Officials block release of details of minister’s talks with fracking industry

180820 FOI on Claire Perry meeting

Redacted notes of a meeting between Claire Perry and the shale gas industry

Most of the notes about a recent meeting between a minister and the shale gas industry have been redacted “in the public interest” or because they contained confidential information, a government department has said.

Information about the meeting, first publicly referred to during a parliamentary debate, was released following a Freedom of Information request.

But in its response, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published only the agenda and the first eight lines of the two-plus pages of meeting notes. Even the second half of the notes of the minister’s presentations was blanked out “in the public interest”. Redacted notes of  industry meeting with Claire Perry (pdf)

BEIS also said there was no list of the industry representatives attending the meeting.

The meeting was held at lunchtime on 21 May 2018. Later that day, Ms Perry and the then housing minister, Dominic Raab appeared before a committee of MPs to answer questions on proposals to change planning rules for shale gas.

The week before, on 17 May 2018, the business and local government secretaries had released written ministerial statements about the changes. These proposed to classify non-fracking shale gas proposals as permitted development, avoiding the need for planning applications. Shale gas production schemes would become nationally-significant infrastructure projects to be decided by a Secretary of State.

Ms Perry’s meeting came to light last month when she said in a debate that she’d had “a very effective shale industry roundtable”.

This was followed up with the FOI request by Richard Bales, who lives in Ryedale, where Third Energy is still waiting to hear whether it has permission to frack at well at Kirby Misperton.

Mr Bales said:

“I was intrigued by Claire Perry’s so-pleased reference in Parliament to her ‘Shale Gas Round Table’ with Industry Operators, I made polite FOI enquiry as to what this was.

“I didn’t expect much, which is exactly what I got. They admit there was a meeting, but nobody has a list of attendees and won’t tell me what was discussed.”

Mr Bales told DrillOrDrop:

“There is an undisguised arrogance and disdain for the community evident in the Government position on shale gas and the succession of unilateral decisions that have been taken. Operators clearly have open access to lobby Ministers and their departments, whereas the public have little representation, particularly when very few MPs appear willing to place their constituents wishes ahead of their own career prospects.”

180820 FOI on Claire Perry meeting agenda

Agenda from the meeting

BEIS said withholding some of the information from the meeting notes was in the public interest.

It said it had used exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act on disclosure of material relating to the formulation of government policy.

In its response to Mr Bales, BEIS said:

“Whilst there is a public interest in favour of disclosing information relating to the Government’s policy, we consider that releasing this information also poses a risk to the protection of the decision-making process and the Government’s preparation of the review.

“There is a public interest in ensuring that government has a safe space to develop ideas, debate live issues, and reach decisions away from external interference and distraction, as well as ensuring that the UK can obtain the best possible outcome for our policy regarding Shale Gas extraction.

“We judge that disclosing this information would inhibit the frankness of future discussions, inhibit policy formulation and development, which would not be in the public interest. In our view, taking account of these factors, there is a strong public interest in withholding information.”

BEIS also said it had used an exemption under the act on providing confidential information. On these details, BEIS said no public interest test was required.

180724 FOI request on round table meeting

FOI request by Richard Bales

Mr Bales said:

“The response is clumsy, brutal and insensitive and makes no attempt to disguise the gulf which now exists between the Government and its public. It implies that transparency of decision-making is primarily to be discouraged and that the public are to be excluded from the decision-making process for their own good. It cannot be accepted.”

Internal review

He has asked BEIS to carry out an internal review of its decision. He said it was “inconceivable” that a minister would hold a scheduled meeting with a formal agenda and attended by senior officials without a record being kept of attendees.

“Security alone should dictate that attendees would sign-in, with prior notification of expected attendance, to ensure that participation is limited to those with a valid invitation or reason to be there. I would suggest that insufficient attempts have been made to identify and disclose the requested information.”

He also challenged BEIS’s use of the exemptions.

“The argument used is that the public’s interest in information being disclosed for reasons of transparency and understanding of Government policy is in itself an impediment to the decision making process.

“The implication is therefore that no visibility of the decision-making process is to be allowed and that the public interest in disclosure of relevant Government process is to be continually denied.”

Mr Bales said this was not intention of the exemption in the Act. He also described the exemption on confidential information as “a catch-all response that is only justifiable if all such notes relate to input from third parties to whom disclosure would represent a breach of confidence”.

He said:

“One wonders what information might have been shared at the Round Table that was not disclosed by the WMS [Written Ministerial Statement] or in the later testimony to the Committee, at which Claire Perry made several references to Government’s intention to ‘work to eliminate distrust’.

DrillOrDrop asked BEIS to respond to these arguments. A spokesperson said:

“As the review is ongoing we will not be commenting on this at this time. More information will be available once the review is complete.”

Facilitating communication

Last month, the government advertised for a shale gas commissioner to “facilitate communication” with residents in fracking areas.

The role aimed to:

“improve local understanding of shale gas operations by directing concerned local parties to relevant and impartial fact based information”.

There is a growing list of official documents on UK shale gas development that have been redacted, unpublished or delayed.

Earlier this month, a government report revealing that shale gas extraction increased air pollution was finally published three years after its submission. Also this month, anti-fracking campaigners criticised the government for dropping questions about shale gas from a quarterly public attitudes survey.

In February 2018, it emerged that another report, which was not published, had scaled back estimates on the number of UK unconventional oil and gas sites in the 2020s. (DrillOrDrop report)

In July 2015, the government finally released a full version of the previously redacted report on the impacts of fracking in rural areas after an instruction from the Information Commissioner.

46 replies »

  1. Ms Perry, our (and indeed her) favourite MP is having the time of her life. Parachuted into a safe Tory seat for volunteering in George Osborne’s office as a researcher for a few years, her ego knows no bounds. There was hope that after her ‘resignation’ (jumped before being pushed) as junior transport minister after doing precisely nothing of consequence, and completely cocking up the problems with Southern Rail being on strike, that she’d fade into obscurity. Regrettably, as we have observed repeatedly with Tory ministers, intelligence, compassion, humility, honesty, openness and integrity are no longer pre-requisites of a seat at the high table. There are many Tories in the Devizes constituency that groan audibly when Perry comes up in discussion. She is gauche, rude, arrogant and unbelievably stupid.

  2. Fylde’s MP is Tory careerist Mark Menzies with no roots in that Community!
    He has made really bad choices in the past so has to stick to the Party Line!
    His political ambition has overtaken his obligation to stand up for the wellbeing of his Constituents!
    He should be stood outside the TWO primary schools less than 2 miles away from the fracking site shouting from the rooftops to STOP this insanity right now!
    And he knows it but is happy to gamble with the lives and wellbeing of over 200 children amongst many others!
    If his Party is wrong and all Hell breaks loose when fracking starts, it’s just his career that’s over!

  3. Interesting hypocritical comments posted from those who even “redact” their own names from their posts. Oh so democratic and being held to account.

    So much easier to criticise others for your own failings. Well done Peter, Ellie and Keith for showing the courage of your convictions.

    • Interesting hypocritical comments posted from one who even defends those who “redact” their own names and entire text from incriminating government reports that are paid for by tax payers and who should expect openness and honesty from paid civil servants.

      Oh so democratic and being held to account by your electorate.

      So much easier isn’t it to criticise others for your own failings.

      Well done those who oppose this invading anti democratic fascism for showing the courage of your convictions in opposing fracking and it’s associated “redaction” of the word.

      Protect yourself.

      [Edited by moderator]

      [moderator] People posting comments on DrillOrDrop are welcome to use their own name, an alias or a nickname [/moderator]

  4. So half of Clair Perry’s love-in with the fracking industry was about EXPORTING gas!
    ……so much for the government’s assertion that shale gas is necessary for “energy security”
    The government are actually prepared to blight the rural economy and the quality of life of those who live in the countryside to sell gas to Europe.
    It seems to me that this government has reached the point where their arrogance that they know better than the people who elected must surely lead to their downfall.
    They KNOW how much fracking is opposed by the electorate, so they try to introduce it by stealth.
    How did Mrs May get to this point from the promises of her inaugural speech?…

    “The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.
    When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you.
    When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty, but to you”

  5. Well Richard, are we not already exporting oil?

    And when we produce such “stuff” in UK and export it, do the UK not gather taxation from such industry and those paid who are employed by such industry. And how do the less fortunate get a helping hand? Oh, from that taxation redistributing the income.

    Whereas-when we import “stuff” we suffer the double consequences of a weak currency because we import too much stuff and generate no tax income to be distributed into public services. Instead, we contribute to the Sovereign Wealth Funds of Saudi or Norway, who are then able to not only invest in public services but also into alternative energy projects.

    You must be one of the fortunate who can afford not to have empathy for those worse off. Congratulations.

    “They” might also know that two thirds of the electorate do NOT oppose fracking, and that many of the one third who do are not well informed on the subject. Politically, the policy is therefor a no brainer.

  6. This would be the same Tory MP who has a record of continuing to increase her vote in her constituency PMM? Even during the worst Tory campaign in my lifetime?

    Goodness, the other candidates must be absolutely rubbish. Or, perhaps you are not a representative sample?

  7. Who are you, Martin?
    Do you live in a shale area?
    You seem to be the fracking industry’s spokesman on this forum

  8. Who am I?

    I am just an old fashioned guy who believes that any discussion should deal with the facts. There are plenty of other opportunities for fantasy. Additionally, I do not believe the Internet should offer some sort of protected zone for individuals to post the sort of comments that would immediately be ridiculed in most pubs in the country if they were made verbally, on the basis they failed the common sense test, hence the old fashioned bit. (A general comment, not personal.)

    No linkage to the “fracking industry”, but interested to see if it can function and flourish in UK. If it can’t demonstrate that it will not get going. Simply, want that to be the way the decision is made, not controlled by a noisy minority with a mixture of their own agendas, some of which I have sympathy with, others I do not.

    You will find plenty like me within the two thirds, but like most majorities, many are silent.

    • Well done Martin Collyer. I like reading your posts but have tired of dealing with air heads who want to use fossil fuels but dont like things they dont understand, (beyond a petrol pump!)

      I used to post a lot but as you are dealing with luddites who dont get science or evidence, it needs someone like you to post the obvious. I prefer doing behind the scenes complaint which are very effective. 3 on the go at present.

      In case you dont remember me heres one I prepared earlier.. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-38499811 More on this one (and others) later.

  9. Um….well, thanks for that, Martin.

    Re “empathy for these less well off”, do you live in a shale area or not?

    Are you in any real danger of having a fracking well, or two, or three, built close to your home?
    You see, we could take your arguments and attitude much more seriously if you were.
    If you don’t live in a PEDL, or live in one of those three countries of the UK under the auspices of a sensible government that have put a moratorium on fracking, then you would feel very safe lambasting those less fortunate than yourself, who are threatened with something you yourself are safe from.

    This may sound personal, but it is a key factor in this debate, as those who are threatened with fracking see it being forced on them by those [ie the government] who live far away in a safe frack-free environment.

    If you would enjoy living next to a fracking well yourself, there are a number of nice houses for sale below market value at Kirkby Misperton

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