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Report (3rd Day)

Part of Infrastructure Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 10th November 2014.

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Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 5:45 pm, 10th November 2014

My Lords, I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, as to where the heart of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, lies on fracking. Her heart on this subject is a little closer to that of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, but she is putting on a very brave front, because she has to, and says she supports fracking. We have been at hydraulic fracking in this country for more than 50 years. As so many of your Lordships have said, this is a highly regulated industry and Britain is a world leader in it. It is totally inappropriate to compare our standards and form of regulation with some of the scare stories from America. However, it is about presentation and, at the moment, the industry and the Government are losing the presentation battle, although that might be beginning to change. As my noble friend Lord Deben will remember only too well, it is fine to say, “I wish the Government would improve their PR”. It is difficult to do that in practice because if it is a good news story our press do not want to know about it. All they want to know about are the bad news stories.

I made my comment about the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, because these amendments will make the whole process much more difficult and time-consuming. For example, new subsection (1)(a) in Amendment 113G requires all sites to,

“carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment”.

We know that environmental impact assessments are hugely important. They cover a range of other industries. However, Europe standards have been agreed on for fracking. Within those standards are certain exemptions for the small fields and for some experimental wells, but there are also restrictions. It is not a total blanket; it is a limited exemption. Why does the Labour Party want to gold plate what is already in existence and covers the whole of Europe?

When I was on Sub-Committee B and we inquired into energy, what came over abundantly clearly was that the rest of Europe—which has quite a lot of shale gas, too, particularly Poland—is looking to Britain for a lead. When Britain does it, the rest of Europe will get on and do it. We in Europe can all benefit from that. If we do not take the lead, the others will not do it by themselves. That is why I support all those who have said that we must get on with it, regulate it and make transparent who is regulating what and why, so that we can give the maximum amount of reassurance to the public.