I have never been fanatical about it, but I’ve been in favour of fracking. I thought we should have started almost a decade ago. Indeed, I recall Ed Davey as Secretary of State with responsibility for energy policy in the Coalition Government, telling his party conference to “get fracking!”. Alas, now he is Leader of the Liberal Democrats he has changed his tune.
Fracking has certainly transformed the energy situation in the USA and ended their reliance on unstable and unsavoury regimes.
My prejudice is that the dangers are somewhat overdone, after all, we have been fracking for thermal energy in the UK at hundreds of sites without incident, but the technology is largely the same as fracking for shale gas.
To be realistic however, Fracking was unlikely to be a ‘silver bullet’ to our energy supply problems and certainly would not have had a major impact in the short term (that’s why it was a missed opportunity not to have got it underway when Ed told us to). Nevertheless, it could have made a useful contribution to our energy mix. Given that we will still be reliant on hydrocarbons for years to come, even as we strive for ‘net zero’, I’ve always thought that we’d be better off extracting our own than relying on increasingly expensive and unreliable imports.
So, I voted against labour’s motion to in the Commons last week, the chaos surrounding which, appeared to be the last straw for Liz Truss as PM.
It almost seems ancient history now but I think an explanation should still be had.
The vote was billed as a ‘matter of confidence’. In other words, any Conservative defying the three-line whip and not voting with the Government to defeat the Labour motion, would have the whip withdrawn: they would no longer be members of the Conservative parliamentary party.
I quite understand the difficulties faced by a number of my colleagues on the question of fracking. Some have constituencies that are very much against it and which have experienced mild tremors at the first exploratory sites. More importantly, there was a clear commitment in the Conservative election manifesto of December 2019 to maintain the fracking moratorium. So, they found themselves being whipped against what they understood to be the policy on which they were elected.
Nothing however, is ever quite so straightforward. The Labour motion sought to repeat the trick that was pulled during the last Parliament in what was then an attempt to derail Brexit. This time the object was to suspend the Standing Orders of the Commons (the nearest thing we have to a written constitution) in order to secure legislative time to pass laws against fracking. In our system such legislative time is in the hands of the Government: you don’t get it unless you win an election. So, turning things upside down and taking legislative initiative away from the Government, as the Labour motion sought to do, was properly considered to be a matter of expressing no confidence in the Government.
The problem was that the Chief Whip had informed the parliamentary party that it was a matter of confidence and that Conservatives therefore had to vote with the Government, but the minister winding up the debate told the House that it wasn’t a matter of confidence. Result: utter confusion all round and a gaggle of members in the doorway to the ‘No’ lobby arguing whether it was or it wasn’t. Nobody however, was physically forced into the division lobby (nothing is ever quite so dramatic or exciting as reporters would have it).
The resulting furore has led to the cancellation of the last of the Truss deregulating policies. The opportunity we missed years ago, is to be missed again.