An important part of our legislative process is the select committee. Almost all of the laws that come before the House are referred to a select committee for detailed consideration. The public are normally given an opportunity to make submissions, and membership of the committees is shared amongst all of the parties in the House.
Under the Standing Orders, a select committee can’t normally meet while the House is sitting. This ensures that MPs can fully participate in parliamentary debate. It also ensures that when select committees are meeting, members aren’t distracted by the need to follow what is happening in the debating chamber.
Unfortunately, the National government have taken to routinely using their majority in the House to short-circuit the process by moving referral motions to select committees such as this one:
“I move that the State Sector Management Bill be considered by the Education and Science Committee, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 24 November 2010, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).”
Why should we care? We should care because they’re watering down the strength of our democratic institutions. We should care because having select committees meeting at the same time as the House sits will prevent small parties from fully participating in the select committee process (perhaps that’s why the Maori Party regularly let National MPs take their place?). We should care because it will prevent MPs being able to give select committee (or House) work the attention that it deserves.
Where a piece of legislation requires a tight timeframe, an abridged process might be justified. But the born-to-rule tories are now using this referral motion for every piece of legislation that comes before the House. It’s an abuse of parliament and it should stop.