Tory Newport candidate Nick Webb has a plan. He is calling for neighbourhood planning powers, allowing residents to shape their own communities
He did not know that his sly Tory Government had already robbed Local Authorities of those powers.
The Guardian last week reported on a change in the law which will allow nuclear waste dumps and fracking drilling to be forced on local communities. The profoundly anti-democratic measure removes from local authorities their powers to control drilling and the dumping of toxic waste, including nuclear waste, in their locality. The legislation was rushed through in the dying days of the last Parliament by a thinly attended House of Commons.
Tory Zac Goldsmith is described in the Guardian piece as ‘one of the few government MPs who broke ranks to vote against the move.’ But this does not tell the full story.
The move first came to the attention of eagle-eyed campaigners and MPs on Wednesday 18 March as item no. 13 on the order paper - Infrastructure Planning Standing Order no. 118(6).
A trickle of emails arrived from horrified anti-nuclear campaigners, urging me to do something. Duncan Hames LibDem MP called round concerned colleagues to organise resistance to the motion.
The Government did not expect the motion to be opposed. They expected it to be quietly passed by a disinterested Parliament in its final throes. But I, along with three other voices, objected to it. And so the motion was deferred until the following week.
The next day I raised the issue with William Hague at Business Questions.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be remembered in Wales as one of the most agreeable alien governor-generals we have had, in a period when he had the great good fortune to meet the wonderful Welsh woman who was to become his wife. Can he add further lustre to his reputation today by looking at a profoundly anti-democratic measure that was blocked by several voices last night? It would remove from the local authorities their powers to control drilling and the dumping of toxic waste, including nuclear waste, in their country. Would it not be an affront to democracy if that measure passed through the House on a deferred decision by a thinly attended House? Should the measure not now be withdrawn, for consideration by the next Parliament?
Mr Hague: I am grateful for the nearest thing to a ringing endorsement from the hon. Gentleman. I have fond memories of being Welsh Secretary. The Prime Minister who appointed me to that role, Sir John Major, asked me to take Wales to my heart. When, a year later, I married my private secretary, he said, “I think you are taking this a little bit too literally now.” Of course I have been deeply fond of Wales ever since.
On the measure the hon. Gentleman refers to, we must follow the procedures with all matters before the House, including the large number of orders in the remaining few days of the Parliament, so I cannot offer him an additional debate, but he will be able, as ever, to use every possible procedure of this House—he is very skilled at that—to make his views known. I am sure he will continue to do so on that matter.
The measure came before the Commons again as a deferred division – what the Guardian describes as an ‘unusual paper ballot’ – on Wednesday 25 March. No debate takes place on a deferred division. MPs vote in ballot boxes either yes or no. Despite opposition from 33 MPs including myself, the vote passed. I managed to persuade one Tory MP to vote against. None of the other Tories appeared to know what it meant. They voted the way the whips told them to do.
As a result, nuclear waste storage sites will now be chosen by the Energy Secretary. Local authorities can object, but they cannot stop toxic waste being dumped in their areas. Had MPs been allowed a proper debate, the outcome could have been very different. Instead, an extremely anti-democratic measure was hidden away in one the final acts of this Parliament. Local democracy has been dealt a further blow. Communities are right to be angry with the Conservative party that tramples over the rights of local communities to defend themselves.
Yet Nick Webb boasts another leaflet that contains the same promise to boost local democracy. It’s not fair. Someone should have told him.