London (AFP) - A group of British lawmakers failed Monday to block plans for shale gas fracking in Britain, but the government agreed to tougher regulation and a ban on fracking in national parks.
Some 200 protesters including the designer Vivienne Westwood rallied outside parliament as the vote was taking place, holding up placards and shouting slogans.
One sign read "Shut the Frack Up" and a colourful knitted banner read "No to Fracking", an extraction process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped at high pressure underground to access natural gas reserves.
A committee of lawmakers had demanded a moratorium on fracking, arguing that it would endanger a pledge to cut climate change emissions.
The moratorium was rejected by 308 votes to 52 after the opposition Labour party did not take part.
However, the Conservative-led coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron accepted more regulation and agreed to ban the highly productive, but environmentally controversial technique in protected areas.
The regulations were added in an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill, a broad package that includes legislation intended to boost the fledgling shale gas and oil industry that still faces a final vote to become law.
Amber Rudd, junior minister for energy and climate change, argued that a moratorium would be "disproportionate" to the risks of fracking, which opponents fear can cause earthquakes and pollute water supplies.
"We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks, sites of special interest and areas of national beauty," Rudd told parliament during the debate.
Previously, the government had planned to allow shale gas exploration in national parks in exceptional circumstances.
The opposition Labour party said it was "a huge u-turn by the government."
"Thanks to Labour's amendment, the government has been forced to accept that tough protections and proper safeguards must be in place before fracking can go ahead," Labour's shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint said in a statement.
However, Green party lawmaker Caroline Lucas, who had pushed for a freeze on fracking, criticised Labour's abstention from the vote on a moratorium as a "farce".
The government has pledged to go "all out" on developing the shale gas and oil industry, which it argues will create jobs, boost the economy and help Britain rely less on energy imports.
The drive received a blow this month when a council recommended plans by British energy firm Cuadrilla to start fracking in two sites in Lancashire in north-west England should be rejected.
A final decision on permission is expected in the coming weeks.