Review of Standing Orders Submission

October 11th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar


 About the Submitter

  1. This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.
  2. I am a former Parliamentary staffer from 1996 to 2004, and write reasonably extensively on parliamentary issues on my blog.

Overall View

  1. The changes to standing orders made in 2011 were beneficial, and generally Standing Orders are working well. However there are a number of areas where further improvement can be made


  1. The ability for the House to have an extended sitting, as an alternative to urgency, has worked well. It is pleasing to see the use of urgency has reduced considerably.
  2. Urgency is from time to time still necessary when the Government decides (and the House concurs) that it needs to progress legislation more quickly than is possible under an extended sitting. I note with approval that the current Government has almost always granted leave for question time to occur when the House is in urgency.
  3. I believe it would be desirable to codify this practice and amend Standing Orders so that question time still occurs under urgency. A future Government could use urgency to avoid the important scrutiny of question time.
  4. While it is important the Government has the ability to progress legislation in a timely manner, an hour a day of question time is not a significant detriment from this. It could be stated that only questions to Ministers are allowed under urgency, so that numerous questions to Members can’t occur as a form of filibuster.

NZ Bill of Rights

  1. Standing Order 262 provides for the Attorney-General to report to the House if a bill contains a provision which appears to be inconsistent with the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990, upon introduction of the bill.
  2. Bills can be significantly amended by a select committee or the committee of the whole House which can change a bill’s consistency with the NZBORA.
  3. It would be desirable to amend SO 262 so that the Attorney-General report on NZBORA consistency to the House prior to the second and third reading of a bill if the Attorney-General believes changes to a bill warrant a further opinion .

Question Time

  1. I propose that Tuesday’s question time to Ministers and Members be replaced with a half hour question time to the Prime Minister, as occurs in the UK House of Commons.
  2. We have almost ended up with a de facto PM’s question time with wide ranging questions to the PM along the lines of “Does he have confidence in all his Ministers” which allows almost any issue to be a supplementary. We also have a tradition that the PM is always present on a Tuesday, normally on a Wednesday and rarely on a Thursday.
  3. I believe a House of Commons type PMs question time would be a good opportunity for the House to question the PM on his or her Government, without the requirement to lay specific primary questions. It would be challenging to a PM, but I am sure recent PMs would be up to the challenge.

General Debate

  1. I believe the General Debate serve little useful parliamentary purpose, if one accepts the purpose of the House is to debate laws, hold the Government to account, debate topical issues or policies or highlight matters of importance.
  2. General Debate is generally a slagfest between MPs, that generates an occasional Jane Clifton column, but generally does little to advance the purposes of the House.
  3. I note, through listening to Channel’s 4 Today in , that the House of Commons (and Lords) regularly debate specific issues, unrelated to legislation under consideration. In contrast to the NZ General Debates, their more focused debates often provide very interesting and useful insights into issues.
  4. I propose that we retain General Debate every second sitting week (say when it is a Member’s Bills week) and that every other week the time slot be allocated to a debate on a specific issue or policy area.
  5. One would need to establish a mechanism for determining the policy topics, but this should not be overly difficult. It could be done by the Business Committee, or topics allocated proportionally to each party, or have each Select Committee determine in turn a topic.

Financial Procedures Debates

19. Many of the Financial Procedures debates also become little more than slagfests after the first dozen or so speeches. They take up days and days of House time when MPs make speeches with little relevance to the financial bills in questions. That time could be spent more productively debating legislation.

20. I propose that the Budget debate reduce from 14 hours (up to 84 speeches) to seven hours (up to 42 speeches, or more likely 26 – 30 speeches).

21. I also propose the Estimates debate reduce from eight hours to four hours.

Non-Legislative Procedures

22. The Address in Reply and PM’s statement also have the same issue, in which after the first few speeches, there are few contributions that introduce new material, or advance the interest of the House.

23. However I recognize the Address in Reply does provide an opportunity for new MPs to make maiden speeches.

24. I propose the Address in Reply reduce from 19 hours to 15 hours. This would provide three hours for specified party leaders, eight hours for say 32 maiden speeches and four hours for other MPs.

25. For the debate on the PM’s statement, I would propose a reduction from 15 hours to six hours, allowing two hours for party leaders and four hours for other MPs.

26. These reductions in total would free up 24 hours of House time, which is almost two extra weeks of sitting time.

Thank you for considering this submission. I would like to make an oral submission in support, and look forward to appearing.


David Farrar

10 Responses to “Review of Standing Orders Submission”

  1. Nigel Kearney (1,994 comments) says:

    I don’t like the ‘gotcha’ questions and I doubt that ‘PM’s question time’ would be any better. The opposition should be required to ask specific questions and direct them to the responsible minister.

    It is not necessary for the PM to be completely on top of the detail of everything going on in every portfolio. Of course the opposition naturally want to to embarrass the government, but question time should be based on the goal of obtaining information and the correct way to do that is by asking the right person and providing a specific enough question that that the answer can be prepared in advance.

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  2. Rick Rowling (892 comments) says:


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  3. RRM (12,583 comments) says:

    Jesus – I’m not really an avid follower of Parliamentary process, and had no idea that quite so many hours were spent on spouting hot air and trying to cover each other in shit.

    Taking your points 25 and 26 together I take it the speeches following the PM’s statement go on for more than a week (15 hours of them, and 24 hours is almost 2 weeks in the house?) I’m amazed anyone can even remember the point of what is being debated after 15 hours. 🙂

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  4. Graeme Edgeler (3,241 comments) says:


    Should probably not even look at my submission then 🙂

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  5. David Farrar (1,771 comments) says:

    The House normally has only a dozen or so hours a week for actual legislative debates. They have around 5.5 hours on a Tuesday, 4.5 hours on a Wednesday and 3 hours on a Thursday.

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  6. georgebolwing (1,051 comments) says:

    I agree with the PM’s Question time idea. From what I have seen from the UK, PMQ is more a debate between the PM and the leader of the opposition than a series of questions. It would test both people and would be good for democracy.

    In the Australian Parliament, question time consists of a series of “questions without notice”, in which ministers have no idea what the question will be on. Is a very solid test of whether ministers are on top of their portfolios (the down side is that a lot of official time is spend preparing briefings on “possible parliamentary questions” against the possibility that something will be raised. Ministers will deflect very specific questions, by asking them to be put “on notice” (i.e. for written). Patsy questions are, of course, also asked every day.

    Speaking of which, I would actually like to see government members excluded from asking questions. Question time should be about holding the Government to account, not giving the Government the opportunity to make press releases in the form of answers.

    I wonder whether it is time for New Zealand to think about following UK and Australian practice and establishing a committee with plenary powers in relation to legislation (Westminster Hall in the UK and the Federation Chamber in the Australian House of Reps). Both these Committees seem to make valuable contributions and allow Parliament to progress non-contentious but important material with little political fuss. MMP might present a challenge, since smaller parties would have to cover two chambers, but with appropriate scheduling and monitoring, this should be fixable. One aspect of the federation Chamber that I like is that everything is decided on the basis of voice votes and if any member says no, the matter is unresolved and refered to the main chamber. This is a very effective check on abuse: an alert whip can always stop anything proceeding that their party objects to.

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  7. kiwi in america (2,687 comments) says:

    Excellent submission David

    Nigel the whole reason for the so-called gotcha questions is to get around the PQ rules of having to submit a formal primary question in advance. The UK PQ features the PM Question Time where there is no advanced topic warning and so the PM has to be briefed on all the major politically hot issues of the day. A question in the NZ PQ like “does the PM stand by all his statements” gives no hint as to likely topic of the question as that will be revealed in the supplementary questions. It is a game played by both sides. Having a specific UK style PM’s Question Time would stop the gotcha questions. NZ PM’s come to the House prepared to answer the big questions of the day already due to the gotcha questioning tactic so little will change if David’s suggestion is adopted.

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  8. Sean (313 comments) says:

    ‘Slagfest’ is a word now?

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  9. David Farrar (1,771 comments) says:, but not the definition I was meaning which was aa debate where each sides just slags the other off.

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  10. Graeme Edgeler (3,241 comments) says:

    We forgot to ask for them to definitively rule on what happens when a Parliamentary Party loses its registration with the Electoral Commission, but I’m gonna guess Winston at least will bring that up.

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