9 Oct 2011

Tougher rules on parliamentary urgency on the way

5:23 pm on 9 October 2011

The Speaker of the House says there is significant concern the public is being increasingly shut out of the law-making process, and the rules for holding debates under urgency are being change.

In the parliamentary term just ended, one quarter of sitting hours in the House were under urgency.

The Government says urgency was needed to get through its parliamentary business but there has been widespread criticism of its use from academics and others.

Speaker Lockwood Smith told Radio New Zealand's Insight programme that Parliament's rules will change after the election because of a recognition of the need for maximum public involvement.

From next term, ministers will have to give a reason for wanting legislation debated under urgency.

Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis was one of those who signed a public letter opposing the first earthquake legislation which was passed under urgency.

Professor Geddis says any alteration to the normal processes for legislation lessens the chance for scrutiny and public participation and can shift decision-making into back rooms.

Last week, Parliament's Standing Orders committee recommended allowing a minister to move that sitting days be extended into Wednesday or Thursday mornings without the need to put the House into urgency. The committee's report said that would mean urgency was confined to situations where it is genuinely required.