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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Brent Council ban discussion of Veolia's human rights abuses

As Lib Dem councillor Ann Hunter commented last night it was ironic that on the evening that Brent Council bestowed  the  Freedom of Brent on freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, councillors were denied the freedom to put a motion on the issue of Veolia's complicity in the illegal occupation of Palestine.

Hunter quoted Mandela's statement that 'our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians' and later asked what Mandela would have made of a situation where, at the end of the council meeting, he was greeted by the horrific sight of  the 'rainbow' group of councillors being  shepherded into separate buses for African, African Caribbean, Asian, Jewish or white buses. That was what occurred with the segregated buses run by Veolia in the occupied territories.

The Lib Dem motion that was not allowed to be debated read:

Council notes that:

  •  the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, contravene international law.

  • the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council adopted on 14 April 2010 expresses grave concern at: “The Israeli decision to establish and operate a tramway between West Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Zeev, which is in clear violation of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions.”

  • Veolia is a leading partner in the CityPass consortium contracted to build and operate this tramway.

  • Veolia placed recruitment advertisements for tramway operatives in 2010 discriminating against the recruitment of Palestinians by requiring Hebrew “at a mother tongue level” and “full army service/civic service” which is undertaken by very few Palestinians.

  • Veolia is also supporting illegal settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory with other services: namely running bus routes that discriminate against Palestinians and link illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank to Israel and owning and operating a 33 hectare landfill site, Tovlan in the occupied Jordan Valley, which takes refuse from illegal settlements in the West Bank and from Israel. 
  • that a written parliamentary answer from the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, on 23rd May 2012 stated that “a company may be excluded from a tender exercise, for example where a company … has committed an act of grave professional misconduct in the course of their business or profession.”

This Council therefore recognises that Veolia’s involvement in these activities amounts to complicity in violations of international law and constitutes grave misconduct in the course of Veolia’s business under any reasonable interpretation of that term.

Council calls on the Leader and Chief Executive not to sign or allow to be signed any new contracts or renewal of any existing contracts with Veolia or any other company complicit in breaches of international law so long as taking this action would not be in breach of any relevant legislation.

Council notes that acting on this call would not contravene the provisions of the Local Government Act 1988 because no reliance is being placed in this resolution on any of the prohibited non commercial matters set out in section 17(5) of the 1988 Act. Further, as there is nothing in the Local Government Act that prohibits the Council from making the decisions called for in the resolution it would be unlawful for the Council to falsely exclude those matters from consideration when making a decision about  contracting with Veolia, given the discretion that the Council is required to exercise under Regulation 23 (4) (e) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006.

Councillors Hunter, Lorber, Hopkins and Hashmi

As Ann Hunter pointed out this is a very similar motion to that approved by Labour's Brent Central General Committee. The officer's letter repeated the stone-walling statement used to refuse information to Bin Veolia in Brent campaigners which is issued to anyone communicating with the council about the issue:

Dear Councillor

I am writing to advise you that the proposed Liberal Democrat Group motion on Veolia which was circulated to members on Friday cannot be debated and voted upon by the Council at its meeting tonight.

As you may be aware, advice from counsel has been sought in relation to arguments concerning the involvement of certain companies in the Veolia group in various enterprises linked to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  The clear advice is, amongst other things, that there are no grounds for excluding Veolia ES (UK) Limited from the current procurement of the Public Realm contract on the basis of “grave professional misconduct” in accordance with Regulation 23(4)(e) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006.

Motions which are illegal, improper or irregular are not permitted and in consequence it will not be appropriate to debate or vote on this Liberal Democratic Group motion.
Kathy Robinson
Senior Solicitor
Labour Mayor Bobby Thomas confirmed that the Labour group had received similar advice when  they wished to discuss the issue. However, when Paul Lorber, Lib Dem group leader tried to move a motion to suspend standing orders to discuss the basis of officers' advice he was accused of hypocrisy in an incandescent outburst by Muhammed Butt, Labour leader of the Council, who accused him of hypocrisy because when leader of the council he had 'happily signed a contract with Veolia'.  Butt dismissed the suspension of standing order move as 'frivolous'.

Lorber argued that elected councillors should challenge the officers' advice.  He had sought the basis of the ruling and had asked for a copy of the counsel's advice but officers' had failed to provide any evidence. He said that the issue had been debated in many councils across the country but officers had deemed councillors not capable of making a decision on the issue. Mayor Bobby Thomas lost his temper and began shouting at Lorber when Lorber suggested that Labour councillors were being invited to vote down the suspension of standing orders without hearing any information on what the challenge was about.

To a cry of 'Mandela - freedom of speech' Labour voted down the motion to suspend standing orders.

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