Lord apologises over 'desolate' row
Lord Howell has issued an apology amid a storm of criticism for suggesting that fracking should be carried out in the "desolate" north east of England.
The Tory peer, who was a government adviser on energy policy until April, insisted he had not meant to insult the region.
"I apologise for any offence caused," he said in a statement. "I certainly did not intend to suggest that the North East is desolate and I do not believe it to be the case. There are parts of the country that are less densely inhabited than others.
"That includes parts of the North East but also other areas in the south of England as well. The shale gas industry should be encouraged to develop in a sustainable way where it is appropriate to do so and in way that ensures communities benefit, which could be in many different parts of country."
Lord Howell of Guildford, who is George Osborne's father-in-law, said the controversial hydraulic fracturing drilling technique could be used in the North East with no impact on the surrounding environment.
Speaking during questions in the Upper House, he said: "Would you accept that it could be a mistake to think of and discuss fracking in terms of the whole of the United Kingdom in one go?
"I mean there obviously are, in beautiful natural areas, worries about not just the drilling and the fracking, which I think are exaggerated, but about the trucks, and the delivery, and the roads, and the disturbance, and those about justified worries."
To stunned exclamations, the southern-based peer added: "But there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the North East where there's plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody's residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby led criticism of the remarks, posting on Twitter: "North East England very beautiful, rugged, welcoming, inspiring, historic, advancing, not 'desolate' as was said in House of Lords today."
Conservative politicians also distanced themselves from the comments by Lord Howell, who served as Energy Secretary under Margaret Thatcher. Stockton South MP James Wharton said: "I think his comments about the North East are foolish and ill-informed."