by Alan Winter
For anyone who looks forward to watching a video of Houghton Regis Town Council proceedings, this week’s will be recommended viewing, (and I’m told, with much-improved sound quality). For when it came to a controversial item being discussed, our local councillors chose the route of farce to decide it.
Before them was a recommendation to swap out one of the Labour councillors from committees, so that his attendance load would be reduced to attending only the full Town Council meetings. At first, no one seemed willing to start a discussion on the proposal but as a debate emerged it became clear that there was a division of opinion between the Labour group members on the one side, and the Independents, Community Independents and Liberal Democrats on the other.
When the vote was taken, 5 were in favour, 5 against, and 2 abstained.
Where such instances occur Standing Orders, in common with a majority of Standing Orders on other councils and organisations, allow the chair of the meeting a casting vote.
In Houghton Regis’ Town Council’s case, the Standing Order reads, “6q. The chairman of a meeting may give an original vote on any matter put to the vote, and in the case of an equality of votes may exercise his casting vote whether or not he gave an original vote.”
Chairman of this meeting was mayor Cllr Joanna Hillyard who decided not to exercise her right of casting vote, and in doing so expressed the belief that the status quo should prevail; in other words that the recommendation would not pass.
At this point, chaos and confusion began to murmur around the table, which grew into a further debate. An attempt was made to call a motion to move to next business, which failed. The leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Kennedy, proposed an amendment to the substantive recommendation – itself a farcical situation since such amendments should be put before the main proposal. At this point Cllr Carroll left the room and took no further part in the debate and subsequent voting, afterwards privately confiding that it was improper to have such a debate.
The substance of the amendment was equally farcical. That part of the motion that had read,
“Combating Crime Working Group; Cllr Kennedy to replace Cllr Scott; Cllr Dixon Wilkinson to replace Cllr Welch” was proposed to be changed to read,
“Combating Crime Working Group; Cllr Dixon Wilkinson to replace Cllr Scott; Cllr Kennedy to replace Cllr Welch”.
Some more points were made from around the table. A fresh vote was taken. This time a majority vote was achieved and the proposal was lost, meaning that Cllr Scott would be expected to attend all of the committees he was originally appointed to. In the event that he is unable to attend a meeting, he will be able to appoint a substitute.
At the time of an election, all persons do so in the knowledge that they are expected to play a full and active part in the business of the council including being on various committees, the full Town Council meetings, and other meetings that may be closed to the public where no decisions should be taken.
COMMENT : In a ‘straw poll’ of a dozen standing orders from various organisations and councils, most allow the chair the casting vote, but none say what should happen if the resolution is left undecided after a casting vote. In the case of the British Medical Association, their chair has no casting vote, instead, they have a rule, “An equality of votes means that the decision or motion has fallen and the status quo will be retained.” Perhaps it’s time to add such a clarifying clause to Houghton Regis Town Council Standing Orders?
- Watch a recording of this Town Council meeting on YouTube
- Standing Orders - Six of One and Half a Dozen of the Other