Parliament's culture and traditions

Page 4 – Westminster traditions

The Westminster legacy

Many parliaments take a lead from Britain's ancient House of Commons. It is not surprising that in the 1850s, New Zealand, which was a British colony, followed the familiar terms and traditions of the system in the home country.

The linkages are most obvious in the ceremonies that Parliament uses, the ritual, symbolism and impressive dress, which all draw on the rich Westminster tradition. Offices such as the Serjeant-at-Arms and Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod and symbols such as the mace also come from this tradition.

We have also kept the name 'Bellamy's' to describe Parliament's restaurant and bar, and the New Zealand Parliament is the only one that retains this historic name. An attempt to rename it the Catering Department in the 1940s failed abysmally. The term 'Hansard' for the record of parliamentary debates also comes from Britain.

The buildings are smaller than London's but the layout of the chamber – the Speaker at its head with the Table of the House in front, the government benches to the right and the Opposition to the left of the Speaker, and the provision of a Bar of the House to exclude 'strangers' – mirror the House of Commons. New Zealand Members of Parliament (MPs), however, enjoy the luxury of separate seating and desks.

The colour of the furnishings – green for the House of Representatives and red for the Legislative Council – reflects the distinction between the House of Commons and the House of Lords and seems to have been adopted here in the 1870s. Green predominates now, but the empty Legislative Council Chamber still honours its heritage with red carpet.

The stained glass in the Parliamentary Library reflects more general linkages with Britain. Here images can be found of the Union Jack, the English red and white cross of St George, the Scottish white and blue cross of St Andrew, the English red rose, the Scottish thistle and the Irish shamrock.

The British and New Zealand parliaments have given each other important gifts. When the New Zealand Parliament moved into its new building in 1918, Britain gave it a small piece of oak taken from the rafters of the 14th-century Westminster Hall. Later gifts included a stained-glass shield made from pieces salvaged from the Palace of Westminster after its bombing during the Second World War, and a sample of stone from the Houses of Parliament.

Our Speaker sits on a chair given by the House of Commons in 1951, although a thoroughly Kiwi sheepskin has been added.

How to cite this page

'Westminster traditions', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 17-Jul-2014