Union backlash as Labour announces ban on fracking if it wins in 2020
Labour sparked an immediate union backlash today after announcing plans for an "outright ban" on fracking if it got into government in 2020.
GMB Scotland said the plan was “nonsensical” and questioned “which henchman, hangman or head-chopper do we want to buy our gas from going forward”.
The plan tees up an almighty row with the union - which is the third biggest in the UK and a major Labour donor - as it represents gas workers.
Labour MPs, including a former shadow energy secretary, also poured cold water on the announcement.
Shadow Energy Secretary Barry Gardiner told the party's conference in Liverpool today that a Labour government would impose an outright ban on fracking.
The controversial energy extraction process involves blasting water into underground rocks to release shale gas.
It has been hailed as a cheap form of energy production and is being pushed by the Tory government, but campaigners argue it is environmentally damaging and unsafe.
Mr Gardiner said: "Today I am announcing that a future Labour government will ban fracking."
He added: "There are technical problems with fracking. And they give rise to real environmental dangers.
"But technical problems can be overcome. So on their own they’re not a good enough reason to ban fracking.
"The real reason to ban fracking is that it locks us into an energy infrastructure that is based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to clean energy."
Mr Gardiner went on: "We will consult with our colleagues in industry and the Trade Unions about the best way to transition our energy industry to create the vital jobs and apprenticeships we are going to need for the UK’s low-carbon future."
But Gary Smith, the general secretary of GMB Scotland, said: "We heat our homes with gas and British industry is absolutely dependent on gas.
“By closing the door to it, we would be closing the door to energy independence in the UK, which in the current context seems absolutely nonsensical.”
He added: “Which henchman, hangman or head-chopper do we want to buy our gas from going forward?"
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis meanwhile said he wanted to “keep the debate open” on fracking.
“Nobody can say for definite that fracking is the way forwards,” he told Sky News.
“So hopefully what will happen within the Labour party is we will examine the issues, we will work out whether or not it is safe and whether or not it should go ahead.”
Labour MP and former shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint argued: "If you’re going to say ban an energy source, you’ve got to fill it with something else."
She added: "We can’t just be against things, we have to explain what our policy is and therefore what we stand for when it comes to energy.”
And Labour MP Kate Hoey said more views must be sought from those affected by fracking, insisting: “I don’t like fracking but I don’t like just an immediate jump into saying we will ban it completely."
But campaign group Greenpeace welcomed the plan, arguing: "With opposition to fracking an all-time high across the country, this ban on an unproven and inexperienced industry will be widely welcomed."
Labour will also announce today that it would insulate the homes of 18,000 disabled war veterans for free if it wins power in 2020 – as part of a £90m package of energy efficiency measures.
And it will lay out plans for communities to generate and sell energy locally from renewable sources - a move Greenpeace welcomed as "the democratisation of energy".