Heated exchanges over fossil fuels motion at Peterborough City Council

Peterborough City Council's Council Chamber
Peterborough City Council's Council Chamber
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The withdrawal of a fossil fuels motion caused heated exchanges at a Peterborough City Council Full Council meeting.

Cllr Richard Ferris (Labour) put a motion recognising the significant opportunity Peterborough has in its mission to become the UK’s Environmental Capital.

The motion would have discussed the principle of divesting from the fossil fuel industry in the wake of the recent Paris Agreement.

However, a suggested amendment to the motion was received from Cllr David Seaton (Conservative) which so infuriated Cllr Ferris that at the last moment he withdrew his motion, explaining: “It is with deep regret that I withdraw my original motion because over the last week the inter-governmental panel on climate change published its most hard-hitting report yet, pointing out the dangers of allowing global temperatures to rise by two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

“I regret it too because this year we have seen the resumption of fracking in the UK after a seven-year legal battle that will only add to the problems of the rising levels of CO2.

“I regret it also because – ironically – this week is ‘Green GB Week’, and this government is bragging about its commitment to decarbonising our economy; but I regret it most of all because, if this council is in any way serious about being the UK’s Environment Capital, it needs to be progressive, show leadership and wake up to the crisis that climate change presents.

“I was asked by the people of Peterborough to table this motion and it is with their complete understanding and agreement that I withdraw it because we in the Labour Group are not prepared to play silly games with an issue of such importance.

“It is clear from this amendment that it’s merely a petty attempt to close down a full and proper consideration of the climate change threat, and the culpability of the fossil fuel industry. So I feel very sad that this authority won’t be discussing a very serious motion, frankly the most serious motion we’ve had before the council this year.”

An upset Cllr Seaton responded: “Cllr Ferris has just withdrawn the motion so I think it only fair that I tell members that a week ago I did amend the motion and sent it to Cllr Ferris asking if he would agree to my amendment. All I have done is correct some inaccuracies he made in his original motion that we have no direct or indirect investments in fossil fuels.”

At which point Cllr Seaton was interrupted by Cllr Ed Murphy (Labour and Co-operative) who stood up and said: “Mr Mayor, standing order. I don’t want this waffle – I ask that you move to next business,” to which the Mayor, Cllr Chris Ash, pointed out to Cllr Murphy that he would allow Cllr Seaton to answer the point of accuracy, but not debate the matter as he appeared to be trying to do.

A most irate Cllr Seaton then asked: “Mr Mayor, can I just ask are you going to accept a councillor saying ‘I do not want this waffle’. Are you going to accept that? Is that acceptable behaviour in this chamber? Because we might as well all go home now if that’s what you’re going to accept.”

There were a few moments of silence while the Mayor whispered with the council’s legal officer, before he responded: “What I actually need is consent from Cllr Ferris to withdraw the motion from the meeting.”

Cllr Nick Sandford (Liberal Democrat) rose, saying: “Mr Mayor you have been badly advised by your legal officer on this. If Cllr Ferris wants to withdraw his motion he can do so – he hasn’t tabled it so we can’t debate it and you don’t need the consent of council to remove it.”

There was a short round of applause and a second round of whispering between the Mayor and the legal officer of the council before it was announced that in fact Cllr Sanford was right, no debate was allowed, no consent was needed and that the proper action was to move on to the next item of business on the agenda – which is what happened.