Sunday, 29 November 2009

Labour tries to stifle democratic debate (2)

During the "debate" on the abolition of three discussion forums at last week's Council Meeting, the Labour leadership, supported by the Borough Solicitor, tried to stifle open debate in the Council Chamber. Rather than have debates on each and any amendment moved by members, the Borough Solicitor likes to get amendments moved straightaway after the mover of the original motion has spoken and to conduct just one debate covering both the motion and amendment. This means each councillor only gets one chance to speak in each debate, apart from the mover of the original motion, who gets two speeches. However, there is no constitutional requirement for amendments to be moved at the start of the debate.

That cunning plan didn't quite work last week, however, because the Mayor hadn't been properly briefed. After Labour had moved the motion to abolish these forums, the Mayor called Lib Dem Councillor Fred Lawton as the first speaker. Fred made his usual thoughtful, measured contribution. Then Gill Cartwright was called and instructed to move her amendment, which effectively ended debate on the original motion.

During the debate on the amendment, Fred Lawton, quite correctly, stood to speak. Immediately the Leader of the Council leapt to his feet, bellowing "Point of Order" because Fred had already spoken once. At first he was supported by the Borough Solicitor, who actually seemed to take over chairing the meeting from the mayor, as she instructed Cllr Lawton to "Sit down then!"

Fred, who, as a long standing trade unionist is thoroughly versed in the nuances of Lord Citrine's ABC of Chairmanship and correctly stood his ground, insisted on his right to be heard. He was, of course, perfectly correct. His original speech was before Gill's amendment was moved, so he was absolutely entitled to speak on the amendment too. Eventually the Borough Solicitor had to give way and Fred was allowed to speak.

The lesson for the future, if we want councillors to have more than one chance to speak, is to refuse to move any amendments until the end of the debate on the original motion, before the summing up by the mover of the motion. That way, everyone gets the chance to speak more than once. Not "streamlined and efficient" as Labour politicians like, but much more open and democratic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was instructed to give notice of my intention to move amendment which is then noted, Williams wanted me to move it there and then and was not happy that I sat back down.
That was to allow discussion on the substantive motion and then move the amendment followed by debate on the amendment.
It didnt quite work out that way but it will next time!