The second reading of the bill to replace the Foreshore and Seabed Act has passed through Parliament and former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira wasn't there to vote against it - despite the bill being the reason for him leaving his party.

The second reading of the bill passed 62 votes to 56.

Mr Harawira quit the Maori Party last month amid disciplinary action against him over his outspoken criticism of the legislation that replaces the Foreshore and Seabed Act and his complaints about the Maori Party's relationship with the Government.

The Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill is backed by National and the Maori Party and Mr Harawira made a passionate plea to his former caucus colleagues to turn their backs on it.

"With all my heart and soul I beg the Maori Party to recognise the fact that they have been sold down the river by the National Party and to accept the reality that they occupy a cold and lonely place in the hearts and minds of their people," he said.

"This is racist legislation and thousands will walk away from the Maori Party."

The bill repeals the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act and restores to Maori the right to seek customary title to parts of the coastline through the High Court or by negotiation with the Government.

The test for that is uninterrupted and exclusive use since 1840, which Mr Harawira and other opponents of the bill say is much too hard to meet and will rule out nearly all applications.

The bill passed its second reading 62-56 and still has to go through its committee and third reading stages before becoming law.

Mr Harawira was able to speak today, from his new seat at the back of the debating chamber, because the Labour Party gave him one of its slots but he left soon afterwards and didn't cast a vote.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, who is in charge of the bill, said that while restoring rights to Maori it also made it clear that no one owned the common marine and coastal area.

"The Government just looks after it for all New Zealanders, present and future," he said.

"All New Zealanders have the right equally to walk, swim, fish, sail, dive, surf, picnic or play in it, just as they do now."

Labour opposed the bill on its second reading, saying it didn't deliver a lasting settlement and the test should be left up to the courts rather than put into law.

The Green Party also voted against it, saying it gave nothing to Maori, while ACT opposed it for the opposite reason.

ACT MP John Boscawen said the Government was "trying to put New Zealanders to sleep" with its assurances about the bill.

Maori Party co-leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia said in a statement after the vote that they made two promises and had kept them both -- to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act and restore Maori rights of access to the courts.

"We have had to try to balance the prejudice with the political realities and the aspirations of our people and we believe the bill, for now, strikes that balance."

The committee stage of the bill is due to begin on Thursday.

- Newstalk ZB, NZPA