Good proposals from Mallard on urgency

Newsroom reports:

Speaker has suggested sweeping changes to the use of Parliamentary , effectively abolishing the practice in all but the most extreme circumstances.

Currently, the Government can put the House into urgency with a simple Parliamentary majority. Mallard’s proposed changes would require a 75 percent majority before the House goes into urgency.

On top of that qualification, the bill under urgency would have to pass each stage of the legislative process with a 75 percent majority. 

This would effectively abolish urgency in all but the most extreme cases, where there was some bipartisan consensus.

This would be a very worthwhile reform. It means bills could not bypass select committee unless 75% of the House agrees it is urgent.

It can be useful for times when Parliament is required to formulate urgent legislation. Mallard gave the example of a law to address a problem with improperly sworn in police officers. 

In 2013, it was discovered that 63 police officers had not been technically sworn in, making some of the actions they had undertaken as officers illegal. Parliament went into urgency to retrospectively validate those officers’ oaths. 

A suitable use of urgency.

Urgency also allows the house to sit for extended hours: from 9am until midnight. In rare cases of “extreme urgency,” the house can run through the night. 

Extraordinary urgency needs the permission of the Speaker and is incredibly rare.

Thanks to changes in standing orders a few years ago (supported by Trevor Mallard), the House can do extended hours without using urgency. The Government can extend one sitting a week so the House sits 9 am to 1 pm the next day.

Any changes will need to pass Parliament’s Standing Orders Committee, which is set to review how Parliament functions next year. 

Each Parliamentary term it reviews standing orders (the rules which govern how the house works) and makes necessary changes. Those changes take effect when the next Parliament is sworn in, so any changes made next year will not take effect until 2020. 

Mallard will need support of his Parliamentary colleagues if he wants his reforms to pass. 

It would be nice to get bipartisan support for this.

But Brownlee told Newsroom he would be unlikely to support Mallard’s reforms. 

He said he would like to see the final proposals first, but there was already limited time for debating legislation in Parliament and removing Parliamentary urgency would slow the legislative process down.

17 hours a week isn’t a lot as Brownlee says but having more extended sittings is preferable to using urgency which can bypass select committee scrutiny.

Mallard said he would look to substitute urgency with a streamlined process allowing relatively uncontroversial bills to be allocated extra time in what is known as “extended sitting”. 

Currently, the house uses extended sitting hours to sit on a Wednesday or a Thursday morning. This extra time is generally used to debate Treaty bills, which are relatively uncontentious and pass through the House unanimously. 

Mallard proposes expanding this provision to incorporate other uncontroversial bills, such as legislation consolidating existing laws, bills that incorporate law made in the courts into Parliamentary legislation, and bills recommended by the Law Commission.

“My suggestion is if you’ve had a good process like a green paper or a white paper or a Law Commission bill or whatever then they should be allowed to go into ‘extra time’” Mallard said.

You could have regular extending sittings on Wednesday and Thursday mornings which gives 25 hours of House time a week instead of 17. As they would be fairly uncontroversial, select committees could meet at the same time.

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