Infrastructure Bill: What’s really happened?

This is going to be bit of a dry post, but I’m concerned that there’s a lot of political posturing going on in Scotland about yesterday’s debate on the UK Infrastructure Bill which I think is really unhelpful to understanding where we are with this in Scotland. Some clarity is needed on what’s actually be said and not point scoring which detracts from the whole issue. Things aren’t good, but they are not perhaps as bad as they are being made out to be in some quarters. I think it’s important that those of us who oppose unconventional gas extraction don’t decide that everything is lost before it is, and that the main goal is not lost in political name calling between Labour and the SNP (neither of whom have come out as being clearly against unconventional gas extraction).

Being a bit sad, I have had a trawl through the Hansard record on yesterday’s debate on the Infrastructure Bill. This has clarified a few points about what was and was not said about devolving onshore gas licencing in Scotland.

There were several key amendments proposed to the part of the Bill related to gas extraction (Part 5, Sections 37 – 44) :

1) An amendment to the Bill which aimed to bring forward devolution of gas licencing.
2) An amendment calling for a GB wide moratorium on unconventional gas
3) An amendment proposing various additional restrictions on unconventional gas extraction.
4) An amendment to require Defra to publish a report on the effect of unconventional gas on rural communities.
5) Amendments to exempt Scotland from provisions to allow drilling under people’s property without their permission (because actually, Westminster can’t change trepass law in Scotland and they know it!)

The amendment to bring forward devolution of gas licencing was defeated, but the UK Government were still maintaining that they intend to do this as recommended by the Smith Commission along with other Smith recommendations. It is not ideal that this is delayed, but it is not the end of the road for this, and we need to keep on the pressure to ensure that this is devolved, not start fighting each other! For the record Labour voted for this amendment.

The amendment calling for the GB wide moratorium was defeated. Labour abstained, but it would not have passed even if they hadn’t. However Scottish Government could still use the Scottish planning system to set up a moratorium until such time as the Smith commission legislation devolves licencing and the use its powers over licencing to set a full moratorium.

The amendment proposing additional restrictions was passed.

The amendments exempting Scotland from provisions to allow drilling under people’s property without their permission were passed.

The amendment calling for Defra to publish the report on the effects of unconventional gas on rural communities was rejected. The Government’s response on this was pure flannel and stinks of a cover up.

So where from here?

  • Keep up the pressure in Westminster to fully implement Smith and kick up merry hell if they don’t.
  • Keep up pressure on Holyrood to use they powers which Scotland already has to stop unconventional gas extraction.
  • Ask what the hell are Defra trying to cover up in the report on effects on rural communities.
  • And have a small celebration that there can be no drilling under property without consent in Scotland (which will actually make it very difficult to extraction unconventional gas under much of Scotland), and also that the UK wide regulation has got slightly tighter. We’ve a long way to go, but every little helps!