is currently under a hosepipe ban because we simply do not have the infrastructure in place to provide resilience in our water supply. At the same time, when fracking uses an exhaustive amount of water, this proposal does not make sense. Will the Secretary of State publish an impact assessment on our water infrastructure to ensure that there is resilience in the system before he even considers fracking?
The hon. Lady raises a fair point. It does depend on the water company. In my area, Wessex Water has done a phenomenal job of ensuring that it did not need hosepipe bans, or even get close to hosepipe bans, because it runs its system effectively. She is right to call on the water companies to run their systems effectively, because it is hard to believe that the United Kingdom is actually short of water.
The Secretary of State is well aware of the strength of feeling against fracking in those communities that are likely to have the applications made by the companies. He is also aware of how the planning system works. He talks about having the common consent of the community. If the local authority listens to the community and refuses planning permission, the fracking companies have the option to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. It is not within the remit of the planning inspectors to consider common consent as a material planning consideration. Will he change the planning rules to ensure that that is not the case?
If the Prime Minister believes that fracking is safe and should go ahead with the permission of local residents, may I ask by which date we can expect to see fracking take place in the sprawling country retreat of Chequers?
A few minutes ago, the Secretary of State mentioned hydrogen, which of course is the perfect answer, because when we burn it we get water. It is totally green and totally clean. There are well-developed plans for the production and storage of hydrogen based on the Cromarty Firth. May I cordially invite either the Secretary of State or one of his ministerial team to come north to my constituency to see what we are going to do?
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. I think hydrogen is ultimately the silver bullet. We create it from renewable sources, because we have the wind power when people are not drawing on the electricity system; we use it as an effective battery and it can then, with some adjustments, be piped through to people’s houses to heat them during the winter. There are real opportunities with hydrogen—[Interruption.] We get some heckling from those on the socialist Front Bench, but I point out that everyone accepts that gas is a transition fuel. To get to where the hon. Gentleman wisely wishes us to go, we need more natural gas as the transition fuel, but he is right. I do not know that I can promise a visit in the short term, but in principle I would love to come, and my Ministers are like greyhounds in the slips waiting to get up to his constituency.
People in Glasgow North do not want to see fracking anywhere on these islands, so ending what was in effect a UK-wide moratorium on fracking does not exactly speak to strengthening the Union. My constituents would like to know whether the Business Secretary actually believes that we face an anthropogenic climate emergency and, if so, how on earth a rush to fracking-sourced fossil fuels helps to meet the climate and emission reduction targets we have committed to.
As my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay pointed out, using our own resources emits less carbon than importing gas. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman actually believes what he has just said, he should be supporting this policy.
This shale gas extraction question has shone a spotlight on the energy crisis and the war that Putin is carrying out against Ukraine. Others have referred to this, but for those who live close by, whose houses will be devalued and whose lifestyle will be impacted, the Secretary of State has referred to compensation but has not quantified it. Will the compensation be a one-off payment for the value of their house? Will it be no energy costs? Will it be no rates? What does he understand that compensation will be?
As always, the hon. Gentleman waits patiently to ask a fundamentally important question. I am very grateful to him for that and for his assiduous attendance in the House. How the compensation packages will be worked out will be really important in gaining communities’ consent. There will be different approaches that work in different areas and different settings, but obtaining the consent must be the right approach. The compensation packages are something that must be developed, and his views on how they could best be developed would be extremely welcome.