Smith Commission: fracking powers devolved first

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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CONTROL of fracking for shale gas could become the first measure proposed by the Smith Commission to be devolved to Holyrood following a UK government concession.

The controversial practice of mining for shale gas has provoked demonstrations across the UK but has been identified by Conservative Chancellor George Osborne as key to meeting the UK’s energy needs.

In the committee stage of the infrastructure bill, the UK Government accepted the principle of a Labour amendment from Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP and shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex to devolve fracking early.

• Fracking map of Scotland revealed by UK ministers

While ministers will not use Mr Greatrex’s amendment, they have agreed to introduce their own, which will in effect treat fracking as devolved to Scotland and remove Scotland from the fracking elements of the bill.

The proposal to devolve fracking was agreed by the commission chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin in discussions held late last year after the independence referendum.

The original proposal was made by the Scottish Tories and Scottish Greens and agreed by the SNP, Labour and Lib Dem representatives on the commission.

A Downing Street source described accepting the principle of the Labour amendment as a “no brainer”, adding: “It was going to happen anyway so why not get on with it?”

However, the Scotland Office said that the government amendment does not mean fracking will be devolved immediately. A spokesman said: “The UK Government is committed to delivering Smith.

“The amendments to the Infrastructure Bill by Tom ­Greatrex MP were debated at committee. It was announced that the government would bring forward amendments at the report stage [in two weeks] that will take Scotland out of the new underground access provisions of the infrastructure bill. That is not the same as devolving the power to the Scottish Parliament.”

Mr Greatrex said: “The Tory-led government has belatedly conceded Scottish Labour amendments to force the devolution of the remaining secondary parts of the framework for shale gas in Scotland, effectively implementing these parts of the Smith agreement prior to the general election.

“Whilst some in Holyrood would like to pretend the ­Scottish Government is powerless to act over fracking, the truth is that already nothing can happen at all in Scotland without the approval of ministers in Edinburgh.”

The Scottish Government has welcomed the move but suggested that the amendment does not cover all the Smith proposals on fracking.

Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing said: “This decision is a victory for common sense and shows how devolution of energy policy leads to different policy outcomes in Scotland.

“It is a vindication of the Scottish Government’s continued objections to UK Government plans to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to unconventional oil and gas drilling under their home.”

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