Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

New Zealand Parliament

The New Zealand Parliament consists of the Queen and the House of Representatives, which has been the sole parliamentary chamber since 1951, following the abolition of the Legislative Council. Under the UK Parliament's New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, New Zealand was granted a bicameral General Assembly consisting of an appointed Legislative Council and an elected House of Representatives, but under the Constitution Act 1986, the legislature has formally been called 'Parliament'.

Table of contents
1 House of Representatives
2 Legislative Council (abolished 1951)
3 External links

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives (often called the 'debating chamber', or simply 'Parliament') is modelled on the British House of Commons, with a Speaker as its presiding officer, chosen from within its membership, and the mace as the symbol of parliamentary authority. Members are known as 'Members of Parliament' or MPs. Until 1951, they were known as 'Members of the House of Representatives' or MHRs. Members of the governing party or coalition and the opposition parties sit on opposite sides.

The Prime Minister, is the leader of the largest party in the House, or, since electoral reform in 1996, the coalition with the most seats. The Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the largest opposition party. With the adoption of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) in 1996, the number of MPs increased from 99 to 120, with the debating chamber being refurbished to accommodate more seats.

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

Under MMP, 65 MPs, known as 'electorate MPs', are chosen from single-member constituencies, as under FPP. Five of these represent Maori electorates. The remaining 55 are filled from closed party lists, and are referred to as 'list MPs'. They may also contest an electorate seat, in addition to being on the party list, and carry out constituency duties like electorate MPs.

While some small parties, like United Future have been unable to secure list seats because they have failed to obtain at least 5 per cent of the vote, they survive if their leaders win an electorate seat.

List MPs, unlike electorate MPs, may not normally change party. However, in 1997 the list MP Alamein Kopu, left her party, the Alliance, while remaining an MP. Later, many members of New Zealand First also broke away from their party. Legislation known as the Electoral Integrity Act was introduced to end this behaviour.

Following the first election using MMP in 1996, National, formed a coalition with New Zealand First. When this later collapsed, National governed with the support of ACT New Zealand until 1999, when it was defeated by a coalition between Labour and the Alliance. After the 2002 election, the Alliance was replaced as the junior coalition partner by the Progressive Coalition (now the Progressive Party), a group that had broken away from the Alliance.


Legislation is scrutinised by Select Committees. The Committees call for submissions from the public, thereby meaning that there is a degree of public consultation before a parliamentary bill proceeds into law. The strengthening of the Committee system was in response to concerns that legislation was being forced through, without receiving due examination and revision. Each Select Committee has a Chairperson and a Deputy Chairperson. MPs may be members of more than one Select Committee. There are 18 Select Committees in the House of Representatives, as follows:

Legislative Council (abolished 1951)

The Legislative Council was modelled on the British House of Lords, as a revising chamber, but it could not initiate legislation or amend money bills. At the time of its abolition, it had 54 members, including its own Speaker. Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) were appointed for seven year terms, and while a proposal was made to elect them in 1915, this was dropped as a result of World War I. Although women in New Zealand had been among the first in the world to gain the vote, the first women MLCs were not appointed until the 1940s.


There was increasing dissatisfaction with the role of the Legislative Council, which was regarded as ineffectual and making little difference to the legislative process. In 1950, Sidney Holland's National government passed a bill to abolish the Legislative Council, although this was intended as an interim measure. However, no serious attempts were made to introduce a new second chamber, and the House of Representatives has been unicameral since. Today, the Legislative Council Chamber is still used for the Throne Speech, as following the British tradition, the Sovereign may not enter the elected House. The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod still summons the House of Representatives to attend the State Opening of Parliament in the Legislative Council Chamber, where the Speech is read usually by the Governor-General. It is also used for some Select Committee meetings, as well as meetings of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other official functions.

Senate proposal, 1990

The National government of James Bolger proposed the establishment of an elected Senate when it came to power in 1990, thereby reinstating a bicameral system, and a Senate Bill was drafted. Senators would be elected by STV, with a number of seats being reserved for Maori, and would have powers similar to those of the old Legislative Council. The House of Representatives would continue to be elected by FPP. The intention was to include a question on a Senate in the second referendum on electoral reform. Voters would be asked, if they did not want a new voting system, whether or not they wanted a Senate. However, following objections from the Labour opposition, and supporters of MMP, the Senate question was removed by the Select Committee on Electoral Reform, and the issue has not been pursued since.

External links