A government minister has dismissed calls to put the moratorium on fracking in England into law.
George Freeman, the science minister, also failed to commit to a formal public consent process for local communities in case the moratorium were lifted in future.
The Lib Dem MP, Helen Morgan, who called a debate in Westminster Hall this morning, said:
“We must prevent the government from making another U-turn.”
She called for legislation on the moratorium and measures to “safeguard those communities potentially impacted by fracking in the event of a further government U-turn”.
Ms Morgan, who took the Conservative safe seat of North Shropshire in 2021, said:
“Given that the Conservative moratorium has been demonstrated to be fragile and temporary in nature and that the prime minister pledged to overturn it in the summer leadership campaign and that Conservative MPs voted in favour of lifting it only a month ago it is essential that a process of water-tight process of public consent is put in place.
“If Conservative MPs won’t pledge to honour their manifesto commitment and keep the ban on fracking we must safeguard our communities from this unnecessary, disruptive and dangerous practice.”
No Conservative backbenchers attended the debate. The shadow climate change spokesperson, Kerry McCarthy, said this was because the party wanted the issue to “just go away”.
But she said there was “a little scintilla of doubt” that it might not. She said Rishi Sunak’s reinstatement of the moratorium when he became prime minister was an “issue of party management”, not because of his “green credentials”.
“There is nothing actually stopping the government and secretary of state from taking unilateral action to lift the moratorium without any oversight or scrutiny from the House or input from local communities.
“We’ve been very clear we want a full permanent ban on fracking and we want it now”.
But Mr Freeman, standing in for the climate change minister, Graham Stuart, who is at COP27, said:
“I am slightly averse to the idea that we put into legislation every single thing that we’re not going to do. We’d be here an awful long time reassuring everyone. I’m not sure that is a sustainable way for parliament to proceed.”
Mr Freeman said:
“We’ve left open a possibility if an area …found itself sitting on a very easily and geological stable opportunity to exploit shale gas and came to the government with very strong local consent, and very strong environmental data and a strong business case and environmental case then the government would consider it.”
But he said:
“That is very different from us setting forward an ambition and encouraging this industry around the country”, he said.
Mr Freeman said he was personally pleased that the Liz Truss administration’s “flirting” with lifting the moratorium had been reversed and the issue had been “well and truly put to bed”.
Ministers were not looking to “open up this area to support the crisis in our energy sector”, he said.
Ms Morgan had proposed local referendums that would be open to all people living in affected areas. Full facts about the impact of fracking should be actively published, she said. The full costs of the referendum and publicity should be met by shale gas companies, not local councils.
The DUP’s Jim Shannon (Strangford) said there was “a consensus from across the UK and Northern Ireland to oppose fracking principle”.
He said families at risk of potential housing damage must be offered compensation equivalent to the value of their homes, to give them the option to move.
The Lib Dem’s Wera Hobhouse (Bath) said fracking “flies in the face” of the UK’s commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. She said pressure should be put on the government to ban the process.