Rules for Members Bills – Section 59

Members’ bills

Members of Parliament who are not Government Ministers can put forward bills that are not part of the Government’s programme. These are called Members’ bills, and are debated in the House every second Wednesday when the House is sitting.

Do Members’ bills ever become law?

The Government has its own policy programme and priorities, and most Government bills become law because it obtains support from the majority in the House. In comparison, few Members’ bills are passed. In 2004, for example, five Members’ bills became law. Since the 2005 general election no Members’ bill have yet been passed.

However, if a Member’s bill does not progress but does attract significant support, it may influence some of the Government’s legislation. For example, the Government may decide to introduce its own bill with similar policy aims to a Member’s bill. Occasionally, with the consent of the member, the Government will formally take over a Member’s bill and convert it into a Government bill.

Members’ bills

Members who are not Government Ministers can put forward bills that are not part of the Government’s programme. These are called Members’ bills.

The House allocates its sitting time to Members’ bills every second Wednesday when the House is sitting. Because there are always more Members’ bills proposed than time to consider them, a ballot system is used to choose the bills that are introduced. The ballot may contain around 40 drafted bills, but only four may be available for first reading at any one time.

Few Members’ bills become laws though they may affect the Government’s lawmaking priorities if they attract sufficient support. For example the Government may decide to introduce its own more extensive bill with similar policy aims to a Member’s bill.

Where to Now – 23 November 2006:

Second reading

A bill can be read a second time no sooner than the third sitting day after the select committee reports to the House. For Bradford’s Bill on Section 59 it looks like this: the Select Committee’s report was tabled in Parliament on 20 November 2006. The first sitting, that is, the first day Parliament sits to consider Private Members’ Bills such as the one to repeal Section 59, is Wednesday 22 November 2006. Parliament sits to consider Private Members’ Bills on every second Wednesday, that is, fortnightly. It is therefore probable that the second sitting day will be Wednesday 13 December 2006. So the probable third sitting, and the earliest that the Bill could be debated again in Parliament, is Wednesday 21 February 2007. So it appears that the next time Parliament addresses this Bill will be no sooner than Wednesday 21 February or possibly into March. Members can then debate the main principles of a bill, and any changes recommended by the select committee in its report.

Changes not supported by every committee member are subject to a single vote at the end of the second reading debate.

Changes that are supported by every committee member are automatically included in the bill if the second reading is agreed.

If the vote is lost, that is the end of the bill. If the second reading is agreed, the bill is ready for debate by a committee of the whole House.

If it passes a second reading, this can be viewed as a commitment to the final passage of the bill, subject to any further amendments. This stage is a debate of up to two hours led off by the member in charge.

Committee of the whole House

Any member of the House can participate when a committee of the whole House debates a bill. The members sit in the Chamber but the Speaker does not take the chair. The debate is less formal than other debates, but is no less important.

Members have many chances to make short speeches and debate the provisions of a bill. These debates are a chance to examine the bill in detail – clause by clause and make further amendments members may propose in writing. Ministers and members can propose changes. These changes may be published before the debate in a supplementary order paper (SOP). If these have significant policy implications, they can be considered by a select committee to ensure the changes have adequate scrutiny. Otherwise the use of this mechanism to introduce major policy changes may be viewed as a device to avoid such scrutiny.

There is no time limit on these debates and members have opportunities for five-minute speeches on each provision.. Large or controversial bills may be before a committee of the whole House for several days (by several days they mean “members days” which are every two weeks – so it could be drawn out for months).

Once the final form of a bill is agreed, it returns to the House, it is reprinted to show any changes that have been made. The bill is then ready for third reading.

Third reading

This is usually a summing-up debate on a bill in its final form in the House.
It is the last opportunity to debate and decide whether the bill should be passed in the form in which it has emerged from the committee of the whole House. It is more of a debate for summing up than on the provisions in detail. The debate can last up to two hours. The vote at the end of the debate is the final vote in the House to either pass the bill or reject it. Bills are rarely rejected at this stage. If the bill is passed there is one final step before it becomes law – Royal assent.

Royal assent

The last step illustrates the difference between the House of Representatives and Parliament. (See Parliament Brief, ‘What is Parliament?’) This is that the Sovereign (The Queen, represented in New Zealand by the Governor-General) forms part of Parliament but is completely separate from the House. It is the Sovereign’s role to sign a bill into law by giving it the ‘Royal assent’. Assent is given on the advice of the Prime Minister or the most senior Minister available.

Access to Bills and Acts of Parliament

Bills and Acts (also known as statutes) are available from most major public libraries and at . They can also be purchased from Bennetts Government Bookshops, or from Legislation Direct (Phone: 04 495 2882), PO Box 12-418, Thorndon, Wellington.

Delegated legislation

The terms ‘delegated legislation’, ‘subordinate legislation’, and ‘regulations’ are used synonymously to refer to legal instruments, often technical in nature, made under powers delegated by Parliament when passing legislation. An example would be a regulation to set fees for a cost-recoverable service provided by a public organisation. While Parliament is not involved in making these legal instruments, specific procedures have been put in place in Standing Orders to ensure they are all subject to the scrutiny of Parliament and, if necessary, they can be disallowed as a result. A select committee – the Regulations Review Committee – carries out the detailed scrutiny.

Another function of the Regulations Review Committee is to examine all bills for regulation-making powers that appear, for example, to delegate too much power to the Government. In such cases that committee reports to the committee considering the bill, highlighting the issue. By convention (accepted practice), the Regulations Review Committee is chaired by an opposition member to ensure this process is seen to work beyond the interest of the Government.

Each year a Subordinate Legislation (Confirmation and Validation) Bill is passed to confirm certain regulations that would otherwise expire.

Further reading

McGee, David, Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, 3rd edition, Wellington, 2005.

How Parliament Makes a Law

Bill introduced:
*No debate

1st reading***:
*Initial debate

Select committee:
*Hears public submissions.
*Recommends amendments.
*Reports to the House explaining recommendations.

2nd reading*:
*Main debate on the principles of the bill as it emerged from the select committee.
*Select committee amendments adopted.

Committee of the whole House:
*Detailed consideration of each clause or part.
*Further amendments can be made.

3rd reading***:
*Final debate on whether it should be passed in the form emerging from committee of the whole House.

Royal assent
*Governor-General assents to the bill becoming an Act of Parliament.

*** At any of these steps, a vote in the House can result in the bill being defeated.

Information taken from:


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