Charles in Charge Part II

On Friday I blogged on how sent one or more e-mails out to lawyers asking them to send in letters to the Dominion Post praising him, and insulting a press gallery reporter who didn’t praise him enough in an article.

That was Part I of a three part series on the lengths Charles will go to, to bolster his image. Part III will be tomorrow.

For today, I want to focus on the Police video surveillance bill. Now I’m one of those on the record as having said I thought Labour and Chauvel did well to insist on a select committee process and get some changes to the bill. But there are some very interesting timings with the bill.

The Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures Bill) had its first reading on Tuesday 27 September, and was referred to select committee the same day. Submissions were due by end of Wednesday 28 September and it reported back on Monday 3 October 2011.

Now first a bit of a lesson on how select committees work. They generally first hear initial advice from officials in private, and then hear submissions from the public in public. After public hearings they meet and discuss the bill in private, go through any report from officials and signal potential amendments.

Inevitably the ranking Government members on the committee will brief one or more Ministers on the deliberations. They will outline the nature and tenor of the public submissions, the views of the Government members on the select committee and the views of the opposition members. They will discuss what changes the opposition wants, what changes they think are desirable and where a deal can be struck. The Government generally has the choice of either trying to pass it without co-operation from the Opposition, or compromising aspects to get wider agreement.

Now this sort of negotiation is always done in private. You need to give MPs room to explore compromises freely and frankly. This is fundamental to the success of our select committee system. The Standing Orders actually make leaking deliberations a contempt, SO401(p):

divulging the proceedings or the report of a select committee or a subcommittee contrary to Standing Orders

And the Speaker in Speakers Ruling 187/4 has noted:

The deliberations of the members of a committee and any draft report are not available for release and any unauthorised disclosure of them is a breach of privilege. This is not a mere technical rule. It is essential, if members are to work well together on a committee, that the integrity of the process be maintained by respecting each other’s confidences. Furthermore, the House is entitled to the first advice of the conclusions of one of its committees in a report rather than individual members of the committee taking it upon themselves to communicate committee decisions to individual journalists.

That was Speaker Kidd in 1997 talking about the importance of integrity in the process. Speaker Grey in 1993 in SR 187/3 noted:

Parliamentary privilege exists to protect the integrity of the parliamentary process. In that process members of select committees deliberate amongst themselves on the evidence that they have heard, and draw up a report to the House that embodies their conclusions. This process is seriously undermined if drafts that are to be submitted to the committee for inclusion in its report can, with impunity, be released to all and sundry …

It is one thing for members to say in advance of a select committee meeting that they intend to argue for inclusion of a particular point of view in the committee’s report. That is quite acceptable. But it is another thing altogether for members to draw up a document that purports to embody the views of a minority on a select committee—views that are clearly put forward as those members’ contribution to the drafting of the committee’s report—and that are in fact subsequently laid before the committee.

Such a document is clearly one that should be conveyed to the committee first, so that it can consider it in its deliberations. To release it prior to its consideration could pre-empt deliberation and prejudice the proper functioning of the select committee process. Anything that has a tendency to prejudice the select committee process can be regarded as a contempt of the House.

Essentially this says a member of a select committee can express a public view before deliberations begin, but not during deliberations.

Now I want people to focus on two press releases by Charles Chauvel. The first was issued at 4 pm on Thu 29 September, and set out four bottom lines for tthe bill to proceed:

Having heard the evidence, Labour now sets out its position on the Bill and the amendments that National will be required to agree if it is to have Labour support to pass the House next week:

And five days later Chauvel puts out a further release:

Charles Chauvel said the Bill made the four major changes that Labour required in setting out its bottom lines last Thursday following the hearing of evidence in the select committee.

So the narrative from Charles is the brave Labour Party setting down their four bottom lines, holding fast to them, and forcing the Government to agree to them.

There are two issues here. The first is that the first press release from Chauvel was done after deliberations had started on the bill. It is a clear breach of privilege. The House has risen so it is not possible to have a complaint considered by this Parliament and anyway amazingly Chauvel is actually Chair of the Privileges Committee.

But undermining the integrity of the select committee process is only part of Chauvel’s efforts to promote himself. The actual truth is even more incredible.

I understand the press release from Chauvel setting out Labour’s four bottom lines was done around 60 minutes after Chauvel had been briefed on what changes the Government had agreed to. He already knew the Government’s position when he wrote that press release.

So you may ask yourself what sort of MP would breach standing orders just so they can put out a press release laying down bottom lines on a confidential negotiation, when they already knew what had been agreed to? One obsessed with making himself look good is the answer. There is a pattern here.

Note this blog post where Chauvel complains:

We saved the right to silence, and stopped the Government from being able to try people in absentia.  We got the usual level of credit – none –  from the media, and from left-wing commentators. …

If we get legislation that complies with the four points I just summarised, the Nats will have lost big time in a major attempt to interfere with our human rights.  And it won’t be because MPs from a couple of minor parties stood clear of the debate and held their noses.  It will be because Labour pushed the envelope as far as possible given the numbers in the House.  In most democracies, that would be regarded as a pretty significant achievement given the right:left imbalance in Parliament right now.  Here, expect us to get the usual level of credit.  Ah well.

Now recall that when he writes about how National will have lost big time, and how it is unfair he doesn’t get enough credit for stopping them, he already knew what the Government had agreed to, and his four bottom lines were released after he had been told what had been agreed to.

It’s the sort of thing you would expect from someone who, well, writes letters to the editor praising himself and asks others to send it in, in their name.

Part III tomorrow.

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