Secret sittings of Parliament

Some interesting history on the Parliament website:

New Zealanders are used to having open access to sittings of the House of Representatives. The House’s rules do allow it to exclude non-members from sittings, but this power is used very rarely. During World War II the public were excluded from 18 secret sessions.

 The need for secret sessions became clear soon after the outbreak of war in September 1939, when Opposition members began to raise confidential war matters in the House. The Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, also felt restricted in his ability to keep the House fully aware of developments. Although the House’s use of secret sessions was not without controversy, it allowed members to discuss military matters, such as troop movements, without the risk of sensitive information being passed on to the enemy.

 The first secret session was held on 5 June 1940 after considerable planning by Fraser in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, Sidney Holland. The session began with a non-debatable motion by the Prime Minister calling for the removal of all strangers, at which point the galleries were cleared, members of the press and Hansard staff withdrew, and broadcasting was discontinued. The doors were locked, guards posted, and the roof patrolled regularly for eavesdroppers. It was decided that officials closely engaged with the war effort could attend the sitting, as could members of the Legislative Council. This procedure was followed for all the other secret sessions.

I can’t imagine a situation today where Parliament would meet in secret. Besides, even if they kicked everyone out, there would probably be MPs tweeting it on Twitter!

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