COUNCIL leaders have been accused of ‘launching an attack on democracy’ after a decision to reduce the time given to the public and councillors to ask questions at meetings.
Public question time at Wycombe District Council gives residents and councillors a chance to submit enquiries on recent decisions, council policy or make requests for information.
Members last week agreed to cut the time limit from three to one minute for each question to be asked, claiming more questions will get dealt with within the allotted question time hour.
Some also hailed it as a step forward to stop quetioners 'waffling' or using the time to make political statements.
But Cllr Matt Knight, who represents Micklefield, believes the decision will damage the quality of the questioning and stands in the way of democracy.
He said: "The Tories, and the leader of the Labour group, launched an attack on local democracy in supporting proposals to reduce the time given to members of the public to only one minute each at full council meetings.
"I got involved in local politics by attending the meetings, sitting in the public gallery and asking questions. As a nervous member of the public it is not always easy to be that concise and to limit members of the public puts a further barrier in the way of people who want to engage in local democracy.
"It is sometimes necessary to use some extended time in asking a question to give context, and communicate the views of the public we represent.
"There are only a few council meetings a year and in the interest of democracy, transparency and proper scrutiny we should make full use of that time to ensure all views are heard and sufficient time is given to this."
A decision by WDC’s Regulatory and Appeals committee reduced the time for public and councillors’ initial and supplementary questions to the Cabinet from three minutes to one.
And while the initial answer time will remain at three minutes, the limit for answers to supplementary questions has been cut to two minutes rather than three.
Those opposing the change failed to vote through two amendments, arguing to extend supplementary questions to three minutes and to allow extra time for members should those from the public finish early.
However, supporters stressed the changes would allow for more questions per session, with Conservatives pointing out only seven of 12 of members’ enquiries were dealt with at the last meeting.
During last week's discussion, Tory Cllr Tony Green said: "We have seen multiple examples of why we need to make changes. The public and the council do ask questions and I would not want to stop that.
"But it does not take more than a minute to ask a question. We get people who come along to make political statements and that is not the purpose.
"The same goes for members, if they can’t ask a question within a minute then perhaps they need to think about what they are doing at the meeting.
"Question time is not the place for that, and we don’t need a lot of waffling which is what we are getting at the moment."