Monday, October 30, 2006

InFAQs on Member's Bills

Parliament is in recess this week, so there probably won't be much political news unless Taito Phillip Field shows an unexpected strand of decency and resigns. But this does allow me to catch up on a few things - and one of the things I've been meaning to catch up on is Member's Bills. I've been covering these fairly intensively since the beginning of the year, so here's some statistics and answers to questions nobody has asked:

  • How many bills have there been? There have been 70 Member's Bills submitted to the ballot so far this session. I've managed to blog about 56 of them, either individually or in an In The Ballot post.
  • How many have been drawn? 33 of those 70 bills have been drawn, so the odds have been just under 50%.
  • Who uses the ballot? The most prolific users of the ballot have been National, with 24 bills submitted. However, this only 0.5 bills per MP. The most prolific per MP have been ACT, with 8 bills between 2 MPs. The Greens score well in both categories with 16 bills submitted (2.66 per MP).
  • Who has the ballot mojo? Clearly, it's the Maori party, who have a perfect hit rate - the only bill they've submitted so far was drawn on its first ballot. Beyond that, ACT has been clearly running ahead of the odds, with 5 bills drawn. The Greens have had 8, and Labour 4. United Future are the unluckiest party; despite having had bills in the ballot all year, they haven't had a single one drawn (though given the nature of those bills, I'm not entirely displeased about that).
  • What is the ballot used for? The highest profile bills last term have been those on "moral issues" - prostitution, the drinking age, the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill. This is still a heavy theme (e.g. Death With Dignity, gay adoption), but there's also been a heavy emphasis on the RMA and Treaty of Waitangi. Many bills are concerned with minor tweaks to legislation, some of which are subsequently taken up by the government; the role of the bill then is simply to promote an issue.
  • Do they pass? According to the Progress of Legislation report, 16 Member's Bills introduced this term have been set to select committee. 7 were voted down, and 2 were discharged. Another 8 are still on the Order Paper awaiting their first reading. However, no bills introduced this session have passed into law yet.

Unfortunately, the fun may be about to end - there may be no ballots for a while. Why? Look at the Order Paper: a large number of bills given their first readings earlier in the year have now returned from Select Committee, and so their second readings (and those of local bills) will likely eat all the time before Christmas. Meanwhile, there's more bills due back from committee - Easter Sunday shop trading and s59 in November, and more in December and January - and eight bills waiting for their first reading. So it might be quite a while before we see a space open up on the Order Paper again.


"he most prolific per MP have been ACT, with 8 bills between 4 MPs" - ACT has 2 MPs. whoops!

Posted by Anonymous : 10/30/2006 05:04:00 PM

Anon: Corrected.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/30/2006 05:34:00 PM

Is it possible to talk a bill out or propose so many amendments that it runs out of time? Are there procedures to prevent flibustering or is it just considered improper?

Posted by Rich : 10/31/2006 11:28:00 AM

Rich: Not really. There's a time-limit on debates, with speaking slots allocated by party (though frequently traded around so that more people get a chance to speak). In the committee stages, amendments must be relevant (as judged by the Speaker) and in writing, and cannot revisit old ground, and in any case the government can always move closure (though they might not win this under MMP). This means they still have to vote on any amendments put, but don't have to spend time debating them.

The typical form of filibustering is through petty and tedious points of order. The opposition did this over the ERA and the recent Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill, but both went through in the end.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/31/2006 12:24:00 PM

rich - no. Although I suppose proposing so many amendments (like a million) might work - the Speaker/Chairperson would rule them out of order, though.

Talking a bill - no. Everything is time-limited in our Parliament - maximum 5 or 10 minute or 15 minute speeches. In the committee stage an MP has a maximum of 4 calls per part/clause, and if a bill has the numbers a motion that that motion now be put will at some stage be accepted by the Speaker, and the debate will end even if not everyone has taken every possible call.

A member's bill could certainly be delayed a while, but this isn't the US or Victorian Senate, it can't be stopped completely by a single person holding the floor.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 10/31/2006 12:28:00 PM

i/s with promises of support on procedural motions, under MMP closure will almost always be granted (i.e. it failed once, during the ERA, when the greens wanted one more call on a particular part, and the chair accepted the motion before they'd had it).

That cost the government something like 8 hours, but that's the only time.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 10/31/2006 12:35:00 PM

Graeme: that's the sort of situation I was thinking of - the minor parties frequently want to make their points, and its a foolish government which doesn't let them.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/31/2006 12:43:00 PM

Two more points on the discussion on closure:
1.) A motion can always be put to give an MP extra calls, although it requires the (unanimous) leave of the House to do so, and so would probably never come about.
2.) Until the 1995 Review of Standing Orders, there was no limit on speaking times for debates within the House, although there was informal arrangements with between the government and opposition so things actually got done. With the review for MMP, it was decided that that may not be possible and so limits were introduced (not surprisingly by Labour and National wanting to limit the powers of the small parties).

Posted by Anonymous : 10/31/2006 10:23:00 PM