A number of changes to the way Parliament is run will help ensure more integrity from MPs, less use of urgency and greater public scrutiny when Parliament sits again today.

Changes to the standing orders adopted in November include an order designed to keep ministers more honest by allowing Opposition MPs a chance to respond if they feel a minister has damaged the MP's reputation.

"The Speaker can enable the member, where there is evidence that the member has been adversely affected, to respond [in the House] to that misrepresentation," Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith told the Herald.

"At the moment there is no such mechanism. A breach of privilege complaint could also be dealt with in this way."


Dr Smith said he had received many complaints in the previous term about ministers' answers to oral questions, but had not referred any to the privileges committee because the threshold was high.

"But there have been some where there was a reasonable reason for grievance, yet we've had no mechanism to deal with that. This will improve the tone of the House, and encourage ministers not to make careless statements they don't know to be fact."

Other changes include the provision for the House to sit for an extra four-hour session a week, or more if the cross-party business committee agrees.

It gives the House an option to sit for longer and progress bills without resorting to urgency. Under urgency, a bill can pass all its stages and bypass select committee scrutiny, where the public has a chance for a say.

A study by Victoria University's Faculty of Law found that during the MMP era, urgency was used the most in the 1996 to 1999 term and the 2008 to 2011 term.

The researchers said there needed to be greater distinction between urgency that is used to advance legislation, as opposed to when there is a genuine need for a bill to be fast-tracked.

Dr Smith said he did not think urgency had been abused in the last term. "But the problem is that gives the public the impression that stuff is being rammed through without proper scrutiny."

The Government will be able to call for an extra four-hour session each week on Wednesday or Thursday morning. Bills can progress by only one stage in an extra sitting.


Extra sessions can happen only with the consent of the business committee, which can be blocked by a major party or a group of minor parties.

As an extra check, a minister calling for urgency will have to say why urgency is needed.

The changes are part of a review of standing orders, which made recommendations in September. Several were approved in November.

The Government is expected to respond to other recommendations, which need legislative change, this month. One of these is to dock MPs' pay if they are unreasonably absent or suspended.

Currently the penalty for being absent, imposed on former MP Chris Carter last term, is $10 a day.

The new fines are part of proposed changes to the Civil List Act.


Changes to standing orders:
* The Speaker can give an MP a response in the House if he feels a minister's answer has damaged the MP's reputation, or has breached privilege by misleading the House.
* The House can sit for extra sessions on Wednesday or Thursday morning at the Government's discretion to progress bills; bills have to be on the Order Paper and can progress only one stage.
* The House can sit for more than one extra session a week at the discretion of the Business Committee - a cross-party committee.
* A minister calling for urgency will have to state why urgency is necessary.
* Publicising private members' bills before they are drawn from the ballot so an MP can gauge support for the bill.

Recommendations still awaiting Government response:
* Docking MPs' pay for unreasonable absences by 0.2 per cent of the salary a day ($283.60 for the base salary of $141,800).
* Fining MPs when they are suspended: a day's pay for the first time, a week's pay for the second, and four weeks' pay for any subsequent time.
* Extra vetting of bills against the Bill of Rights Act, including when the bill is introduced and for substantive changes.
* A new procedure for non-controversial revision bills that re-enact legislation, which will be debated only at second reading.
* An extension of parliamentary privilege in some circumstances.