Confusion over number of Labour MPs eligible to vote for Speaker allows Opposition to wangle concession.

National fired a warning shot across the bows of the Labour Government on the very first day of Parliament after securing concessions by threatening to try to block Trevor Mallard's election as Speaker.

The outburst of drama came during the election of the Speaker yesterday when National realised the Government parties had five MPs missing from the swearing-in of MPs.

That meant it did not have its full 63 votes and National raised the possibility of putting its own MP Anne Tolley forward as Speaker rather than supporting Labour's choice of Trevor Mallard as it had originally said it would do.

That prompted a flurry of negotiations on the floor of Parliament and in return for supporting Mallard, National's shadow Leader of the House Simon Bridges used the opportunity to get Labour to agree to National's demand to lift the number of select committee places for MPs to 109 from the 96 Labour had planned.


Labour's Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, claimed afterward Labour had known it had enough votes - 58 against National and Act's 56 - but it would have been a close vote and Labour had not wanted Mallard elected with a slim majority.

He said the scenes were unseemly and the public did not want to see politicians "playing silly games".

It is understood there was initially confusion because Labour had believed it could cast proxy votes for the five missing MPs, who included NZ First leader Winston Peters and Trade Minister David Parker who were at Apec. However, because those MPs had not yet been sworn in, their votes could not be used.

English poured scorn on Labour's claims that it knew it had the numbers, saying it was clearly confused. He denied National had effectively blackmailed Labour.

"Not at all. The whole point of being the Government is that you've got the numbers.

"The Government didn't know what numbers it had, didn't know whether it could elect the Speaker, and essentially sought our support."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denied it was embarrassing and described the set-back as a "minor irritation" and "sadly, a bit of politics".

"I wanted to show ... this was going to be a Parliament that was different. So it was [my hope] we wouldn't have that vote and we didn't."


When it was pointed out Labour had stood candidates to be Speaker - including Mallard - against National's David Carter when Labour was in Opposition she said she was not leader then. "My intent today was for all sides to [support] Trevor Mallard because he will be an excellent Speaker."

Hipkins later accused National of going back on an earlier promise to back Mallard and said it should have given Labour forewarning if that had changed. Labour had understood that all parties would support Mallard as Speaker and National's Anne Tolley as Deputy Speaker.

Bridges said had Labour agreed to National's request for more select committee places to ensure all of its MPs could have a place on a select committee, it would not have been forced to take such action.

"They were arrogant. I think they've learned a lesson."