Who asked Surjit Tour to gag a debate on Girtrell Court by councillors?

Who asked Surjit Tour to gag a debate on Girtrell Court by councillors?

                                

Cllr Chris Blakeley explaining his notice of motion on Girtrell Court to Wirral Council councillors at a public meeting 14th March 2016
Cllr Chris Blakeley talking about Girtrell Court at the Council meeting held on the 14th March 2016

This morning I submitted an internal review request to Wirral Council as a Freedom of Information request I’d made over twenty days ago hadn’t yet been responded to.

Remarkably quickly I received an answer both to the internal review request and the original FOI request.

It shows that an unnamed councillor made a query of Surjit Tour before the Council meeting held on the 14th March 2016 as to whether the Girtrell Court motion should be debated at all.

Surjit Tour’s opinion (a copy of which is below) was that Standing Order 17 prevented it, but that councillors could choose to suspend Standing Order 17 and debate it anyway. A copy of his advice to councillors over the attempt at preventing a debate on Girtrell Court is below.


Dear Councillor

A query was received over whether the Notice of Motion (NOM) relating to Girtrell Court submitted by Cllr Blakeley (appearing in the Council Agenda published on 4 March) should be debated by Council at its meeting on Monday, 14 March given that it formed part of the Budget debate and final Council Budget Resolution on 3 March. The proposal/issues relating to Girtrell Court were debated at length by Council at Budget Council. Council has therefore had the opportunity to fully consider this matter. A point of order has been raised as to whether the NOM can therefore be debated within such a short period of time after Council having settled its view on the subject matter. The point of order is a legitimate one.

The relevant Standing Order to consider is:

Council Procedure Rules: Standing Order 17 – Rescission of preceding resolution (page 156 of the Constitution)

(1) No decision of the Council (including a decision taken by a committee or panel under delegated powers) may be reconsidered by the Council on a notice of motion within six months of the date of the earlier decision unless the notice of motion (under Standing Order 7) is signed by 17 members of the Council. If that motion is rejected by the Council neither it nor one to the same effect can be considered by the Council for six months.

(2) No resolution or recommendation (other than a procedural resolution) made by a committee or panel during the course of a meeting shall be rescinded or amended by the committee or panel during the same meeting or any adjournment of it unless there are reasonable grounds for believing that all of the material information was not available at the time that the resolution or recommendation was passed.

Unfortunately given the timetabling of Budget Council and Ordinary Council this month, it has meant that Notices of Motion for the 14 March Council meeting needed to be submitted by 5pm on Monday, 29 February. This was ahead of Budget Council and any final Budget decision being made by Council on Thursday (3 March).

It is important to establish the status of the NOM in this case. I am of the view that NOM received was valid. At the material time, namely the deadline for when NOMs needed to be submitted (Monday, 29 Feb), there was NO decision made by Council in respect of the subject matter detailed within the NOM in question. The outcome of Budget Council meeting could not be assumed – that included any approval of the position as outlined in the Cabinet Budget Proposal in respect of Girtrell Court.

All valid NOMs are considered by the Mayor who determines, with advice from me, which NOM should be debated or referred to Cabinet or a Policy and Performance Committee (or other committee). The Mayor prior to Budget Council agreed for this NOM be debated.

At Budget Council the issues and matters relating to Girtrell Court were debated fully and that included the subject matter appearing in the NOM presented by Cllr Blakeley.

Standing Order 17 seeks to limit Council having to debate(by way of a notice of motion) the same decision within six months of it being made (unless a NOM is signed by 17 members of the Council). Whilst it is accepted that the Notice of Motion in question is not seeking to reopen the entire Budget Resolution approved by Council, it does seek to revisit a key aspect of the Budget Resolution that has been settled within it. The Notice of Motion was correctly submitted and was valid at the time of submission but has in effect been superseded by the Budget Council debate and Budget Resolution that was subsequently passed.

At the time Standing Order 17 was drafted the prevailing circumstances before us were not envisaged; and in fairness would have been extremely difficult (if not impossible) to predict with any degree of reasonable certainty.

Upon considering the application of Standing Order 17 and the NOM proposed by Cllr Blakeley, I am of the opinion that Standing Order 17 in its current form does prevent the NOM being debated at Council on 14 March – despite the Council Summons stating otherwise. However, as the NOM was valid at the time of submission it was also correct for it to have been included in the Council Agenda, published on 4 March. The Agenda should however have stated that the NOM was not to be debated by virtue of Standing Order 17. It is appropriate that this clarification/correction is made at Council on 14 March – and I will duly do so.

It would be remiss of me not to also advise that because the NOM appears correctly on the Council Agenda, any Member can move a motion (properly seconded) and seek the suspension of Standing Order 17 and seek permission from Council for the NOM to be debated. The Council has discretion to overcome the constitutional restriction imposed by Standing Order 17. Council would therefore be the final arbiter of this issue.

I apologise for any confusion caused by the NOM being confirmed as one to be debated on the Council Agenda.

Should you have any queries regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards

Surjit Tour
Head of Legal & Member Services
and Monitoring Officer

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
Department of Transformation and Resources
Town Hall
Brighton Street
Wallasey
Wirral
CH44 8ED

Tel: 0151 691 8569
Fax: 0151 691 8482

Visit our website: www.wirral.gov.uk

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Will councillors vote to gag a debate on whether Girtrell Court decision is made in public?

Will councillors vote to gag a debate on whether Girtrell Court decision is made in public?

                                                   

Bernard Halley (left) talking about Girtrell Court at the Wirral West Constituency Committee 11th February 2016 L to R (foreground) Bernard Halley, David L to R (background) Graham Hodkinson, Cllr Matthew Patrick
Bernard Halley (left) talking about Girtrell Court at the Wirral West Constituency Committee 11th February 2016 L to R (foreground) Bernard Halley, David L to R (background) Graham Hodkinson, Cllr Matthew Patrick

In a surprise twist, the debate on a notice of motion on Girtrell Court has become like the thought experiment Schrödinger’s cat.

The reason the debate might not be heard is because of Standing Order 17(1) in Wirral Council’s constitution (see page 162:

17. Rescission of preceding resolution


(1) No decision of the Council (including a decision taken by a committee or panel under delegated powers) may be reconsidered by the Council on a notice of motion within six months of the date of the earlier decision unless the notice of motion (under Standing Order 7) is signed by 17 members of the Council. If that motion is rejected by the Council neither it nor one to the same effect can be considered by the Council for six months.
 

However standing order 17, doesn’t apply to debates on large petitions, which are dealt with according to Wirral Council’s petitions scheme.

In the case of a petition of at the time of writing 6,593 signatures the petition scheme states “Petitions that must be considered by the Council – these must be signed by at least 3,000 people who live in the Borough”.

So in order for there to be a debate on Girtrell Court tonight either:

(a) Councillors could decide to suspend standing order 17 to allow the debate on Girtrell Court to go ahead, or

(b) Bernard Halley submits his large petition which triggers a fifteen minute debate as debates on petitions aren’t subject to standing order 17 or

(c) Councillor Blakeley finds fifteen other councillors to sign his notice of motion and therefore the debate goes ahead.

Tonight’s public meeting of Wirral Council will start at 6.00pm in the Council Chamber at Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED.

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