To review the arrangements.
Cllr Mark Hawthorne MBE explained to the Committee that, under the current arrangements in the Constitution, an oral question could be asked by a member of the public at each ordinary meeting of the full Council, providing that notice of the question was given to the Chief Executive at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting.
Cllr Hawthorne MBE suggested that 30 minutes notice was too short to enable the Cabinet member responding to the question the time to provide a comprehensive answer. It was noted, in reference to the report attached to the agenda, that none of the six district councils within the County, and only one of the four neighbouring authorities researched, detailed any arrangements in their constitutions for the asking of oral questions, and only in exceptional circumstances.
The Committee considered whether the Procedural Standing Order for the asking of oral questions by members of the public should be amended or removed.
One member felt that the opportunity for members of the public to ask oral questions at meetings of full Council was an important part of democratic engagement. Another member suggested that it was important to give members of the public the flexibility to ask questions at the last minute, where questions were of an urgent and topical nature.
Several members expressed the view that having earlier notification of oral questions would allow the necessary research to be carried out for more detailed written answers to be provided. The Committee was also reminded that chairs of committees, in addition to Cabinet members, could also be asked questions by members of the public.
One member queried whether written answers to the questions that were unable to be answered orally at full Council could be shared with all members. It was agreed that these written answers could be published on the Council website alongside the minutes of the meeting.
Action – Simon Harper
Following a detailed discussion, Cllr Colin Hay proposed an amendment to the Constitution which determined that an oral question could be asked by a member of the public, provided that he or she gave notice of the question to the Chief Executive by 8am on the day of the meeting.
The Committee voted on the proposal by Cllr Hay, which was defeated.
Cllr Hawthorne MBE proposed that the Constitution be amended to state that members of the public may ask an urgent question which the Chairperson of the Council considers could not have been reasonably submitted by the deadline for the receipt of written questions, provided that he or she gave written notice of the question to the Chief Executive by 12 noon the day before the meeting. This would replace the current Procedural Standing Order which allowed for oral questions to be asked by members of the public, providing that notice was given to the Chief Executive at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting.
The Committee voted on the proposal by Cllr Hawthorne MBE, which was upheld.
RESOLVED TO RECOMMEND TO THE COUNCIL that the Constitution be amended under Part 4, section 9, Procedural Standing Orders, to state that members of the public may ask an urgent question which the Chairperson of the Council considers could not have been reasonably submitted by the deadline for the receipt of written questions, providing that he or she gives written notice of the question to the Chief Executive by 12 noon the day before the meeting.