Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted communities will have a “veto” on fracking in their area, as he sought to limit a Tory rebellion over shale gas extraction.
The Business Secretary said national government would be unable to overrule the objections from communities, with one option under consideration involving local referendums for areas where fracking is proposed.
Mr Rees-Mogg, in a message directed at Conservative MPs, told the Commons: “There’s an absolute local consent lock.
“Any process to determine local consent must be run independently and this House will vote on any scheme that we bring forward.”
His attempts to calm the nerves of Tory MPs came after they were told a Labour vote in the Commons seeking to ban fracking is being treated as a “confidence motion” in Liz Truss’s embattled Government.
Conservative deputy chief whip Craig Whittaker warned his MPs that Wednesday afternoon’s vote is a “100% hard” three-line whip.
The dozens of Conservatives who oppose fracking face being kicked out of the parliamentary party if they do not back the Government’s controversial end to the moratorium in England.
Though unlikely, if the Prime Minister loses the vote it is being seen as a confidence motion, and she would be expected to resign or request that the King dissolves Parliament, triggering a general election.
If passed, the opposition day debate motion would guarantee Commons time for a Bill banning fracking once and for all.
Chris Skidmore, the Prime Minister’s net-zero tsar, said he will not vote with the Government.
The Conservative MP for Kingswood tweeted: “As the former energy minister who signed Net Zero into law, for the sake of our environment and climate, I cannot personally vote tonight to support fracking and undermine the pledges I made at the 2019 general election.
“I am prepared to face the consequences of my decision.”
Treasury minister Andrew Griffith, MP for Arundel and South Downs, wrote on Twitter: “Personally, I do not and have never supported fracking in #WestSussex as our dangerous local roads would never support the additional vehicle movements even if residents consented.”
Earlier, Ms Truss told Prime Minister’s Questions there would be a “robust” process to ensure that local communities consented before fracking went ahead.
Mr Rees-Mogg later went further to outline how the Government hopes to ease concerns.
He said: “I recognise that many members and their constituents have concerns about shale gas, and that is why we will consult on the system of local consent and provide clear advice on seismicity and safety before any hydraulic fracturing for shale gas takes place.”
Pressed to define local consent, Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “Let me be absolutely clear, local communities will have a veto. If it does not get local consent, and that will be consulted on as to what local consent’s form must be… and it may be by local referendum. That is what the consultation will be about.
“If local consent is withheld, that is a veto and it won’t be overruled by national government.”
He confirmed “today is not the end” of MPs’ ability to halt shale gas extraction.
Labour sources said the Tories had walked into a trap and is preparing online adverts to target every MP who backs giving shale gas extraction the go-ahead.
Conservative former minister Tim Loughton said he opposes fracking but cannot support Labour’s “party political” motion.
He told shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband: “Is he more interested in genuinely opposing fracking or is he actually more interested in playing party political games and trying to score points on this really important issue of great importance to our constituents?”
Mr Miliband joked the Government was pursuing a “frack me or sack me strategy”, adding: “It’s time to consign fracking to the dustbin of history.”
The Prime Minister’s lifting of a fracking ban imposed in 2019 over earthquake concerns breaks a Tory manifesto pledge not to end the moratorium without science “categorically” showing it is safe.
Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, Ms Truss has argued that the move is needed to end energy dependence on Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
But Tory MPs in areas where fracking could occur have reacted angrily, and fear the go-ahead could make their re-election even harder amid dire polling for the party.
The moratorium was imposed on fracking, which uses high-pressure liquid to release gas from shale formations, after a series of earthquakes at the UK’s only shale wells at Preston New Road, Lancashire, in 2019.
There are potential shale reserves across northern England, but fracking firms could also seek to drill in southern areas where gas might be found.