Scrapping oral questions at county council meetings will ‘stop freedom of speech’

Shire Hall, Chambridge.

Shire Hall, Chambridge. - Credit: Archant

A move to change the procedure of Cambridgeshire County Council meetings has been branded a ploy to ‘stop freedom of speech’.

The leading Conservative party used its majority to vote through a proposal at a full council meeting on May 23 which will scrap oral questions and change the way motions are amended.

The motion, which was voted 32 for and 21 against, detailed that oral questions will only be allowed “in exceptional circumstances only”.

Conservative councillor Steve Criswell said: “The changes reflect the fact that Conservatives are back in control of the Council and will be providing clear and strong leadership to pursue our agenda of service transformation and retaining front line services.

“Oral questions by councillors at council are being withdrawn as these can be asked and dealt with at any time and do not need to wait until a meeting.

To combat the removal of oral question there is set to be an increase in the amount of written questions tabled, from 13 to 20, but this has been criticised by some opposition members.

Liberal Democrat, Councillor Mike Shellens told The Hunts Post: “This is to avoid embarrassing conservations with us as their [Conservatives] answers haven’t been sparkling – I think it is disgraceful.

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“We will have to submit the questions in writing but if they [the Conservatives] take all of the slots it will block out our public exposure.”

Councillor Derek Gilles, St Neots Independent group, added: “I am very disappointed because this gave members a chance to ask questions of lead members, we can still put in written questions but some things come up on the day.

“It seems to make questions long-winded – the vote was a vote against the freedom of speech.”

Along with abolishing oral questions, the Conservative pushed for a change to the way amendments of motions are put forward.

Previously amendments have proposed across the council chamber during debates but this will be blocked.

Changes to any motions will now have to be submitted to the authority before noon one working day before the date of the meeting.

“They [the Conservatives] have had amend a number of their motions in the past, during meetings, so would they still be able to do this,” Cllr Shellens added.

There will also be reduction in the number of councillors on committees, and the introduction of a commercial and investments committee, and a communities and partnerships committee.