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Report (3rd Day)

Part of Infrastructure Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 10th November 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour 5:15 pm, 10th November 2014

My Lords, I declare an interest: I live in Lancashire, which is a beautiful, well populated and much loved county, in case anybody has any doubts. I have listened very carefully to the points made in this debate and have read the proceedings on other stages of the Bill when I have been elsewhere in the House and unable to be present. I would like to concentrate on one issue raised by my noble friend Lord Hollick and other noble Lords. If it is managed and controlled carefully, I believe that a benefit to Lancashire and the north-west can be gained from the production of shale gas—and it is an area of the country which has much need of investment, regeneration and growth.

However, I happened to be in bed when the earthquake occurred in the Irish Sea and I have never been able to find out whether the integrity of the relevant well was a factor in that, as alleged in some of the local media. I am not asking the noble Baroness to tell me now whether she knows more about that but I would appreciate a letter.

I want to concentrate on public confidence. I am not a Luddite. I am not one of those who says, “Never”. However, given all the people who have spoken and written to me, I am very well aware of the grave concerns that people have, some of them for the reason that the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin and Lord Deben, referred to—that is, the scare stories. Those are felt to be real by the people in the communities most affected in Lancashire—and they are felt and feared very strongly.

When I go back to Lancashire, having stated my position, I want to be able to say that there is absolutely no doubt that the companies themselves will neither choose nor be responsible for the independent monitoring of the integrity of the wells. That is the least we can do for the people who are frightened, and to allay the fears of those who are tempted to believe—or do believe—the scare stories that emerge. Therefore I need the Minister to say that the companies will neither choose nor be responsible in any way for the process whereby, for example, the integrity of the wells is judged. I am not interested in an assurance that they will be given rules about choosing who does the monitoring. That will not satisfy the people in Lancashire.

As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, one of the problems is that different rules apply in different states in America. We have a strong set of rules in this country, but people need to know that those who judge, for example, the integrity of the wells, have no link, other than being funded by them, with the companies involved. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that the Government have taken that on board. I understand the point about the free market, but, as my noble friend Lord Hollick said, people need to know that it is not those with an interest in the business who are judging the safety and security of the wells, but those whose only concern is to report the truth. If the Minister cannot give that rock-solid guarantee, the people of Lancashire who have spoken to me will not be happy. That will delay the process, and nobody wants that.