Another parliamentary blog
It appears we are not alone. There is another blog by parliamentarians. In this case, though, it is confined to one party. Labour MPs in New Zealand contribute to a blog.
We can claim to retain our unique status in that we are cross-party. We also differ from the New Zealand blog in that we are members of a second chamber. New Zealand cannot compete in that respect – it is a unicameral system. And the blog in question doesn’t have fetching pictures of those who contribute to it.
How long before other Parliaments follow suit?
New Zealand Parliament
Lord Norton, you, your fellow bloggers, and the Hansard Society should all be very proud of this blog.
The number of comments has increased exponentially since I first started reading it. This blog is unique in the insightful, independent-minded and largely apolitical way in which it is contributed to and the way it seeks and values the views of its readers.
Without wishing to dwell on the point too much, I don’t think an elected chamber could ever be as successful in engaging with the public. Ironic isn’t it?
Chris K: Thanks for the compliment, and I agree very much with you about the comments. They are notable not only for their quantity but also for their quality. One only has to look at the comments on issues such as lap dancing and the legalisation of drugs to see the range and quality of contributions. What is especially pleasing is the number of new contributors recently.
Given that the House is not elected, I think there is a greater onus on us to connect with people outside. I think the fact that the Commons is elected has led it at times to take its legitimacy for granted, whereas I think the Lords recognises that it has to be earned.
Do the Kiwis (I assume this term is not an ethnic slur) not have an ermine-clad chamber?
One further question: Where can you get those very fetching patent court shoes with buckles that I have seen worn? They are remarkably elegant and I think would go well with white tie or black tie. I have a pair that are similar, but have grosgrain silk bows instead, so some less clued up folk might think I was cross-dressing.
Mr Mulholland: I fear that New Zealand abolished its second chamber. On the court shoes, I think I shall need to take advice from the officials who wear them.
Lord Norton is right in that we abolished our upper house, and I dare say we’re better for it.
Don’t worry about ‘kiwi’, it’s not at all derogatory.
I don’t really see that the New Zealand blog is much more than a party-political blog that just happens to have only MPs as its contributors.
Isn’t the uniqueness of Lords of the Blog down to the uniqueness of the House of Lords – a chamber where many members are either apolitical crossbenchers, or else belong to a party but are still able to think independently?
Unfortunately, it’s a uniqueness that the reformers would do away with and see it replaced with a chamber like any other around the world.
Jonathan: I very much agree. The uniqueness of the blog reflects the uniqueness of the House.
It’s not really “party-political”. Obviously, party MPs broadly share the views of their party, but they’re free to voice disagreement, make controversial statements, and think independently. In fact, I believe the blog was actually set up behind the party leader’s back (in that he wasn’t aware of it before launch).
Well it does show one thing. It shows you don’t need a second house for a functioning democracy.
Another reason on the list for getting rid of the House of Lords.
If New Zealand can manage without, I’m sure the UK can too.
Scotland manages with only one house as does Wales, so there are other examples of why a second house isn’t necessary.
Nick: It doesn’t show any such thing, since democracies vary enormously in size. Scotland it is worth noting, even though a small country in population terms, is only able to enact the amount of legislation it does as a result of Legislative Consent Motions. Without another legislative body (in this case, Westminster), it would not have the legislation it does.
But then again we in New Zealand have the potential for a ‘crisis of the blue eyed babies’ because out house has no other house to keep it in check and our one remaining check and balance, the queen, will not jump in to stop any legislation.
As much as I do like a unicameral system, when we go republic, and we will when succession comes around, we will need to introduce some form of head of state and a constitutional court; a second house could function well in this respect.
If I may, can I echo the points made by fellow contributors? I think there is a unique element to this particular blog, in that when reading it, one does not get the sense that a blog post is being made by someone whom Nick Brown (or his equivalents) has in a full nelson, telling him what to say. When a post does look a bit party-political, it is quickly detected by the contributors as out-of-kilter with the general theme of the blog.
Mr Mulholland: The fact that we avoid getting party political can be said to some degree to reflect the nature of the House. Partisanship for the sake of it tends to be deprecated. I suspect some may see this as a weakness of the blog, in that we don’t engage in slanging matches. What we do try to do is convey the nature of the House and give some insights into what we do. It is also invaluable for the readers’ comments. I am sure that we have all learned much from what readers have to write. Indeed, the comments of some readers have already been quoted in parliamentary proceedings.
Generally I’m happy with this blog as it is though, perhaps to avoid direct arguments, it does occasionally see two Lords’ parallel post giving a differing view points without addressing the strengths or weakness of the rival argument.
Party political blogs can work but those that do generally wear their party allegience lightly and talk more of and about their personal politics and views rather than defend a line. I’m sure I’m not alone here in reading Tom Harris’ blog “And Another Thing…” which can be a gem.
We’ll see what voice this NZ blog finds but I don’t think it will beat the Lords for ‘best blog name/title’
Tom Harris’ blog, seconded. 😀
Also, The Magistrate’s Blog is well worth an RSS feed.
New Zealand is very unique. It does have seats awarded to Maoris by Marai and chiefly district in historical terms and the Maori voting system is quite complex. So the British taste for nuance is not entirely lost.
The beehive seems to be the same building so called when I visited it in 1977 or 1976 and its architecture proclaims democractic values both forcefully and eloquently. I think despite being populated by first and second generation emigrants of the UK in large part New Zealand may be the most comprehensively democratic polity with her Britannic Majesty as head of state. Radical socialist democratic ideals administered by classy common sense is how it impressed me at the time — and of course so lovely to the eyes.
The Maori voting system is actually not complex.
There are two electoral rolls in New Zeland – the general roll and the Maori roll. Maori can choose to go on either roll (and it is completely by choice – my Maori husband for example is on the general roll).
MPs for each of the seven Maori seats are elected from voters on the Maori roll for that electorate. This happens during a general election and they are contested just like the ordinary, geographically based general seats.
Maori seat MPs have one vote each, just like other MPs.
By ‘Marai’ I assume you mean marae (which is a meeting area, typically with a meeting house on it). There are marae up and down the country, each with different tribal roots. Just for the sake of clarity, while the marae is a good place for hui (meetings) to garner opinion, and while MPs for Maori seats may typically have a tribal connection to the electorate they stand in, the marae themselves have no official say in the actual choosing of MPs – this is done by the voters.
And yes, the Beehive is quite lovely (although you try finding furniture for round walls!).
A good explanation of New Zealand’s electoral system is to be found on the Elections NZ website (http://www.elections.org.nz/) which combines the wisdom of the Electoral Enrolment Centre, Chief Electoral Office, Electoral Commission and Representation Commission.
Briefly, persons of Maori descent can opt to be on the Maori roll or the General roll. The Representation Commission then apportions Maori seats per head of enrolled population, just as it does with general seats. It has nothing to do with “marae and chiefly district”.
There are currently seven Maori seats, up from four in 1996.
The Beehive houses the Executive (or, nowadays, some of it – the expansion in the number of Ministers has meant they’re now spread over several buildings) while the House itself remains, recently renovated, in the old Parliament Building next door.
And to the Lords: congratulations on this initiative. It is quite different to anything in NZ, Australia (where I also do political work) and any other legislature of which I’m aware, in that it is a cross-party attempt to explain and be accountable rather then a propaganda exercise. I hope the model is adopted by other lawmakers.
Interesting isn’t it. A second chamber isn’t needed in a democracy.
107 million a year in savings are available from abolition.
Nick: One can argue that it would cost the country more, given the consequences of ill-thought out legislation.
It comes back to how efficient you are and what your failure rate is.
There are two sides. What bad legistlation you modify, against what bad legistlation you let through.
Since there is a lot of legislation you don’t have control over, and you can only modify, not reject, there is going to be a lot of bad legislation let through.
However, I’ll take the challenge. We know what the cost of the Lords is. Over a billion over the last 10 years (compounded).
Can you point out for the last 10 years what you have saved the country in costs by modifying legislation? Can you show that you are cost effective?
The pattern is, Nick, that no country with a population larger than around 15-20 million is unicameral. Any country bigger than that is simply too complex to be efficiently handled by one chamber.
Well, perhaps you can say why a larger country needs more laws than a smaller country?
I do not see why New Zealand needs less laws than the UK. Why the USA should have more laws than the UK.
Why does the size of the country mean more laws, and therefore more Lords etc.
Nick: It depends what value you put on issues such as ensuring the maintenance of jury trials.
Parking, motoring offences. You are guilty until proven innocent. Where is my option for a jury trial.
Ah yes, you’ve abolished them.
Now lets predict your answer. It’s the cost.
Abolish the lords on cost grounds? No, too important to keep.
That sort of argument is rather hypocritical if you try and use it.
How does a single chamber work in practice?
We have proportional representation in New Zealand, so single parties don’t have absolute majorities, forcing the major two (Labour = Labour/Lib Dem, National = Tories) to compromise and negotiate deals with other parties in order to be able to maintain confidence.
Third parties usually support larger ones by entering a coalition agreement, supporting on confidence and supply, or abstaining on confidence and supply. The larger parties in exchange may support Bills coming from the third party, may grant them ministerial positions (including “ministers outside cabinet”, which is exactly what it sounds like; being outside cabinet allows a Minister to publicly disagree with government policy outside their portfolio), may alter some of their own Bills, or any number of various and sundry other concessions.
If a Bill passes first reading (note that some parties vote yes on the first reading even if they don’t plan to support it later on), it is sent to one of various select committees. Select committees usually contain representation from several different parties (i.e. the government can’t really “stack the deck”). They go through the entire Bill line by line, comment on it and make amendments. If I recall correctly, amendments that are not passed by unanimous vote in committee can be rescinded by majority vote in the house later on. After select committee, there is a second reading, then a committee of the whole House (further changes can be made to the Bill at this stage), then if the Bill passes its third reading it becomes law.
There are some other details. The Attorney General comments on whether the Bill complies with the Bill of Rights Act. Members of the public can make submissions on the bill when it’s in committee. A whole bunch of stuff that I’m probably forgetting.
Wolfgang: Unicameral legislatures actually outnumber bicameral legislatures. Approximately two-thirds of national legislatures are unicameral. However, large nations (in population terms) and federal nations tend to be bicameral. New Zealand is small in population terms and unitary. Bicameral legislatures tend to suit nations where there is a great deal of public business to be transacted. Advantages include sharing the workload as well as providing the means for looking at proposals from different perspectives. The second chamber can not only act as a revising chamber but also a constitutional check on the first. It is difficult for the first chamber to act as a check on itself.
So in a well established democracy, with a full set of legistlation already inacted, a move to unicameral legistlature makes sense.
There is no requirement to introduce more and more legistlation since most laws will have been already put in place.
That’s what is so strange about Parliament. The increased production of laws when the law has been established.
Why do you need to keep making things more complex?
NZ’s Legislative Council or upper house was abolished as it was almost irrelevant – having never voted anything down. Arguably the greatest check on executive power in NZ now is the proportional electoral system which has consistently delivered coalition or minority government’s since it was adopted in the mid-90s, which has avoided extreme policy positions by the major parties.
Kia Ora (as we say in New Zealand). It’s great to have some contact with you via the blogosphere. Red Alert, the blog for Labour MPs was established as a way of providing us with a voice and to directly engage with people. As a Party newly in opposition it’s hard to get airplay and coverage in the mainstream media on issues.
We have 14 new MPs in Labour and most of them, along with a number of senior MPs contribute to Red Alert.
The posts are a mixture of weighty, policy-based discussions, humour and challenges to Government policy and tactics. We talk about what we believe, what moves us, what makes us angry, sad and also what makes us laugh. And we do the odd post about sport.
And for your readers’ information, NZ is unicameral, with one House, but is also based on a Mixed Member Proportional system, which means that members of parliament are elected in two ways, via the electorate vote, and via a Party vote(on a List system).
Happy to elaborate on this if anyone’s interested.
I am an electorate MP from the seat of Dunedin South, at the bottom of the South Island. I am one of the new Labour MPs. And I’m the spokesperson for communications and IT, so Red Alert is a bit of project for me.
Kia pai to ra (Have an awesome day)
Labour MP New Zealand
Out of idle curiosity, did Tom Watson recommend any other UK sites?
To all New Zealanders who commented:
I was a teenager and seldom see or discuss “Kiwis”(sadly) and so am not suprprised that I misspelled Marae or that you have made valid corrections to my memories — Good on you!
Dominic: I think your repsonse is a funnily Kiwi. Being able to choose what type of voter you are is both the technicaly a complication and very rare and thus I am willing to call it complex. It also resembles peers who have denounced tro run for commons and thus seemed relevant.
Rex: It seems typicaly Land of the Long White Cloud to oversimplify when dealing with outsiders.
1.The Declaration of Independence of the Maori people, the Marae, the Chiefly Districts of that period and their right to vote in the legislature as Maori did seem of a piece to at least some of my Maori friends. I doubt any Maori MP is not actively involved with at least one Marae.
2.You must inderstand that just as to the Brits American concepts of protocol and degree seem very flimsy stuff (if they are honest about it and not too polite) so a unicameral legislature where thre is a Westminster style majority leader seat holding Prime Minister and the Head of State being far away is so much part of political culture it is hard to see the Executive as separate from the Parliament for someone as American as I. No insult is meant but I can understand if one is taken.
3. None of which changes the fact the I am gled to have my come-uppance. I really liked Neww Zealnad and it is a bit of a homecoming to be exposed to these voices certainly more informed than mine.
Frank Field now saying that he’s not going to pay what Legg is telling him to? This country is becoming a joke. I thought he was one of the more decent ones.
Frank Field is become even more of a Joke.
If you look at his website he doesn’t even understand the difference between debt and deficit.
Currently its that the government plans to halve the debt in 4 years.
The ideal site for this statue would have been the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square, considered a fitting location by many, in the company of other heroes of our country’s military history, currently representing army and naval heroes. A permanent installation of a memorial statue on the 4th Plinth was unlikely, and would have involved a very long and drawn out process. Hence the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, offered a six month temporary installation of a statue on the 4th Plinth with his full support for a permanent memorial statue subsequently installed in a prominent and suitable site elsewhere. In consultation with both the Mayor, the GLA and Westnminster City Council, the Campaign has therefore made two planning applications: for a temporary six month installation on the 4th Plinth for late in 2009, and a permanent installation of a bronze memeorail statue on a plinth in Waterloo Place in the vicinity of New Zealand House, to be installed in September 2010, the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
You’ll have to beg my pardon but if the New Zealand second house was abolished only in th 1990’s, it is possible that the newly Unicameral state (New in terms of nations anyway) will not be as effective as a two-house system should a time come that tries New Zealand with a challenge. This is not to say that it will absolutely fail, only that we need not make rash decisions about its success. In Government, consequences are often long in coming, and I’d wait 50-60 years before seeing if its in the end a strength or weakness.
In which case you will be pleased to know that NZ’s Upper House was abolished in 1951.
I do wonder how a nation so small as New Zealand can think itself so bold as to think it has got the ‘Westminster system’ better than everybody else. The only country that has it right is Canada, the Canadian Lords are very powerful, indeed I believe they are as powerful as ours were before the first Parliament Act. The only problem is that they discriminate on age.
I do wonder what the big problem with having the PM or Home Secretary in the Lords is. If his Government has the support of the Commons and the Chancellor (the tax-raisor) is in the elected Chamber, what’s the problem? Lord Salisbury was hardly a despot.
Sev, sorry, I forgot the history a bit. Must have it confused with another state.
Interesting debate on Newsnight about the sex trade and trafficking..
Possibly more entertaining than informative and a bit more heat than light. But an early warning of the upcoming debates on these issues.
A point for Kiwi’s and UK Lords: why is Infratil New Zealand’s largest aviation company removing noise and air monitors from Manston airport expansion in Kent with the help of the local council? When the airport is slated for expansion.
Aren’t noise and air monitoring tightly regulated to prevent cancer etc?
Are they doing the same at Rotorua and Prestwick and Lubeck?
On the UK Lords why doesn’t each Lord have an email? Whenever I write to non-email Lords, the admin dept refuses to pass them on or asks for a fax.
And why aren’t all Lords costs, expenses etc published in detail eg staff lsitings, dept costs and so on.
The same should apply to all public bodies – as we’ve seen with MP’s expenses and Lords houses greater scrutiny is required.
Less secrecy and greater access and accountability should ensure we have a Parliament that is more efficient and effectve.
Nick: It depends what value you put on issues such as ensuring the maintenance of jury trials.
Lord Norton, I notice that people are currently being prosecuted where there is no jury. A law passed by the Lords.
How does a single chamber work in practice?