Use of urgency and extending sittings

Back in April 2011, Kiwiblog and Red Alert did co-ordinated posts on the use of urgency in Parliament.

But it is in the area of bills passed without going through a select committee, that National should attract the most criticism. In 2009 and 2010 it passed 10 bills without giving the public the chance to submit on the bills at select committee stage. Sometimes there may be a good reasons to do so (Canterbury Earthquake etc), but the total level is far too high. The power to bypass select committees should happen very very rarely – it was only 1 – 2 times a year under Labour.

People unhappy with the level of bypassing select committees, should let their local National MPs know. Note that in 2008 National also passed seven bills into law without select committee – now again some of these could be justified as implementing clear election promises or a simple repeal – but 17 bills bypassing select committee in just over two years is frankly an outrageous level. National needs to not just look at these bills in isolation, but about the collective total and the message it sends. 

The joint posts gained a significant level of publicity, and not coincidentally the Government massively reduced the use of shortly thereafter. I also blogged a recommendation:

That standing orders be amended to distinguish between “extended sitting hours” which would merely extend the sitting hours on Wednesday and/or Thursday and full urgency (where you specify particular bills, and the House keeps going until they are disposed of)

In the review of standing orders later that year, agreed to do just that.  I give Labour considerable credit in agreeing to this change, because it allows the Government to progress more legislation through Parliament, without having to resort to urgency (and the associated bad publicity around it). Of course it will benefit them also one day when they are in Government.

Extending sittings means extra sitting hours, but no bypassing select committees, no displacing other business, and no skipping of question times.

As it has been a couple of years since my original post. I thought it would be useful to do an update on the use of urgency and extending sitting since and including 2011. My thanks to Trevor Mallard for providing the updated data.



2013 data is for a half year to 30 June. So what does this show.

  • The total number of sitting hours is high, which is as expected with extending sittings now available.
  • The use of urgency dropped off in the second half of 2011, was almost absent in 2012, but has started to be used again in 2013
  • The data on bills bypassing select cmte is not included for post 2010 as I need to check if the prior data included bills that always bypass select committees (appropriations, statute amendments). The focus is on legislation that would normally go to a select committee. As far as I can tell there was no bypassing in 2012, but three bills bypassed in 2013. One was non-controversial regarding the Public Trust, and two were controversial – on mining and on caregiver payments. This is the area where I think we need to be most vigilant and discourage Governments doing this unless it is essential.
  • The average number of sitting hours per week has increased, with the use of extending sittings
  • In 2012 and 2013, there has been a question time almost every sitting day – which is good. Even if the house is in urgency, the Govt normally gives leave for question time to continue – which is a good thing.
  • The number of bills being passed is lower than the historical average. This might be because they are more complex and have longer committee stages, or might be that there is more opposition filibustering.

So overall things are much better than a couple of years ago. 2012 especially was an excellent year, with almost no use of urgency at all. There has been a significant increase in use in the first half of 2013. Hopefully there will be no more urgency this year, and the House can make progress by using extending sittings only.

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