The House of Representatives

Page 8 – Useful terms

Useful Terms

Act – a law made by Parliament

Address-in-Reply – the formal response made by the House to the Speech from the Throne, involving the first major debate of the session. Its form is an expression of loyalty to the sovereign, but its substance is a wide-ranging debate on government policy, which can become a matter of confidence.

Bar (of the House) – a brass rod that can be placed across the entry to the chamber of the House of Representatives, indicating symbolically that members of the public cannot enter the chamber. People may be called to the bar to give an account of themselves to the House.

Beehive – the circular executive wing of Parliament Buildings, which houses the prime minister, Cabinet, Bellamy's and reception facilities

Bellamy's – the name given to the parliamentary restaurant and bar. It is named after John Bellamy who established such a service in the British House of Commons in 1773.

Bill – proposed legislation presented to the House in draft form, which then proceeds through a first, second and third reading and is considered by select committee. Substantial amendment may occur before a bill is passed into law or it may be defeated or withdrawn.

Black Rod, (Gentleman) Usher of – a position of authority originally associated with the Legislative Council and similar to the Serjeant-at-Arms. Black Rod carries an ornamental rod as a symbol of office. Since the abolition of the council in 1951, Black Rod has acted solely as a messenger for the Governor-General in communicating with the House of Representatives during the ceremony of the opening of Parliament.

Bowen House – the high-rise tower at the bottom of Bowen Street across from the parliamentary precincts that housed Parliament while refurbishment and strengthening of Parliament Buildings took place in the early 1990s. Since then, a substantial proportion of MPs and parliamentary staff have had their offices in Bowen House.

Chairman of Committees – a person elected by MPs at the beginning of the parliamentary term as the presiding officer when the House is in Committee of the Whole House. This position has not existed since 1996.

Chamber – the large space in which meetings or sittings of the House of Representatives and Legislative Council (until 1951) take place

Clerk of the House of Representatives – the principal, permanent officer of the House and the head of the Office of the Clerk (previously the Legislative Department). The clerk provides constitutional support for Parliament, advises on parliamentary law and procedure, assists the Speaker and MPs, and keeps the records of Parliament.

Closure – a procedural device to hasten business by ending debate that does not have a fixed amount of time allotted to it in the House

Committee (of the Whole House) – describes when the House goes 'into committee', originally to consider matters in private but most commonly to consider bills clause by clause. When in committee, debating rules are relaxed, and, in the past, full Hansard notes were not taken. The mace is removed from the Table of the House and placed underneath it when the House goes into committee.

Confidence, vote of – test of the continued willingness of the House to support the government

Debate – term for the discussion of bills and motions before the House. Rules governing debate are set down in the standing orders.

Dissolution – bringing a Parliament to an end and precipitating a general election through a proclamation of the Governor-General

Division – process of voting on a motion before the House. Many motions are decided 'on the voices' when MPs simply say 'Aye' or 'No', but when an MP asks for a formal vote, a division takes place. Assembled MPs go into the Ayes and Noes lobbies to record their votes. Up to 1996 those MPs elsewhere in the precincts were summoned to the chamber by the ringing of the division bells. Since that time, for other than personal or conscience votes, divisions are not taken, personal attendance is not required, and parties simply announce the number of votes in the chamber. This is known as a 'party vote'.

Executive Council – the body, presided over by the Governor-General, that tenders formal advice to the Governor-General. It has the same membership as Cabinet, but other ministers without portfolios may also be included.

Factional politics – the way in which politics was organised before political parties were formed. Groups of supporters or factions would form around leaders who would attempt to create and sustain a government from a majority mustered in the House of Representatives during a session of Parliament. At that time majorities were fragile and governments often fell during the session.

Financial Statement/Budget – the annual presentation by the minister of finance of the government's financial policy. It describes how the required money is to be raised, gives proposals for spending the money and outlines how the expenditure puts the government's policies into effect.

General Assembly – the term used from 1854 to 1986 that described Parliament as a whole. It comprised the governor or Governor-General, the House of Representatives and (until 1951) the Legislative Council. In 1986 the term 'General Assembly' was replaced by the more straightforward 'Parliament'.

Hansard – the written record of what has been said in the House. In the past, this was recorded in shorthand, but it is now digitally recorded. MPs can 'correct their Hansard' before the speeches are printed and bound into volumes under the title New Zealand parliamentary debates. Learn more about Hansard on the Commonwealth Hansard Reporters Forum website.

Honorarium – payment of a daily attendance allowance to MPs, which was made prior to the institution of salaries

House of Representatives – the elected component of Parliament

Legislative Council – the appointed Upper House of Parliament, which was abolished on 1 January 1951

Legislative Department – the organisation that was headed by the Clerk of the House and serviced Parliament until the mid-1980s. It was replaced by the Office of the Clerk and the Parliamentary Service.

Lobbies – the areas around the chamber, principally the Ayes lobby on the government side to the right of the Speaker and the Noes lobby on the Opposition side to the left of the Speaker. Until 1996, all votes were recorded by formal division in the lobbies.

Local bills – bills dealing with a particular locality and for local purposes. These became important after the abolition of the provinces in 1876 and were often sought by local authorities to enable their activities.

Mace – the large gilt staff surmounted by a crown that is based on the club-like weapons carried by royal Serjeants-at-Arms many centuries ago. It is symbolic of the Speaker's authority in the House of Representatives. The mace is carried by the Serjeant-at-Arms and placed on the Table of the House when the House is sitting.

MMP – Mixed member proportional representation. In this system some MPs are elected from local constituencies and others are elected from party lists. The number of MPs that a political party has in the House reflects the proportion of the votes that the party gained nationally in the election.

Motion – a formal proposal that is put forward, debated and then accepted or declined by the House

MP – Member of Parliament

Naming – punishment in which the Speaker names MPs and asks the House to pass judgement on their grossly disorderly conduct. The significance of this form of punishment by dishonour derives from the traditional practice of not referring to MPs by name in the chamber. Although the punishment of naming still exists, the old practice of not referring to MPs by their names during debates or other matters in the House was abandoned in 1996.

New Zealand Constitution Act – the legal foundation of New Zealand's democracy and parliamentary system. Passed by the British Parliament in 1852, it established a General Assembly (and six Provincial Councils), prescribed how Parliament should function and provided for the election of members of the House of Representatives.

Opposition – those MPs who do not support or vote for the government. Since the introduction of MMP in 1996, the term has not been as clearly defined in coalition governments.

Order Paper – the list of business for each sitting day of the House

Pairs – arrangements between the party whips concerning absent MPs. An absence by an MP in one party is cancelled out by the paired MP in the other party not voting on an issue. This means that the result of a division is not affected by the absence of an MP from one party. Pairing ceased in 1996 with the introduction of proxy voting for absent MPs.

Parliament – the Governor-General (representing the sovereign) and the House of Representatives, together with (until 1951) the Legislative Council, forming the New Zealand legislature. It is also a shorthand reference to a particular Parliament as elected for its term (for example, the 47th Parliament).

Parliament House – the main marble- and granite-clad buildings used since 1918 that contains the chamber of the House of Representatives

Parliamentary Service – an organisation established in 1985 to provide services to MPs and administer Parliament's buildings and grounds

Petitions – documents addressed to the House and signed by those supporting them that ask the House to take action on a grievance or issue. Petitions are referred to select committees, which report to the House on them.

Political party – an organisation of people with similar political beliefs and objectives that aims to get candidates elected into the House to further the organisation's objectives. If a party secures a majority in the House, it can form a government.

Premier – the earlier term for prime minister. This term was used until about 1906.

Press gallery – journalists accredited by the Speaker to attend the House and report the proceedings of Parliament from a reserved gallery above the chamber

Prime minister – leader of the government and the person who was selected by the majority party as its leader. The prime minister chairs Cabinet.

Private bills – bills concerning the particular interests of or benefits to a person or group rather than those of the general public

Private Member's Bill (or Member's Bill) – measures put forward outside the government programme

Private Members – MPs acting as individuals in the House, independently of party and government. The term is not used today.

Privileges – the exercise of powers (such as the power to punish for contempt of Parliament) and claim to immunities (such as freedom of speech in the House and committees) by the House of Representatives under a legal status not shared by the population at large. Such powers and immunities are regarded as necessary for the House to function effectively.

Prorogation – bringing a session of Parliament to an end by proclamation of the Governor-General

Public bills – bills dealing with general-public matters

Quorum – the number of MPs required in the chamber for the House to continue sitting. This this is no longer a requirement.

Readings of bills: first, second and third readings – stages of consideration of bills as they pass through the House. The first reading takes place after the bill is introduced into the House and involves the minister responsible briefly explaining its contents. The second reading seeks the House's adoption of the bill in principle, and it involves wide debate. This is followed by the bill's detailed examination, clause by clause, by a Committee of the Whole House ('in Committee'). The third reading, concerning the general principles of the bill in its final form, confirms its final passage through the House.

Responsible government – governments formed with the support of the majority in the House of Representatives. The first two years of Parliament in New Zealand were dominated by this issue as the governor delayed yielding power to Parliament.

Select committees – small groups of MPs appointed by the House to consider and report on matters referred to them by the House. Select committees are established only for the parliamentary term. Some examples of committees are:

  • Local Bills Committee – appointed from 1888 onwards as the number of local bills mounted. All local bills are referred to it for reporting on. It was replaced by the Internal Affairs and Local Government Committee in 1985. Local bills can go to any committee now.
  • Maori Affairs Committee – known as the Native Affairs Committee up until the 1940s. Established in 1871, it includes the Maori MPs, and it deals with petitions and bills relating to Maori.
  • Privileges Committee – deals with matters concerning the privileges of the House. These are the powers and immunities that the House has in its particular legal status that allows the House to do its work and deal with challenges to its authority.
  • Regulations Review Committee – replaced some functions of the Statutes Revision Committee in 1985 to scrutinise regulations issued under legislation. It was the first select committee to be chaired by an Opposition MP.
  • Statutes Revision Committee – appointed from 1880 onwards, it examined bills of a technical legal nature. From 1962, it  also looked at regulations issued under legislation.

Serjeant-at-Arms – a position of authority associated with the House of Representatives. The Serjeant-at-Arms carries the mace on ceremonial occasions and maintains order in the chamber and galleries on the direction of the Speaker.

Session – the period during which the House sits from being summoned by the Governor-General until it is prorogued. In the past, this was usually a year. More recently, it has extended to the full parliamentary term of three years.

Sitting – the period during which the House sits before being adjourned, usually a single day. In the past, the period could be substantially longer as a result of stonewalls or the House sitting under urgency.

Speaker – the MP elected by his or her colleagues at the beginning of a Parliament to preside over the House and to act as the representative of the House in its relations with the sovereign. The Speaker chairs the House during its deliberations, controls its proceedings and decides on points of procedure.

Speech from the Throne – the speech made by the governor or Governor-General at the opening of Parliament. This speech lays out the government's legislative programme and signals the direction of policy for the session.

Standing orders – the rules prescribing procedures by which the House is run. These include the swearing in of MPs, election of a Speaker, opening of Parliament, order of business, rules of debate and functions of select committees.

State opening of Parliament – the ceremonial occasion on which the governor or Governor-General delivers the Speech from the Throne. This is usually the second sitting day of the session, after MPs have been sworn in and a Speaker has been elected.

Stonewalling – the traditional practice of the Opposition of using the standing orders and speaking opportunities to delay measures so that sittings might stretch over days

Strangers – the archaic term for members of the public, inherited from the House of Commons. It is used with reference to the public gallery when an order is given to 'clear strangers from the House', and it is also used in relation to the Bar of the House.

Swearing in  the process on the first day of a new Parliament in which MPs take the oath of allegiance or otherwise commit themselves by affirmation to 'be faithful' and 'bear true allegiance' to the sovereign

The Table of the House – the large table in the chamber. The Clerk of the House sits at the head of this, and official papers and documents are placed on it ('laid on the table'). The mace is placed at the other end of the table when the House is sitting.

Urgency – a procedure used by governments to speed up the passage of their business through the House by using longer sitting periods

Westminster system – the form of parliamentary democracy established in Britain and adopted in other countries such as New Zealand. It is a centralised form of legislature characterised by the dominance of Cabinet government over Parliament and based on a small number of cohesive political parties (usually two) competing for power and alternating in office. A simple majority in the debating chamber determines who holds power. Since the adoption of MMP, New Zealand has, to some extent, moved away from what had been a strongly developed Westminster system.

Whips – organisers or managers of political parties in the House who are responsible for day-to-day business, party discipline, the attendance of MPs, speaking rights and membership of select committees.

How to cite this page

'Useful terms', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/history-of-parliament/useful-terms, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 15-Jul-2014