Parliament over the years

Parliament House and the library in the background. Enlarge image

Parliament Buildings

Source: Grant Sheehan. Parliamentary Collection

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New Zealand’s Parliament consisted of three parts from its beginning in 1854 until 1951:

  • Governor (called the Governor-General from 1917)
  • House of Representatives (elected)
  • Legislative Council (appointed).

The Government was formed with the support of a majority in the House.

Conflict with the Governor

From 1854 until the mid-1860s, the Government and the Governor had a difficult relationship in running the country. More than once, Britain intervened to limit the Governor’s powers. In the 1890s, the Government clashed with the Governor over Legislative Council appointments. After this argument, the Governor’s role became mostly symbolic.

Conflict with the Legislative Council

The Legislative Council was intended to introduce its own laws and to prevent the House of Representatives from passing laws too fast. When the Council tried to take a more active role in the mid-1860s, it clashed with the House. Afterwards, it generally just revised the laws sent to it by the House.

Governments soon began filling the Council with their own supporters until, in the twentieth century, it became completely powerless. In 1951, the Council was abolished, and Parliament took on the form that it has today.

Growth of Parliament

The first members of Parliament were mainly British-born men who worked as farmers or lawyers. Parliamentary sessions were held over winter, when farms and businesses had slack periods.

As New Zealand’s population grew, Parliament also grew. The first House of Representatives had 37 members, and the Legislative Council had 14. Today, the House of Representatives usually has 120 members. Parliament originally sat (attended to business) for only a few months per year. Now, it sits throughout the year.

In the twentieth century, people from a wider range of social groups began to enter Parliament. With the introduction of mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) in 1996, Parliament became even more diverse.