Monday, May 21, 2007

Anyone Know the Answer?

I received an email this morning which I don't know the answer to. It seems very odd to me if it is allowed...

Dear Mr Dale

I have always thought it was a right that the public and press could attend council meeting in England without hindrance. I attended one last week and was instructed by the council chairman (during the meeting) that I should have given them prior notification of my intention to attend. Is this allowed?

34 comments:

Ed said...

Don't know the answer to that one, but Lambeth council have now moved their meetings to be during working hours so that not many people will be able to attend and so that opposition councillors with day jobs won't be able to oppose decisions.

Anonymous said...

They are obviously not used to having many attending their meetings. Yes the public are allowed to attend council meetings unless it involves the disclosure of confidential information as specified under Local Government Act 1972. A resoulution must be passed to exclude the press and public. Maybe this was not an official meeting of the Council but it does sound very strange and unwelcoming.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a council clerk and in drawing up the agenda the chair would allocate items to one of two categories; those to be discussed in open meeting and those to be discussed in closed session, after the public and press had been asked to withdraw. This seemed to be common on other councils though it was twenty five years ago and things may well have changed.

media scum said...

Any offical committee meeting of any council is open to the press and public unless the meeting has formally excluded the press and public under the LG Act 1972 - and to do this they have to be discussing matters that are deemed as confidential - such as confidentiual personal issues affecting staff or serivce users, or issues where commercial confidentiality is concerned, such as tenders for goods and services

Tony said...

Members of the public can attend council meetings and can only be excluded if confidential matters are going to be discussed - and only then if a motion is passed to ask the public to leave.

Notification is only required at a meeting if the person attending wishes to speak on a matter being discussed. So if your correspondant tried to speak during what I presume was a committee, that would account for the response from the Chairman.

David Boothroyd said...

Section 100 of the Local Government Act 1972 (1972 c. 70) requires all meetings of principal local authorities and their committees to be open to the public, except where confidential information is discussed (read the act here). Nothing about giving notice to the Chairman.

You might have to give notice to the Chairman if you want to speak at a meeting though. Some councils allow it, some don't, and it's up to them.

keith williams said...

Thanks for your comments. The meeting was the annual statutory meeting, which involves the election of chair, vice chair and representativies to outside bodies.

I did not wish to address the meeting, however during the period of public question I did have my hand up but withdrew my question as anohter member of the public had asked the same question. It was at this point that the chair made the statement that I should give notice of my intention to attend. The other members of the public did not have this condition imposed on them.

I do report for a local community magazine and perhapos therefore it is only journalists that they wish to impose this rule on?

Keith Williams said...

this was a "parish" council. Is that considered as a "principal local authority"?

Anonymous said...

Ed it was only meetings of the Cabinet of Lambeth that were held in the day as a trial. From now on meetings of the Cabinet will be held in the evening.

It is not necessary for anyone to inform the Chair that they wish to attend a meeting. Whether as a journalist or anything else. Parish andd Town Councils are notoriously rubbish. They take up most of the time of the Standards Board for England and if you want to see examples of them acting poorly just spend some time reading the decisions at http://www.adjudicationpanel.co.uk/
.

Anonymous said...

Local Government Act 2000

22. - (1) Meetings of a local authority executive, or a committee of such an executive, are to be open to the public or held in private.

(2) Subject to regulations under subsection (9), it is for a local authority executive to decide which of its meetings, and which of the meetings of any committee of the executive, are to be open to the public and which of those meetings are to be held in private.

Which could be construed to mean that if a member of the public is attending it would be with prior notice to the Chairman of said meeting who would then decide whether or not to admit said member of the public ?

I would ask your local Councillor if this is "normal council procedure" and under what authority this decision was made and why. It may not get you anywhere but it might make the Council think again in future and if you feel really "het up" about it get the local press involved and give the Council some "stick".

Keith Williams said...

I am the local press and I was the only member of the public that was asked to give them prior notice.

Cynical Voter said...

Maybe the Council doesn't know its intra vires obligations.....or maybe it is a Putin oligarchy running things in the dark

Kris said...

simple solution: - ring the Standards Board for England and ask.

Ed said...

Ed it was only meetings of the Cabinet of Lambeth that were held in the day as a trial. From now on meetings of the Cabinet will be held in the evening.

GOOD! How even the stoogiest of councillors could have considered it a good idea is totally beyond me.

Rachel Joyce said...

PCT board meetings have an "open" and a "closed" session - the latter comes first where the discussion focusses on confidential issues. The "open" session is then open to the public (not that many come unless there is a hot issue like closing a community hospital), and therefore open to scrutiny (in theory).
Certain things have to go into an open Board meeting, so that there is no chance of hiding these particular things.
The press and the aligned Patient Group (PALS) are more likely to come than anyone else. Attendance at a typical PCT Board meeting is probably about 4-5 people.

Splashitallover said...

"I am the local press".

I love that.

Reminds me of Judge Dredd: "I am the law!"

Cllr Nicholas Bennett said...

Not much to add to the posts already published. They rightly point out that the public have a right to attend council meetings.

The public don't have a right to speak, however many council's have a public question time and some allow any member of the public to put a supplementary to a question asked by another member of the public.

It is usual for those wishing to make representations to Planning committees to inform the Chairman beforehand so that those items on which they are representations are taken first.

I have commissioned a report for this week's General Purposes and Licensing Committee of London Borough of Bromley (23rd May 2007) on the rights of councillors and members of the public under the various Acts of Parliament to obtain information from the local authority. The report is applicatble to all councils in England and Wales and may be of interest to readers. It can be accessed from the Council website

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

Parish Councils = Local self appointed Stasi.

Main function is to whinge on about Lorry and car movements to other peoples houses and use the clerk (local tax funded) to write official sounding letters to other organisations about issues that they are personally concerned about.

Our local parish ordered the goal posts removed from the local playing fields because they encouraged local youths to "hang around" - no doubt playing football.

The Remittance Man said...

Sounds like another case of politicians trying to keep things away from the public gaze.

When will these idiots learn that they represent their electorate and that electorate has every right to know exactly what they get up to and what they do?

Peter Black said...

Parish Councils are not Principal Councils and therefore not subject to the same rules. There may well be a statute that applies to them but normal practise is that they are open to the public even though most Town and Parish Councillors do not like it.

Scary Biscuits said...

Of course this bureaucrat would like notification of press or anybody else's attendance at a meeting. Then they could decide not to discuss/decide on anything they want kept secret from the people.

Of course, also this makes a mockery of 'public' meetings. Either they are open to the public, including press, without hinderance or they are effectively closed.

media scum said...

I think your man was risking his sanity by going to a meeting of a Parish Council. I used to have to go to one to report on 'Borough matters', and beleive me i felt there ought to be men in white coats with big syringes handy. There is also a grave danger that if a stranger came into the meeting room he or she could be immediately co-opted onto the beast...........

glass house said...

Maybe the Chairman meant that he should have given prior notice of the question? (rather than attendance)

Anonymous said...

"Parish Councils = Local self appointed Stasi.

Main function is to whinge on about Lorry and car movements to other peoples houses and use the clerk (local tax funded) to write official sounding letters to other organisations about issues that they are personally concerned about."


So basically they are just subsidised residents associations, with an even more inflated sense of self-importance (if that was possible).

Anonymous said...

At the parish councils I attend, each has a agenda item for the public to speak - usally item 3. At all of them any one is allowed to speak on the night.

However, the council adheres to its 'constitution', sometimes Parishes vote to change the constitution articles and I wonder if this was the case here. For example three of my parish councils do not bother with tape recorders whilst one will allow tape recording in the meeting should two or more councillors request it.

I suspect at one time this parish had a really controversal topic and had a lot of people wanting to speak, probably against the parish council. At some point probably it voted to amend it's own rules to allow only prior notification, in order to know what questions it was going to be asked.

I suggest that you contact the clerk of the parish and ask to see copy of the rules by which the parish operates.

Sometime parishes are a law unto themselves, but if it has changed it's rules it will have had to have had a vote to approve such an action.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember that it was the Good Baroness T who introduced a Private Member's Bill (with her maiden speech no less) to address the issue of access to council meetings.

El Dave. said...

Anyone can attend, as people have said, but the committee can vote to sit in private. If someone wants to speak to a particular item (usually, in my experience, planning matters0 they have to give notice, usually a week, to the clerk of the committee.

Sitting on press people isn't good and I'm a bit surprised. I'd expect councillors to be grateful of the publicity - local papers tend to go through council reports anyway, so anything untoward would have been picked up anyway.

xD.

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

My parish council is entirely free from self importance and all members of the public are genuinely welcome to attend.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in the back of my memory, I seem to recall that the public were first allowed to attend Council meetings due to legislation introduced by a lady called Margaret Thatcher in the 1960s. I do however, stand to be corrected.

keith williams said...

I attended the meeting at the request of a newly elected parish councillor. I didn't want to speak at the meeting andf my only question on the evening was to ask for a copy of the agenda (which wasn't available)

There were other members of the public present but I was the only one who was instructed that I had to give prior notice to attend future meeting.

I have just spoken to the Standard Board for England who advise that this is not a matter that would have anything to do with them and it is possible that the council have this policy in thier standing orders even though it would appear to be in contradiction of the Freedom of Information Act and would also seem to be discriminatory.

In principle I think it's wrong and would like to take it further.

bovinemoo said...

You only have to give notification if you intend to speak at the meeting.

Head of Legal said...

David Boothroyd's right. A Parish Council is unlikely to have executive arrangements under Part II of the Local Government Act 2000, so section 22 doesn't apply; and it's not a principal local authority for the purposes of the 1972 Act, so section 100A doesn't apply either.

But section 100 of the 1972 Act provides that section 1 of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 applies. That requires Parish Council meetings to be open to the public except following a resolution because of the confidential nature of the business of for other special reasons.

Interestingly, section 1(4)(c) makes clear that where a meeting is open to the public (as this one was since there were other people there) the council cannot exclude duly accredited representatives of newspapers. There is no requirement of notice.

In theory, you could go the the Administrative Court and get a declaration that you were entitled to attend...

Head of Legal said...

Oh, and of course if the 1960 isn't enough to shut them up next time, the Human Rights Act normally worries people. To exclude the press from routine business because of a failure to give advance notice would surely be a disproportionate restriction on the right to freedom of expression, and so a breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Act.

Phil C said...

I am a parish cllr and a journalist. Firstly, yes you do have the right to attend parish council meetings. The press have no 'extra' rights as such but good practice is to give them 'facilities' (ie a table and a copy of the agenda).
Secondly, as there are thousands of parish councils then the "self-appointed Stasi" tag is a tad simplistic. Since most parish councillors are over 60, white, male and middle class (ie more likely to be Tories) then the tag is also historically inaccurate and insulting to majority of people Iain hopes will vote for his party. Finally, if you don't like 'em, don't whinge; vote them off or stand yourself. I did - and I am still waiting for my Stasi uniform.