Some commenters and others have alleged that the Government is “rushing” the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment bill through Parliament. This is incorrect, and in fact isn’t even possible. The Government can control the order and timing of Government bills, but has no ability to speed up or slow down Members’ Bills – especially ones that are conscience issues.
The process and timing for Members’ Bills is controlled by Parliament’s Standing Orders. I thought it would be useful to take people through what these are, and how they have worked in this case.
- An MP submits a proposed Members’ Bill to the Clerk – SO 274. Louisa Wall did this on 1 June 2012
- If at any time less than eight Members’ Bills are awaiting a first reading, a ballot is triggered under SO 277(1). This occurred on Wed 27 June and Wed 25 July when the House had a Members’ Day and considered a number of other Members’ Bill that were awaiting first reading.
- Ballots were held on Thu 28 June and Thu 26 July. On 28 June four bills were selected out of 65 submitted and on 26 July five bills were selected out of 63 submitted. The Marriage (DOM) Bill was one of those selected on 26 July.
- The bill was introduced to Parliament that day – SO 277(3)
- The bill is set down for a first reading three sitting days later – SO 281(2), which is Thu 2 August 2012.
- In every two weeks of House sitting, Govt bills are debated on five of the six sitting days, and Members’ bills are given priority on every second Wednesday – SO 74(1). Generally there will be four and a half hours available.
- On Members’ Days, any local or private bills take precedence – SO 63. This means that a Members’ Bill will not be debated until any local or private bills scheduled for a reading or committee stage are dealt with first.
- If they get to Members’ Bills, any bills awaiting third reading, committee stage or second reading are given priority over a bill awaiting first reading. S70(1)
- There was a Members’ Day on 15 August which did not see the Marriage (DOM) Bill got to, but on Wed 29 August its first reading was held. There are 11 speeches lasting 65 minutes under Appendix A. The vote was 80-40.
- At the conclusion of the first reading, the MP in charge nominates a select committee for it to be referred to. SO 283(1). It was referred to the Government Administration Select Committee.
- The Select Committee is required under SO 291/1 to report back the bill within six months, which in this case is 28 February 2013. The only way this deadline can be extended is if Parliament unanimously (or near unanimously consents.
- The Select Committee called for submissions on 12 September, and allowed the normal six weeks until 26 October.
- They received 21,533 submissions with 10,487 in favour and 8,148 against. 2,898 of the submissions were individual ones, not form letters.
- The Select Committee starting hearing oral submissions on the 7th of November and the last submission was heard on 30th of January. They heard 220 submissions in person with hearings in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The final day for oral submissions was only 4 weeks before the bill had to be reported back.
- The Select Committee then considered the bill, the submissions, proposed amendments, had a report drafted and voted to accept the report. They reported back on 27 February 2013 – the second to last day possible.
- The bill is then set down under SO 292 for a second reading three sitting days later. This is Thu 6 March.
- The second reading will occur automatically on a Member’s Day once any local or private bills on the order paper are dealt with, and any committee stage or third readings of Members’ Bills. There are three such bills ahead of it on the Order Paper which will take place on Wed 13 March – the next Members’ Day. This is all automatic under Standing Orders – the Government gets no say on it.
- If the second reading passes on 13 March, then the committee stage is likely to be on Wed 27 March when amendments can be considered.
- After the committee stage, the third reading is likely to be Wed 17 April.
All this timetabling is basically automatic. The rules of Parliament are binding. Only with unanimous leave can dates or timing be changed. This is deliberate. It is important that the Executive only controls its own bills, but doesn’t control Parliament as a whole.