The Cabinet Office has defied a court order to release a secret government report on the UK’s fracking industry.
Officials were expected to hand over the report on Monday, days before Britain’s first general election leaders’ debate on the climate crisis, after the information tribunal ruled it was in the public interest to disclose its findings in full.
The Cabinet Office is understood to have received the tribunal’s order to release the documents on 28 October after a multi-year battle with Greenpeace, but by Thursday evening the government had yet to hand over the 2016 report or give an explanation for ignoring the court order.
Jon Trickett, the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “The Tories’ failure to publish this crucial report on fracking shows contempt for democracy and serves as a stark warning on what lies ahead if Boris Johnson is re-elected.”
Labour said the government’s refusal to reveal the documents cast doubt over its commitment to end fracking in England, weeks after it declared a fracking moratorium in the run-up to the election.
“Labour will ban fracking, expand the Freedom of Information Act and introduce tough new transparency rules,” Trickett added.
Doug Parr, the chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said the government was “ignoring the courts in order to avoid scrutiny of this dangerous and dirty industry”.
The campaign group uncovered some of the report’s findings last year through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request but its investigations arm was barred by Cabinet Office officials from obtaining the full report.
The FoI revealed that government ministers had known for years that fracking companies had exaggerated the economic benefits of the UK shale gas boom. It showed that only 4% of the UK’s potential shale projects were likely to go ahead, contradicting public claims that a shale revolution could spur £33bn of investment and create more than 64,000 jobs.
“We don’t know what further revelations are in the report they’re still hiding, but the government are clearly very keen that the public don’t find out, which makes it all the more important that we do,” Parr said.
As part of its ruling, the information tribunal said it had noted “an unfortunate tendency” on the part of the Cabinet Office to be content to release positive information about the fracking industry but “anxious to withhold more negative information”.
“It is no secret that the government supported the development of the industry and the report was designed to address how the government could help it to develop; it was in our view in the public interest that the public should know how far officials were suggesting government might go in doing so,” it said.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said it would comply “in due course”. She declined to comment on the reason behind the delay.
Boris Johnson snubbed the leaders’ debate on the climate, which was due to take place on Thursday evening.