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Standing Orders

Wednesday 5 October 2011 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

CollinsHon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police) Link to this

That the amendments to the Standing Orders set out in Part 2 of the report of the Standing Orders Committee on the Review of Standing Orders be adopted, with effect from the day after the dissolution or expiration of the present Parliament.

The Acting Leader of the House joined the Standing Orders Committee quite late in the piece as replacement for Gerry Brownlee, so there will be other members able to speak with more authority on the breadth of the committee’s work. However, the Acting Leader of the House does want to make a couple of points on a few of the recommendations, particularly in light of his tenure as Acting Leader of the House since late February this year. In that role he has become very conscious of the availability of House time for Government business, particularly this year. Due to the election and Rugby World Cup, there were only 23 sitting weeks scheduled compared with 29 and 31 in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Although they were entirely appropriate responses, the early adjournments that followed the Pike River disaster and the February earthquake also resulted in 26 fewer hours of House time—the equivalent of 2 sitting weeks.

On the demand side of the equation, around the middle of the year the Government needs to set aside 31 hours, or the equivalent of 2½ weeks, for Budget debates alone, and that excludes any Budget-related tax legislation. Then there are smaller parcels of time required for various Government notices of motion that must be progressed, with 4 hours for 16 valedictory statements this year.

Understandably some of my ministerial colleagues have also been keen to see progress on some of their legislation before the election. So from that perspective, the Acting Leader of the House is very supportive—

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to the member. I am listening very carefully and I have been involved in both Standing Orders and adjournment debates previously. I just want the Minister to check that she has not picked up the wrong one of the two speeches. I think this might be the one for tomorrow, which reviews the progress in the House through the year rather than being the one on the Standing Orders changes.

RoyThe ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy) Link to this

I did listen very carefully to her commencement and she read the motion, word for word. The Minister may wish to respond.

CollinsHon JUDITH COLLINS Link to this

Speaking to the point of order, this is the speech in relation to the Government motion for the review of the Standing Orders, but I thank the honourable member.

RoyThe ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy) Link to this

Proceed.

CollinsHon JUDITH COLLINS Link to this

Thank you so much.

CollinsHon JUDITH COLLINS Link to this

That is quite all right.

Understandably some of my ministerial colleagues have also been keen to make progress on some of their legislation before the election. So from that perspective, the Acting Leader of the House is very supportive of the committee’s recommendations to allow the Government to obtain extra hours of House time by moving that sitting be extended to a Wednesday or Thursday morning, or by agreement of the Business Committee to a Thursday evening and Friday morning. Although this would not remove the need for urgency from time to time, it would provide a pressure valve for an Order Paper groaning under the weight of a busy Government’s agenda. I suspect that this may also have the effect of narrowing the scope of urgency motions to focus on specific measures that require a particularly expeditious passage or to fix up problems with existing legislation—and there have been a number of those this term. Similarly I note that there is another recommendation for a Minister in moving urgency to state the reasons with some particularity, which is something the Acting Leader of the House has attempted to do. He anticipates that future Leaders of the House may look at using extended sitting hours once every 3-week block, for example, just to keep what is largely non-controversial legislation flowing through the pipeline.

The Acting Leader of the House is also pleased to see the Standing Orders Committee give a bit more formal recognition to cognate bills. Last year, he drew a precedent from the 1960s to seek leave for debate on two interconnected bills to be taken together as cognate bills, and since then we have used it on three further occasions to facilitate legislation on which there is broad agreement.

However, we recognise that the review of the Standing Orders is also a balancing act requiring give and take between Government and non-Government parties. In this respect, one of the trade-offs for extended sitting hours is the recommendation that an instruction to truncate the select committee consideration of bills to fewer than 4 months be debatable unless agreement can be reached at the Business Committee. Balancing this out, the Standing Orders Committee also recommended the debate on such an instruction must be confined to the subject matter of the motion.

One of the underlying themes to emerge from the review of the Standing Orders is the growing status of the Business Committee as a mechanism by which the Government and other parties can make the best use of House time to advance measures with broad-based support. The Acting Leader of the House wants to add his appreciation to the members of the Business Committee for their constructive engagement this term.

There is only one final comment concerning the Standing Orders Committee recommendation to reinstate the requirement to record and publish members’ attendance at parliamentary business. To the Acting Leader of the House’s mind, members have an obligation to Parliament and the public to at least attend the House or other parliamentary business, if not actively participate, and the public have a right to know how their elected members perform in meeting this most basic requirement.

MallardHon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) Link to this

I want to thank the Minister of Police, and I apologise to her for interrupting before she got to the substance of the debate on the motion to adopt the amendments to the Standing Orders set out in Part 2 of the report of the Standing Orders Committee on the Review of Standing Orders. I acknowledge the work of the Acting Leader of the House in the Business Committee, and also on the Standing Orders Committee. I, as did he, came relatively late to this process, and I acknowledge the work of Mr Speaker as chair of both of those groups. In my opinion, Parliament is a better place for the work that has occurred in a constructive way.

Although it might cause him some embarrassment, I also acknowledge Rodney Hide and the work he has done within this. I was surprised at the number of occasions when we agreed as we progressed through the Standing Orders, and I think that having someone who has had a period as a poacher, and who, to a certain extent, has turned gamekeeper, was useful. It was useful having his view on the importance of Parliament and where the balances lie. People who look carefully at this report will see that it is one that very slightly tips the running of Parliament in favour of the Government, but provides some safeguards to that. Those of us who have been involved on both sides of the House think that that is something that could be useful going forward

I have another preliminary comment to make, though, because I think there has been a lot of focus here, especially, around extended sittings—which I will make some more comment on—to help progress Government business. But I am concerned at the growing habit in the House of considering the adjournment weeks as weeks in which select committees do not sit. It was certainly the intention of previous Governments that when there was a 2-week adjournment, at least the Wednesday and Thursday of one of those weeks would be taken up for select committee business. It would give the select committees the ability to travel more often, to go to where people were and listen to their concerns, and in that way to make Parliament more accessible, and the select committee process more acceptable, to people around the country. I do not subscribe to the group who think that most members of Parliament go on holiday for 2 weeks, but I think we do need to get the balance between our electorates and our select committee responsibilities. o In my opinion, having select committees sit as often as they do while Parliament is sitting, but having members not do select committee duties during adjournment periods, is a step backwards, and I hope that it can be looked at, going forward.

Going to some of the recommendations, there is one that I would regard as the “Hone Harawira amendment”, which is a requirement to promote compliance with the proper form of the oath or affirmation. This is an amendment where I think it is fair to say that although we from Labour, on balance, have gone along with the change—in fact Rick Barker, who is a regular member of the committee, and I have slightly different opinions on it—it is a change I go along with, with some reluctance. What is being required here is absolute compliance with the words of the Act, without any addition to them. My opinion has always been that if people want, for example, to say “Madam Clerk” beforehand, or to say “thank you” afterwards, that should not result in their oath or affirmation being ruled out of order as they are being sworn in. In the interpretation we have now, that will be ruled out of order. I think, clearly, if people depart from the oath and add words that somehow negate it, as we have seen, then that is a different issue.

I think this highlights the need for a focus on the Act itself. There are certainly some people in the House who do not have the same understanding of “heirs and successors, according to law.” I have relied pretty heavily on the “according to law” bit of that, in the hope that some day it will change. At that stage I will rely on that part to indicate that maybe my loyalty to Her Majesty is something that will not be ongoing for the time when we inevitably have a republic.

Although I am less comfortable with that change, I am probably more comfortable than many of my colleagues with the set of arrangements around the extra hours—the extended sittings—of the House. I have had a role in Government business before. I know that things do not work neatly, and that therefore it is too easy for Governments to move to urgency in order to get through business that, of itself, is not urgent. Urgency has too often been used as a House management tool rather than as a tool to progress urgent business. I think the extended sittings give the right compromise there: select committees cannot sit at the same time as the House, except with leave; notice is given; bills are not taken through more than one stage at any one time; and the extended sitting occurs only once a week, unless the Business Committee agrees. In my opinion, that will give the Government a bit more power, but will move it back from using urgency in a way that I consider to have been inappropriate of Governments for just about as long as I can remember.

I am of the generation who can remember when Parliament did not sit until May. It would always sit the week before the Labour Party conference when Muldoon was Prime Minister, and urgency would be taken in order to disrupt the Labour Party conference through the weekend. That was the standard form of doing things. It was vindictive, it was vicious, and I think it led Geoffrey Palmer to make a number of reforms, some of which we are now working on further reforming or refining.

There is, I think, quite a lot of extra power going to the Business Committee. Again, I reiterate my surprise at how well that committee is working. Frankly, Mr Brownlee, and especially Mr Power, with whom I have worked more often on that committee recently, have been open with the committee as to their intentions. The meetings have been slightly better planned, maybe, than at some stages in the past. You, Mr Speaker, in the way that you have chaired the committee, have also tried to seek consensus, although there has been an occasion or two where you have been the only person who has had a particular point of view. It is probably fortunate for the other members of the committee that you do not represent a party on that committee.

That leads me to another point, which is slightly at the edge of this debate. I say, Mr Speaker, that it is a pity you are not taking a call in this debate. Back in the old days, changes to the Standing Orders were made in the Committee stage. There was therefore an opportunity for the Speaker to come into the Committee to take a call. It did not happen in those debates, but I can remember occasions when Speakers did that. I think, Mr Speaker, that you have been actively involved in this, and I hope that at the end of this debate you will give your views rather than just putting the question. I know it is slightly harder to do that from the Chair in which you generally sit than from a speaking place in the House.

The other area that I think is a major victory for Parliament over the executive is the requirement to make debatable in the House instructions to select committees that shorten their consideration of bills to a period shorter than 4 months. I think—much more so, in fact, with this Government than with previous Governments—there has been a habit of almost automatically shortening up the time for the consideration of bills in select committees. That often stops the public from having a decent go, and often forces the debate or the committee hearings into the sitting times of the House, as well, and I think that that is unhealthy.

These reviews are always compromises. I do not totally support everything in here, but through your chairpersonship, Mr Speaker, there is nothing in here that any party is fundamentally and absolutely opposed to, to its core.

GrahamDr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) Link to this

This Standing Orders report and its recommendations reflect a huge amount of work over the past year. I pay tribute to the Speaker as the chairman of the Standing Orders Committee for his handling of this critically important exercise. I also acknowledge the officials, Mary Harris and David Bagnall especially, for their perceptive and tireless work in clarifying matters for committee members. The recommendations that have emerged in the report are good enough, as far as they go. The report aims, as the Speaker puts it, to offer significant opportunities for improving how the House deals with its business.

The Standing Orders review is a triennial exercise usually undertaken by each Parliament. The report from this forty-ninth Parliament has focused on promoting a constructive engagement through the Business Committee about how the time of the House is arranged. The aspiration is that members can scrutinise bills more effectively and debate matters that are important to them. Under the committee’s proposals there will be greater incentives for all political parties to negotiate in this way. The principal changes focus on this goal. There will be extra hours of House time without urgency, and with certain balances and safeguards. The rules for raising matters subject to judicial decision will be revised. There will be more provision for cognate bills to be facilitated with broad agreement. There will be more flexibility for arranging the Committee of the whole House stage for bills, and for dealing with amendments. Motions that shorten the time for select committees to consider bills will be discouraged. Members will be able to gain support for their own bills before they win the ballot. There will be strict compliance with the proper form of oath when members are sworn in.

The Green Party supports these recommendations. We shall be voting to adopt the recommendations contained in the report. We think they represent progress in refining the rules of procedure on which Parliament is run.

That said, we are also of the view that an opportunity has been lost for reforming the institution more thoroughly than the recommendations in this report allow. The Green Party submitted a number of recommendations to the committee—some 19 altogether. A number of our proposals were accepted, others were not, yet we appreciate the considerable lengths that the Standing Orders Committee has gone to in order to reflect our views in the report. This enabled the committee to submit the report as a unanimous view, without any minority report. We believe that the report is stronger as a result. I do not wish to relitigate here every one of the points we originally made. I shall confine myself to five issues that we still believe need to be seriously considered by the fiftieth Parliament. The first is the oath, the second concerns the prayer, the third concerns petitions, the fourth concerns denial of leave, and the fifth concerns standards of conduct.

The Greens were pleased that a majority of the committee recorded the view that in the course of the fiftieth Parliament, the wording of the oath or affirmation should be subject to a review. We all have total recall of the difficulty some members face in taking the oath in its current form. It is, of course, important that members take the oath in the precise form that the law requires. The Green Party believes, however, that the oath needs revision to reflect the broader society that New Zealand has become and the richer understanding of our historical roots that we have acquired in recent years. I recognise that National and ACT recorded a minority view on this particular point. We appeal to them to understand that a conservative outlook on our national character does not preclude change to reflect an accurate historical identity. Let us at least review the oath in the course of the next year.

The same view applies to the prayer. In the Greens’ view, the Speaker could constructively convene a panel of recognised authorities to consider ways in which the prayer could be broadened to reflect the multicultural society that New Zealand has become. Who could oppose that? The Christians among us would scarcely be disadvantaged. They have nothing to fear; this is not the Middle Ages. We can acknowledge our common spirituality without renouncing our religious convictions. To do otherwise is to demean ourselves.

Concerning petitions, we remain concerned about reports that petitions that have accumulated a huge number of signatures can be summarily dispatched to the void by an arbitrary decision of a committee. That accords committees, and especially their chairs, undue power. There need to be some guidelines that committees must observe in their decision making on this.

The fourth issue is denial of leave. We deplore the fact that any member of this House can exercise a sole veto on two things: the tabling of a document in the House, and a personal explanation by an aggrieved member. Denial of such leave should be confined to representatives of each party, perhaps the leaders and the whips.

The fifth issue, and perhaps the most important, concerns the code of conduct of members. We have a problem and, like any addict, the first requirement is to acknowledge that the problem exists. The New Zealand Parliament is rated poorly by the public, yet we as parliamentarians are in denial. To quote the committee’s report: “Public attitudes to Parliament are often seen as negative, because the public rate parliamentarians poorly as a group. This negative perception needs to be put in context. We have a highly successful parliamentary democracy and should celebrate its strengths.” The report then describes the strengths and merits of the select committee process. The issue is not the public involvement in the select committee process; the issue is the public perception of question time and the general debate. It is not the conduct of members in select committees that causes negative public rating of Parliament; it is almost solely the conduct of members during these two sessions. So it is illusory to think that we can improve the public regard of Parliament without moving purposefully to improve the conduct of the House during these sessions. That will require significant amendment to the Standing Orders.

The Greens proposed two amendments that would go some way towards improving question time. The first amendment would set a higher threshold of behaviour by members. A new Standing Order would make it clear that a particular standard of orderly conduct is required during question time and the general debate. The Speaker would ensure that members conduct themselves in a manner that brings no disrepute to the House. The second amendment would require the Speaker to name a member who persistently uses offensive or disorderly words. Neither of these proposals was accepted, and we in the Green Party regret this. Nothing gives the New Zealand Parliament more of a bad name than the schoolyard antics that are tolerated, and even justified, in the name of free and healthy vigorous debate. In particular, the clapping and cheering of each captain’s loud performance should not be permitted. Interjections are one thing; clapping and cheering is another. It is not simply sportive; it is childish.

The final point is this. It is a self-delusion to believe that reviewing the Standing Orders by itself will solve our problems. It will not. Continual refinement and improvement of the technicalities of an institution will not resolve the fundamental nature of an institution if there is something fundamentally wrong. Reviews of the Standing Orders are good and necessary, but something much bigger, something more creative, is required if we are to seek to ensure that parliamentary procedure and democratic integrity are properly aligned. For that, we need a larger vision. We need a different kind of review, and I shall have something to say about that in the adjournment debate tomorrow. With these comments, the Green Party is pleased to commend the report of the Standing Orders Committee to the House.

FlavellTE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) Link to this

Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker Roy. Kia ora tātou katoa. I am pleased to stand to acknowledge the important amendments that have been made in the Standing Orders Committee, especially as I have been privileged to be a member of that committee. I really enjoyed the contributions made by members of that committee, particularly those members who have been around for some period of time—the likes of the Hon Rodney Hide, Trevor Mallard, Simon Power, and Rick Barker—and I acknowledge the leadership given by Mr Speaker. It was really good to have the cooperative nature of the whole of the committee working together.

If I can follow on from the lead given by Mr Kennedy Graham this evening, I have a few points to mention that were highlighted. The very first amendment—to add a new paragraph to Standing Order 13—is one we have considerable interest in. Indeed, we believe it is fundamental to good government. It is the amendment that would allow any member taking the oath to use only the words required by law. I really enjoyed the debate on this, for a number of reasons. We were talking about subtle things around the legislation, like if it is counted if someone wants to say something just before the oath. It was all that sort of stuff, and it was quite interesting.

Our interest is, I suppose, in two regards. Although we endorse the importance of consistency in formalising the most sacred oath of allegiance to this House, we did not necessarily agree that the current wording of the oath is sufficiently robust as an oath for Aotearoa. Te Tiriti o Waitangi is our founding document, and people who hold public office should not be deprived of giving it some recognition.

Two months ago my colleague Rahui Katene announced that the Māori Party is proposing a member’s bill that will give politicians, police officers, members of the judiciary, and public office holders the option to uphold the nation’s founding document when they swear their oath of allegiance. As I said, the Treaty is a fundamental basis of our identity as a nation and it provides us with the foundations for our Parliament in this country, Aotearoa New Zealand. The Oaths and Declaration Bill will move us forward on the journey to nationhood and is another step in upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi. In effect, the impact of our member’s bill is that any person who elects to state that they uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi may do so by making the following statement at the end of the affirmation: “I will uphold the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Ka whakaūngia e au Te Tiriti o Waitangi.” So it is a pretty minimal change.

The Māori Party has been lobbying to bring legislation into the context of statutory oaths and declarations since July 2006. As I have said, we uphold te Tiriti as our founding document, and it is incumbent on Parliament to deal with matters involving tangata whenua, in particular, on the basis of the Treaty principles—namely, things like mutual respect, reasonable cooperation, and the utmost good faith. Endorsement of the Treaty would be an easy and efficient way of expressing this commitment. We would hope that, ideally, the proposed amendment would be supported on the understanding that we seek to amend the oath as an immediate priority in the new Parliament, to best reflect our adherence to Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a founding document of this land.

The most significant advance that we would like to acknowledge in this debate is amendment 14, which amends Standing Orders 139 and 151, which refer to the casting of proxy votes. The Māori Party raised the issue of the Standing Orders for casting proxy votes, because we believe that they are pretty unfair, particularly to smaller parties. Prior to this report, a party could lodge only up to 25 percent of its votes by proxy. In this sense, the Standing Orders penalise minor parties with more than one MP. We say this because single-MP parties can be absent but their vote still counts, although a party with four or five MPs can have two members in the House but still not be able to cast a full complement of votes. We believe that this is pretty unfair, and we are pleased to see the amendment to Standing Orders 139 and 151 to enable any party with up to five members to have its votes cast on its behalf, notwithstanding the need for the party to still have members in the precinct.

A third change I refer to is amendment 19, which affects Standing Order 248(1). It now states that the Government must, not more than 60 working days after a select committee report has been presented, present its response. This issue arose for us following the Māori Affairs Committee inquiry into the tobacco industry and the difficulty of considering an extremely complex issue within the constraints of a condensed report-back time. The report back was scheduled over the summer break, so it greatly condensed the amount of time during which officials could respond over the Christmas holiday period. Following the tabling of the Government’s response, my colleague Tariana Turia wrote to the Speaker asking for consideration of a consistent time frame for report-backs. She asked for consideration to be given to working days rather than the 90 calendar days referred to in the Standing Orders, to ensure fairness. I am pleased to say that this was an issue that was raised and highlighted by us, and there has been movement there.

We had a little bit of a struggle in supporting amendment No 6, which was the proposed change to Standing Order 277, which suggests that “urgency may be accorded to the first reading of a bill, despite the bill not being available to be set down for first reading.” The recommendation suggests that this amendment would allow the Government to introduce a bill without having to wait for urgency to be accorded, thereby making bills dealt with under urgency available sooner to MPs and the public. We believe that it could, in fact, set a precedent that the first reading of a bill could be taken under urgency without parties having access to the bill in advance.

I articulate the support of the Māori Party for the new initiative described under the heading “Cognate bills”. This issue is specifically addressed in amendment 20, which provides for the Business Committee to determine that bills can be regarded as cognate bills. This initiative first entered this House in May, I believe, of this year with the passing of the first reading of three bills: the Nga Wai o Maniapoto (Waipa River) Bill, the Ngati Porou Claims Settlement Bill, and the Ngāti Pāhauwera Treaty Claims Settlement Bill. We welcome the opportunity for Parliament to consider bills concurrently—bills that are debated together but voted on separately—and we acknowledge that the opportunity remains for the select committee to report them back to the House individually.

I refer to the issue raised at the end of the report and brought together in a section described as “Communicating Parliament”. Over the last few weeks, and even tonight in the process of valedictory speeches, we have heard various comments passed about the war zone, if you like, that we call a debating chamber. Mr Kennedy Graham also alluded to this in some of his speech. The conduct of some of the members in the parties within the House it seems is quite simply unacceptable for the elected leaders of the country. Shouting across the Chamber while others are speaking, organised heckling, and jeering, etc., by some needs to stop.

I am mindful that in 2008 the minor parties signed a voluntary code of conduct for the House. The measures within the document, I think, are pretty reasonable and would contribute to a more honourable showing in the House. Our submission on behalf of the Māori Party suggested that a code of conduct should be considered as a part of the Standing Orders. Another suggestion we made was that a kawa Pāremata, which guides the behaviour of at least the Māori Party MPs, could work alongside the code of conduct of the House. The kawa Pāremata at its core is about respecting other people and showing whanaungatanga to others.

Finally, I refer to the comments about the attendance of members, which is mentioned on page 19 of the report. It specifically states: “A member’s first duty is to the House.” We wholeheartedly agree with the requirement for members to be in attendance in the House, and that it is pretty important to maintain the respect for the institution of Parliament. Although it would possibly be inappropriate, and indeed a breach of the Standing Orders, to name a member who was not in the House, I cannot avoid making mention of the fact that a significant absence of one political party—which during July and September failed to even lodge a vote, with a staggering 20 bills going through—was pretty much a statement in itself. It is not as if those bills were of no consequence. They were identified as extremely controversial bills—the Policing (Storage of Youth Identifying Particulars) Amendment Bill, the Student Loan Scheme Bill, the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill, and the Maori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Amendment Bill, to name a few. I repeat for the record the key statement in the reference to attendance of members, which states: “The House would be brought into disrepute if members were seen to be able to simply abandon their duty to it without penalty.” We think that stands up quite well.

In conclusion, the valedictory speeches of departing members have consistently repeated the concept that to serve in the House of Representatives is a privilege and an honour. I endorse the sentiment, and hope the amendments to the Standing Orders we debate here tonight will help us and enable us to continue to uphold that solemn duty responsibly. Kia ora tātou.

Motion agreed to.