One of the more significant changes to Standing Orders was the ability for the House to sit with extended sitting hours, hence reducing the frequency a Government may have to resort to urgency.
The Government can extend the hours by passage of a motion which will see Parliament sit from 9 am to 1 pm on Wednesday or Thursday morning.
If the Government wishes to extend hours beyond this, it needs to get approval from the Business Committee. The Business Committee consists of:
- The Speaker (Chair)
- The Leader and Deputy Leader of the House
- The ACT Leader, United Future, NZ First and Mana Leaders
- A Green Co-leader
- The Labour and National Senior Whips
- The Maori Party, Green and NZ First Whips
- The Shadow Leader of the House
The Business Committee can only decide something if there is unanimity or near-unanimity which means agreement has been given on behalf of the overwhelming majority of members of Parliament.
The Speaker decides that exact threshold. I would suggest that it requires more than National and Labour agreeing but doesn’t give every small party a veto.
Now the good thing is that the new standing orders are working as intended, and the Business Committee is taking a constructive approach to extending hours when there is a need. They have agreed to extend the House hours this week so the the partiHouse meets Thursday evening and Friday morning until 1 pm. The reason is to progress six Treaty settlement bills through their first and second readings and a couple of omnibus bills.
Each settlement demands legislation, the total number of settlements that Parliament will need to legislate in the coming years is around 60 to settle historical claims (assuming National reach its target of settling claims by 2014). This would represent a large proportion of House time so it makes sense to deal with them in extra hours. This removes the need for urgency, and doesn’t cut into the rest of the House’s programme.
So good to see the parties working together to avoid urgency, but allow the Government to progress its legislative agenda.Tags: Business Committee, Parliament, urgency