Lancaster City Council has voted to join the Mayors for Peace organisation, which includes councils and mayors from across the UK, Ireland and worldwide including Japanese cities hit by atomic bombs in the Second World War.
Lancaster mayors can opt out of attending events if they wish and be replaced by a politically-active councillor, it was said.
However, a vote by councillors to join the network sparked debate among different political groups at Lancaster City Council and was opposed by some.
Questions were raised about the Mayor for Peace network’s view on nuclear arms and how this might impact on other nuclear industries such as the submarine sector in Cumbria and the power station at Heysham.
Furthermore, there were also worries about the neutral role of council mayors and future political relationships with Cumbrian councils, which in the past have jointly supported plans with Lancaster to create a new Morecambe Bay unitary authority.
Although a new Cumberland and Furness Council has been created and elections to it were held last week, Lancaster councillors continue to see ongoing links with those areas as important.
Traditionally, English council mayors have been ceremonial figures not involved in politics. However, a new generation of directly-elected political mayors has arisen in England in recent years.
The mayor-elect for Lancaster, Lib Dem councillor Joyce Pritchard was among a number of councillors from different parties who backed a call for the city council to join Mayors for Peace.
The call was led by Green Party councillor Mandy Bannon. She was supported by Eco-Socialist councillor Kevin Frea, who is deputy leader of the city council; and Labour councillor Jason Wood, along with Coun Pritchard.
Coun Bannon said: “Mayors for Peace has members of all political parties. However, if a sitting mayor does not want to take part in its activities, a councillor can be chosen instead. For example, Manchester sends an elected councillor to meetings when political topics are being discussed.”
She said the £120 membership cost was not expensive and costs could be met from the mayoral budget.
However, Labour councillor Robert Redfern was unhappy with the proposal. He said: “How long is it going to take for all these mayors to sort out problems such as Ukraine? They are never going to do it. That’s my qualm.”
Coun Bannon replied: “The mayor of Hiroshima in Japan has said a peaceful solution and enlightened diplomacy is needed to solve Ukraine’s issues. Nuclear disarmament has become more important. Nuclear weapons embolden participants and do not guarantee stability. We must reject all nuclear threats and emphasise the risks to humanity from weapons of mass destruction.
"China, Russia, France, the UK and the United States have previously said in a joint statement that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Conservative councillor Joan Jackson said: “I am not against Mayors for Peace but I am against our mayors getting involved in politics. It’s very sad. This would make the mayor political.”
Coun Bannon replied: “We can elect a councillor if the mayor does not want to attend.”
Conservative councillor Adrian De La Mare said: “This topic is a question for national governments. When all these mayors get together and have a lovely lunch what can they do to make sure everybody else in the world gets rid of weapons?”
Coun Bannon said much of the work by Mayors for Peace was about eduction, children’s activities and events with other cities.
Labour councillor Erica Lewis said: “I agree that encouraging peace is a good idea. Education is very important, especially in countries with long histories of conflict where violence and force have been seen as a way to achieve things. But unilateral and multilateral disarmament questions are deeply political. Is there a way we can clarify this Mayors for Peace role for Lancaster? In our council, it’s important the mayor remains neutral and is involved with civic and ceremonial things.”
Conservative group leader Coun Andrew Gardiner said: “Look outside at the beautiful sunset across Morecambe Bay. That is Barrow on the horizon. Those people voted Conservative because they think the nuclear deterrent keeps us safer.”
“Conservatives cannot support this for various reasons. What does this mean for our mayors, for new technologies and investment, or for the city council’s relationship with South Lakeland and Barrow councils after previous ideas for a Bay unitary authority?
“This idea is wishy washy and vague. We don’t need this. This is a strong council with lots of other important, serious things to look at, such as the Eden Project, housing and Heysham nuclear power station. If we want to become a new unitary authority, people would expect us to focus on serious things. This peace topic is for MPs in Parliament. Not district councils and mayors.”
Labour councillor Jason Woods said worries that joining a peace organisation would threaten Barrow shipyard jobs were unfounded.
He said: “This issue comes up every time we talk about nuclear topics. The idea that joining Mayor for Peace would cripple jobs in Barrow is wrong. Nuclear weapons have nothing to do with building nuclear-powered submarines. It is governments who decide on putting nuclear weapons into submarines. Do not conflate weapons with the Barrow shipyards. They are completely separate issues.
“I totally understand the concerns about keeping our mayor neutral. But ‘mayor’ is just in the name of this peace network. Some mayors in other areas have political roles. Some do not. Ours does not. There is flexibility on who attends. But I support the aims of the organisation and the motion to join it.”