Agenda item

Report of the Constitution Review Group

To consider the findings of the Constitution Review Group and agree changes to Standing Orders in relation to Council meetings. 



Mrs Marks, Chairman of the Constitution Review Group introduced the report and thanked Rachel Crossley and Katie Booth for their officer support to the Group.


She explained the objectives for the review and the consultation that had been undertaken, including the survey results, all of which had contributed to the final recommendations of the task group.


She highlighted the following key points from the review:


·         The offer of training to Members, if required and, particularly for new Members who joined the Council mid-term.

·         Improvements to the Council Chamber, including webcasting and the electronic voting system.

·         Inclusion of Cabinet Member briefings within the Member Question Time item.

·         Limiting the number of motions at each meeting.

·         Reducing the number of signatures required on a petition which would trigger a debate at Council.


Finally, she drew attention to the recommendations and said that recommendations (1) to (6) had the unanimous support of the Review Group but a further two recommendations, set out on page 25 of the agenda had the support of the majority of the task group. However, she hoped that Council would support the report in its entirety.


Mrs Lewis formally seconded the recommendations of the task group and made the following points:


·         Reinforcement of the points made by Mrs Marks and emphasis of the spirit of the task group and the proposals put together by the group.

·         Adjustment to the start time would help those Members with carer responsibilities.

·         The ability to question Cabinet Members would make Surrey a better Council.

·         The proposed changes for motions and the reasons for them.

·         That the recommendations were a package which could be reviewed again in future years.


Other Members of the task group were invited to speak.


Mr Harrison focussed on the two recommendations that had been agreed by the majority of the task group. He considered that the proposed changes to time limits would give more opportunity for backbenchers to speak and hoped they would avoid a cap on the number of motions for each meeting, which if exceeded could be a difficult decision for the Chairman to make. On petitions, he considered that it was unlikely that a petition would receive 10,000 signatures to enable it to be debated at Council.


Mrs Watson also had concerns in relation to limiting the number of motions to three per meeting, with none permitted at the Budget meeting. She considered that these restrictions would limit the democratic debate. She also strongly opposed the proposed threshold of 10,000 signatures for petitions to be debated at Council and proposed amending this figure to 3,000, which she considered achievable.


Mr Skellett said that the purpose of the full Council meetings was for the Administration to report the business of the Council and for the opposition to challenge it and put down motions. He referred to the key issues of concern raised during the task group’s review, including the increased number of motions at recent Council meetings. He said that many Members wanted morning only meetings, which was one of the reasons that the group had proposed a limit of three motions.  He also hoped that amending the time limit for speakers would enable more Members to participate in the debates.


Mr Kington moved an amendment at the meeting, which was formally seconded by Mr Mallett. A copy is attached as Appendix D.


Speaking to his amendment, Mr Kington made the following points:


·         Motions should be allowed at the Budget and AGM Council meetings.

·         That a limit on motions was morally and politically flawed and that this proposal could not guarantee fairness.

·         The time limit for speeches could enable the debate to flow better.

·         The perception that some Members considered full Council meetings a time-consuming inconvenience.

·         The Chairman already had the power to curtail debates.

·         If necessary, Members would find other ways to raise issues.


Three Members, including Mr Mallett, the seconder, spoke in support of the amendment before the Chairman agreed a short adjournment at 3.55pm, with Members returning at 4pm.


The Leader of the Council informed Members that the Administration was minded to accept Mr Kington’s amendment.


Therefore, it was put to the vote and agreed.



1.       Council meetings start at 10am (with prayers at 9:50am for those wishing to attend). 

2.       Where it is necessary to continue the meeting after lunch, the expectation should be that the lunch break will last no longer than one hour.

3.       The AGM meeting should include a formal lunch with a speaker but for the other meetings, there is no need for special arrangements.

4.       Standing Orders be amended in relation to:


i.        the procedure to be followed for the election of the Leader of the Council;

ii.      the Leader’s statement;

iii.      the inclusion within the Members’ Question Time item of Cabinet Member briefings, for which a time limit of 15 minutes will be applied.

         in line with the processes outlined in the report (detailed changes attached at appendix 1.)

5.       Changes to the Council Chamber and Ashcombe be considered to ensure that:


i.        the audio and webcast systems are more reliable and of higher quality;

ii.       the electronic voting system in the Chamber enables a record to be kept of each individual’s vote;

iii.     the Chamber is fit for purpose, with space to store papers, ports to recharge equipment and comfortable seating.


6.           The ‘Guide to County Council Meetings’ should:


i.        be revised and reissued on an annual basis; and

ii.       remind Members on the requirement to act with courtesy during meetings.


7.       That the Council refers back to the Constitution Review Task Group all those recommendations upon which the Constitution Review Group could not agree for further discussion, with the remit to produce recommendations that more clearly reflect a consensus amongst all groups and political parties represented on the Council.

Mr Martin proposed three further amendments, with additional words underlined, as follows:


Amendment 1:            Page 31, Standing Order 6.8:


The Deputy Leader and other Members of the Cabinet will be appointed by the Leader of the Council and reported to the Council at the AGM or at the next appropriate meeting of the Council.


Amendment 2: Page 36, Standing Order 11.5:


In the event of the submission of more than three motions for a meeting of the Council, a meeting between the Chairman and the Group Leaders will determine which motions will be considered at the meeting and the order in which they are to be taken, with an assumption of a cap of three to be taken at any one meeting. In the event of no agreement being reached on the matter, the Chairman will have the

discretion to take the decision on which motions will be taken and in what order, taking into account the political balance of the Council and the need for fair representation for all political groups and parties.


Amendment 3:            Page 40, (il)


Leaders speaking in the debate on the Budget. (5 minutes) – change to 10 minutes


However, the Chairman ruled that amendments (2) and (3) were out of order because the Council had already agreed to refer back to the Constitution Review Group, the element of the report that referred to those amendments, for further discussion. However the first amendment was agreed:




Page 31, Standing Order 6.8:


The Deputy Leader and other Members of the Cabinet will be appointed by the Leader of the Council and reported to the Council at the AGM or at the next appropriate meeting of the Council.


Mr Robert Evans proposed ending County Council meetings by 2pm and therefore recommendations (2) and (3) could be deleted. This proposal was not supported.






Supporting documents: