Page 8 – Reform, 1980s onwards
The number of MPs increased from 80 in 1965 to 99 by 1993. Government powers increased at the same time. The actions of successive governments from 1975 to the early 1990s gave rise to public discontent. Many people saw the government as unresponsive to the people, and challenged the domination of big parties.
Reform of Parliament
In 1985 the Labour government reformed Parliament and modernised its procedure. Parliament sat for longer sessions through the year. The Parliamentary Service Act 1985 gave the speaker more power to run Parliament. It also created the Parliamentary Service for administrative support and the Office of the Clerk for procedural and legal advice, and reporting and select-committee assistance. For the first time, MPs received funding for secretaries and offices in their electorates.
A long-standing parliamentary institution, which followed the British tradition, was a catering service for MPs called Bellamy’s. From the earliest days of the New Zealand Parliament, this provided food and – at times controversially – liquor. Entry to Bellamy’s was restricted. Journalist Tom Scott described the bar in the early 1970s: ‘Thin partitions segregated the various castes. At the far end messengers got a bare wooden floor. Next door the press got stained lino. The Members and Guests and Members Only bars graduated to greasy carpet flecked with cigarette burns.’1
From the 1960s select committees began to take a larger role, dealing more with legislation. From the 1970s they became more open to the public and the media, and from 1979 they handled nearly all legislation. In 1985 a new select-committee system was created to promote accountability and a greater separation of Parliament from government. Thirteen ‘subject’ committees were created, and ministers were required to appear before relevant committees for their portfolio areas.
Labour appointed a royal commission to consider electoral reform, which in 1986 recommended the mixed-member proportional representation system (MMP). In the 1993 referendum a majority (53.9%) of voters supported the adoption of MMP. Around this time, a number of small parties were formed.
Following the introduction of MMP in 1996, the number of MPs was increased from 99 to 120 (60 general electorate seats, 55 party list seats and five Māori electorate seats). Parliament’s standing orders were modified to deal with the developing multi-party environment. Speaking time, question time and membership of select committees were allocated to parties according to their proportions in the House.
MMP spelled the end of some long-standing voting practices. Once, all voting was by ‘divisions’, where MPs had to be present in the chamber and went into the Ayes and Noes lobbies to cast their votes. This was retained only for personal or conscience votes. Pairing, an arrangement to cancel the vote of one MP from a party if an MP from the opposed party was absent, could no longer work with many parties. It was replaced by proxy voting: MPs could cast a vote even if they were not present in the chamber, enabling them to attend to other business. The speaker’s right to the casting vote (the deciding vote in case of a tied vote) was also dropped.
The traditional annual sessions were replaced by sessions of three years corresponding to the electoral cycle. An annual sitting programme, spread through the year with regular adjournments, was adopted. A business committee with a representative of each party was created to plan the business of the House.