Legislation can take a while to be passed (about seven months on average) but if something needs to be done a bit faster then the House of Representatives can sit under urgency.
Warning: this article will use the word urgency a lot.
Reasons for urgency can vary but it can be used to fix up something that might expire soon or to put in place a campaign promise quickly after an election, or in an emergency.
This week Parliament passed a bill to help keep tabs on cattle: the National Animal Identification and Tracing Amendment Bill, or NAIT Bill.
The Bill will increase NAIT officers' ability to track stock as part of the Government's efforts to help eradicate the cattle disease mycoplasma bovis.
The disease can cause mastitis which affects milking, ear infections in calves, lameness, or abortions. It does not affect humans.
To make the House consider bills urgently the Government has to ask for it or in technical terms, move a motion.
That task fell upon the Leader of the House Chris Hipkins who said:
“I move, That urgency be accorded the passing through all stages of the National Animal Identification and Tracing Amendment Bill, the committee stage and third reading of the Statutes Amendment Bill (No 2), and the second and third readings of the Tariff (PACER Plus) Amendment Bill.”
The observant will notice that there are three bills there and they are correct.
Summaries of what those bills are about can be found here: Parliament’s to do list: Urgently tracking cattle and the end of Budget 2018
Every bill the government wants to consider under urgency has to be announced before urgency comes into effect. There’s no chance to add something later.
There also needs to be an explanation as to why a bill must be passed more quickly than usual to stop the Government from doing anything untoward.
On the NAIT bill Mr Hipkins said:
“[It] will support the Mycoplasma bovis response and eradication programme by clarifying existing obligations regarding the declaration of animal movements, search and inspection powers, and offence provisions. The discovery of the first case of Mycoplasma bovis in the Tasman district this week has underlined the need for prompt action.”
He said the statutes bill is needed because:
“[It] will include consideration of an amendment to the Customs and Excise Act 2018 that would correct a drafting error that would have resulted in the removal of excise-equivalent duty on imported champagne from 1 October...The correction needs to be in place in advance of that date, although there are probably mixed views about that around the House.” (Apparently, some MPs wouldn’t mind cheaper champagne.)
And finally, on the PACER Plus bill Mr Hipkins said:
“The enactment of the Tariff (PACER Plus) Amendment Bill before the Pacific Islands Forum summit early next month will support New Zealand's advocacy and leadership of improved trade in the Pacific.”
While urgency means things can be done quicker (like skipping months at a select committee) it’s not a guarantee that everything will get done and only the NAIT bill was passed and not all of it under urgency.
Confused? There are stages a bill must go through before it becomes law.
It’s introduced to the House.
Then there’s a first reading debate (12 speeches of up to 10min in length).
Next it’s on to the select committee stage which is where groups of MPs hear from the public and examine a bill in detail to write a report for the House. This can take about six months.
Back to the House for the second reading debate where MPs might discuss what happened at the select committee stage.
Then the committee of the whole House where the bill is examined in detail including any proposed changes.
Last step is the third reading debate which (another 12 speeches, up to 10min long).
Bills aren’t allowed to go through more than one stage in the House per sitting day unless special permission is given. Urgency is one of those permissions.
It means the select committee stage can be skipped (saving months of time) and the reading debates can be done one after another (saving days or weeks).
Urgency also means the House can sit for longer times than normal (usually it sits from 2pm to 10pm) and MPs did turn up on 9am the following morning to finish passing the Bill meaning the NAIT Bill was put through the House in two sitting days; much faster than the usual seven months.