The Government has defeated Labour’s bid to ban fracking amid farcical scenes in the House of Commons.
Conservative whips initially stated the vote on whether to allocate Commons time to consider legislation to stop shale gas extraction was being treated as a “confidence motion” in Liz Truss’s embattled Government.
But after a series of Tory MPs signalled they would not take part in the vote, climate minister Graham Stuart caused confusion by telling the Commons: “Quite clearly this is not a confidence vote.”
When Conservative MP Ruth Edwards asked the minister to clarify if those Tories who abstain or vote against the motion will lose the party whip, Stuart added: “That is a matter for party managers, and I am not a party manager.”
Labour’s motion was defeated by 230 votes to 326, majority 96, but the Commons heard there were “very strong rumours” the Government chief whip Wendy Morton had resigned.
The division list showed 38 Conservative MPs had no vote recorded although this does not automatically equate to an abstention – but in many cases will be.
Conservative trade minister Sir James Duddridge said it appeared that his “card did not scan as I walked through the lobby” and he backed the Government.
Those known to be abstaining included Chris Skidmore, the Prime Minister’s net-zero tsar.
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.”
Former minister Tracey Crouch and Tory colleague Angela Richardson both retweeted Skidmore’s comments with the word “ditto”.
Allegations of bullying were also levelled against Government whips, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant saying some MPs had been “physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied”.
Bryant urged Commons deputy speaker Dame Eleanor Laing to investigate the “scenes outside the entrance to the No lobby” and alleged MPs were “bullied” and “physically manhandled” to vote.
Raising a point of order, the MP for Rhondda said: “I would urge you to launch an investigation into the scenes outside the entrance to the No lobby earlier.
“As you know, members are expected to be able to vote without fear or favour and the behaviour code which is agreed by the whole of the House says there shall never be bullying or harassment.
“I saw members being physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied.
“If we want to stand up against bullying in this House of our staff, we have to stop bullying in this chamber as well.”
Dame Eleanor replied: “The honourable member raises an important matter about behaviour and he knows better than anyone else that we have an extremely good system for it for investigating allegations of bullying, intimidation or bad behaviour.
“And if the honourable gentleman cares to bring evidence and facts to me, I will make sure that the matter is properly investigated.”
Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg sought to limit the rebellion by insisting communities will have a “veto” on fracking in their area.
He 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.
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.”
During the debate, Edwards said the Government frontbench should “hang their heads in shame” as she said the leadership had “severely tested” Tory MPs’ trust by the way they had approached the vote.
Edwards was among several opponents of fracking who criticised Labour’s attempt to take control of the parliamentary schedule in order to move its own proposed legislation.
Tory former minister Paul Maynard praised Edwards for her speech, adding: “I endorse every word she has said about how the Government has handled this matter and I share her sense of despair, frustration and infuriation by it.
“But as I find myself saying so frequently at the moment: we are where we are and we have to get on with it.”
Maynard said he would much rather the Government stood by the moratorium on fracking contained in the Conservative Party manifesto although he welcomed commitments from Mr Rees-Mogg to allow a vote on the process for local consent.