Shale Gas (Lancashire) — [Mr Joe Benton in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 16th July 2013.

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Photo of Mark Menzies Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde 2:30 pm, 16th July 2013

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that what is important is not that the local council, the Treasury or the companies benefit; they would all benefit from the development of shale gas. Ultimately, it is vital that ordinary people in areas hosting sites see meaningful, tangible, long-lasting and substantial benefits. I will touch on that, and I know that the Government have made an announcement on the subject.

Moving on to the development of the UK supply chain in shale gas, some people criticise the Minister for wearing two hats: energy and business. That criticism is short-sighted. Having experience in both makes him absolutely the right person to ensure that we take the right decisions in developing the infrastructure and supply chain across the whole energy sector, and particularly within shale gas.

There has been much speculation in the press about the number of jobs that could be created by shale gas. If shale gas is developed in Lancashire, it is imperative that local people get maximum employment opportunities. From speaking to those in the industry, I understand that a significant number of jobs in shale gas come not from drilling for gas but from developing the manufacturing supply chain and supporting industries.

I urge the Minister to seek close Government working with the industry to ensure the development of a UK—indeed, a Lancashire—supply chain. It would not be acceptable for the equipment to be manufactured overseas when we have UK businesses with a strong engineering heritage and a highly skilled work force in Lancashire. This is a great opportunity to use those skills to develop a manufacturing base in the region to supply equipment for the shale gas industry. In the long term, an offshore shale gas industry could ultimately develop, and that could drive a considerable amount of highly skilled, well-paid, leading technical jobs. It is important that the north of England does not miss the opportunity or shirk the challenge.

I also urge the Minister to ensure that local enterprise partnerships, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the gas companies undertake a scheme to co-ordinate with local colleges and schools to ensure that apprenticeships are offered to those keen to enter the industry and retrain where applicable. People are key, and it is vital that local people get the benefits and do not miss out.

My hon. Friends who have intervened have mentioned community benefits. On the financial community benefits from shale gas, I broadly welcome the overall shape of the proposed package. It is absolutely right that communities that host shale gas pads should also be the primary beneficiaries. I know that the Government and the Minister have put in a lot of work on that issue. I thank the Minister for his work. It is not an easy task.

I also want to make it perfectly clear that the £100,000 paid must be per well fracked and not per shale gas pad. I have read some ambiguity from commentators in the press, although I never believe everything that I read in the press. It is therefore important for the Minister to give some clarity that it is £100,000 per well and not per well pad site. As he is aware, a pad can contain up to 20 wells, so it is therefore imperative that we have clarity in order to avoid confusion in future.

I welcome the principle that communities benefit from a percentage of revenue generated. At the moment, 1% is proposed; I know that some of my hon. Friends wish to speak about that. If it remains at 1%, the money must be highly localised. If, however, a desire to spread the money over a wider area becomes the prevailing mood, we have no option but to seek a higher percentage level, as I am not prepared for the benefit to my communities hosting shale gas pads to be diluted. That is the decision that we must take.

It is right that a significant proportion of revenues—I believe the figure proposed is one third—should go to the county council, as the mineral rights authority. However, I would like the rest of the money to be placed into a community endowment fund to ensure that the communities that host shale gas sites benefit for generations to come. I know that the Minister is driving much work on the issue, and I look forward to seeing the final results. I like the thought of a National Trust-style model, where the money is awarded to causes that benefit the community in the long term. Those could even include major infrastructure projects. However, it is also important that individual people benefit. Options including direct cash payments or money in the form of energy bills must also be explored. My constituents who host such sites, and my hon. Friends’ constituents who will host them in time, must be their prime beneficiaries.