FRACKING should be carried out in the North East of England where there are large, desolate areas, a former energy secretary said today.
Lord Howell of Guildford drew gasps of astonishment from the House of Lords for suggesting the controversial form of gas production could take place in the North East without any impact on the surrounding environment.
He said during Lords Questions: “Would you accept that it could be a mistake to think of and discuss fracking in terms of the whole of the United Kingdom in one go?
“I mean there obviously are, in beautiful natural areas, worries about not just the drilling and the fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about the trucks, and the delivery, and the roads, and the disturbance, and those about justified worries.”
The southern-based peer added: “But there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the North East where there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment.”
Despite the wave of stunned exclamations from peers, Lord Howell continued unperturbed.
Turning to Energy Minister Baroness Verma, he asked: “So would you agree with me, that the distinction should be made between one area and another, rather than lump them all together? And if we can push ahead with this kind of gas production, then obviously it takes us fast away from the kind of coal-burning, which is increasing at the moment because of delays in authorising gas production.”
Labour’s Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton was among those to speak out against Lord Howell’s comments.
She said: “I declare an interest as a resident of Lancashire, who is aware of the enormous beauty of the Trough of Bowland. Would you, Minister, join with me in condemning the alleged remarks of protesters in the south of England, that all the fracking could be done in the north of England?
“And will you join with me in insisting that the beauty of Lancashire is as important, not more but as important, as the beauties surrounding, for example, Guildford?”
Addressing firstly her Conservative colleague, Baroness Verma replied: “As members are aware, (fracking) is at its early stages of exploration and there will be areas of landscape that won’t be suitable for fracking, as you rightly point out. But we are in its early stages and as the Government is determined to ensure that we are not dependent on coal but more on gas, and low-carbon energy sources, I think you make some very important points.”
Turning to Baroness Farrington, she added: “I’m sure that my noble friend did not say that Lancashire was (not) as beautiful. All parts of this great country are beautiful.”
Lord Howell, who is the father-in-law of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a minister in the Foreign Office responsible for international energy policy between 2010 and 2012.
He also served as energy secretary between 1979 and 1981 under Margaret Thatcher.
Speaking outside the House of Lords, Labour peer Lord Beecham, who is also a Newcastle councillor, said: “Neville Chamberlain spoke of pre-war Czechoslovakia as ‘a far away country of which we know nothing’.
“Lord Howell clearly has a similar view on the North East and his comments once again highlight the Tories’ problem with the North.
“Perhaps he’s forecasting the future the North East faces as a result of Government policy - a ‘largely uninhabited and desolate’ place where there’ll be few people to object.”