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Guide: A Guide to Committee Meetings

Part 9

What happens at the meeting?

The first part of an agenda follows a standard pattern with Members being asked to approve the minutes of the previous meeting. Members can only question the accuracy of the minutes but not raise matters that were discussed previously.

The next item is one that enables the Chair to raise matters that are not included on the agenda – if they are important or urgent enough. It is the Chair’s decision alone.

After dealing with those items the Chair will move on to the other items on the agenda, dealing with each in turn. At meetings of the Cabinet and Committees, the appropriate Officer will introduce the item and then there will be general discussion on that subject (known as a debate).

The Chair’s job is to ensure that there is an orderly discussion and that a decision is taken. A decision may be made on the basis of an Officer’s recommendation (as set out  in any written report or made at the meeting) or on the basis of a suggestion made by a Member at the meeting.

The way in which decisions are taken at meetings often seems complex but as with most things it is not too difficult to understand if you know what is happening. The following paragraphs attempt to explain how things are done. At a Scrutiny Committee, there will be fewer items of business.

The Committee will receive presentations from one or more invited “witnesses” (who may be Council officers or outsiders with expertise to contribute). Then Members of the Committee will ask questions on what has been said. Once it has heard all the witnesses, which may take more than one meeting, the Committee will consider what it has heard and decide what recommendations should be made to the Cabinet or Council.

When a Member makes a recommendation (known as a Motion or Proposition) the Chair will ask Members to debate it. When, in the view of the Chair, there has been  sufficient discussion, the Member who moved the motion will be given the chance to speak again. This is known as “replying to the debate”.

Immediately after that Member has spoken, the Chair will ask the Members to vote.Any motion must be formally “seconded” by another Member before it can be voted upon. However it is often the case that during a debate on a motion another Member will suggest that it should be altered in some way, perhaps by adding or taking out words (an “amendment”). If this happens the meeting will also have to discuss the amendment. At the end of that debate the member who suggested the amendment will also be given the chance to speak – to “reply to the debate” – followed immediately by the mover of the original motion.  Only one amendment can be dealt with at a time. If an amendment is agreed or carried it then becomes a substantive motion (the original motion is considered to have been defeated) to which further amendments may be made. If the amendment is not agreed then the meeting will vote on the original proposal.

There may, of course, then be further amendments. Decisions can be reached by agreement or by a formal show of hands.They are then recorded in the minutes, which go on to the County Council.

Some Members speak more often than others. This is because the political parties on the Council often appoint lead members or “spokespersons” who will take the lead in any discussions at the relevant meeting.

Meetings are conducted according to the Council’s Standing Orders set out in the Constitution, a set of rules and procedures to make sure business is done properly, fairly and in an orderly way.