Agenda item

Review of the Constitution

Report of the Leader


The Leader introduced the report, explaining that the constitution was the council’s overarching rulebook, and was a living document that needed to be fit for purpose. The changes outlined in the report had been recommended to Council by the cross-party Constitution Working Group.

The Mayor moved into Member questions:

  • One Member asked whether public and member questions and their written answers could automatically be taken as read, as it was not a good use of time to read out a full question and answer that had already been circulated. The Leader was happy to take this to the next CWG, though she was not sure it could be done in practice. Being a democratically accountable body meant that any member of the public had the right to ask questions.
  • One Member asked whether there was a process in place to report back on how the measures were working. The Monitoring Officer confirmed that this was part of the Constitution Working Group.


The Mayor moved into debate, where Members made the following points:

·         They had once passed out during a councillor’s memorial service where attendees had been required to remain standing, and later found out that they had a medical condition which caused discomfort and difficulty in thinking clearly while standing. With that in mind, the removal of requirement for Members to stand whilst speaking at Council meetings was welcome, as there were many reasons why someone might want to remain seated, and should not have to ask permission or apologise for this. However, the phrase ‘for the purposes of inclusivity’ was needless and discriminatory language that would make Members who chose to sit down seem different, and place an expectation on them to stand.

·         It would be more accessible if Members remained seated when addressing the meeting, as they did for all other committees, as they were then closer to their microphones and more easily picked up by the live stream. The Leader responded that freedom of choice was important, noting that she suffered from backache when she leant over the microphone.

·         The changes to notice arrangements around Member questions and reduced speech lengths in Council meetings were undemocratic, and reduced the opportunity to scrutinise and hold decision-makers to account. At the moment, Members had the weekend after the agenda and reports were published to submit questions, but this would no longer be the case.

·         Having access to reports before the questions deadline was better for scrutiny and accountability, but trying out different deadlines and notice periods to see what worked best was wise.

·         Extending the notice period for questions was counterintuitive, as they should be making it easier to ask questions rather than harder. Administrative convenience was being prioritised over democracy.

·         Accompanying reports for motions would be appreciated.

·         At Planning Committee, councillors were allowed 5 minutes to speak while members of the public had just 3. There ought to be parity, whether it became 5 for everyone or 3 for everyone. The Leader agreed that parity between Members and the public would be reasonable.

·         Time was not the only consideration, as substance mattered too. The reduction of time for general debate made sense, as proposers and seconders of motions would still have 10 minutes to cover the key issues before other Members made their contributions.

·         While some topics needed more time for discussion, in these cases the standing orders could be waived, as they had been before at budget meetings.

·         The reason Members were asked to stand at Council meetings in the past was because of the presence of the Mayor and the mace, and to enable Members to project their voices before there were microphones in the room.

·         The county council had a number of different deadlines for questions, both before and after the publication of papers, and allowed for the deadline to be extended if a report was unavoidably delayed. This flexible approach was worth considering here. The Leader noted that while the county’s process was more flexible, the time allocated to questions at meetings was strictly limited.

·         The removal of the requirement to stand was welcome, and Members did not necessarily need to be disabled to benefit from this.

·         The process of supplementary questions allowed councillors and members of the public to follow up if the situation had changed since their original question was submitted.

·         In most cases, 3 minutes was more than enough time to make a point.

·         Within the Planning process, the officer report was published for residents to read before additional representations were received. Members of the public needed to be able to ask questions about what was on the agenda, and they could not do that until it was published.

·         The proposed new rules on Member questions compared favourably on grounds of transparency and accountability to those at other authorities, namely Brighton.

The Leader thanked Members for their contributions, and noted that the Mayor generally allowed councillors to exceed their allotted time as long as it was necessary to get their point across. Flexibility was key, and it enhanced the democratic process when Members needed to be succinct and clear. She finally emphasised that the recommendations came from a cross-party working group, and if any of them did not work then they would go back to it. There was always more they could do to make the constitution more efficient.

One Member asked for a recorded vote, which the requisite number of Members supported.

The Mayor moved to the vote, where it was:


1.    The time limit for submitting Motions be increased from 5 working days to 7 working days;

2.    The time limit for submitting member and public questions to Council, Cabinet and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee be increased from 5 working days to 7 working days;

3.    The time permitted for speeches in general debate be reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes;

4.    For the purposes of inclusivity, Clause 13.2 of the Council Procedure Rules (the need to stand to address the meeting) be updated to enable Members to either stand or remain seated when addressing the meeting;

5.    Authority be delegated to the Monitoring Officer to make the consequential amendments to the Constitution.

FOR (31): Cllrs. Andrews, Atherstone, Baker, Bamford, Bassett-Smith, Beale, Britter, Chelin, Clark, Clucas, Collins, Dobie, Fifield, Fisher, Harvey, Hay, Holliday, Horwood, Jeffries, Lewis, McCloskey, Payne, Pineger, Sankey, Savage, Tailford, Tooke, Wheeler, Wilkinson, Williams, Willingham

AGAINST (6): Cllrs. Babbage, Flynn, Harman, Joy, Nelson, Seacome


Supporting documents: