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Asking questions and presenting petitions at council meetings

Public questions

At each meeting of full Council there is an opportunity for any member of the public who is a resident in or a registered local government elector of Hertfordshire to put questions to the Leader of the Council or an Executive Member about any matter over which the Council has power, or which directly affects the county. For details of forthcoming meetings follow the link called County Council Meetings and select 'County Council'.

A member of the public who wishes to ask a question must provide it in writing at least 10 clear days before the meeting, stating to whom the question is to be put. This should be addressed to Kathryn Pettitt, Chief Legal Officer, County Hall, Pegs Lane, Hertford, SG13 8DE, or by email to kathryn.pettitt@hertfordshire.gov.uk

Questions are answered orally at the meeting in the order in which they are received. At the end of each reply, the questioner may put one supplementary question to the person to whom the original question was put; who may reply orally or may undertake to reply in writing within 7 days. There can be no other debate or discussion of the question at the meeting.

The period of time allocated to questions cannot exceed 30 minutes; any questions remaining after that period has elapsed are answered in writing within 7 days.

Answers given orally at the meeting and those given in writing after the meeting are included in the minutes.

Public Petitions   

The Council wishes to enable all people who are resident in or work in Hertfordshire to be able to raise issues of concern with the Council. Petitions are one way that people can raise their concerns and this Petitions Scheme sets out how petitions can be submitted to the Council.

In this document ‘You’ means the organiser of the petition or someone nominated by the Petition Organiser.

Local Member

Before considering whether or not to raise a petition to the Council you may want to discuss your issue with your local county councillor. Your local member will be able to advise whether the matter is one for the Council and also whether a petition is the best form of engagement with the Council on the matter which you wish to raise.

Where the Local Member receives a petition he/she will discuss with the Petition Organiser how the petition could be handled within the Council. This will not necessarily be presenting the petition to a formal meeting of members but could be giving/presenting the petition to the relevant Executive Member or Chief Officer.

If you decide not to submit a petition to the Council, and the matter is one that is relevant to the functions of the Council, your local member will be able to explain how to make representations on the particular subject to the right person at the Council.  

 How to create and submit a Petition

Petitions can be created either by using our e-petition facility, which enables petitions to be created, signed and submitted online or by you preparing a paper petition.

Further information on the e-petition facility is at paragraph 53 and following below.

What are the guidelines for submitting a petition?

Petitions submitted to the Council must include:

  • a clear and concise statement covering the subject of the petition
  • a statement about  what action the petitioners wish the Council to take
  • the name and address and signature of any person supporting the petition

Petitions should be accompanied by contact details, including an address, for the petition organiser (‘Petition Organiser’).  This is the person we will contact to explain how we will deal with the petition.  If the petition does not identify a Petition Organiser, we will contact the first named signatory on the petition and deal with them as the Petition Organiser.

The Petition Organiser should be resident in Hertfordshire and all other signatories to the petition should either be a resident in or work in Hertfordshire

         A petition will not be accepted under this Scheme where: 

  •   it is considered to be vexatious, abusive or otherwise inappropriate
  •  it refers to a decision for which there is an existing right of appeal, for example, school admissions
  •  it refers to a development plan, specific planning or rights of way matter where there is an existing right of appeal
  • it is a statutory petition (for example requesting a referendum on having an elected mayor) as such petitions have their own procedures.

The petition must relate to a matter over which the County Council has control (e.g. the provision of local services for which the Council has responsibility, such as local libraries, services for young people or road safety) or which affects the County of Hertfordshire in some significant way.

If  your petition is about something for which the Council has no direct responsibility we will consider whether we can still deal with the matter. The Council works with a large number of local partner organisations and, where possible, will work with these partners to respond to your petition. If we are not able to do this for any reason then we will set out the reasons for this to you.

If your petition is about something that a different council, or other body, is responsible for, we will give consideration to what the best method is for responding to it. It might consist of simply forwarding the petition to the other council or body, but could involve other steps. In any event we will always notify you of the action we have taken.

If a petition does not follow the guidelines set out in this Scheme, the Council may decide not to do anything further with it.  In that case, we will write to you to explain the reasons.

In the period immediately before an election or referendum we may need to deal with your petition differently – if this is the case we will explain the reasons and discuss the revised timescale which will apply. 

This Petition Scheme sets out how petitions can be presented to either full Council, Cabinet or a Cabinet Panel. There are separate procedures relating the presentation of petitions to Development Control Committee (Constitution Annex 11) and Health Scrutiny Committee (Constitution Annex 9) and they can be accessed here: Constitution Annexes .

How many people must support the petition?

Your rights to present a petition to a meeting of members of the Council depends on the type of meeting and number of people who have signed the petition – please see the table below for the minimum number of signatories:

Type of Meeting

Number of signatures required

County Council*

1000

Cabinet*

100

Cabinet Panel

100

*Please note that:

 (1)  full Council and Cabinet have different functions and if your petition relates to executive functions, whilst the petition can be presented to Council,  the Council will be able to take no effective action other than to refer it to Cabinet (with or without recommendations). If you require any clarification as to whether the subject matter of your petition relates to an executive or Council function please contact the Head of Member Services (David Roberts: email to david.roberts@hertfordshire.gov.uk or telephone 01992 555562) who will be able to assist you.

(2)    a petition can only be presented to Cabinet if it relates to a Report on the Cabinet Agenda and the matter which is the subject of the Petition has not been considered previously by a Cabinet Panel.

Petition on the same subject matter not usually to be presented again within a six month period

If  the subject matter of the petition has been considered by either full Council, Cabinet or a Cabinet Panel then a petition relating to the same matter will not be considered again by any member meeting within the following six month period unless there has been a change of circumstances. Whether there has been a change in circumstances will be determined by the Chief Legal officer in consultation with the Chairman of the Council (if it is proposed that the new petition be presented to Council) or the Leader of the Council and the relevant Executive Member (if it is proposed that the new petition is presented to Cabinet or a Cabinet Panel).

Dates of Meetings

Dates of the meetings referred to above are on our website

What will the Council do with your petition?

You will receive an acknowledgement from the Council within 10 working days of receipt of the petition. This acknowledgement will set out the proposed next steps and when you will hear from us again. If the petition is not accepted we will explain the reasons for this in our acknowledgement of the petition.

If we can do what your petition asks for, the acknowledgement may confirm that we have taken the action requested and the petition will be closed.  If the petition has enough signatures to trigger a Council or Cabinet Panel debate then the acknowledgement will confirm this. 

If the petition needs more investigation, we will tell you the steps that we plan to take.

If the petition relates to a planning matter or other matter where there is already an existing right of appeal, or is a statutory petition, it will not be dealt with under this Scheme as other procedures will apply. In such cases we will advise you of the procedures that apply and the action that will be taken. 

Presentation to Cabinet Panel

If a petition contains 100 or more signatures and is to be presented to Cabinet Panel the following paragraphs of this section will apply.

The Cabinet Panel will endeavour to consider the petition at its next meeting as long as it is submitted at least 5 clear days before the meeting if the petition relates to an item on the Agenda and 20 clear days before the meeting if it relates to a matter which is not scheduled to be on the Agenda (subject to paragraph 26 below).

Subject to the petition complying with paragraph 24, if the subject matter of the Petition relates to a matter which is not otherwise scheduled to be on the Agenda for the Cabinet Panel meeting, officers will prepare a Report for members setting out the background and other relevant information of which they are aware relating to the subject matter of the petition but will not give a recommendation as to how the Petition should be dealt with.

If  the petition is received less than 20 clear days but more than 5 clear days notice before the meeting and the petition does not relate to a matter scheduled to be on the Agenda then, if the subject matter of the petition needs to be considered urgently (as determined by the relevant Executive Member), the Petition may be presented to the Cabinet Panel meeting but no officer report will be prepared.

At the Cabinet Panel Meeting

At the Cabinet Panel meeting the Petition Organiser will be given three minutes maximum to present the petition and will not otherwise be allowed to speak.

If  the petition relates to a matter that was already on the Agenda then the petition will be presented immediately prior to consideration of the relevant item.

If  the petition relates to a matter that would not otherwise have been on the Agenda then it will be presented and the officer report on it will be considered following confirmation of the minutes of the meeting. 

If  the petition is one which the Executive Member has determined needs to be considered urgently (see paragraph 26 above) then the petition will be presented and considered following confirmation of the minutes of the meeting.

Following consideration of the Petition as mentioned in paragraphs 29 or 30 above the Panel can make a recommendation as follows:

  •  refer the matter to Cabinet
  • make a recommendation to officers as to how to respond to the petition
  • request officers undertake further work and either liaise with the Local Member and relevant Executive Member before responding to the petition or bring the matter back to Panel
  • acknowledge the petition but recommend that no further action is taken.

 Generally

On some occasions it may not be possible for a petition which meets the time requirements set out above to be considered by a Cabinet Panel and if this is the case consideration of the petition will then take place at the next appropriate meeting.

No more than two petitions in total will be considered at any one meeting of the Cabinet Panel pursuant to paragraphs 29 and 30 above and in addition no more than two petitions that relate to an item that is already on the Agenda. The order of receipt of the petitions above shall govern priority.

Where two or more petitions are received in time for a particular meeting, supporting the same outcome on a particular matter, each Petition Organiser will be treated as an independent Petition Organiser, but only the Petition Organiser for the first petition to be received will be invited to address the meeting with members being informed that the other petition(s) has/have been received.

Presentation to Cabinet

If a petition contains 100 or more signatures and relates to a matter on the Cabinet Agenda which has not been considered by a Cabinet Panel the following paragraphs of this section will apply.

The petition must be received by the Chief Legal Officer at least 5 clear days before the meeting. 

The petition will be presented immediately prior to consideration of the relevant item. The Petition Organiser may address the Cabinet for no more than three minutes on the subject of the petition, but thereafter shall not have the right to speak further.  The petition will then be considered as part of the discussion on the relevant Agenda item.

No more than two petitions shall be presented at any one meeting of the Cabinet unless the Chairman of Cabinet so allows.  The order of receipt of the petitions shall govern priority.

Where more than two petitions are received in time for a particular meeting, supporting the same outcome on a particular matter, each Petition Organiser will be treated as an independent Petition Organiser, but only the Petition Organiser for the first petition to be received will be invited to address the meeting with members being informed that the other petition(s) has/have been received.

 Full Council  

Before the Council meeting

 If a petition contains 1,000 or more signatures and is to be presented to full Council the following paragraphs of this section will apply.

The Council will endeavour to consider the petition at its next meeting as long as it is submitted at least 5 clear days before the meeting if the petition relates to an item on the Agenda and 20 clear days before the meeting if it relates to a matter which is not scheduled to be on the Agenda (subject to paragraph 43 below).

Subject to complying with paragraph 41, if the petition relates to a matter not otherwise scheduled to be on the Agenda for the Council Meeting, officers will prepare a Report for members setting out the background and other relevant information of which they are aware relating to the subject matter of the petition but will not give a recommendation as to how the Petition should be dealt with.

 If the petition is received less than 20 clear days but more than 5 clear days before the meeting and the petition does not relate to a matter scheduled to be on the Agenda then, if the subject matter of the petition needs to be considered urgently (as determined by the Chairman of the Council), the Petition may be presented to the Council meeting but no officer report will be prepared.  

At the Council Meeting  

At the Council meeting the Petition Organiser will be given three minutes maximum to present the petition and will not otherwise be allowed to speak.  

If the petition relates to a matter that was already on the Agenda then the petition will be presented immediately prior to consideration of the relevant item.  

If the petition relates to a matter that would not otherwise have been on the Agenda then it will be presented and the officer report on it will be considered early in the Council meeting in accordance with the standing orders relating to the order of business. There will then be a short debate by the Council.  

The Council will decide how to respond to the petition at the meeting.  They may decide to take the action the petition requests or not to take the action requested for reasons put forward in the debate.  Where the issue is one on which the Council executive are required to make the final decision, the Council will decide whether to make recommendations to inform that decision. If the Council do not decide to deal with the petition in some other way, it will (at the discretion of the Chairman) be referred to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the appropriate Cabinet Panel or to officers for consideration and report to the local member and Group Spokesmen.

If the petition is one which the Chairman determines needs to be considered urgently (see paragraph 43 above) then one member from each of the Groups on the Council may speak and the petition will then be referred (at the discretion of the Chairman) to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the appropriate Cabinet Panel, or to officers for consideration and report to the local member and Group Spokesmen.

Generally

On some occasions it may not be possible for a petition which meets the time requirements set out above to be considered by Council and, if this is the case, consideration of the petition will then take place at the next appropriate meeting.

No more than two petitions in total will be considered at any one meeting of the Council pursuant to paragraphs 45 and 46 above and, in addition, no more than two petitions that relate to an item that is already on the Agenda. The order of receipt of the petitions shall govern priority.

Where two or more petitions are received in time for a particular meeting, supporting the same outcome on a particular matter, each Petition Organiser will be treated as an independent Petition Organiser, but only the Petition Organiser for the first petition to be received will be invited to address the meeting with members being informed that the other petition(s) has/have been received.

Petitions to Council can be on any matter which relates to something that is the responsibility of the County Council or which significantly affects the County of Hertfordshire, but, if it relates to an Executive function, the Petition Organiser will be advised that Council cannot make a decision on the matter which will bind the County Council – although Council can refer the matter to Cabinet with their comments/views.

  E-petitions

 In addition to paper petitions the Council welcomes e-petitions which are created, signed and submitted through our website must follow the same guidelines as paper petitions.

 The person who raises the e-petition will need to provide us with their name, postal address, post code and email address. You will also need to decide how long you would like your petition to be open for signatures. We recommend allowing petitions to run for six months, but you can choose a shorter or longer timeframe, up to a maximum of 12 months. The Council will then organise for the petition to be published on-line.

When you create an e-petition, it may take five working days before it is published online. This is because we have to check that the content of your petition is suitable before it is made available for signature.

 If we feel we cannot publish your petition for some reason, we will contact you within this time to explain.  A summary of the petition and the reason why it has not been accepted will also be published under the 'rejected petitions' section of the website.

When an e-petition has closed for signature, it will be submitted to the Council.   If you would like to present your e-petition to a meeting of the Council, please contact us to seek advice.

The response to the petition which is published on the website is automatically emailed to everyone who has signed the e-petition and elected to receive this information. 

Any paper signatures that are collected can also be added to an e-petition. Please forward these to the Chief Legal Officer, County Hall, Hertford, SG13 8DE. In doing so, please make it clear that you would like to link these signatures to the relevant e-petition.

How do I 'sign' an e-petition?

 You can see all the e-petitions currently available for signature.

When you sign an e-petition you will be asked to provide your name, your postal address and your postcode.  People visiting the e-petition will be able to see your name and the city or town in which you live in the list of those who have signed it, but the remainder of your details will not be publicly visible. You will also have the opportunity to sign up for e-mail updates on the progress of any petition that you sign.

Informing councillors and officers

When a petition is received the relevant Cabinet member, opposition spokespersons and Chief Officer will be sent a copy of the petition.

 If the petition relates to a local matter in a particular electoral division the relevant local county councillor will also be sent a copy of the petition.

Signposts