Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard
POINTS OF ORDER
Tabling of Documents—Accuracy and Delivery of Documents
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Associate Minister of Education): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Kia ora. Mr Speaker, can I draw your attention to Speaker’s ruling 150/4(2), which reads “Where leave is granted for a document to be tabled, it must be provided to the Clerk by the end of the sitting day.” and Speakers’ ruling 150/6, which reads “If a member is given leave to table a document and deliberately misleads the House by delivering to the Clerk a totally different document from that for which leave was granted, a contempt would be committed.” During oral question No. 9 on 7 August, the last sitting week, regarding learning support coordinators, the Hon Nikki Kaye sought leave of the House to table a document she described as the previous announcement which showed that there were, I think, 70 learning coordinators under the previous Government. It is now recorded in the Hansard that the member never tabled that document.
I’m left with a dilemma. Because no document was tabled, and it is my informed belief that no such announcement was ever made, I seek your advice on what action I can take to maintain the integrity of the House.
Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just seek to put on the record that I did try to seek leave to table the document. The nature of the document referred to 70,000 children being helped under the previous National Government scheme. So I wasn’t correct in saying that it was 70 people; it was 70,000 people that were covered. I accept that error, but I did try and table that document with the Clerk. So there was no deliberate intention not to, and I’m sure the Clerk’s Office could confirm that.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Associate Minister of Education): Speaking to the point of order, taking on board the comment by the Hon Nikki Kaye, when she realised her error—and I have quoted directly from the Hansard—would it not have been that the usual process for her to come down and correct her statement, sir?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): In fact, I think Tracey Martin’s comment is absolutely correct. If, in seeking leave to table a document, a member mis-described the document and then in presenting the document to the Clerk that became apparent, it is incumbent on the member to immediately return to the House and correct the statement that they made in the House. To not do so means that they had knowingly misled the House and did not correct it.
SPEAKER: Right, I think there are a couple of points that we’re dealing with here, and I think the first is the expectation that when members become aware of the fact, especially in formal proceedings such as the seeking of leave, that they have made an error, my expectation is that that error is corrected. It hasn’t happened in this case. It cannot be an absolute rule, because we know that, more frequently than one would like, members, especially when they get enthusiastic in debate, make errors—I’m not saying deliberately, but accidentally. What is also very clear as part of the Standing Orders and previous Speakers’ rulings is that members are not allowed to table a document which is not the document for which they were granted leave. It’s my understanding that the member attempted to table a document, but it wasn’t the document for which leave had been granted by the House.
In that case, quite properly, the Clerk’s Office declined to have it tabled because it actually is a protection to the member who would have breached Standing Orders and probably privilege if in fact it had been accepted.
There’s a final point and that is that Speakers have ruled previously that while leave has been granted to table a document there is no absolute obligation on the member to table any document—so it is permission but not a requirement. But Speakers have also noted that members who seek permission to table documents and don’t, then affect the chances of either themselves or their colleagues being able to get leave granted by the House going forward, because I think it’s generally seen as not a good thing to do.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Speaker’s ruling 150/4, series of two rulings from Speaker Smith, under clause 2 makes it clear: “Where leave is granted for a document to be tabled, it must be provided to the Clerk by the end of the sitting day.” I think that does contradict slightly the ruling that you’ve just made and I just want to be clear: are you ruling that one out and making a new ruling that, in fact, a document once leave has been granted doesn’t have to be presented?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): That is certainly the black letter of the Speaker’s ruling. However, where it says that “[Where] leave is granted for [the] document to be tabled it must be provided to the Clerk by the end of the sitting day.”—that doesn’t preclude the previous situation you’ve mentioned, which is permission is given but it doesn’t have to be, in fact, tabled. But it’s not a permission that is endless. It lasts only for the sitting day. I think that is the most reasonable interpretation of that particular Speaker’s ruling. In fact, it’s reinforced by part one of that, which is “I have determined that documents will be tabled on the same day and which leave is granted …”. Now that doesn’t mean it must be tabled.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Attorney-General): I was in the House for this series of events that led to that Speaker’s ruling and—[Interruption]
Hon DAVID PARKER: —for the benefit of the Hon Gerry Brownlee—I shouldn’t have said that—for the benefit of the House to be of assistance my understanding as to why that ruling was made was that there were sometimes political points being—promises of documents that weren’t then tabled, which led to the practice of opposing parties also seeking leave to table the same document so that it was actually tabled. That then led to the ridiculous situation that because one party could seek leave but it wouldn’t necessarily be tabled another party in the House would seek leave to table the same document to ensure that it was. The Speaker then intervened and said, “Well, this is silly. If someone undertakes to the House or seeks leave to table a document they should go through with it, otherwise we’ll have these multiple applications to seek leave to table the same document.”
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): Clarifying a little, that is correct. There was that strange series of exchanges. You, yourself will be very, very familiar with that period of the Parliament’s history. It’s the reason why, in fact, there has been a tightening up of what is allowable and what is not allowable as a document to be tabled. But you are right: there is no strict requirement that once a permission is given that that is a must as far as a tabling is concerned. It’s also, I might point out, somewhat ironic that it’s a Minister from the New Zealand First Party requiring this particular activity.
SPEAKER: That’s not helpful. We’ve actually got quite a serious ruling happening here.
Hon Tracey Martin: Just speaking to the point of order.
SPEAKER: I think I’m getting pretty to the point of being able to rule.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Associate Minister of Education): So if I understand you correctly, although my only recourse is, in the future, if a member or a particular member—this has been the case in the past—seeks leave again, the only suggested recourse is to in the future deny leave of that member. And that’s risk that the member takes, which also can be used as a political tool—to suggest that those denying leave are attempting to cover something up. I wonder if we could spend—or if you might spend—more time just considering if this becomes a norm.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Attorney-General): Speaking further, sir, I think, if I could make one further—
SPEAKER: The Hon David Parker—this is the last contribution.
Hon DAVID PARKER: There was originally an intercessional order made through the Business Committee and the Speaker to address the issue. Then the Standing Orders were changed and Standing Order 377(2) was inserted into the Standing Orders, and it wasn’t there previously. So what Standing Order 377(2) says is that you have some discretion, but the Speaker’s ruling clarifies that unless there’s some other provision being given by the Speaker because of an unusual circumstance, where a member might come to you and say “Oh look, it’s taking me more than a day to get that document.”, it should actually be tabled on the day.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Point of order.
SPEAKER: No, no, I’m ready to rule. Thank you.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I’m trying to be helpful.
SPEAKER: Well, I think I am able to rule, and I thank the member for his pointing out Standing Order 377(2). The dilemma we have with this particular case, and I think we can differentiate this one from others—and I can think about the general case about requirements to table—is that this document does not exist and, therefore, it can’t be tabled. I think I’m able at this stage to say that I am prepared to consider, and the Standing Orders might like to consider, the various rulings, and I will say that Dr Smith’s ruling was certainly inconsistent with earlier rulings—especially the one of Mr Hunt that I remember well—which indicated at that stage that documents did not have to be tabled. It was a permission, but not an obligation. I’m prepared to go back and look at that, and we can discuss it during the Standing Orders Committee, but I think it becomes a farce if we try and table documents that do not exist, as has been accepted by the member who sought permission in this case.