A Tory peer who provoked uproar for saying that fracking should be carried out in the “desolate” north-east of England has prompted further derision after he corrected himself, saying that he meant the north-west.
Lord Howell, who advised William Hague on energy policy until April and is the father-in-law of the chancellor, George Osborne, drew gasps of astonishment in the House of Lords on Tuesday for suggesting that the controversial form of gas extraction could take place in the north-east without any impact on the surrounding environment.
His remarks were described by a Labour peer as highlighting the Conservative party’s “problem with the north”. Howell subsequently apologised for “any offence caused”.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph published on Wednesday, Howell, who lives in southern England, again apologised for his “stupid error” but then risked compounding it. “What was in my mind was much more the drilling going on off the Lancashire coast,” he said. “But it came out of my mouth as the north-east, which you can blame me for rightly. And that has created a great furore. The north-east wasn’t in my mind at all.”
The peer said he was very “pro the area”, adding: “The irony is that I go to the north-east a lot.”
On Twitter, the former Labour deputy prime minister John Prescott wrote: “When in a Hole, stop fracking.” Tony Blair’s former spokesman Alastair Campbell joked: “Looking forward to Lord Howell’s nationwide tour.”
The shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, tweeted: “He actually means somewhere a long way from Surrey.”
Howell, 78, was brought up in London and attended Eton and the University of Cambridge before going on to become energy secretary under Margaret Thatcher.
In November 2012 undercover filming by Greenpeace revealed Howell saying that Osborne was “putting pressure” on David Cameron over “absurd” climate change targets.