Question time changes? Calls to change the way Hartlepool councillors can be quizzed by those they represent
Council chiefs are to have further talks over bringing back supplementary questions at full council meetings.
Currently residents can submit a public question to be answered by a chair of committee at Hartlepool Borough Council Full Council meetings, but are not permitted to ask a supplementary question.
A request was made by councillors at the Full Council meeting held on June 20 to consult on the issue of supplementary questions and was sent to the Constitution Committee for further talks.
The issue went before the latest meeting of the committee but a decision was made to hold more talks on the issue after concerns were raised over residents asking unrelated questions.
Council leader Coun Shane Moore said he would like to see a supplementary question allowing for clarification, but acknowledged the worries.
Coun Marjorie James raised concerns that previously residents would ask a supplementary question unrelated to the topic, aiming to ’embarrass’ councillors, which led to the removal of the additional question.
She said: “The reason that we stopped taking supplementary questions was that the supplementary questions being asked in many, many cases had nothing at all to do with the substantive question that had been asked.
“It’s a catch question, it should never have been asked because it had nothing at all to do with the initial question, it was purely asked to do damage and cause embarrassment, and that’s where we were.
“If you lift that removal and allow some form of supplementary question, the danger is that is where it will go.
“It’s a concern because it allows abuse to take place on the floor of council and the member being abused cannot defend themselves.
“Once the question is asked it’s out there and can’t be taken back, the damage is done.”
Council officers noted rules could be put in place so supplementary questions could only be related to the question asked or for clarification, but admitted it would be difficult to police.
Council leader Coun Moore said there have been calls from residents to reintroduce supplementary questions to ensure they get full details in answers.
He said: “For me there is a level of frustration from some people, that an answer that will be given can be a scripted answer, but may not necessarily answer the actual question.
“For me this is where the frustration came, ideally I personally would like to see a supplementary question allowing for clarification purposes, however I don’t know how the practicality of that would work without potentially running the risk of what used to happen.
“When it comes to clarification of a point within the question that’s fine, however there is a danger the respondent may not in any way, shape, or form respond to that.”
Currently half an hour is dedicated at Full Council meetings to public questions which are submitted, and debate is also allowed by councillors on the issues within that 30 minutes.
Coun Moore, chair of the Constitution Committee, said the item would be deferred for further work to take place and explore what options were available.