Legislative Council

Legislative Council chamber, 1890s. Enlarge image

Legislative Council chamber, 1890s.

Source: A.T. Bothamley photograph. Alexander Turnbull Library, PA1-q-158-43

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The Legislative Council was part of New Zealand’s Parliament for almost 100 years. Read the story of this Upper House — from its hopeful beginnings to its eventual abolition by the ‘suicide squad’.

Hopeful beginnings

The Legislative Council was the Upper House of New Zealand’s Parliament until 1951. It was modelled on Britain’s House of Lords. Unlike the elected House of Representatives (Lower House), Council members were appointed.

It was hoped that the Council would prevent the House of Representatives from passing laws too quickly — and introduce some laws of its own. But when the Council tried to take an active role in the 1860s and 1870s, it clashed with the House. From then on, it rarely did more than revise laws from the House.

Stacking

From 1857, Governments began appointing Legislative Council members. They immediately started ‘stacking’ the Council — filling it with their own supporters.

But stacking had its problems. A new Government was sometimes constrained by the Legislative Council appointed by the previous Government.

Conflict with the Liberal Government

The 1890s brought conflict as the Council resisted the Liberal Government’s laws. The Government tried to stack the Council, but the Governor refused its appointments. When Britain ruled in the Government’s favour, the Council became powerless.

The suicide squad

In the 1940s, when the Labour Government stacked the Legislative Council, the National Party argued for the Council’s abolition. When National came to power in 1949, it restacked the Council — this time with the ‘suicide squad’. These members would accept a law to end the Council altogether.

On 1 December 1950, the Council members linked arms and sang the National Anthem before leaving Parliament for the last time. On 1 January 1951, the Council was abolished.