In the past hour, the government won the vote on its new conditions for fracking, during a debate on the Infrastructure Bill.
The result was 257 to 203 in favour of the conditions, first put forward by ministers in the House of Lords on Monday.
Many MPs were critical that they had only one hour to discuss the issue and there was no time to vote on other amendments.
Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) said the debate was: “A mockery of legitimate public concerns and indeed the democratic process. The paltry hour scheduled for today’s debate is particularly disgraceful given the lack of time we had at Report Stage. These are far-reaching changes that are being discussed here. Our constituents deserve better. Parliament has let them down tonight.”
The government was also criticised for weakening a set of conditions proposed by Labour and adopted by the House of Commons just over a fortnight ago. How the government changed Labour’s proposals.
Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick, who welcomes fracking, said: “I am disappointed that the government risks jeopardising the support across the chamber of those of us who support shale gas.” He said: “We need the strongest consensus possible and I think the government’s approach tonight jeopardises that.”
Andrew Miller (Lab, Ellesmere Port and Neston) said the House of Commons had unified around Labour’s conditions at the Report Stage on January 26th. The Lords had now diluted that, he said. He called for MPs to be allowed to vote on alternative Labour wording.
Andrew Percy (Con, Brigg and Goole) urged the government to think again. He said: “You have to take people along with you on a journey, especially when there is a new technology and when that technology is very controversial”.
Another Conservative, Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton), criticised the government for proposing to include some of the detail on fracking conditions in regulations, not in the Bill itself. “The detail should appear on the face of the bill”, she said. The government’s approach was a hostage to fortune.
The Energy Minister, Amber Rudd, defended the government’s amendments, repeating many of the arguments made by Baroness Verma in the House of Lords on Monday (our report). Amber Rudd said Labour’s original conditions were not viable in law and would not work in practice.
She rejected a proposal to ban fracking under protected areas, such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. She said given their size it would not be possible to “guarantee that fracking would not take place under them in all cases without unduly constraining the industry”.
She also defended leaving it up to the Secretary of State to define the areas where fracking would be banned. “We must not rush this now. We risk putting in place restrictions in areas that do not achieve the intended aim of the condition or that go beyond it and needlessly damage the potential development of the shale industry”.
Tom Greatrex, Labour’s shadow energy minister, said the government would come to regret weakening the scope of what, as he put it, had been agreed wholeheartedly by MPs a fortnight ago.
He said “As I said at the time, this is not a list to cherry pick from”. This was an issue that affected communities represented by all parties, he said. “What we all want is to be in a position where we can have confidence in the regulatory regime, that we know that it is robust, that we know that the monitoring is comprehensive and we know that that can inform the debates that there will be in local areas.”