New Zealand Parliament Pāremata Aotearoa

What is 'urgency'?

Published date: 25 May 2017

The House of Representatives sometimes goes into “urgency” to make progress on business additional to what would be possible under the normal rules for sitting hours and progress of business.

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A Minister may move an urgency motion for specified business, particularly bills. The motion can be moved without advance notice, and is not debated by the House, although the Minister must inform the House why the Government wishes to take urgency. The business listed in the urgency motion may include items on the Order Paper or new bills the Government seeks to introduce and progress through some or all stages.

What are the effects of urgency?

There are two main effects of dealing with business under urgency. First, the House may proceed with that business until it is completed. For example, a bill that is dealt with under urgency may be introduced and passed through all its stages (without going to a select committee), while under normal circumstances a bill cannot be taken through more than one stage each sitting day. The second effect of urgency is that the sitting hours of the House may be extended to allow the business to be completed.

Normally a bill has to wait for a number of days after it is introduced before it can have its first reading in the House. However, when a bill is dealt with under urgency, it can bypass this waiting period.

How are sitting hours extended under urgency?

The usual sitting hours of the House are 2 pm to 6 pm and 7.30 pm to 10 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2 pm to 6 pm on Thursdays. When the House’s sitting hours are extended under urgency, the sitting is suspended at the time it normally would finish that day, and the extra hours commence the next day. The only exception to this rule is that on Thursdays the sitting can continue into the evening (until 10 pm) if the Government has previously given special notice of its intention to move an urgency motion that day.

On the second day of a sitting under urgency, the sitting resumes at 9 am and runs until midnight, with breaks from 1 pm to 2 pm and from 6 pm to 7 pm. This continues on subsequent days until the business is completed or the Government decides not to continue, up until midnight on Saturday (the House does not sit on Sundays).

What is extraordinary urgency?

Extraordinary urgency extends the hours of the House even further, so that it sits through the night, including on the day the House agrees to a motion for extraordinary urgency. In addition to the hours that apply for urgency, under extraordinary urgency the House sits from midnight to 8 am. This is relatively rare.

A Minister can move a motion for extraordinary urgency for specified business, including business for which urgency has already been taken. The Speaker must first agree that the business justifies such a move. The Minister must, on moving the motion, inform the House of the nature of the business and the circumstances that warrant extraordinary urgency.

Why doesn’t the date change?

When the House agrees to urgency or extraordinary urgency, the extra hours are regarded as an extension of the day that the urgency motion was passed. This means that all business dealt with during that period of urgency is regarded as having been transacted on the same sitting day. The calendars in the House are not adjusted as they indicate the date of the sitting day in progress. The date recorded in the Journals of the House of Representatives, Hansard, and Daily Progress in the House (see Related links on this page) is the date on which the House went into urgency.

What are the effects of urgency on the business of the House?

  • If urgency carries over to subsequent days, an Order Paper is not produced for those subsequent days. However, if urgency finishes before 2 pm and the House then resumes for its normal sitting, there will be an Order Paper for that sitting.
  • Members’ Day (usually scheduled on alternate Wednesdays) may be postponed.
  • Question Time may not take place.

Can select committees meet when the House is under urgency?

Urgency may well affect select committee meetings. A committee can meet when the House is sitting only if all of its members agree or if the House has authorised it to meet while the House is sitting. Select committees normally meet on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, but these meeting times may not be available if the House is sitting then under urgency.