To consider the report of the Head of Paid Service concerning proposed changes to the council’s Constitution.
25.1 Councillor Taylor moved and Councillor Cook seconded that Council consider the recommendations of the General Purposes Committee and adopt the proposed changes to the constitution. Councillor Taylor explained that the General Purposes Committee had recommended some amendments to the proposed changes, including permitting questions from members of the public relating to matters which the council could influence, even if it was not directly responsible for those issues, and allowing senior officers to amend the wording of questions to make them more cohesive. Councillor Taylor expressed the view that these changes were sensible.
25.2 Councillor Taylor explained that the report proposed that a limit of 5 questions per Member per meeting be implemented. It was noted that Members had opportunities to ask Cabinet Members questions in a number of different ways, including during Committee sessions, by email and in person. He also referred to the narrative in the report outlining the amount of time taken by officers to produce responses, which now amounted to approximately 3 weeks and 2 days of a full-time post. Councillor Taylor further pointed out that the General Purposes Committee had recommended that the Mayor be permitted to rotate the order of Members’ questions in the interest of fairness.
25.3 Councillor Hilton highlighted that he had previously raised concerns that the changes to the Council Procedure Rule 12 (Questions by Members) would place significant pressure on officers. He confirmed that he would not oppose the proposed changes and that he would support rotating the order of Members’ Questions, but it was only right that Group Leaders were advised of the revised order beforehand. Councillor Hilton expressed the view that it was a shame that the Cabinet had abandoned questions without notice, and that any future Lib Dem administration was likely to reinstate this facility.
25.4 Councillor Pullen expressed the view that the procedure changes could have been avoided had Cabinet not removed the ability for Members to ask questions without notice. He commented that in his view, the previous arrangement was working satisfactorily and that the written answer provision had resulted in Members competing to ask the most questions. Councillor Pullen felt that the proposed 5-question limit for Members was appropriate.
25.5 Councillor A. Chambers noted that as the Councillor for Matson, he had been elected to ask questions on behalf of residents and expressed concerns that limiting Members to 5 questions each would result in him having to choose between residents’ questions. He stated that limiting Members’ questions was similar to changes to the German constitution made by Adolf Hitler through the Enabling Act in 1933.
25.6 Councillor Cook noted that there had been an increase in questions from Members since the changes to the Council Procedure Rules were initially brought in, and that the changes had resulted in less written responses being issued by Cabinet Members by way of follow-up. He reiterated that the option for Members to ask questions of Cabinet Members was open at Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and Members were also welcome to write to Cabinet Members with any queries they had.
25.7 The motion was put to a vote and Council voted to approve the constitutional changes.
RESOLVED that: -
(1) The recommendations of the General Purposes Committee and the proposed changes to the Constitution be adopted, subject to:
- Amending proposed Procedural Rules 10(2)(i) and 12.01(i) to permit questions relating to matters that the council may be able to influence even if it is not directly responsible.
- Removing the proposed restriction on Members asking a question that is substantially the same as a question which has been put at a meeting of the Council or Cabinet in the past 6 months from the proposed amendments to Procedural Rule 12.01.
- Removing the proposal for the Managing Director, in consultation with the Mayor, to be able to edit Member questions to bring them into proper form and brevity from the proposed amendments to Procedural Rule 12.01.
- Making provision for the schedule of Member questions (without the responses) to be circulated to all Members once the order has been agreed by the Managing Director, in consultation with the Mayor.
- Removing the proposal not to minute questions and responses.
(2) The amendments take effect at the close of the Council meeting.