28 Nov 2018

More ways that Parliament is like Hogwarts

From The House , 6:55 pm on 28 November 2018

The start of every day at Parliament is like being at school, when the headmaster used to read out notices at assembly.  It even covers all the same sorts of things. Just another way that Parliament is like Hogwarts.

It all kicks off when the Speaker is announced and arrives in a dramatic cape reminiscent of Severus Snape's severe puritan garb.

Then there's a quick prayer and a run through of what you might describe as the 'mail'. That's when the Clerk announces which bills have been introduced, petitions have been tabled, reports have been presented or papers have been delivered - I love that each of those categories gets its own verb.

After that business moves on to the inquisitorial grilling of Ministers (without Dolores Umbridge's assistance), but it's amazing how many other things can happen first.

The Speaker, Trevor Mallard

The Speaker presiding in his Snapely headmaster's gown. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

In just two days the House seems to have been trying to squeeze in examples of all of the possible things that can take place. Some of them were pretty unusual.

Among the most common (twice in these two days) is a welcome to special guests (MPs from other Parliaments in this case) who sit in the VIP observation area - the Speaker's Gallery.  Less common is more sombre news like, this week, the death of a former MP Gordon Copeland with a short obit and a period of silence.

Just like Dumbledore telling off students for entering the forbidden forest (Hogwarts was a terrifying location for a school), the Speaker occasionally uses this time to reprimand MPs. This week it was ministers not replying properly to written questions. Ten points from Gryffindor.

Kate Sheppard crossing outside the Beehive.

Hip-Hooray for Kate (and all the other suffragettes)! Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

And sometimes other MPs also have 'notices', or at least motions (a request put to the House). This week the Minister for Women, Julie Anne Genter moved a motion that the House commemorate 125 years since women in New Zealand first voted - the first vote for women for any national assembly in the world. They did.

There was also Ministerial Statement - an update from a minister on an important development in their area of responsibility, with responses from other parties as well.

But the most unusual announcement was this one - a letter from the Queen - well almost. A note to the Parliament from Dame Patsy Reddy, the Governor General (who is like the Queen's body double in New Zealand).

Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy at the State Opening of Parliament.

Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy at the State Opening of Parliament (that's New Zealand's Royal throne she's sitting on). Photo: RNZ / Benedict Collins

The note said:

"The Governor-General on behalf of Her Majesty consents to the passage of the Consumers' Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill to the extent that it affects the rights and prerogatives of the Crown."

That was all a bit confusing so I went and asked experts in the Office of the Clerk, in this case Matthew and David. Here's what I learned...

Apparently some bills explicitly state that they will 'bind the Crown'; that if they pass, will force the government (who are the Ministers of the Crown) to act in a certain fashion. Not all bills say that at the top, but some do.

If a bill seeks to bind the Crown the Governor General, who acts for the Crown in New Zealand, has to approve of it doing so. And they have to approve of it before the bill passes its third and final reading and gets the formal royal assent to become law.

This Act binds the Crown - the first thing in part one of the Consumers' Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill

This Act binds the Crown - the first thing in part one of the Consumers' Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Here's the tricky bit.

Most bills that will bind the crown are Government bills, and come to Parliament for approval from the Executive. The Executive is the Cabinet plus the Governor General so for Government bills the Governor General’s approval is presumed to have been given already.

But a Member's Bill (so not from a Minister) doesn't go through Cabinet. It's even feasible that the Government might actually be opposed to it, while the Parliament is in favour. So for a Member's Bill the Governor General’s approval is specifically needed.

And that’s what this was. It was Dame Patsy Reddy saying 'it looks likely that this week you’ll all pass Gareth Hughes' Food Labeling bill - and I notice that it plans to bind my Ministers to actions they didn’t come up with themselves - but I’m good with that.

(Gareth Hughes' Member's Bill mandating country of origin food labeling will pass Parliament on Wednesday evening.)