Row over Tower Hamlets Mayor refusing to answer councillors questions

Thursday, January 26, 2012
1:04 PM

A furious row blew up at Tower Hamlets Council when Mayor Lutfur Rahman refused to answer members’ questions in public.

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He responded instead by promising written responses to most of the 25 questions tabled on last night’s council meeting agenda.

Labour’s Motin Uz-Zaman asked how many meetings he had with the Government over cuts in housing benefit which would have “a profound impact” on many East End families.

But the mayor wouldn’t be drawn on it.

“I assume there was no meeting,” said Cllr Uz-Zaman. “It’s inappropriate to sit there with a wide smile and not be ready to answer.

“The Prime Minister responds to questions from MPs and the Mayor of London answers questions at the London Assembly—why not you?

Lutfur’s response was: “That’s why I’m the mayor and he’s the councillor,” pointing to Cllr Uz-Zaman, which drew jeers from the public gallery.

The row blew up after changes agreed in November to the council’s constitution in which the directly-elected mayor was required to answer members’ questions on issues that he has not delegated to his cabinet members.

He took legal advice that he doesn’t have to answer in public and can, instead, promise written replies.

Cllr Judith Gardiner asked what measures he was taking on Government plans to make unauthorised subletting of social rented property a criminal offence “to ensure those in genuine housing need are not disadvantaged.”

But he did not answer. Instead, he attacked backbenchers for relying on constitutional amendments to force him respond in public.

“I will publish appropriate answers at a time of my choosing to all questions and supplimentary questions,” he told councillors.

His cambinet members tried to table an emergency motion on “time wasting by Tory and Labour councillors” by calling for named votes on any issue.

But the move failed and the meeting continued with Mayor Rahman giving a full response to only one the 25 questions that had been listed—but his prepared answer was given to a listed question that hadn’t yet been asked.

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