Following the statement on free speech issued by HDC Tory leader Ray Dawe on Wednesday, we asked him to clarify what this meant in practice.
Here are our questions and his responses, in full.
COUNTY TIMES’ QUESTION: Will Conservative group members no longer be threatened with disciplinary action if they vote against a group line; or encouraged to stay away from a meeting and thus not vote if they hold a different point of view?
RAY DAWE ANSWER: Please see my statement as to the exact situation that has taken place in last week’s County Times in response to the John Steele article. Mr Dawe said then: “Legal advice is quite clear that this is not a planning but a policy matter. The HDC Conservative group does not have an appointed whip. If a group member feels unable to support a policy agreed by a majority of other members then we follow national group rules.
“These do not ‘forbid’ any members from voting as they decide. On this particular occasion members knew that they could abstain if they so wished at the council vote on the Preferred Strategy. If members do not want to abstain and vote and speak against any agreed group policy then the rules also say that they should discuss the issue with their group leader before doing this.
No one chose to do that. I conclude therefore that each member voted as they wanted. I add that our HDC Conservative group is simply following the normal practice of all three main political parties throughout the country.”
Q: Will there be an entirely free vote on the preferred strategy on April 30?
A: As already stated, the HDC Conservative group does not have a group whip.
Q: As the county council motion was based on the County Times’ Free Speech Charter - which was formally endorsed by the Conservative group at WSCC - and originated from it, will you and your colleagues, like county leader Louise Goldsmith, also be signing our Charter?
A: The County Council motion was not the County Times’ charter. Like our County colleagues HDC Conservative councillors in endorsing that motion have done nothing more than reaffirm the principles they work by. If in addition, a member feels he or she wishes to sign anything then that is entirely up to them.
Q: Has the statement released on Wednesday been endorsed by all members of your Conservative group?
A: The statement was circulated in advance of sending it to the media to all members of the Conservative group. It contains nothing new and is a simple reaffirmation of the principles the party works by.
Q: Why, if this is a ‘continuing principle’ was Christian Mitchell brought before a special hearing of your group for speaking and writing freely on behalf of his constituents?
A: Various Conservative members have spoken and written against a particular policy. I do not recall that any action was taken against them. Christian has very clearly expressed his personal views about what took place in a particular meeting and I do not propose to respond to those.
Q: Is it the case that members will no longer be required to speak to you in advance of voting against a group motion and nor will they be required to show you any articles or letters intended for general publication in advance?
A: You are referring, I think, to an interpretation of group rules that all the main political parties have for their councillors.
These apply at all district, borough and county councils. I have already outlined the procedure that is followed under these .I am sure the County Times can easily obtain copies of these rules from each of the political parties. It is not in the gift of any particular council group to change these.
Q: At the February meeting of full council, Peter Burgess said that in voting for the next chairman he was subject to a ‘three line whip’. Given that your statement today says it is reaffirming existing principles, why did Mr Burgess believe this?
A: Peter Burgess made the statement so you must ask him. As far as I am concerned, all that occurred was that more than one candidate put himself forward for the position of Conservative group nominee chairman for the coming year. In such circumstances, the group rules provide for a vote. This was taken and one candidate was a clear winner. Following this it would be normal for all members to then support that nomination and members were reminded of that fact.
Q: Do you intend to follow protocol and reinstate Mr Mitchell as the next chairman?
A: Please see the above answer re election of a Conservative group nominee.