Last week I voted against allowing the government to frack under National Parks. Protection for surface fracking in national parks was hard won, so now they are trying to do it another way by allowing mining companies to go under the parks.
I have many concerns about this, not least because the water we drink in Brighton and Hove comes from an natural aquifer deep under the Downs. The proposed drilling would go straight through this and involve pumping toxic chemicals into the ground beneath it to release the gas trapped in rock there. We were asked to trust mining companies that these chemicals will not find their way into the aquifer not only in the next few years or decades, but for hundreds of years into the future. I couldn't be convinced that this was the case.
The government has shifted planning laws and subsidies to favour non-renewable forms of power generation and this is a tragedy. We have the Rampion offshore wind farm project under construction off our coast which would have been impossible if proposed today, luckily the project got through before the changes came in.
I have said consistently that I don't just want to campaign against things, I want to deliver positive change. I know that we need to do more locally to tackle the energy challenge and that means making micro-generation more affordable and accessible. I recently visited a local rooftop solar array installed by the Brighton Energy Coop. But this amazing project will become a rare sight now due to the shift in subsidies moving away from projects like these. EDF here in Hove have developed a stunning heat exchange power source that is the size of an air conditioning unit, but its unlikely to take-off for the same reasons.
What is it with Tories who say they are pro the free market but as soon as something comes along they don't like - such as renewable energy systems and wind farms in particular - they rig the market so heavily that it puts entire industries out of business?
In our manifesto this year was a little talked about pledge to make Britain's electricity generation 100% carbon free by 2030. It was radical, ambitious, and exciting - one of many reasons I was proud to be a Labour candidate. There is sadly no hope of achieving this target now. Also, while I'm being political, I have to point out that Labour in power turned our beautiful South Downs into a National Park and you can bet your bottom dollar that if we hadn't done that this government would be granting fracking licences right across it by now.
I would have loved to say all this in parliament last week but I wasn't able. Why? Because rather than have a debate followed by a vote, the government used a sneaky tactic called a 'deferred division'. Normally when there's a vote the Speaker stands up during a debate and shouts 'Division. Clear the lobbies!' and the door keepers leap into noisy action preparing the lobbies and chamber, the tellers move into position, and bells ring out across the parliamentary estate and in some local pubs and restaurants too. MP's then have eight minutes to get to the chamber to vote before the doors are locked. Every now and then there's a huge cheer as a late MP runs through the chamber in a total panic trying to get into the voting lobby in the final seconds. But a deferred vote is one where the tellers, who count MP's through a devision (see the photo I posted), sit in the voting lobby for two hours and MP's saunter in and tick a ballot paper and hand it over instead. It's usually used on boring or non-controversial measures that don't need to be debated. It's only been used once before in my time as an MP. But you guessed it, they were too scared of the debate so just as George Osbourne did with Tax Credit cuts they abused a parliamentary procedure to avoid scrutiny. Just as with Tax Credit cuts, I believe this will come back to haunt them too.
Sadly, because we're in opposition, we lost the vote and fracking under national parks will soon begin.
I hope your Christmas shopping and preparation is going well. I definitely hope it's going better than mine! All the best, Peter