9 May 2019

Dealing with the naughty boys at Parliament

From The House , 6:55 pm on 9 May 2019

Much like a school, there are various punishments for misbehaving MPs.

Say something out of line? Take it back and say you’re sorry (withdraw and apologise).

Keep misbehaving? Lose some privileges (supplementary questions taken or given out

depending on the offender).

Still playing up? Timeout (the Member will leave the chamber).

Can’t resist one last word as you leave? Straight to the principal’s office to discuss your suspension (named and suspended)

These rules are outlined in a couple of books. One is called Standing Orders and the other is Speaker's Rulings which is a collection of decisions from past Speakers that current ones can use to make consistent decisions. 

The test for when these rules have been broken is decided by the Speaker - they are the referee, headmaster, and zoo-keeper and it’s up to them to keep everything in order.

Power to the Speaker

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The Speaker's chair in the debating chamber. Whoever sits here is in charge of keeping the House in line. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

In terms of power rankings, the Speaker is third in line after the Governor General and Prime Minister.

Their title is a bit literal and is borrowed from the Westminster system in which the common folk chose one person amongst them to ‘speak’ their opinions to the King.

This makes the Speaker kind of a big deal and means MPs treat the Speaker and their assistants with respect and deference. Keen-eyed Parliament viewers will sometimes notice MPs bowing as they walk in and out of the debating chamber to acknowledge the Speaker.

The Speaker is still an MP who can vote and doesn’t have to abandon their political party but they also don’t participate in debates.

They get the job by being elected by MPs and the current Speaker Trevor Mallard was elected unanimously (albeit after a bit of kerfuffle).

Leave the chamber

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National Party Leader Simon Bridges Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

This week National Party Leader Simon Bridges was told to leave the debating Chamber by the Speaker Trevor Mallard after a series of points of order.

A point of order is an MP making a point that something is out of order and asking the Speaker to make a decision or ruling.

Speaking during a point of order is against the rules (that’s why National MP Michael Woodhouse was ejected from the chamber this week).

Those points of order were from Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Leader of the House Chris Hipkins and then Mr Bridges.

Transcripts of what Mr Peters and Mr Hipkins said are available on Parliament’s website here.

The exchange is lengthy but Mr Bridge’s last point of order follows the Speaker explaining he told off Mr Bridges for making a ‘barnyard-like' noise in question time.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I made no such noise, and it is entirely wrong and unfair for you as a Speaker to say that sort of unprofessional comment.

SPEAKER: The member will leave the House.

It’s against the rules to make a statement that reflects on the Speaker and also to comment on a point of order that’s been dealt with - an MP that does so can be kicked out of the room.

Say my name

National MP Nick Smith

National MP Nick Smith Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

On Wednesday the Speaker told another MP to leave the chamber, National MP Nick Smith.

Before he was told to get-out, Dr Smith had asked for leave for a bill on random roadside drug testing to be put at the top of the to-do list during the next week that Parliament meets.  

Asking for leave is risky because any MP in the House can object to it, including the Speaker who did object in this case.

SPEAKER: Leave is not going to be granted for that.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You need to put the leave.

SPEAKER: Well, I've made it absolutely clear that I won't grant leave for it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh, you're opposed to helping getting drug-drivers off the road as well?

SPEAKER: I have made it absolutely clear that I am very unhappy with the member and his approach—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: For standing up for my constituents?

SPEAKER: The member will leave the House.

Objections or interjections are not allowed in the middle of the Speaker giving a ruling especially if the Speaker is standing, so he told Dr Smith to leave.

Speaker Mallard reprimands MPs

The Speaker Trevor Mallard stands to reprimand some MPs.  Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The Speaker doesn’t actually use the name of the MP though instead he says, ‘the member will leave the House’.

That’s because naming an MP is a more serious punishment which can result in a number of consequences.

Dr Smith made a comment about the Speaker as he was leaving the chamber which resulted in this.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Soft on drugs like the Government.

SPEAKER: Order! Right, no—come back, please. The member will resume his seat.

SPEAKER: I'm invoking Standing Order 86. I name Nick Smith for grossly disorderly conduct.

Being named means all the MPs vote on whether or not the MP should be suspended from the House.

The formal wording is:

The question now is, That Nick Smith be suspended from the service of the House.

Labour, the Green Party and New Zealand First agreed to the question. National and Jamie-Lee Ross opposed. A majority vote in support of the question results in an immediate 24-hour suspension.

During that time the MP cannot enter the Chamber, serve on select committees, or vote meaning the National Party vote in the House dropped temporarily from 55 to 54.

Multiple namings result in more severe punishments but that resets every Parliament so even though Dr Smith was the last person to be named 13 years ago, it doesn’t count against his record this time.