Constitution Working Party
Monday, 8 February 2010 6.00 pm
Constitution Working Party Minutes
Monday, 8th February, 2010
Cllr A Forrest (Chair, Cllr K Hastrick, Cllr S Johnson, Cllr S Rackett, Cllr I Sharpe, Cllr A Wylie
Councillors Bell and Mortimer
Head of Legal & Property Services
Democratic Services Manager
Democratic Services Manager
|Part A - Open to the Public|
|CWP1 - 09/10||Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received from Councillor Leslie
|CWP2 - 09/10||Disclosures of Interest
There were no disclosures of interest.
|CWP3 - 09/10||Minutes
The minutes of the meeting held on 13th October 2009 were submitted and signed.
|CWP4 - 09/10||Matters arising from last meeting
Minute no 4(a) - Public Speaking at Committees
Details of arrangements at Hertsmere, Kingston and Three Rivers were circulated with the agenda. The Chair also referred to other authorities where, in some cases, no notice at all was required for public speaking.
A Member suggested that the speaking provision currently in place for DC Committee be extended to all committees, including Cabinet but with the exception of full Council. He commented that registering by 12.00 noon on the day of the meeting gave the Chair some notice and enabled him/her to plan the meeting.
Other Members agreed and said that some thought would have to be given to publicising the arrangement to encourage the public to participate.
The Working Party generally agreed that restricting the number to just one speaker for and one against was sensible although the Chair could have the discretion to allow more speakers if it was considered appropriate.
The Working Party also discussed an issue which had arisen at a recent DC Committee meeting about the position relating to county councillors speaking. It was AGREED that the speaking provision on all committees should be extended to county councillors representing the six Watford Divisions and that they should be
allowed to speak on all issues and not just those relating to County Council responsibilities.
A Member added that the County Council should be informed that Watford Borough Council was extending this provision to County Councillors and be encouraged to follow suit.
The Head of Legal & Property Services explained the position relating to Licensing Sub Committees which she said had clear regulations about who could speak. The provision could also not be applied to meetings where confidential (Part B) items were being discussed.
With regard to scrutiny committees, she advised that there was an existing provision which allowed members of the public to be invited to attend and address the meeting. She asked whether Members wanted to add the proposed provisions for speaking to those already in existence.
A Member and vice-chair of the Call-in & Performance Scrutiny Committee said that he would like to see the new provisions included as this would allow another person who, for example, might not have been asked by the Committee to attend and speak but who wanted to address the Committee, be given the opportunity to express a view.
The Head of Legal & Property Services asked whether the Working Party envisaged members of the public just being allowed to make a statement or whether they would have the opportunity to answer questions posed by members of the relevant committee.
A Member suggested that this should be left to the discretion of the Chair. The rules should limit the time for speaking to 5 minutes but if the chair thought questioning was appropriate they should have the discretion to do this. He added, however, that this should not be the case for DC Committee as this was a different type of body. With scrutiny, further questioning sometimes helped to get to the bottom of an issue. Another Member added that it was incumbent on the Chair to ensure that speakers stuck to the issue being debated.
Minute no 4(b) - Portfolio Holder Delegated Decisions
It was noted that these were now being published on the website.
Minute no 4 (c) -Shared Services
An email from the Head of Legal & Property Services had been circulated following the last meeting confirming that the Shared Services arrangement complied with the Constitution and vice versa.
Minute no 4 (d) - Neighbourhood Forums
The Quick Guide to Neighbourhood Forums had been circulated to all Members.
Minute no 5 - Apologies at Meetings
Absence without apologies was now being recorded in all Council minutes.
Minute no 6 (a) - Notice for Motions to Council
Councillor Bell had asked the Working Party to consider reducing the notice period for motions to Council from ten working days to seven working days. Councillor Bell had been invited to this meeting to put forward his views. This proposal was discussed as part of minute number CWP5 - 09/10.
that Council be recommended:
1.that the protocol for public speaking at DC Committees be extended to all committees with the exception of full Council, Licensing Sub Committees and Part B meetings.
2.that notice for speaking at meetings must be received by 12 noon on the day of the meeting.
3.that the provision allows for one speaker for and one against an issue being discussed and that the Chair be given discretion to decide whether further questioning of the speaker should be allowed.
4.that the same privilege to address committee meetings be extended to the six county councillors representing the Watford divisions.
5.that County Council be informed of the proposals and encouraged to extend the same privileges to Borough Councillors at County Council meetings.
6.that officers be asked to give consideration as to how the new arrangements can be publicised to encourage participation.
ACTION: Head of Legal & Property Services.
|CWP5 - 09/10||Speaking at Council meetings
A number of issues had been raised following the Council meeting in November relating to speaking at Council meetings. A summary of comments sent by email to all Members had been circulated with the agenda.
Councillor Bell spoke about having occasionally missed the deadline for motions because of confusion about the 10 working day notice - especially when a Bank Holiday fell within the period.
The Head of Legal & Property Services advised that the period had been extended from 7 working days to 10 after discussions with this Working Party about allowing more time for officers to consider the detail and better inform the debate. It was also about allowing time for the details of the Motion to be included in the agenda, which had to be published 5 clear days before the meeting.
A Member commented that, in his view and to encourage wider public participation, it was important to give notice of what was coming up at the meeting.
The Head of Legal & Property Services advised that to ensure a motion was included on an agenda would require receipt by at least the day before publication. In response to this point, another Member suggested that the deadline be set at midday on the day before publication. It was noted that there was a provision for late motions at the discretion of the Chair if the matter was considered urgent. The Head of Legal & Property Services advised members to contact the Democratic Services Team if this situation arose and they would deal with it.
A Member referred to the different deadlines in the Constitution and asked whether they could be harmonised. The Head of Legal & Property Services AGREED to look at this possibility but advised that some deadlines could not be changed, e.g. the timetable for call-in meetings.
The Working Party AGREED that the deadline for motions to Council should be changed to 12.00 noon on the day before agenda publication and that these dates should be included in the programme of meetings with a reminder for the deadlines for the next meeting included on the Council agenda.
The Working Party then discussed the procedures for debating motions and moving amendments.
Councillor Mortimer had been invited to the meeting as he had contributed to the comments made following the November Council meeting. He said that last minute changes through amendments left the opposition at a disadvantage as they were given no prior notice and were therefore left unprepared.
Another Member, who had moved a motion at the meeting which had been ruled out as negating the original motion, said he considered that his amendment had been a compromise. He considered that there should be a way of wording a motion so the opposition felt there was a compromise and a degree of general support.
A Member of the leading Group said that he had seen both sides of this scenario and that opposition groups putting forward amendments had to be realistic. The motion in question had included praise for the Government and the local MP which was not going to be supported by the Lib Dem administration. The substantive motion ended up sticking to the main points but deleting the political elements.
He went on to suggest that, in his view, all amendments should be put on the table and debated with only one opportunity to speak and one vote at the end rather than dealing with them one at a time as was the current procedure.
Another Member commented that he would not like to see removal of the provision to move an amendment on the night. The amendment should, however, be relevant to the subject of the motion.
A Member added that it would be helpful if the amendments could be seen in advance although another Member made the point that sometimes a decision to move an amendment was only taken once the debate was underway. He agreed that all amendments should be moved and debated together as the current arrangement was very difficult for the public to follow.
The Head of Legal & Property Services expressed concern about how this arrangement would work and the potential difficulties in managing the debate and voting, especially if more than one amendment were moved. She added that the Budget debate at Council was different as there was a protocol to be followed in that each Group Leader spoke in turn after the Mayor; rather than with an ordinary motion when, after the mover and seconder, it was whoever put their light on first.
A Member made the point that, if all amendments were moved together and there was only one opportunity to speak, someone could move an amendment near the end of the debate on which no-one would be able to speak as they would already have spoken.
The Working Party generally accepted this point and the Head of Legal & Property Service's reservations. The Chair had the discretion to rule amendments out of order if it was considered they negated the original motion and move to suspend Council Procedure Rules on issues such as length of speeches. Other members could also raise a point of order if necessary.
The Head of Legal & Property Services suggested that Members advised either the Chairman, Managing Director or herself in advance if they were proposing to move an amendment. This would help the Chairman to be clear about what Council was likely to be voting on. It was AGREED that this should take the form of a protocol rather than a change to the Procedure Rules. Members would not necessarily want to divulge the terms of their amendments so they could retain an element of surprise.
Members discussed the time limit for speaking and AGREED that the Chairman should have the discretion to extend the speaking time in certain circumstances, for example when a Member needed to speak on a complex issue. A Member also suggested that where a motion of censure was moved the Chairman should also allow an equivalent time for the "case for the defence" to be presented.
That Council be recommended:
1.that the Head of Legal & Property Services be requested to look at the possibility of harmonising deadlines in the Constitution where this would be possible.
2.that the deadline for motions to Council be changed to 12.00 noon on the day before agenda publication and that these dates be included in the programme of meetings with a reminder for the deadlines for the next meeting included on the Council agenda.
3.that no change be made to Procedure Rule 15.7 but that a protocol be introduced whereby Group Leaders advise the Chairman, Managing Director or Head of Legal & Property Services in advance of the meeting of the broad terms of any amendment they are proposing to move.
4.that the Chairman has discretion to suspend the Procedure Rules to allow longer speaking time if a Member is to speak on a complex matter or in other appropriate circumstances and that the Member brings this to the attention of the Chairman before the meeting. The time limit to be set at the discretion of the Chairman.
ACTION: Head of Legal & Property Services
|CWP6 - 09/10||Contract Procedure
The Working Party received a report of the Procurement Manager seeking consideration of proposed Contract Procedure Rules. As the report related to Shared Services, the Working Party requested that it be referred to the Council Functions Committee.
that the proposed Contract Procedure Rules be referred to Council Functions Committee on 25th February for consideration .
ACTION: Democratic Services Manager
|CWP7 - 09/10||Petitions
The Working Party was asked to consider a consultation paper on the new duty to consider petitions under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 and a proposal for a petition scheme for Watford.
A Member said that this kind of directive from Central Government made him very angry. This Council already had provision for hearing petitions and it had now been agreed to extend the provision for the public to speak at meetings. The usual practice at Watford was for issues raised in petitions to be dealt with by the Mayor in the first instance. There had been very few petitions to either Council or Cabinet. He asked whether it was possible to insert "informal responses for raising issues" in the section on how the Council would respond.
The Head of Legal & Property Services referred Members to the parts in italics in the section on how the Council would respond and said that these were the issues to be considered. She asked whether Members would like to increase the number of signatures required before a petition had to go to Council especially as the issues raised in petitions were often resolved by the Mayor.
A Member commented that the informal procedure should be retained. He considered the suggested figure of 150 signatures to go to Council was quite low.
Another Member said that petitioners may have problems which they wanted Council to deal with and he felt that the threshold should remain at 30. He said he would not like to see the Council accused of having restricted the rights of petitioners to address Council if they so wished.
A Member advised that rules in place about dealing with petitions would be regarded by the public as a contract and could remove the provision for an informal approach. The Chair advised that the new provisions did not preclude an informal approach but it would have to be specifically included.
Another Member added that petitioners had to be made aware of the two main options; to the Mayor or relevant committee or to Council. He commented that taking petitions to a committee meeting also allowed other councillors the opportunity to hear about and contribute to discussion on the issue.
A Member made the point that he would not like to see the public bound into the process and an element of flexibility was required especially where the issue was time sensitive and may not fit into the committee timetable.
The Head of Legal and Property Services advised that, unless the petitioner withdrew, the threshold would apply to petitions which had to go to Council or ask for an officer to be called to account. A petition with less signatories than the threshold could, however, still go to Council if this was considered to be the appropriate course of action.
A Member commented that the Government was making the whole process more complicated; the Council's current arrangement for dealing with petitions worked well. The Working Party AGREED that the threshold should remain at 30 and that petitions should go to Council, Cabinet or other relevant committee.
Members also AGREED that the provision for informal meetings between petitioner and Mayor, Portfolio Holder, committee chair or Head of Service should also be included.
The Head of Legal & Property Services then asked the Working Party to consider the provision relating to calling a referendum. She advised that this could be very expensive for the Council and the Working Party AGREED that this provision should be removed.
She also asked the Working Party to agree which officers should be included on the list for being called to account and the length of time e-petitions should be open for signature.
Members AGREED that Heads of Service, Executive Directors and the Head of the Paid Service should included on the list. With regard to the length of time for e-petitions, Members AGREED that 3 months should be long enough especially as they had agreed that only 30 signatures were enough to trigger presentation to Council.
The Working Party asked the Head of Legal & Property Services to include a comment in the response to the Consultation Document expressing their annoyance at the Government's inference that councils were not able to engage with the public without the introduction of mechanistic, unnecessary measures.
1.that the Head of Legal & Property Services be authorised to respond to the Consultation document along the lines outlined in the report and that she includes the views of the Working Party on the unnecessary nature of the proposals in her reply.
2.that, subject to the duty to respond to Petitions being brought into force, to recommend to Council the Petition Scheme attached at appendix 2 to the report subject to the following amendments agreed by the Working Party:
•that the provision for informal meetings between petitioner and Mayor, Portfolio Holder, committee chair or Head of Service be included.
•that the threshold requiring a petition to go to Council, Cabinet or other relevant committee remains at 30.
•that the provision for referenda be removed.
•that Heads of Service, Executive Directors and the Head of the Paid Service be included on the list of officers who could be called to account.
•that the length of time for e-petitions be set at 3 months
ACTION: Head of Legal & Property Services
|CWP8 - 09/10||Councillor Call for Action proposal
The Working Party was asked to consider a proposal for dealing with Councillor Call for Action (CCfA). The Head of Legal & Property Services advised that the Call-in & Performance Committee had been appointed as the committee for handling CCfA. Members made the point that the Chair would require specific training on how to deal with the process,.
Members commented that this was yet another "hand-holding" mechanism introduced by the Government.
1.that the proposal for dealing with Councillor Call for Action be recommended to Council.
2.that specific training be arranged for the Chair of the Call-in & Performance Scrutiny Committee on how to handle the process.
ACTION: Head of Legal & Property Services
|CWP9 - 09/10||Date of next meeting
To be agreed by the Chair in consultation with the Democratic Services Manager.
Published on Thursday, 18th February, 2010
The meeting started at 6.00pm
and finished at 8.15pm.
and finished at 8.15pm.