The Government has chosen the last days before the Christmas recess as the time to bury various pieces of bad news. We’ve seen an announcement to expand the failed badger cull; a plan to curb the powers of the House of Lords to hold the Government to account; figures showing that 100,000 children will be homeless this Christmas; and the publication of a DWP evaluation of the effects of the Bedroom Tax which shows that 76 per cent of those affected have had to cut back on food to pay the rent.
There have also been developments regarding the UK’s environment and climate change policies. After previously assuring us that fracking would not take place underneath national parks, drinking water sources and other environmentally sensitive areas, the Government has now backtracked and sneaked through a vote to approve the measures via a Parliamentary backdoor, without any actual debate.
A report for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs produced last year detailed numerous concerns about fracking. A version of this paper which was not heavily redacted was only published recently after an intervention from the Information Commissioner. It states that ‘experience from the US indicates that leakage of waste fluids from the drilling and fracking processes has resulted in environmental damage’ and that these contaminants ‘can affect human health indirectly through consumption of contaminated wildlife, livestock, or agricultural products.’
The Government has not made a persuasive case for fracking in general, let alone for allowing it in our most precious and environmentally sensitive areas. I will always oppose fracking as I believe that it makes far more sense, environmentally and economically, to work to meet our energy needs through use of renewables.
However, to make matters worse, support for the renewables sector under this Government is being slashed. It has now been announced that Government support for Feed-In Tariffs (FITs), which give financial assistance to people for renewable energy generation, is being cut by 64 per cent next year. This represents a 90 per cent cut to the FIT since the scheme was first introduced by the last Labour Government in 2010. According to the Government’s own estimates, between 10,000 and 19,000 jobs in the solar industry alone will be lost due to the changes.
These announcements come just days after the historic Paris climate agreement, and I am concerned that the reputation the UK had under the last Labour Government as a world leader on tackling climate change is being squandered. Renewables offer the solution to the UK’s energy needs; they can help create jobs and growth while at the same time reducing carbon emissions. Why cut support for them, especially when fossil fuels receive £27bn per year in subsidies?
I have raised these issues on numerous occasions with the Government and will continue to do so throughout my time in Parliament. Unfortunately we are now seeing the reality of a majority-Tory Government: it is not just the poor and vulnerable who suffer; the environment we all depend on suffers too.