I fully understand and appreciate people's concerns about fracking, but let me reassure you that the Government is creating a regulatory regime that provides clear, strong protections for the environment. They will be some of the strongest environmental protections in the world. With these in place, I think it is right that we explore and make use of shale gas and oil to help towards a mixed economy in energy as we expand renewable opportunities over the next few years. The opportunity to extract this energy, as well as to secure jobs and investment, cannot be ignored.

As you may be aware, MPs were asked to vote on regulations, which will protect some of the country's most beautiful areas from fracking wells and drills. I would like to reiterate my assurances that National Parks are covered by these protections. As a result of these regulations, fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled at the surface of National Parks. I am pleased that the landscapes of these beautiful areas have been safeguarded by clear, strong rules. This was what was intended in the original safeguards for national parks which I supported and nothing has changed.

As a further protection gas cannot be extracted at depths of less than 1,200 meters under National Parks, which is almost as deep as Britain’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, is high. These regulations were previously debated and discussed by MPs, and we then voted to approve them on 16 December. I know that the Government is listening closely to people's concerns, and have, for example, recently launched a consultation that could see these protections extended even further. In addition, the recent round of new licences announced last week did not include any in Sussex and it is highly unlikely that it would affect our part of the Sussex coast in any case even if the price of oil and gas recovers to make it economically viable again.

The UK has one of the best track records in the world when it comes to protecting our environment while also developing our industries, and Ministers have assured me that that this experience will be brought to bear on the shale gas protections. The industry will be developed safely with world class environmental protections, creating jobs and delivering better energy security, while all the time safeguarding some of our most precious landscapes.