Hampshire County Council

Standards Committee

Item 6

22 April 2003

Suggested amendments to the Constitution

Report of the Head of Corporate and Legal Services

Contact: Jeff Pattison, Head of Corporate & Legal Services and Monitoring Officer

ext 7321

1. Summary

This report proposes on a trial basis, an additional opportunity for Members to
ask certain questions of Cabinet Members at Council meetings. It also proposes
several minor changes to the Constitution of a tidying up nature.

2. Questions to Members of the Cabinet

2.1 The Leader has mentioned at County Council his request for the Standards
Committee to consider and report on opportunities for Members to question the
Executive and more openly hold the Cabinet and its members to account. At the
Council meeting on 3 April 2003 he indicated that, on a trial basis, this might be
possible in the May or July meetings of the Council.

2.2. Hampshire's approach currently to questions is mirrored by Surrey and Essex. It is wider ranging than the arrangements which operate in Kent where questions may not be asked about information that has already been published e.g. in a Cabinet or committee report. In East Sussex questions by Members to Cabinet Members are allowed provided they relate to their portfolios; an hour is allowed for this. Notice may or may not be given of Members' questions but those received in advance in writing are taken first. A further 30 minutes is allowed for questions from members of the public, all of which must be the subject of prior written notice. In West Sussex the Members' question time is supplemented by the opportunity to put questions to Cabinet Members on matters which have arisen in respect of their portfolios since the previous meeting, be they formal decisions or otherwise. However, there are no "Part II" type information reports in West Sussex. In Hampshire, the Part II reports are those where the Leader and his Executive Members consider that the action they have taken is so significant as to warrant being drawn specifically to the attention of the Council by way of a substantive report, or where there is significant non-Executive Committee business to report and discuss.

2.3 Only in West Sussex, therefore, is there a marked difference in approach from the other county councils in Hampshire's "family". Whilst West Sussex have no Part II business, a note by each Member of the Cabinet about their main areas of activity is circulated with the agenda on which any Member of the council may, without notice, ask questions and supplementary questions without limit. On the day of the meeting, a supplementary note of matters arising since the Council agenda despatch is circulated. This is in effect the equivalent of Hampshire's Part II reports. One hour 30 minutes is set aside for general questions and Cabinet questions.

2.4 It is difficult to compare Hampshire's arrangements with those operating in West Sussex as their Cabinet question time has been adopted in preference to allowing Part II questions and debate on major issues which have been dealt with by Cabinet Members or committees under delegated powers. A balance would need to be struck between West Sussex's practice of allowing random questions to Cabinet Members to which replies would be given and the desire of Hampshire Members to debate major issues. Much is already done to keep Members informed. By way of the précis agenda system all Members are notified in good time of all matters being dealt with by the Cabinet and Executive Members acting individually and therefore Members have the opportunity to take up issues and ask questions in public to highlight issues at that time. After every Executive decision making meeting a brief summary of the decisions is e-mailed to all County Councillors.

2.5 One way forward, therefore, given that Executive agendas and their decisions have already been published, would be for Members to put questions to the Executive as "Part III" of the County Council's agenda arising from the information previously circulated to them through existing established procedures. An alternative solution, which could start on a trial basis for the May and July meetings, and would assist Members given that they may not have retained the information, would be for edited copies of the lists of Executive agenda items to be circulated with the Council "White Book" covering Cabinet meetings and when Executive Members act individually since the previous meeting of the Council. The edited agenda would exclude items already in Part II of the Council's agenda and project appraisals for key decisions which are already thoroughly analysed through existing advisory procedures. It is suggested that up to 30 minutes be set aside for Cabinet questions after the conclusion of the Council's Part II items.

2.6 In the event that the Standards Committee agrees this approach the procedure would be as follows:-

Every question shall be put without notice and answered without discussion and the person to whom the question has been put may decline to answer or may opt to reply in writing within six days. Each item will have appeared on the précis agendas which are sent to all Members and on which an e-mail will have been sent to Members notifying them of the outcomes. Policy Review Committee Members will have received the decisions in full and, in the event that it has not been possible for the decision sheets yet to be published on Hantsnet (where Members would normally be able to see detailed decisions) these can readily be obtained on request. This procedure is in addition to that contained in paragraph 20 of the Council's Standing Orders:- "Questions by Members".

3. Consequential Changes to the Constitution

3.1 As a result of previous changes to the Constitution introduced by statute requiring five clear days notice to be given of meetings, rather than the previous requirement for three days, the following consequential changes need to be made to the Constitution:-

Part 3: B - Access to Information Protocol


Paragraph 1.2 should be deleted and replaced by the following:
"The County Council makes copies of Executive Member decision papers and the summons and agenda for all meetings available to the public at least five clear days beforehand i.e. excluding weekends and Bank Holidays.

Paragraph 2.2. - the reference to" three days" should be deleted and replaced by the words "five days".

Paragraph 2.4 - the reference to "six clear days" should be deleted and replaced by the words "five clear days".

Paragraph 2.7 - those words which follow the words "exempt information" in the 2nd sentence should be deleted.

Part 3:C - Executive Procedures


Paragraph 3.4 - the words "three working" should be deleted and replaced by the words "five clear".

Paragraph 3.5 - the reference to "Policy Review Panels" should be deleted and
replaced by a reference to "Policy Review Committees".

Recommendations

That it be recommended to the Council:-

(1) That, for the May and July meetings of the Council, on completion of Part II
of the agenda 30 minutes be set aside for questions of Cabinet Members
as authorised in paragraph 2.6 of this report without notice on any
decision taken by the Cabinet or an Executive Member acting individually
since the preceding meeting of the Council; but that these arrangements shall
not include questions on items already dealt with in Part II of the agenda and
schemes estimated to cost over £0.5m.

(2) That the Constitution be revised as follows:

Part 3:C - Executive Procedures

Paragraph 3.4 - the words "three working" should be deleted and replaced by
the words "five clear".

Paragraph 3.5 - the reference to "Policy Review Panels" should be deleted
and replaced by a reference to "Policy Review Committees".

Part 3: B - Access to Information Protocol

Paragraph 1.2 should be deleted and replaced by the following:
"The County Council makes copies of Executive Member decision
papers and the summons and agenda for all meetings available to the
public at least five clear days beforehand i.e. excluding weekends and
Bank Holidays.

Paragraph 2.2. - the reference to" three days" should be deleted and
replaced by the words "five days".

Paragraph 2.4 - the reference to "six clear days" should be deleted and
replaced by the words "five clear days".

Paragraph 2.7 - those words which follow the words "exempt
information" in the 2nd sentence should be deleted.

Paragraph 3.5 - the reference to "Policy Review Panels" should be
deleted and replaced by a reference to "Policy Review Committees".

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