To amend Council Standing Order 4.2(b) to change the time limit for Questions at Council to the Leader from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.
To receive the following motion for which the necessary notice has been provided.
The motion is to be proposed by Councillor William Routley and seconded by Councillor Matthew Evans.
The Council considered the following motion, for which the necessary notice had been given. The motion was moved by Councillor Routley and seconded by Councillor M Evans.
That this Council Resolves:
To amend Council Standing Order 4.2 (b) to change the time limit for Questions at Council to the Leader from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.
Speaking to present the motion, Councillor Routley highlighted that the extension from 15 to 30 minutes would afford a greater opportunity for opposition leaders and other members to ask questions of the Leader in Council as there was currently insufficient time for all questions to be heard. . This was considered to be in the public interest and improve transparency and accountability.
The following amendment was moved by Councillor Marshall and seconded by Councillor Hughes.
This Council Believes:
The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 will effect the way that we as a council operate.
This council further believes:
§ The council is committed to improving democracy and believes that any changes must be scrutinised within the terms of reference of the Democratic Services Committee.
§ That this is the opportune time to review the proposed standing order 4.2(b) within the context of the introduction of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 and existing procedures including the Newport City Council Remote Meeting Attendance protocol.
This council resolves that:
The Democratic Services Committee review both the impacts of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, and any proposed changes to the standing orders together in line with the work plan of the said committee within their normal reporting to full council.
Comments on the amendment from Councillors:
Councillor C Evans supported the amendment, reminding Council that it was the Newport Independents that requested Leaders Questions at Council in 2017 He felt that opposition Leaders did have the time to question the Leader and considered however that the time ask questions was also at Scrutiny. This forum would be an ideal opportunity for councillors, within the remit of the relevant Scrutiny Committees to ask more in depth questions as well as hearing from members of the public.
Councillor Whitehead considered that both points were valid. However, he agreed that the amendment would provide a better forum to hear the voice of others and the general public. Councillor Whitehead considered that there was an opportunity for further in depth consideration at Democratic Services Committee with, it was hoped, a satisfactory outcome and therefore he supported the amendment.
Councillor J Watkins referred to the original motion and supported extending the time slot allocated to a further 15 minutes and agreed with Councillor Whitehead’s previous comments. Councillor J Watkins referred to her time in Portsmouth as a Councillor where other members had a 30 minute time slot to put questions to the Leader. Councillor J Watkins therefore supported the original motion put forward by Councillor Routley.
For clarity, the Chief Executive asked whether the debate was for the amendment to the motion, rather than the original motion. The Monitoring Officer advised that the debate was on the amendment and if the amendment failed there would be a further debate on the substantive motion. Again, for clarity the Monitoring Officer reiterated that the debate was on Councillor Marshall’s amendment that the matter be referred back to the Democratic Services Committee.
Councillor Williams supported both the increase the Leader’s Questions time to 30 minutes as well as referring the matter to the Democratic Services Committee.
Councillor Mogford considered that the process was long overdue whether it was dealt with through the Democratic Services Committee and applauded Councillor Routley for raising the issue to ensure it went forward and would get to a point where more questions could be put to the Leader at Council, which would help the running order of questions. Both issues were however well meaning
Councillor Wilcox thanked Councillor C Evans for reminding council of the request made in 2017 for Leader’s Questions, which were at the time, the first Council in Wales to do this. Councillor Wilcox spoke in support of the amendment to the motion and referred to the LG Bill and its major reform. The changes would see an increase in public participation and more consistent and coherent collaboration. The Bill would also see more accountability and performance to provide a more accessible high quality service to the public and move councils forward and improve transparency. It was felt that it would be right to wait for the full merit of the Bill in operation and then refer to the Democratic Services Committee. To conclude Councillor Wilcox advised that there were plenty of opportunities to raise questions and accountability within the existing Council’s processes and that members take advantage of these processes.
Cllr Fouweather saw the merit of the amendment and agreed that change was coming our way and it would therefore be sensible to have a proper debate within the Democratic Services Committee to make an informed decision. It was felt however that it in addition, it would be a gesture of good will if the time extension could be agreed immediately.
Councillor M Evans supported the additional 15 minutes to the Leader’s Questions as well as the amendment and was disappointed that it could not be agreed because presently the leader’s question time was just being used as an opportunity to raise issues of interest as well as any good news such as Heritage Lottery Funding for members of the public. It was therefore hoped that the extension would be accepted and that the council could move forward with the amendment.
Councillor Forsey considered that the 15 minutes allotted gave plenty of time for opposition Leaders and back benchers to ask questions and she had been successful in the past in putting questions to the Leader.
Councillor Hughes took the opportunity to remind members that a written response to questions put to the Leader was available if time had expired. A direct motion to council may not always afford the desired outcome. Previous improvements had been submitted in the form of fully researched and scrutinised reports from committees to members in full Council. The reason for this was to maximise the impact in order to fully understand the consequences of motions on the workings of the Council. Councillor Hughes therefore wished to support his colleague by seconding the amendment and refer the amendment through the appropriate committees; in this case, the Democratic Services Committees and report back to Council in due course.
Councillor Marshall proposed motion allowed amendment to be considered as part of a wider review of the wider impact and changes to the way that we operate as a council and agree that the proposal should be considered but also be reviewed as part of the wider review; the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021. It was felt that by not going through the proper channels it would undermine democracy and therefore to move the amendment through Council was more effective.
Councillor Routley thanked the Mayor for his right to reply and agreed with many of those that had spoken of the need for the extra 15 minutes, which it was felt would not hamper the proposed amendment and would be the democratic thing to do. Councillor Routley referred to earlier comments made by Councillor Wilcox in relation to changes within the new Bill and the processes already in place for members to ask questions. In summing up, Councillor Routley requested that the 15 minutes be considered at council in addition to the amendment, in the spirit of democracy.
As a point of Clarity, Cllr Whitehead asked if an extension of 15 minutes be agreed with immediate effect and amendment could be referred to the Democratic Services Committee.
The Monitoring Officer advised the Mayor that there were two distinct motions and an amendment. Therefore, unless Councillors Marshall or Routley were prepared to amend either the motion or the amendment to include both of what Councillor Whitehead had requested then, in effect, Councillor Whitehead is moving another amendment, which was a composite of the two. Councillor Routley agreed to the amalgamation of motion and amendment which would see the extension of 15 minutes to Leader’s Questions and a referral to Democratic Services Committee for further debate. The Monitoring Officer reminded Councillor Routley that the discussion was regarding the amendment and it was therefore up to Councillor Marshall to agree the new proposal from Councillor Whitehead.
Councillor Marshall advised that he would not make any changes to his original amendment.
The Monitoring officer further clarified that what would be put to the vote was Councillor Marshall’s amendment which was to refer the matter back to the Democratic Services Committee.
Councillor M Evans, advised that the conservative group would withdraw the original motion and support the amendment and suggested that his colleagues raise their concerns if they had any issues. With this in mind, the Monitoring Officer suggested that there was not a need for a roll call and that members could vote by exception.
Councillor Routley withdrew the motion and the amendment was put to the vote.
The Monitoring Officer asked for those wishing to, state their objections, therefore with no objections, council agreed Councillor Marshall’s amendment, which was then passed as the substantive motion, following the withdrawal of Cuncillor Routley’s written motion.
That Democratic Services Committee review both the impacts of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, and any proposed changes to the standing orders together in line with the work plan of the said committee within their normal reporting to full council.