Parliament to consider cutting number of MPs

Legislation to reduce the number of MPs looks set to pass its first reading in Parliament tonight when New Zealand First MP Barbara Stewart's bill to cut the total from 120 to 100 is debated.

The Maori Party, which has four MPs, told The Dominion Post it would support the bill through it's first reading so the idea could be discussed at a select committee.

Apart from NZ First, with seven MPs, other parties to support the first reading were National (48), and ACT (2), giving the bill the backing of 61 members.

Labour (50), the Greens (6) and United Future (3) were expected to vote against it.

Mrs Stewart says her Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill is intended to honour the spirit of the 1999 referendum calling for the number of MPs to drop to 99.

The referendum saw 81.5 per cent of voters opt for a reduction, but it was ignored by the Government.

The Greens say reducing MPs would make Parliament less representative and less diverse.

Green MP Nandor Tanczos told National Radio that had New Zealand kept the former first past the post electoral system, based on population, there would be 111 seats by now and 119 by 2011.

He said people who wanted fewer MPs were probably unhappy with the behaviour in Parliament. However he believed the poorly behaved MPs were those who had been in Parliament longest and they would not be the ones to lose their jobs under the change.

"I think one of the things New Zealanders are proud of is the fact that we have probably one of the most representative parliaments in the world," he said.

"The other thing is it would reduce the effectiveness of select committees."

These committees analyse and make changes to bills and can hold inquiries.

Mr Tanczos said under Mrs Stewart's bill two lawyers -- Labour's Russell Fairbrother and National's Chris Finlayson -- would be gone from the Justice and electoral subcommittee.

"The contribution that they make to produce effective legislation is immeasurable."

Mrs Stewart said fewer MPs would save the country money. "The people tell us they want fewer MPs," she said. "We need to be accountable to the people."

She said departments and businesses always looked at ways of working smarter and Parliament should do the same.

"I believe that proportionality can still be maintained with 100 members and still have the diversity of representation."

She said the mixed system was what the country wanted and she did not want a return to first past the post.

Currently Parliament has 121 MPs due an "overhang" after the Maori Party won more electorate seats than its total share of party vote entitled them to at last September's election.

- NZPA

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