Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Wrong to ask MPs to work efficiently, panel told

Trevor Mallard. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Trevor Mallard. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Members of Parliament should not be compelled by law to work "efficiently and effectively" because delay was a legitimate political tool, a panel of MPs was told yesterday.

The Clerk of Parliament, Mary Harris, said she wanted the reference removed from the proposed Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Bill.

She was also concerned about a proposal to pass control of MPs' travel and accommodation allowances to an independent body, suggesting it contravenes the principle of Parliament's privilege to control its own operations.

Describing how MPs should do their jobs in statute could open up the work of MPs to the potential scrutiny of the courts. "Members are answerable to Parliament, not the courts," she said. The clerk, the principal officer of Parliament, was making a submission to the government administration select committee.

One of the main purposes of the bill as stated in the legislation is to "ensure that members of Parliament are provided with the services that they require to enable them to carry our their roles and functions efficiently and effectively".

Mary Harris told the committee that a requirement to be effective and efficient in some situations was inconsistent with reality.

"For example, Opposition members may see it as their legitimate duty to obstruct the progress of controversial Government legislation by filibustering in the House," her submission said.

"Such a debating technique is time consuming and does not necessarily align with the usual perception of business efficiency."

The bill should not tell MPs how to do their jobs, she said.

"How members discharge their duties is a matter for them as members of the House and any attempt to dictate the way that they carry out their responsibilities could be regarded, in my view, as fettering the privilege of the House to control its own operation."

Labour MP Trevor Mallard said every party in every democracy used the filibuster technique.

Mary Harris also expressed concern that the authority for funding was to be split, with responsibility for MPs' travel, and accommodation allowances for MPs and ministers, to go to the independent Remuneration Authority - which already decides on MPs' pay and allowances. The Speaker is to keep control of the funding for party and member support funding.

Mary Harris said getting MPs to Wellington and accommodating them there was fundamental to MPs carrying out their roles in Parliament.

- NZ Herald

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