The business of Parliament in history

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In the past 150 years the way in which Parliament has conducted its business has changed greatly. The length of time Parliament sits, the hours it sits for, and the ways it deals with business are very different now from in the past. This is the result of the changing role of Parliament and its MPs. An MP from the 1850s who stepped into the twenty-first century chamber would find it a very unfamiliar place indeed. (This paper looks at the House of Representatives although much of the discussion applies equally to the upper house of the Legislative Council which existed from 1854 until 1950.)

Sessions and sittings

Today Parliament works all-year-round. In the past Parliament was usually summoned mid-year to approve the following year’s money. Sessions were annual in those days. They would last two or three months over the winter. This was the slack time for farms and businesses and suited many MPs. By the end of the nineteenth century sessions extended into December as parliamentary business expanded.For much of the twentieth century the traditional mid-year opening remained. With business increasing, daily sittings became long and arduous and there was a tremendous rush of business at the end of the session. Many less important bills had to be dumped at the last minute. From 1984 the traditional sessional pattern was abandoned as a result of pressure to start earlier and for the session to have periodic adjournments to cater better for family life. Parliament now worked through much of the year. From the mid 1990s the pattern has developed for sessions to last the full term of the Parliament.

Opening of Parliament

The opening of Parliament is one element that has not greatly changed over the years. It retains its traditional form. The Governor-General summons Parliament by proclamation and authorises commissioners to attend to declare Parliament open. Then MPs are sworn-in and the House elects a Speaker who is confirmed by the Governor-General. The State Opening of Parliament follows on the second day of a new Parliament. The Governor-General gives a speech (the ‘Speech from the Throne’) to the House, following his/her ceremonial arrival at Parliament. This speech presents the Government’s policies and legislative programme.

The Address in Reply is the formal response of the House to the Speech from the Throne. It was originally cast in the form of an expression of loyalty to the Crown with a motion addressing the matters raised. In 1862 it became a debate on a simple motion that an Address be presented to the Governor. The Address in Reply debate is the opening debate for the session in which the Government advances its policies and the Opposition criticises them. In the past the Opposition would introduce motions amending the Address as a test of confidence in the Government. It is traditional for two new MPs from the government side to move and second the Address in Reply as their maiden speeches. Prior to the abandonment of annual sessions in the 1990s the Speech from the Throne and Address in Reply were annual events. Now they take place at the beginning of the three-yearly parliamentary session. The Prime Minister makes an equivalent statement about the government’s programme at the start of the second and third years of the session.

The Prayer

Each sitting day the House opens with a prayer. Some MPs in the first session of Parliament in Auckland in 1854 thought that a prayer suggested there was a state religion, and Roman Catholics were concerned about what prayer would be used. The discussion gave rise to the very first vote in the House. In the end, the House accepted that prayers were common in other countries. Speaker Charles Clifford (himself a Catholic) declared that the first clergyman who could be found, whatever his denomination, should be invited into the House to say the prayer. He had quietly arranged for his Anglican reverend friend to wait outside the House. The clergyman was called in and said the prayer – problem solved. Later a committee drew up a suitable form of prayer which was adopted by the House. In time it became a standing joke that ‘the Speaker entered the House, looked to the right, then to the left, and prayed for the country’. The prayer agreed to in 1854 continued in use until the turn of the century when a prayer based more on the House of Commons’ prayer was adopted. This form of the prayer was revised in 1962 and is still used today when the Speaker opens proceedings.

Attendance

Until recent times the presence of a quorum of a specified number of MPs has been required for sittings to take place. It was the Government’s responsibility to maintain a quorum so that its business would proceed. This requirement was removed in 1996 with the introduction of MMP (Mixed Member Proportional representation) and new standing orders. It was argued that a quorum should not be the responsibility solely of a Government. However, any shared responsibility would likely frustrate the business of Parliament. Now only the presence of at least one Government minister is required. These days we take it for granted that MPs will attend to their duties, but this was not always the case. In the early years of Parliament failure to attend sittings or even to come to Auckland to attend the session was common. In 1862 Captain Thomas Fraser lost his Otago seat because he had been absent for the entire session. He had been elected almost by accident when no-one else turned up for the election and he chose to sail to England rather than attend the session in Auckland. Resignations of those just elected were not unusual. Many MPs found the travel arduous, others found their businesses more compelling and on occasion organised boycotts occurred. A practice developed of MPs not turning up for the first weeks, as they believed that little was done at the start of a session. Desertions late in the session were also frequent as MPs wanted to catch an available steamer home. During the 1858 session the many absences, resignations and a boycott by most Wellington MPs made it extremely difficult to obtain a quorum, at that time fifteen MPs. As a result during the following session of 1860 the Speaker ruled that the procedure for establishing a quorum should follow that of the House of Commons. The division bell would be sounded and the sand-glass turned, giving MPs two minutes to return to the House before a count was taken. Attendance remained a problem and the Speaker had to adjourn the House for lack of a quorum on a number of occasions. It was agreed that a roll should be taken and that those who incurred lengthy absences should forfeit their daily allowance. With the shift to Wellington in 1865 and better steamer services attendance at Parliament improved. A roll of members was taken until 1999.The emergence of parties in the House from the 1890s and more organised ‘pairing’ by party whips (see below) regularised the attendance of MPs. If there were not enough MPs in the chamber it was now more a matter of a party’s deliberate actions in walking out of the chamber than it was of poor attendance. Apart from the recent unexpected adjournment of the House in 2005 (because no minister was present), the last such adjournment was in 1905.

Sitting hours

Today the House sits from 2 pm to 10.00 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and from 2 pm to 6 pm on Thursdays. When required the House can sit on other days of the week and on Saturdays but not on Sundays. Sitting hours have altered considerably over time in response to the changing patterns of business and MPs’ travel needs. In the early years the House sat from noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and from 5 pm on Wednesdays for non-Government business of backbench MPs. Sittings carried on into the evening until the Government deemed that it should rise – and this could be late indeed. Mondays were traditionally reserved for the Government to get on with its executive business and Saturdays were usually free, but neither day was exempt from extended sittings when the Government felt the need. On one occasion in 1863 the House continued beyond the accepted boundary of midnight Saturday to 3 am on Sunday morning. From the mid 1860s, as Government activity grew, the House began to start later, from early afternoon. This practice has continued to this day.

Attempts to introduce daytime sittings starting earlier have proved futile. This meant that the House would often sit to midnight or even later, especially at the tail end of the session when there was a lot of business to get through or if the Opposition obstructed business by filibustering (stonewalling).The practice of filibustering (or stonewalling as it used to be known) remains the Opposition’s chief method of registering its protest at Government measures. In the past, business would be brought to a standstill by using the standing orders and speaking opportunities to create endless delay. The House lacked the kind of restrictions that limited this practice. Stonewalling was a feature of sessions and progress could be held up for days if not weeks. In order to deal with this the House has over time adopted time limits on speeches, urgency for Government business and the closure of debate. In 1928 when Sir Joseph Ward (an advocate of more civilised sitting hours) became Prime Minister the House rose at 10.30 pm but extensions beyond this remained common until stricter time limits on debate (closure) were introduced in 1931. The Labour Government further tightened control over the House from 1935. From that time 10.30 pm became the usual time at which sittings came to a close. It changed to 10 pm in 1996.

From 1929 Friday became a daytime sitting finishing at 5.30 pm to assist with MPs returning home for the weekend. In earlier years, MPs had not been able to return home during the session in any case because of slow transport by boat and train. In 1962 the sitting was brought forward for the same reason and in 1974 it became in effect a morning sitting, 9 am to 1 pm. Regular Friday sittings disappeared in 1985.

Parliamentary business

From the beginning Parliament was to a large extent the vehicle for Governments to implement their policies and pass their legislation. It was never primarily a forum for free-ranging debate amongst individual MPs accountable only to their electorates and their consciences. But in its early decades MPs had much more room for manoeuvre than later under the party system. Cabinet ministers were from the first sessions of Parliament bound to support a Government’s legislative programme as a matter of collective responsibility, but it was a different matter for the Government’s backbench supporters. They were not bound to vote for the ministry outside of matters crucial to the Government and defined as ‘ministerial’ and matters of confidence, and they could introduce their own (private members’) bills just like other MPs who were independent or in Opposition. Also, voting on a wide range of measures outside those matters vital to Government did not derive from a simple Government-Opposition difference. Voting was shaped by pledges given when standing for election, by local and provincial allegiances, and by individual preferences and philosophies. It could also be swayed by intensive lobbying.

Government business

The government’s programme is debated in the Address in Reply debate and its financial proposals are presented in the financial statement (budget). These are centrepieces of the session. Other policies would be proposed and debated in relation to key pieces of government legislation introduced into the House.

An Order Paper is published for each day’s sitting. Like a meeting agenda this sets out the order in which the House will deal with its business. Government bills, members’ bills (until 1996 known as ‘private members’ bills’) and other bills, notices of motion and questions are taken in a certain order on particular days. Government business understandably always takes up a substantial part of proceedings, and over time its place has grown and the place of the business of backbench MPs has lessened.

The Leader of the House, together with the Business Committee from 1996, plays a crucial role in organising the business of the House. In recent times the Leader of the House has been a specific position but until 1979 the Premier or Prime Minister undertook the role. In the nineteenth century Government business had priority on Tuesdays and Fridays. Towards the end of the century the practice developed of taking another day (usually Thursday) in the latter stages of sessions. By the turn of the twentieth century the Government was able to take ‘urgency’ for its business, allowing for an accelerated passage of bills during the same sitting. Taking urgency became more common and restrictions were imposed on speaking time as party Government developed in the early twentieth century.

The Budget

From its beginnings Parliament has authorised the expenditure of money by the Government. The Government’s need for money (supply) for its day-to-day expenditure ultimately dictated that Parliament should meet each year and that Parliament should come together by a particular date (usually 30 June) in order to authorise such expenditure. Whether the Legislative Council could concern itself with such ‘money’ bills was controversial in the 1860s and 1870s. The matter was resolved in favour of the House of Representatives. The other difficult issue was that private members’ bills often involved appropriations of money and had to be ruled out. Constitutionally, only the ‘Crown’ or Government can seek appropriations from Parliament. This was traditionally done by message from the Governor-General. Since 1996 the Government’s ‘financial veto’ has given it an active power to prevent bills involving money being passed. The financial statement by the Minister of Finance to the House has always been an annual centrepiece. It is accorded special status in terms of the Order Paper and debating time. It provides an opportunity for the Government to deal with the economic situation of the country and outline its economic policy, and for the Opposition to test the confidence of the House in the Government.

Traditionally, motions to reduce the amount of money for a particular activity were a means of registering backbench disapproval of a particular Government policy. This still happens occasionally today. In the nineteenth century such moves were relatively common and could sometimes be successful. But as party Government was consolidated such motions became less frequent and the last successful one occurred in 1930 when £5 was symbolically lopped off the Department of Agriculture’s vote. From 1962 until 1985 a special select committee, the Public Expenditure Committee, looked at the estimates and also made wider economic enquiries. In 1985, as part of enhancing their powers, the reorganised select committee system gave the new ‘subject’ committees the power to examine the Government’s estimates. Ministers sit at the Table of the House (in front of the Speaker’s dais) to present their departmental estimates.

Passing bills

The New Zealand Parliament adopted a procedure for passing bills similar to that of the House of Commons. A bill was introduced into the House, and had its first reading, at which time its provisions were briefly summarised. During its second reading, which usually involved a substantial debate on the bill, the principles of the legislation were agreed to. After the second reading some bills were referred to select committees. Once returned from the select committee, the House considered the bill in the committee of the whole House (‘in committee’) clause by clause. Following amendments, if any, the bill would move to its third reading and final passage through the House.

This process for passing bills through three readings has remained though with some changes. From 1972 bills went to a select committee after their first reading instead of their second reading. By this time more bills were referred to select committees than before as committees began to play a greater role in considering legislation. From the 1980s onwards almost all bills have been sent to select committees. After a bill’s passage through the House, in the past (until 1950) it was referred to the Legislative Council for consideration, possibly being amended in the Council and returned to the House, and thence to the Governor/Governor-General for assent. (A minority of bills would be initiated in the Legislative Council.)The Governor/Governor-General has ‘reserve powers’ – to refuse assent to bills, amend bills and return them to Parliament, or to reserve bills for the royal assent from Britain. These powers were not frequently used even in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century they fell into abeyance. The Constitution Act 1986 removed any explicit reference to these powers but they still exist in principle for exceptional situations.

Towards the end of sessions Governments would become increasingly desperate to get their legislation through and would encroach on time reserved for private members. Eventually the Government would have to sacrifice less important bills. (Before 1986 bills could not be carried over; they ‘lapsed’ at the end of a session if not passed.) This was called the ‘slaughter of the innocents’. There was often a preliminary weeding out when Mondays were taken over for sittings, followed by a later dumping of bills which often coincided with the suspension of standing orders to take new business after 12.30 pm. Into the twentieth century as Governments concentrated on a more compact body of legislation much higher proportions of bills (90 percent or more) would get onto the statute book; the old-time ‘slaughter’ disappeared.

The rush of bills towards the end of the session creates great pressure. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for light relief, while waiting for the Appropriation Bill to come back from the Legislative Council on the last day of the session, the House would engage in practical jokes and tomfoolery. This was termed a ‘mock Parliament’. A sham Speaker would take the chair, waste paper baskets would replace hats and MPs would speak to ridiculous ‘bills’. Once a shillelagh replaced the mace. On another occasion a taciturn MP was ordered to sing and then had a waste paper basket dumped on his head as he burst into song! At the end of this sitting a vote would be called for on the motion for adjournment of the House – more to record those remaining to the bitter end than as a real contest. Some had already deserted the chamber, desperate to catch the steamer and be home. By the 1920s it had become customary for MPs to create a majority against the motion, theoretically preventing people from going home. The Speaker nonetheless brought proceedings to a close! By the 1940s this vote was described facetiously as the only truly non-party vote left in the House. At that time a one-vote majority was engineered, usually recorded by absurdly appointed tellers and with a distribution of votes that mocked the usual lines of difference in the House. Today’s adjournment debates at the end of the year still can be light-hearted affairs. As in the past the Speaker wraps up proceedings with a quick statistical summary of the year’s business.

Kinds of bills

Most of the bills passed in Parliament are government measures which are part of its programme. There are other kinds of bills, reflecting Parliament’s broader legislative function. members’ bills (previously known as private members’ bills) are introduced by MPs acting as individuals. This kind of bill was quite important prior to the rise of party Government when MPs had a greater freedom and they have become more important again in recent years as MMP has allowed a greater role for backbenchers. ‘Local’ bills concern only a particular locality, often enabling a local authority to take a certain action. They require a promoter in the form of a public body or local authority outside of Parliament. Until 1985 they were referred to a special Local Bills Committee for detailed consideration. Such bills rose to prominence following the abolition of the provincial councils (which had their own law-making capacity) in 1876.‘Private’ bills are of restricted application for the benefit of a limited number of people – in private persons’ interests. Such bills require a promoter for the person or corporate body whose interest is being advanced. While there is less need now for private acts to fill the gaps in public laws, private bills still play a role in Parliament’s legislating.

Question time

Question time is the way that daily sittings of the House begin today. It was not always so. MPs have always been able to ask questions of ministers in the House but this was a rather laborious and slow process, and for much of the nineteenth century it was not part of a co-ordinated strategy of the Opposition. Questions were treated like notices of motion and asked during the afternoons of Wednesdays and Thursdays when Government business did not have priority. From 1903 questions were crammed into a two hour period on Wednesday afternoons only, as Premier Seddon tried to keep the rising number of questions within manageable proportions. During the first half of the twentieth century MPs sought a higher public profile for their questioning of Governments and more questions were asked. The full radio broadcasting of proceedings from the late 1930s encouraged this. Parliament was keen to make its deliberations of greater interest and more relevant to the public. In 1962 the approach to questions in the House changed.

A distinction was made between ‘oral questions’ which were to be answered verbally and immediately during ‘question time’ – a daily half hour – and ‘written questions’ which were answered in writing. For the first time MPs could ask supplementary questions to oral questions. This change dramatically increased the topicality of question time and the number of questions asked. In 1974 as demand rose the daily question time was extended to 40 minutes. Question time was further increased to 45 minutes in 1985 and made more topical in that six ‘questions of the day’, notified the same morning, could be asked prior to ‘oral questions’ lodged earlier. In 1996 question time was extended to approximately one hour with twelve questions being asked – all notified the same morning. MPs continued to submit written questions. From the 1960s the number escalated to the extent that the press gallery would run ‘King of Quiz’ and ‘Queen of Quiz’ competitions to see which MPs had tabled the most questions. Today there are many thousands of written questions annually.

Question time has become central to the public’s image of Parliament and to its function of scrutinising the Government, particularly since Parliament has been televised, from 1990 by television companies and from 2007 by Parliament TV. MPs have increasingly taken advantage of this opportunity to interrogate the Government, a matter facilitated by a more relaxed policy by the Speaker on supplementary questions since the mid 1990s. Today, questions are allocated to each party proportionally to the number of MPs.

Maintaining a majority

For a Government to continue in power it must command support in the House – it must retain the ‘confidence of the House’. Traditionally this meant that it had a majority of supporters. But these days with coalitions and support agreements, a Government can still operate with a minority in the House as long as it has secured arrangements with other parties that allow it to avoid defeat on matters of confidence.The Opposition comprises those MPs or parties in the remainder of the House, outside of Government and its supporting MPs. It is a vital part of the functioning of Parliament and of democratic Government in holding the Government to account by providing criticism and scrutiny of its performance. Moreover, the Opposition Leader is the potential alternative Prime Minister and his/her party the basis for an alternative Government, should the existing Government go out of office.

Whipping

Political parties (and prior to the 1890s factional groupings) organise MPs to speak in debates and to vote. They appoint ‘Whips’ for this job. (The term derives from the English fox hunt.) Whipping emerged as soon as Parliament first assembled in the 1850s.

The whips monitor the order paper, organise speakers for debates, grant leave and have many other responsibilities as well. They sit close to the front benches, adjacent to the gangway, to give good access to their MPs. Government and Opposition whips co-ordinate their activities to ensure the smooth running of the House. A breakdown in understanding immediately threatens the foundation of trust upon which the system relies. The whips might even work together to ensure the discipline of each other’s troops. In the 1960s Labour’s Henry May and National’s Alf Allen collaborated to catch out a National MP who had been playing tricks. May sent out three Labour MPs so that the National Government would just win the vote by one. Later Allen returned the compliment with a vote similarly organised to catch out a Labour MP.

In the past whips sorted out the ‘pairing’ of MPs (see below). The Government whips made sure that a Government’s majority and a quorum would be maintained, ‘keeping a House’ as it was called. Opposition whips had similar responsibilities but would be called upon especially for organising opposition to the Government’s business, which often took place through obstructive ‘stonewalling’. Whips, according to one early twentieth century observer, required definite characteristics – ‘suavity, readiness, sound judgement, self restraint, wide information, insight into character, power of intrigue, a tough cuticle, and a case hardened unscrupulousness’.

Pairing

Pairing (abolished in 1996) concerned agreements of convenience between MPs on different sides of the House – when one MP was absent the other would refrain from voting. This existed from the early days, initially as private arrangements but soon organised by the whips.

At times when understandings between government and Opposition broke down, threats to withdraw pairs might be made, but the practice usually remained intact – it was simply too useful a device to abandon. Over time it became a convention that the Premier or Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition were automatically granted pairs so that they could attend to other business. Pairing was not officially recognised in the Standing Orders until 1951. Breaking a pair was a serious offence; it not only wrecked the arrangement of business in the House but was a matter of dishonour. If MPs unwittingly broke their pairs by being caught in the chamber the etiquette was that they had to vote with the other side. Pairing was especially crucial when the Government majority was slim, as in the late 1950s when Labour had a majority of only one.

The Government had to keep as many MPs as possible in the House at all times. With Ministers away on overseas trips the Government was in a minority and National threatened to withdraw pairing arrangements. Labour’s strong party discipline kept the struggling Government together, getting the sick out of their beds. Maori MP T.P. ‘Dobbie’ Paikea, ‘notoriously ill and absent’ in previous sessions, appeared to experience a miraculous recovery which he attributed to all forty of his Labour colleagues praying for him!

Pairing was discontinued with the introduction of new Standing Orders in 1996 associated with MMP. It would have been impractical to arrange pairs in a multi-party House. MPs no longer have to be in the chamber at the time of voting. Parties declare their total votes including the ‘proxy’ votes of those away.




Votes (Divisions)

Voting, or ‘dividing the House’ as it used to be called, is a simple procedure today. Party whips announce their total numbers in the chamber when a vote is called. The Speaker’s vote is counted in the party vote and the motion is lost in the case of a tie. Only when a personal vote is taken (almost always on ‘conscience’ issues) do MPs file into the lobbies to record their votes.

Prior to 1996 MPs went into the ‘Ayes’ and ‘Noes’ lobbies (corridors to the right and left respectively of the Speaker outside the chamber) to vote. The division bells were rung to allow MPs to return to the chamber and the doors to the chamber would be locked. On occasion the keys to the chamber doors were mysteriously misplaced so that MPs might get into the chamber to vote. At the doors of the lobbies tellers ticked off names from division lists. The Speaker announced the result and the doors to the chamber were unlocked. If the vote was tied the Speaker would use a casting vote to break the deadlock in favour of the status quo to allow further consideration of the issue. Tactics to avoid or postpone votes being taken were common in the past, particularly when an important piece of legislation or even a Government was at stake. In the early years motions to adjourn the House, or alternatively ‘counting it out’ by removing the quorum through mass walkouts before the doors were locked, were evident. ‘Stonewalling’ by endless debate to delay the calling of a vote was also commonplace before strict time limits were put on speeches.

The absence of political parties in the nineteenth century meant there was much less certainty about the way MPs would vote than there is now. The emergence of the party system in the twentieth century and the dominance of the National and Labour parties made winning votes much more predictable. Still, when Governments had a small majority mustering all MPs could be critical. The Labour Government of 1957 had a majority of only one once the Speaker had been elected. This was the first time there had been such a narrow margin since the emergence of the two-party system. Labour nearly lost its first vote when Warren Freer, who was in the shower, did not hear the bells. The embarrassed Freer said that if he had known he ‘would have been present – soapsuds and all’. National’s Roy Jack had also been caught out, the official story being that he had gone down town to buy some toothpaste; thus Labour scraped through. From then on Labour used the term ‘dirty debate’ to warn that no-one should absent themselves.

Historically, the frequent ringing of the division bells was part and parcel of the bustle of Parliament. The introduction of party voting in the chamber in 1996 has reduced the use of the bells considerably. Today their major use is to summon MPs to the chamber to commence the sitting.

In early year members were summoned by a messenger clanging a bell through the buildings. In the 1870s electric bells were installed. These were replaced by electronic versions in 1987. The traditional methods of sabotage to deal with the irritating noise – stuffing the bells with paper or simply wrenching them from their fixtures – were thereby prevented.

The drama of Government defeats

Oppositions seek to test the majority of the House through ‘no-confidence’ motions. These might concern the Address in Reply, broad censure of the Government, the second readings of important bills, and supply (the continued funding of Government expenditure). Often such challenges come by way of motions amending others put forward by the government itself. The election of a Speaker or Chairman of Committees can become matters of confidence also. At times, Opposition procedural votes or other tactical motions are treated as such challenges. As late as 1928 Governments were still formed by voting on a matter of confidence on the floor of the House. This last instance took place at the beginning of the session of that year, after the election, when Joseph Ward’s United Party formed an alliance with the Labour Party and replaced the Reform Party in Government. But since that time Governments have come into office as a result of elections. The two-party system and strict party voting have made no-confidence motions ritualistic declarations of differences between the parties with little expectation of success. But this was not always so. Earlier on the tests of confidence of the House were serious contests for power. No-confidence motions have provided some of the most dramatic moments in Parliament – tempestuous debates, scrambles for missing MPs, mix-ups over pairing, last-minute arrivals and at times the fall of Governments. Nineteenth-century factional politics and the complicated three-party politics of the early twentieth century meant that a majority could never be taken for granted during the life of a Parliament.

Defeat of Stafford, 1861

Edward Stafford’s ministry lasted from 1856 until 1861 when its survival was poised on a knife-edge over the conducting of military operations during the New Zealand wars. Opposition leader William Fox moved a motion of no-confidence but realising that he was one short, scoured the town to find the missing MP, eventually discovering him in Parliament’s smoking-room. Meanwhile he desperately stalled for time to get to the dinner break. Then it was the Government’s turn to play for time as it awaited the arrival of a newly-elected supporter, J.C. Richmond of Taranaki, by ship. With the ship still at the Manukau Heads, Fox called for the vote. Stafford was defeated by one vote, 24 to 23.




Defeat of Fox, 1872

In 1872 Fox, who was again Premier, was confronted once more by his old foe Stafford. One of the uncertain votes belonged to Edward Jerningham Wakefield, whose fondness for liquor was well-known. He was locked into a committee room by the Government to make sure he voted for them when the time came. Stafford’s whip heard of this, got up on the roof of the buildings and lowered a bottle of whisky with a loosened cork down the chimney on some string. When the division bell rang, the Government whip rushed up to get his vote, but Wakefield was ‘paralytic’ under the table. The Government whip somehow got him down to the chamber, but Wakefield voted with Stafford to throw out the Fox ministry, 40 votes to 37.







Defeat of the Liberals, 1912

The Liberal Government that had ruled since 1891 was staring defeat in the face when Parliament reassembled in late June 1912. Opposition leader William Massey moved a motion of no-confidence during the Address in Reply debate and refused to put up any speakers so that the agony would not be prolonged. Finally, he called for a vote late at night as the Government tried to adjourn the debate once again. The Government frantically tried to keep the debate going while its forces were mustered.Crucial to the result were independents such as Gordon Coates and certain discontented Liberals. One such was the partially paralysed and disaffected one-time Liberal cabinet minister, John Millar, who had lain in bed in the buildings for three days waiting for the moment. He made a dramatic entrance in a dressing gown and pyjamas, a bent figure with the side of his face twisted, and made his way into the Ayes lobby along with Massey. Reform won convincingly by 41 votes to 33. Massey led his supporters in a victorious ‘crocodile’ into Bellamy’s where the party, aided by champagne and chicken, continued into the new morning with some performing a haka.

Copyright: © NZ Parliamentary Library, 2010
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