Saturday, 21 December 2013

A fracking revolution?

Could fracking do for the 2010s what North Sea oil did for the 1980s? The question will be asked after the release of a Government-commissioned report by consultancy Amec, showing that fracking could take place across more than half of Britain. Ministers said they would offer energy companies the chance for rights to drill 2,880 wells across more than 37,000 square miles, stretching from central Scotland to the south coast. Every English county except Cornwall could have shale gas exploration. At its peak, fracking could create 32,000 jobs. Michael Fallon's claim that shale was “an exciting prospect, which could bring growth, jobs and energy security” is hard to dispute. Of course, it's not as simple as that. We have already seen the uproar in the village of Balcombe, West Sussex. Fracking areas could face 50 lorry journeys every day for three years. For many communities, the promise of up to £100,000 in benefits by shale gas companies during initial exploration, and then a one per cent share of the revenues if fracking succeeds and gas is produced, will not be enough. Still, for all the political difficulty, today's news will vindicate the Government's enthusiasm to get fracking. It's true that the effects won't be noticed before the next election - but the positive effects of fracking on energy prices could still take the sting out of Labour's pledge of an energy price freeze. Interesting times.
It's the last PMQs of the year today, and that means that Tim Wigmore and I will also be taking a well-earned (mostly) break from the Morning Briefing. We'll be back, newly fortified, on January 6. Our number of subscribers continues to grow - thank you for your continued support and many kind messages. As ever, we welcome any comments on how to make the briefing better. Happy Christmas to all. 
Changes to rules on EU citizens claiming out-of-benefits are being rushed forward in Parliament to start on January 1. David Cameron said that the move sent a "clear message that whilst Britain is very much open for business, we will not welcome people who don’t want to contribute." But, under Brussels law, residents of one country are already not allowed to claim benefits in another country for their first three months they are there. Nervous Tory backbenchers will be pleased. But the question still has to be asked: why has action on Bulgarian and Romanian immigration so late in the day? The Government has known about the lifting of restriction controls since it took office.
There's a lot of fallout to the Davies Commission's Interim Report. Boris told Dave that he should stop “pussyfooting and fannying around” over airport expansion. Zac Goldsmith reiterated his pledge to force a by-election if the Conservatives backtrack on their 2010 manifesto: "If my party changes its position on Heathrow expansion – the ‘no ifs, no buts, there will be no third runway’ position – if that changes, then yes, I’m obliged to trigger a by-election.” It shows the political difficulty for Mr Cameron - and, when the full report is published next summer, there will be nowhere to hide. One possibility is that the Tories will change their stance in their next manifesto, but not before, though MPs like Mr Goldsmith and Justine Greening  would still find this deeply troubling.Allister Heath says that what's at stake is nothing less than keeping air travel "affordable to all". Michael O'Leary urges "David Cameron and his Government to grasp this nettle, and remove the dead hand of political dither. Only then will the state-imposed constraints that limit consumer choice and maintain artificially high air fares be ended".
Boris Johnson was on typically fine form speaking at a lunch of the Parliamentary Press Gallery yesterday. It seems like Boris isn't going to stand for Parliament in 2015 after all; when asked the question, he said “No - because I have got a huge amount of work to do and I can’t see how I could. I have got to go on and deliver a colossal amount of stuff in London.” So there we have it. Sort of. Boris was less clear when asked if he could become an MP after finishing his second term as Mayor in 2016: “What happens after two and a half years of being mayor, something will crop up". Boris also said - and what the Lib Dems make of this is very unclear - that he was "almost certain" that the top rate of income tax would be cut before the election.


Sajid Javid, the rising star of the Treasury, has popped up with an unwelcome warning. Mr Javid admits to the FT that, despite the new banking reform bill, which receives Royal Assent today, “I don’t think any minister can sit here and say that now, or in the future, the state can never have any future involvement in the resolution of a bank." Mr Javid, who was the youngest ever Vice-President at Chase Manhattan, also dared to defend bankers: “The ones I have worked with and had experience of, I would say they put their customers first.” A favourite of George Osborne, Mr Javed could find himself in the Cabinet before this Parliament has finished.

A poll to give Tories some Christmas cheer. A ComRes survey for The Indy finds that 41 per cent of the public say that growth is their economic priority - compared with only 25 per cent who say ensuring wages rises higher than prices - that's the "cost-of-living". There's an underlying generation gap in the findings: 33 per cent of 18-34 year-olds say wages should be the top priority, compared to only 18 per cent of those aged 55 and over. In a sense, this offers further vindication for the Tories' "grown-up" approach - because the old are so much more likely to vote.
Nick Clegg is nothing if not persistent. He reiterates his support for House of Lords reform in today's Mirror, writing that the House of Lords needs to be "dragged into the 21st century" and should be replaced by an elected chamber. Mr Clegg says that "At the next election, my party’s manifesto will once again contain a clear commitment to an elected second chamber. I accept that, in this parliament, the Liberal Democrats have lost the battle for an elected House of Lords."
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 
Ipsa isn't feeling much festive spirit: 
@thomasbrake: Disappointing that the independent body, IPSA, disregarded a request from MPs to take into account pay restraint.
In the Telegraph  
Best of the rest 
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times - Do we really want the State to run politics?
Philip Hammond in The Guardian - In defence of drones
NHS England's National Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh's recommendations on seven-day a week services will be considered by the NHS England board at its public meeting.
8.45am Vince Cable speech and Q&A. The Business Secretary will be speaking at the launch of the London Professional Apprenticeship programme. PwC, 7 More London Riverside.
9.15am Government-appointed Airports Commission publishes first report. Report from commission led by Sir Howard Davies should be available from 7am.
9.30am Inflation figures for November are released by the Office for National Statistics.
2.30pm Commons Defence Committee hearing to examine the circumstances surrounding an attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan in September 2012.
2.30pm Jeremy Hunt at Health Select Committee. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
2.45pm Tom Winsor, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary appearing at Home Affairs Select Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

3.30pm Bank of England Governor Mark Carney gives evidence to House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.