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Claim that rule changes at Norfolk County Council will 'gag' opposition councillors

PUBLISHED: 13:31 15 April 2019 | UPDATED: 14:08 15 April 2019

Norfolk County Council. Photo: Neil Perry

Norfolk County Council. Photo: Neil Perry

Archant

Changes to rules at Norfolk County Council will ‘gag’ opposition councillors, it has been claimed.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

The council is on the brink of moving back to a cabinet system, where members of the controlling Conservative group will have specific portfolios.

But it involves a reworking of the council's constitution, which opposition councillors claim will stifle their ability to debate motions.

At the moment, any councillor can table a motion on any subject which, at the council chairman's discretion and so long as it has a seconder, is debated at full council.

But under the new rules, motions at full council must not relate to matters the council's cabinet has responsibility for.

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at County Hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at County Hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

If a motion does relate to issues within the remit of a cabinet or committee, it will be referred on without debate - unless the council leader, committee chair and council chair agree it can come to full council.

Liberal Democrat group leader Dan Roper said it was “two steps in the wrong direction”.

Alexandra Kemp, independent councillor, referring to climate change campaign group Extinction Rebellion's protest which delayed the council's budget setting meeting, said: “It's ironic that last time we had protesters come in and shut down democracy for four hours and here the administration is trying to shut down debate important to the people they represent.”

But Conservative leader Andrew Proctor said he did not accept the changes would stifle debate.

Alexandra Kemp, independent county councillor. Picture: Ian BurtAlexandra Kemp, independent county councillor. Picture: Ian Burt

He said: “What we have tried to do is say councillors can have their say within the council's structure.”

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said he felt Mr Proctor's heart was “in the right place”, but that he would not be the only leader County Hall ever has.

With a Labour amendment to the constitution defeated, Mr Morphew said: “I think we will all regret it. What we will end up with are councillors being gagged.”

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