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Ministers—Compliance with Cabinet Manual

Wednesday 10 November 2010 Hansard source (external site)

Hodgson10. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) Link to this
to the Prime Minister

What recent advice, if any, has he given to his Ministers on ensuring they are clear about in which of the three capacities set out in paragraph 2.52 of the Cabinet Manual they are acting when signing documents?

EnglishHon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister) Link to this

As is standard practice, after every election Ministers are briefed on their responsibilities as Ministers and the provisions contained in the Cabinet Manual. The Prime Minister expects that Ministers will abide by them.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

Does he stand by the answer of his office, when asked by Radio New Zealand whether the Hon Pansy Wong had used her position to further her husband’s interests, that “That is not a question that can really be answered.”?

EnglishHon BILL ENGLISH Link to this

If the member looks at the circumstances surrounding his allegations of yesterday, he will see that Ms Wong signed as a witness a contract between two private companies. She then listed her occupation as a Minister in the New Zealand Government, as she is required legally to do.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

Does he not think the New Zealand public would much prefer that the question as to whether Ms Wong was there to further her husband’s interests could be answered, and that the answer is that the aim was to make a bunch of money, but the deal went bad?

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

Before the Minister answers that question, I say that I am not sure the Prime Minister has a responsibility for why a Minister might be somewhere on a private trip. I alert the Acting Prime Minister that there are limitations on what the Prime Minister is responsible for. I am happy to let the Acting Prime Minister deal with the question, as long as he realises that there are limits to how far he is expected to go on such a matter.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The whole point of this series of questions is that while on a private trip the Minister purported to act as a Minister and used her ministerial designation—

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

Members can see what is happening here. The member, in raising his point of order, is entering into the substance of the “debate”—it is not really a debate—or rather the issue. He can see how this leads to disorder. Points of order should not be used for that; they should be used with respect for the processes of the House. There are clear bounds around what the Prime Minister is responsible for. The Prime Minister is answerable for Ministers’ management of conflicts of interest, and he is also responsible for his confidence in Ministers. But members cannot use question time to examine the private affairs of Ministers. That is the only point that I am making. I sensed that the question went a fair way towards the private activity of a Minister in a private capacity, but rather than rule it out I want to give the Acting Prime Minister the chance to handle the question in the way that he sees fit.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to invite my colleague to repeat his question, because the question was very carefully worded around the—

Hon Member

Who’s running the House?

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

That was Jonathan Coleman again.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I have heard the member’s point of order, and before I make a decision I want to hear whether the Leader of the House wishes to add to it.

BrownleeHon Gerry Brownlee Link to this

Not to that, no—that’s rubbish. [ Interruption]

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

This is highly disorderly. Someone over here on my right yelled out very loudly: “Sit down.” It is up to the Speaker to deal with such matters. I do not want to distract the House on to these issues. This is a serious issue, and I want it dealt with fairly and properly. The member has asked for his colleague to repeat his question. I do not want to cause a problem through my simply alerting the Acting Prime Minister of the bounds in relation to what the Prime Minister is responsible for in this regard. Given that I have now led to a considerable time lag, I will let the member repeat his question, but I make it very clear that the Prime Minister is responsible only for Ministers’ management of conflicts of interest and for his confidence in his Ministers. Question time cannot be used to question the Prime Minister about the private activities of Ministers, beyond the point where it affects his confidence in them.

BrownleeHon Gerry Brownlee Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order—and I accept what you ruled—relates to how we got into this little exchange. Some comments were made to the House by way of a point of order by the Hon Trevor Mallard that were disorderly, and they ascribed improper motives to another member. That is outside the Standing Orders, and that member should formally withdraw those comments.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I do not want the House to take more time on this matter. I did not interpret the member as trying to do that. I believe he was pushing the bounds around a point of order more than I was comfortable with, and that is why I sat him down. Then things got messy, because he did not sit down fast enough and someone yelled out: “Sit down.” The place got disorderly. If anything, I will accept the blame for that myself, because I want to move on. I do not want to take more time over this. I caution members to please be a little more respectful of the Standing Orders. I invite the Hon Pete Hodgson to repeat his question so that it can be heard clearly, but I alert him that he cannot use question time to pursue the private affairs of Ministers beyond the issue of whether the Prime Minister has confidence in them.

BrownleeHon Gerry Brownlee Link to this

No one is more concerned about time-wasting in the House than I am. We want to get on with Government business as soon as possible. Today is a members’ day and obviously we want to see members given a fair go as well. Mr Speaker, you will see from Hansard that Mr Mallard’s comments earlier were extremely disorderly. They ascribed an improper motive to a member, they are outside the written Standing Orders, and he should withdraw his comment. I appreciate that you do not want to deal with that at the moment, but I ask you to look at the transcript afterwards and perhaps the video this evening, and consider the words that were used. Perhaps then you will reconsider your position this afternoon.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

That is not an unreasonable request. By practice, I always look at what has transpired during the day because one can always live and learn—I fully accept that. I accept the concern over the issue, and I ask members to be careful in how they use points of order. I will look at that matter.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

Does he not think—[ Interruption] How much more of this—

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I ask the member to just ask the question, please. I have shown him the courtesy of enabling him to repeat his question. There are often plenty of interjections when members ask questions; there is nothing unusual about that. I ask the member to please ask his question. I have extended the courtesy of allowing him to repeat it.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

Does he not think the New Zealand public would much prefer that the question of whether Pansy Wong had used her ministerial position to further her husband’s interests could be answered, and that the answer is that the aim was to make a bunch of money, but the deal went bad?

EnglishHon BILL ENGLISH Link to this

The answer to the question is no, she did not. The next statement I would make is that the member’s allegations are disgraceful. They are just another example of the kinds of smear campaigns that the nasty Labour Party runs.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

Is the difference between his management of this case as opposed to that of the honourable Dr Richard Worth due to the fact that the honourable Dr Richard Worth was the director of the company in question, whereas the Hon Pansy Wong was merely the spouse of the director in question; if not, where is the brightline to be drawn?

EnglishHon BILL ENGLISH Link to this

There is no comparison in the examples the member is using. The fact is that the Hon Pansy Wong signed a private document that required her to list an occupation. If there was any influence at all, it could only be that she influenced her husband.

HodgsonHon Pete Hodgson Link to this

At times like this, why is the Prime Minister quick to tell the public that he has supposedly received advice from the Cabinet Office that no conflict has arisen, yet he refuses publicly time and again, month after month, to ever release such advice?

EnglishHon BILL ENGLISH Link to this

As the member will know, we are following a convention with Cabinet Office advice that the previous Labour Government followed for 9 years as well. The fact is that the member’s allegations are disgraceful, and they have impugned a member of Parliament in a way that is absolutely unnecessary and unjustified. It is more from the nasty, smearing Labour Party members, who believe that if they keep saying it eventually someone will believe it. The member should be ashamed of himself.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

Question No. 11—[ Interruption] Tensions are high when an issue like this arises. I accept that, but I ask members please to respect this House. [ Interruption] I am on my feet.

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