George Osborne's father in law, Lord Howell, has drawn widespread condemnation after suggesting fracking should be carried out in the North East of England because it has vast "desolate areas".

Lord Howell of Guildford, who lives in the south of England, provoked gasps of shock in the House of Lords when he said the gas production method could be safely carried out in the North East without environmental impact.

"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," he told peers.

"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."

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The Tory peer said distinctions should be made between areas suitable for fracking rather than deciding to "lump them all together". He was a Foreign Office minister from 2010 to 2012 and energy secretary under Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1981.

James Wharton, Tory MP for Stockton South, struck back at Lord Howell's "foolish and ill-informed" comments.

However, Wharton endorsed his call for fracking to spread to the area, saying: "It will undoubtedly create large numbers of highly-skilled well-paid jobs and I hope the North East will play a significant part in that."

Several North Eastern Labour MPs also expressed their shock at Lord Howell's comments.

Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, told the Huffington Post UK: "It is a revealing insight into the attitudes this Government of posh boys from the home counties try to hide – the north east is a long, long way away and not near where our kind of people live.

"The use of the word ‘residence’ gives it away. Personally I live in a flat, not a ‘residence’ and it is in Newcastle, the heart of a vibrant, diverse city and near some of the most beautiful and precious countryside in the country."

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said: "The ignorance of some of our Government never ceases to amaze me. I am appalled at his attitude – what he has had to say is deeply offensive and he should apologise to the people of my Region. Clearly Lord Howell has either never been in the North East or he has the kind of memories that can only be bound up in some kind of fantasy land."

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Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, said: "Nothing that this bunch says surprises me. They really do come from another world. The desolation in the North East is largely due to 2 centuries of exploitation by capitalists and their Tory lackeys. It also shows his ignorance of fracking. How long does he expect the drill rods to be? As far as we know so far no significant reserves have been found in the North East."

Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesborough, said: “I feel sorry for the noble Lord. If, like me, he’d ever walked the Cleveland Hills and visited Captain Cook’s Monument with the Tees Valley laid out before him, or stood on the cliffs at Saltburn, or had seen the stunning beauty of the Yorkshire Dales, he’d see that the North East is one of the most beautiful parts of the whole United Kingdom.

"Lord Howell’s comments will confirm in the minds of people throughout the North of England that the Tory Party does not understand them, and cannot represent them.”

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said Lord Howell's "casual Nimbyism" was "breath-taking".

"His casual Nimbyism is breath-taking - and his view of the North East deeply disturbing.We know that governments have long neglected regional development policy, and allowed a greatly excessive concentration of the economy on the South East, and this is a demonstration of the attitudes behind that.

Environmental campaigners reacted to the Tory peer's comments with fury.

Greenpeace UK Energy campaigner Leila Deen said: “Lord Howell appears to have noticed that our densely populated island is quite different to the sands of the Arabian peninsula or Texas, and we view our countryside as more than just an under-exploited hydrocarbon store that would be improved by several thousand shale gas wells. Were Lord Howell or any member of the government to visit the north east of England they’d find there are actually people living there, people who don’t regard their countryside as a disposable resource.

"The same is true of the south of England, which is already up in arms against the plans of Lord Howell’s son-in-law, who wants to see vast swathes of the home counties fracked."

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