Monday, March 08, 2010

Member's bills, local bills, and private bills

The Herald today reports that the Kaipara District is planning a "private member's bill" to "exclude the northern part of Rodney from the Auckland Super City", and that Northland MP John Carter may be obliged to put it in the ballot. Radio New Zealand reports on the same story, but calls it a local bill. So which is it?

Standing Orders recognise four broad classes of bills. Government and member's bills deal with matters of public policy, and are introduced by Ministers and Member's respectively. Private bills affect the interests of a particular person or body, typically because it is incorporated under an Act of Parliament which it needs to change. Finally local bills are promoted by a particular local authority and affect only that local authority. A recent example of the latter is the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008, which protected the Waitakere Ranges from further development at the request of the Waitakere City Council. Under Standing Orders, local bills must be initiated by a local authority using a particular process, and are then formally introduced to the House by what is effectively a petition. It is traditional - conventional, even - for a local constituency MP to take responsibility for a local bill's introduction and passage.

Standing Orders are very clear. A local bill can only deal with a single local authority. Bills which affect more than one local authority (e.g. Kaipara and Rodney) are not local bills. Bills which amend public Acts - as this one may need to - are not local bills either. So is it a member's bill? Well, it could be - but there's no obligation on any MP to put any particular bill in the ballot (though it might be a good idea politically). Instead, the bill is most likely to be a private bill. These bills can amend public Acts, and there's no real restriction on what they can do. A lot of apparently local legislation is actually done as private bills because (e.g. here or here) because of the need to amend public law. Again, it is traditional for a local MP to introduce such a bill, and they are handled on member's days - but there is no ballot for them, instead they are introduced as of right if you follow the correct procedures.

Regardless, John Carter is almost certainly going to be obliged to introduce a bill which is contrary to the policy of the government he is a part of. It will be fun to watch him squirm over it.