We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Report (3rd Day)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Donoughue Lord Donoughue Labour 5:45 pm, 10th November 2014

My Lords, these amendments are useful as probes, as my noble friend Lord Lipsey said. They also have important political and economic implications for the whole process of fracking. I will not explore the political side at this hour; I will point out on another occasion how very unproductive it is for the Labour Party to appear—I stress “appear”—to oppose shale fracking by artificial regulatory delay when shale offers the hope of 70,000 new jobs, billions of pounds of investment in the regions, lower energy prices, keeping our energy-intensive industries alive and here, and providing energy security. That seems to me to offer hope, which is still to be fully proved, to millions of ordinary British people. I do not think that Balcombe necessarily represents the majority of them. Public confidence is a factor that is repeatedly raised. In the polls, 75% of the public either support or, to a greater extent, do not oppose fracking.

Leaving the politics reluctantly on one side, I shall focus on the amendments. I support my noble friend Lord Hollick in his argument that all these environmental concerns are apparently covered by existing regulations. They need to be properly implemented, which I fully support. But if there is some need for further gold-plating—my noble friends Lord Hollick and Lord Lipsey mentioned that possibility—that can be pursued later. We should not use the very mixed regulatory experience of the United States to go into this bureaucratic jungle to delay fracking for ever. If one reads some of the official reports that have investigated it—I particularly call attention to that of the Geological Society—one will see that these matters put into perspective the statement that our British regulatory regimes are the best in the world and that we can rely on them. However, we cannot always rely on local authorities to have the resources to pursue them, which is a factor that should be pursued further.

I direct my next point especially to my Front Bench. It has not been explained to me in prior discussions why on earth we need a vote today. These excellent probing amendments explore the matters fully but I do not see the need for a vote. This jungle of bureaucratic regulations, including the existing ones, which I accept have already given excuses for the delay in extracting these precious reserves, mean that we have only one well today. We can express our views and Members have taken part in an impressive debate on all aspects. We can explore the matter but such a vote from this side—I am speaking very much as a lifelong Labour man—will send the wrong message. It will send the message that Labour wants to delay the great shale gas contribution to our economy. Conveying that message, which is hostile to job creation, lower energy prices and energy security, could push me, with my noble friend Lord Lipsey and perhaps others, into the very unfamiliar territory of the government Lobby. I trust that we will not get to that point.

The Government should agree tonight to explore further how genuine concerns about fracking can be allayed. I stress again that our concerns are genuine and that I am not referring to fictional scaremongering. However, we need to bear in mind that the Green Party’s concerns will never be allayed. I think that we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for confirming that tonight. They will never be allayed because, in reality, however disguised, the Greens want to stop shale gas because it threatens their beloved windmills. With great reluctance, I shall vote against this amendment if, unfortunately, it is pressed to a vote.