Chapter 9 Summoning, proroguing and dissolving Parliament
There are constitutional considerations which ensure that Parliament meets each year. The most important is the principle that Parliament does not grant supply to the Government for more than one year at a time. The latest date by which Parliament can meet in any year is 30 June, for this is the last day of the financial year and the annual appropriations made by Parliament in the Appropriation Acts for that year will consequently lapse. Parliament must therefore meet before then in order to give the Government interim spending authority (imprest supply). Other considerations of a financial nature relate to taxation. Income tax has its rates fixed on an annual basis. If no rates of tax are fixed there can be no assessment to tax, and much of the Government’s revenue will consequently dry up. By granting only temporary authorities to the Government in financial matters, Parliament ensures that it must be called to meet at least annually to renew those authorities.
Political considerations also ensure that Parliament meets and that the House sits regularly. The House is the political forum of the nation. Although it is not the only place in which opposing political points of view can be expressed and Government actions tested and criticised, it is the highest institution in the land devoted to just such pursuits, and it is generally expected that it will meet fairly often and become a focus for political debate. Members of Parliament have important roles to perform in their own right in the business of legislating (which can only be carried out in Parliament) and in the ancillary business which is transacted by the House.
For these reasons, Parliament is summoned to meet regularly and the Crown’s promise of calling a meeting of the newly elected Parliament is given in a proclamation issued in association with that which dissolves the old Parliament.
Summoning of Parliament following a general election
Parliament meets when it is summoned to do so by the making of a proclamation by the Governor-General.
The proclamation identifies the time and place at which Parliament is to meet. The summoning of Parliament effectively breathes life into the House of Representatives which, although still in existence between Parliaments, can meet and transact business only while Parliament is in session. Because the House of Representatives is the working element of Parliament, the summoning of Parliament is really the calling of the House of Representatives into working mode.
By convention, after the Governor-General has issued a proclamation dissolving – that is, bringing an end to – the Parliament in being, and issued a writ to the Chief Electoral Officer to put in train the events leading up to the next general election, a proclamation is made summoning Parliament to meet for the first time after the election. The summoning of the new Parliament in association with the dissolution of the old is made as a token of the Crown’s intention to preserve the continuity of the operation of parliamentary institutions in New Zealand. In respect of only one dissolution since 1860 has the date and time for the first meeting of the next Parliament not been appointed by a proclamation issued within a few days of the dissolution of the old Parliament. (No such proclamation was issued in association with the dissolution of the fortieth Parliament in June 1984. This and other procedures surrounding the “snap” election of 1984 were the subject of subsequent inquiry.
To be effective a proclamation summoning Parliament must be published in the New Zealand Gazette or read publicly by an authorised person in the presence of the Clerk of the House and two other persons.
In the case of the latter, the proclamation must subsequently be published in the Gazette.
No proclamation summoning Parliament has been made by this means.
Date of first meeting
Elections to the House of Representatives were held for the first time during 1853. In respect of the Parliament constituted following those elections, the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 (UK) required the Governor to appoint a time for its first meeting as soon as convenient after the first writs were returned.
For subsequent Parliaments there was until 1987 no express statutory obligation on the Governor-General to summon a new Parliament to meet by a particular time, or indeed at all, except in the case of a proclamation of emergency, although a provision in the Bill of Rights 1688 declares that for the redress of all grievances and for the amending, strengthening and preserving of the laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently.
Since 1 January 1987 there has been an express statutory requirement for Parliament to meet not later than six weeks after the day fixed for the return of the writs for a general election.
The latest day for the return of the writ for an election is the fiftieth day after it is issued,
so the precise period after polling day within which Parliament must meet varies for each election depending upon how long before the election the writ was issued. As the writ is usually returnable some two to three weeks after the election is held, Parliament must effectively be summoned to meet within about two months of each general election.
This requirement for a relatively early meeting of Parliament following an election contrasts markedly with the practice followed up to the fortieth Parliament (1981–84) of allowing several months to elapse before Parliament met. For example, the thirty-eighth Parliament (1975–78) did not meet until almost seven months after the election, and delays of four to five months in Parliament meeting after an election were the norm.
Postponement of first meeting
The date appointed in the Governor-General’s first proclamation as the day for the new Parliament to meet following the general election is not necessarily the day on which the new Parliament will actually meet. Between the making of that proclamation and the first projected meeting of Parliament, the Government may change as a result of the general election, and the incoming Government will have its own ideas and preferences for the timing of the first meeting of Parliament. Even if the same Government is returned at the polls it may wish to alter the date initially appointed for the first meeting of Parliament.
The day appointed for the first meeting of Parliament may thus be postponed by a proclamation proroguing Parliament.
For example, the day after Parliament was dissolved in 1972 a new Parliament was summoned to meet on 1 February 1973. However, on 17 January Parliament was prorogued and summoned to meet on
February instead. Parliament did, in fact, meet for the swearing-in of members and the election of a Speaker on 14 February 1973.
Such alterations to the date first nominated as the day for Parliament to convene are the rule rather than the exception, as the first proclamation summoning Parliament to meet plays a symbolic rather than definitive role in determining when the new Parliament will actually meet. Nevertheless, whatever date is eventually chosen for the first meeting of Parliament, it must be within six weeks of the return of the writ for the election.
Time of first meeting
The time of day appointed in the proclamation summoning Parliament varies depending upon what may be considered to be a convenient time for those concerned with the opening of Parliament. There is no presumption that the first meeting will be at 2 pm (the normal meeting time of the House).
Meetings of Parliament held shortly after the general election
Until the day named as the last day for the return of the writ for the election of members, not all electorates may have returned members (indeed, the return of a member is occasionally delayed beyond this date if a recount is necessary). Furthermore, until the results for each electoral district have been declared, the Chief Electoral Officer will not be able to allocate list seats.
No new Parliament has met before the last day appointed for the return of the writs for elections to that Parliament, but the first meeting of the twenty-third Parliament in 1928 was held on the last day appointed for the return of the writs for the Māori electorates (the last date for the European electorates was six days earlier). In a sense this was the earliest meeting of a Parliament on record, although the ninth Parliament was summoned to meet in 1884 on the day following the last day for the return of all writs (European and Māori). The forty-sixth Parliament met on 20 December 1999. This was the fourth day after the latest day appointed for the return of the writs and the day following the actual return of the last writ to be returned.
Proclamations of emergency
There is an express statutory requirement for the Governor-General to summon Parliament to meet if a state of national emergency is declared while Parliament is dissolved or has expired. In this case, if Parliament is not already due to meet again within seven days from the date of the declaration, it must be summoned to meet within seven days of the last day appointed for the return of the writs for the general election.
Collections of sittings of the House may be grouped into sessions.
During the course of a session, the House will debate the Address in Reply, the Budget, and the estimates and supplementary estimates, and will pass other legislation. The sittings of the House during the session may be interspersed with adjournments, mostly for only a few hours until the next regular meeting of the House, but occasionally for periods of a week or a month or even longer. Although this is the traditional pattern of a session, the session can be as short or as long as the Government determines, through the exercise of the Governor-General’s legal powers. It may, as in 1977 when Her Majesty the Queen opened Parliament, consist of only one sitting day. Conversely, it may be as long as the life of the Parliament if there is only one session held during the course of the Parliament.
Until 1984 there was usually one session of Parliament held in each calendar year during the course of each Parliament; though there were occasionally more than this when a special session was held, as in 1977 on the occasion of the visit of Her Majesty the Queen. It was exceptional for a session (like the ones of 1921–22 and 1941–42, for example) to extend over more than one calendar year. Since the 1984 session was brought to an end for a snap election, sessions have been more variable and lengthier. There were, for example, only two sessions in each of the three Parliaments after that. Since 1984 there has no longer been a presumption that a session will correspond with a calendar year. Since the forty-fourth Parliament (1993–1996) there has been only a single session lasting the entire life of the Parliament and this has now become the norm.
A session may be brought to an end by the exercise of the legal powers vested in the Governor-General. At the conclusion of a session Parliament goes into “recess” rather than the House merely standing adjourned (although the terms are often used synonymously).
The grouping of the House’s sittings into sessions is effected by the Governor-General proroguing Parliament and thus bringing the sittings of the House to a temporary conclusion (though this power is seldom used to terminate a session now). The legal power to prorogue Parliament belongs to the Governor-General.
The Governor-General exercises the power to prorogue by issuing a proclamation announcing the prorogation of Parliament. A session, therefore, lasts from the first sitting of the House following its being called together by the Governor-General until the prorogation of Parliament.
Prorogation brings the sittings of the House to an end. The House and its committees cannot meet following prorogation until Parliament is again specifically summoned to meet by the Governor-General. But Parliament as such is not brought to an end by prorogation. In this respect prorogation differs from dissolution, which not only brings the sittings of the House to an end but also brings Parliament to an end and precipitates a general election. Parliament may be prorogued immediately prior to being dissolved, although the modern practice is to dissolve Parliament without it having been prorogued first.
A proclamation proroguing Parliament does so only for a specified time, but this time may be extended by a further proclamation or proclamations. When the period of prorogation expires and Parliament meets again, the second session of that Parliament commences, and it in turn may be brought to an end by a further prorogation, and so on.
Publication of proclamation
A proclamation proroguing Parliament is made effective by being published in the New Zealand Gazette or by being publicly read, by a person authorised to do so by the Governor-General, in the presence of the Clerk of the House and two other persons. In the latter case, the proclamation must subsequently be published in the Gazette. 14 The 1986-87 session of Parliament was prorogued by the reading of a proclamation by the Governor-General’s Official Secretary on the steps of Parliament House.
(Parliament was dissolved immediately afterwards.)
Prorogation is not directly communicated to the House. Indeed, the House has not normally been sitting when Parliament is prorogued, as on its last intended sitting day each session the House adjourns for a week or so and is prorogued during the course of that week. This contrasts with the old practice when the Governor (until 1875) or commissioners appointed by the Governor (until 1887) attended Parliament in the Legislative Council Chamber to assent to bills and then prorogue Parliament in person. This procedure of personal attendance had been adopted to prevent the recurrence of such scenes as occurred at the conclusion of the first session of the first Parliament when the Governor’s messenger with a prorogation notice was not immediately admitted to the House and the announcement of prorogation was delayed, making it doubtful whether the House had been validly sitting throughout the entire day.
Accelerated meeting of Parliament during a recess
A recess must be brought to an end for Parliament to meet in the event of a declaration of national emergency being made. If Parliament stands prorogued when such a proclamation is made and is not due to meet within seven days from that date, it must be summoned by the Governor-General to meet within seven days of the making of the declaration.
Opening of a session
The first meeting of Parliament following a general election, known as the Commission Opening, is also the opening of the first session of that Parliament. The first day of each subsequent session of Parliament (if any) is the day of the State Opening of Parliament.
The Governor-General brings the life of Parliament to an end by issuing a proclamation dissolving it. The dissolution of Parliament is a legal power possessed by the Governor-General,
although constitutionally the Governor-General exercises this, like the other legal powers of the office, on the advice of the Prime Minister. A proclamation dissolving Parliament generates a course of events which leads to the holding of a general election.
Dissolution differs from prorogation in that it brings the life of Parliament, rather than just a particular session of Parliament, to an end. Whereas prorogation sends members away from Parliament with an indication that they, the same members, will be summoned to attend when Parliament next meets, there is no such indication with dissolution. A dissolution results in the termination (effective on polling day) of all membership of the House. To attend Parliament when it next meets, a member must be returned to Parliament anew by the process of election. The final or only session of each Parliament may be prorogued first and then Parliament dissolved, but it is now more likely that Parliament will be dissolved without first having been prorogued.
Publication of proclamation
As with a prorogation proclamation, a proclamation dissolving Parliament becomes effective on being published in the Gazette or on being publicly read by an authorised person in the presence of the Clerk of the House and two other persons. In the latter case it must then be gazetted.
The first Parliament to be dissolved by a proclamation read in this way was the forty-first Parliament in 1987.
Since the forty-third Parliament was dissolved in 1993 all Parliaments have been dissolved by a proclamation read on behalf of the Governor-General from the Parliament House steps or in Parliament grounds.
Length of Parliament
Members elected at a general election are elected to the House for a period that extends to three years from the day appointed for the return of the writs for the general election.
This has been the case since 1879 with the exception of the 1935 election (when members were elected for four years). Unless Parliament is dissolved sooner, it expires at the end of its three-year term. The only Parliament to run its full legal course and then expire was the twenty-seventh Parliament of 1943–1946. The election of 1943 was held some two months earlier in the year than usual (September rather than November), causing the fact of Parliament’s expiration in October 1946 to be overlooked. The validity of Acts assented to after the House had expired was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 1954.
The forty-second Parliament virtually ran its full course, since it was dissolved on 10 September 1990, the day on which it was due to expire in any case.
In the United Kingdom, the death of a Sovereign formerly caused an automatic dissolution of the existing Parliament. While it is questionable whether this rule ever applied in New Zealand, to remove any doubts on this score it was expressly provided in 1888 that the death of the Sovereign does not of itself dissolve Parliament. This remains the law.
The maximum term of the first Parliaments was five years. This was reduced to three years in 1879. Since then the lives of Parliaments have been extended on four occasions, three of these being confined to the Parliament then in existence, and the other, although intended to apply to all Parliaments, being repealed before it could affect any future Parliament. The life of the nineteenth Parliament, elected in 1914, was twice extended for one year. It was finally dissolved in 1919. In 1934 an Act was passed extending the life of Parliament (including the Parliament then in being) from three to four years. The election of 1935 was fought while this provision was in force, so the members chosen at that election were elected for a term of four years. However, in 1937 the parliamentary term, including that for the existing Parliament, was reduced to three years. The life of the twenty-sixth Parliament, elected in 1938, was extended for one year in 1941, and in 1942 it was extended until one year after the end of the war, provided that the House, by resolution each year, approved of Parliament’s continuance. No such resolution was passed and Parliament was dissolved in 1943.
The twenty-ninth Parliament, elected in 1949, was dissolved in 1951 as a result of the waterfront dispute (the first snap election since 1881, and the shortest of all New Zealand’s Parliaments) and an election was held in September. This threatened to upset the normal calendar of November elections, and in 1954 the life of the thirtieth Parliament was extended by some four weeks to put the election timetable back on course.
The fortieth Parliament was dissolved in June 1984, some four months before it would otherwise have been expected to be dissolved and the forty-sixth Parliament was dissolved in June 2002, some three months earlier than might have been expected.
Two proposals for extending the term of Parliament from three to four years have been put to electors at referendums. In 1967 the proposal was rejected by some 700,000 to 300,000 votes, and in 1990 the majority against the proposal was one and a quarter million to 550,000.
Expiration is the bringing of the life of the Parliament to an end by automatic operation of law rather than by the deliberate action of the Governor-General. Parliament expires three years from the day fixed for the return of the writs at the preceding general election unless it is sooner dissolved.
After the twenty-seventh Parliament expired in 1946, its expiration was not perceived at the time and a proclamation dissolving that Parliament was made and acted on. This was the only Parliament to expire. If a Parliament does expire, the procedures for the holding of a general election operate as if Parliament had been dissolved on the date of expiration.
Effect of prorogation, dissolution and expiration on business before the House
Prorogation, dissolution or expiration bring the sittings of the House and the meetings of committees to an end and disable the House from further activity.
Historically, they also caused all business then before the House to lapse so that when Parliament resumed for its next session the slate had been wiped clean. This absolute effect has not been thought conducive to efficient parliamentary practice, and as long ago as 1886 a committee of the House recommended that a way should be found to avoid its effects in the case of prorogation.
A statutory means of avoiding the need for all unfinished business at the end of a session to be reintroduced and commence its passage through the House entirely anew in the succeeding session was first introduced in 1977.
Prorogation now has no effect on any business then before the House or its committees. Such business does not lapse and may be resumed in the following session of the same Parliament.
(However, a sessional order of the House ceases to have effect on prorogation.)
On the dissolution or expiration of Parliament all business then before the House or its committees lapses. Following the dissolution or expiration of Parliament there is no business before the House. However, the House has the power, by resolution, to reinstate any business that has lapsed when it sits in the new Parliament.
This power to reinstate, if it is to be exercised, must be utilised in the first session of the new Parliament but reinstatement does not have to be effected at or by any particular time in that session nor does it have to be accomplished on only one occasion. The House can deal with reinstatement at any time in the session and on as many occasions as it finds needful. (See Chapter 14 for reinstatement of business.)