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The role of the Speaker

Outside the Debating Chamber
International relations
Bipartisan agreement
State opening
Speech from the Throne

DecisionMaker explains the constitutional role and duties of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, based on briefings from the Speaker's Office, the Office of the Clerk, and Standing Orders.

The Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives is the highest officer elected by the House. The position is third in the New Zealand Order of Precedence, coming only after the Governor General and the Prime Minister.

The title of Speaker derives from the original House of Commons spokesperson who, on formal occasions, had to speak for and on behalf of the House of Commons to the House of Lords and to the monarch.

The election of the Speaker is the first task of a new Parliament once members have been sworn in. The role is non-partisan.

It was once traditional for the Speaker to 'pretend' he or she did not want to accept the position. A symbolic piece of rope was kept beside the Speaker’s Chair in the Chamber as a reminder that an English Speaker was physically held in the Chair by members so that the House could continue debating a matter which members wished to consider.

The Speaker represents and embodies the House in its relations with the Crown and the position is therefore an exalted one commanding the respect of other members.

Unlike the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Speaker in New Zealand maintains links with his or her political party. But in doing so, the Speaker must not compromise the non-partisan nature of the role. The Speaker must never display favour or disdain for one party or side of the House. All members of the House must be treated equally, regardless of their party affiliations.

The Speaker keeps order during debate in the House and rules on disputes concerning procedure. As well as his role in the House, the Speaker has a variety of duties to perform.


The most visible role of the Speaker is in presiding over the deliberations of the House (except when it goes into committee).

It is the Speaker’s role to ensure that debate in the House progresses in an orderly fashion. The Speaker has the power to evict a member of the House for disorderly behaviour.

When several members want to speak, the Speaker decides who will have the floor.


Each sitting day the House devotes about one hour to 12 questions that members wish to put to Ministers about matters they have responsibility for. The questions are usually about topical issues. Ministers are given a few hours' notice of the questions so that they can prepare an informative reply. Once the Minister has replied, members can ask further supplementary questions. The number of questions and supplementary questions that each party can ask is determined by the number of seats they have in the House.

Question time is the liveliest time of day in the House and as well as being broadcast by Radio New Zealand on the AM network, it is televised through the Sky network.

Outside the Debating Chamber

As well as chairing the debating chamber, the Speaker presides over select committees including, the Business Committee, the Officers of Parliament Committee and the Standing Orders Committee. The Speaker also chairs the Parliamentary Service Commission, which is responsible for the administrative support that members require.

The Speaker also has statutory responsibilities for the Controller and Auditor General, Ombudsmen and Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
The Speaker technically owns all of Parliament’s grounds and buildings – Parliament House, the adjoining library, the lease on Bowen House and the Beehive. The Parliamentary Service is responsible for the day to day upkeep, security and staffing of these facilities. In this capacity, the Speaker is also responsible for the allocation of office space and the control of media and public access to the buildings.

The Business Committee chaired by the Speaker controls the organisation of the business of the House. Also on the committee, established after the first MMP election in 1996, is the Leader of the House, the Opposition Shadow Leader and the Whips of each party.

The Speaker convenes a Business Committee at the
commencement of each Parliament, which operates as described under Parliament’s Standing Orders. The Speaker chairs the Business Committee.

Every party with six or more members is entitled to be represented at each meeting of the committee by one member nominated by its leader. Parties with fewer than six members, and which are in a Government coalition, are entitled to choose one member between them to represent them on the committee. Other parties with fewer than six members and independent members are entitled to choose one member between them to represent them on the committee.

The committee reaches decisions on the basis of unanimity or, if this is not possible, near-unanimity having regard to the numbers in the House represented by each of the members of the committee.

The Speaker is the judge of whether unanimity is possible and, if it is not, whether a sufficient degree of near-unanimity has been reached for there to be an effective determination by the
committee. Before determining that near-unanimity has been reached, the Speaker must be satisfied that, having regard to the party membership in the House, the proposed determination is fair to all parties and does not discriminate against or oppress a minority party or minority parties.

The Business Committee may determine—
(a) the order of business to be transacted in the House:
(b) the time to be spent on an item of business:
(c) how time on an item of business is to be allocated among
the parties represented in the House:
(d) the speaking times of individual members on an item of

A determination must be published and circulated on the Order
Paper before any sitting of the House at which it is to apply.

The Business Committee must recommend to the House a
programme of sittings for each calendar year.
The recommended programme of sittings is to be made to the
House not later than the third sitting day in the preceding
December or, if the House does not sit in December, not later than the sitting day before the House is due to adjourn.
The recommended programme must require the House to sit first no later than the last Tuesday in February and to sit in total on about 90 days in the calendar year.

The Standing Orders are the written rules of conduct governing the business of the House. If a Member of Parliament feels one of these 402 rules has been breached by another member, he or she stands and raises a point of order. The Speaker must then determine whether the complaint is just. Earlier Speaker’s rulings on similar points of order are referred to in considering the point raised. The Clerk of the House, who sits directly in front of the Speaker, assists the Speaker in making such rulings.

The Standing Orders Committee is responsible for reviewing Standing Orders and, where necessary, updating them.

International relations

All our Parliament's relations with other Parliaments are carried out through the Speaker’s Office. It is usual for delegations from other parliaments and ambassadors to call on the Speaker. The Speaker also assists our parliamentarians in visiting other Parliaments.

Bipartisan agreement in 2005

A Labour candidate, Margaret Wilson, was offered for the post of Speaker, and a National candidate, Clem Simich, was offered for the deputy Speaker post for the 48th Parliament at the beginning of November 2005. Labour deputy Prime Minister Dr Michael Cullen had announced this understanding the week before Parliament reconvened. Margaret Wilson, who had been elected to succeed Jonathan Hunt during the 47th Parliament, became New Zealand's first woman to be Speaker.

The proceedures followed at the meeting of a new Parliament involve Parliament formally meeting, members being sworn into office and a Speaker being appointed. The following account, on the State Opening and the Speech from the Throne, is based on a briefing from the Office of the Clerk in October 2005, edited here by a DecisionMaker correspondent.

On Day 1, known as Commission opening, members assemble in the Chamber of the House at a time appointed by the Governor-General.

The declaration that Parliament is formally open is made by commissioners appointed by the Governor-General. The three commissioners are usually senior members of the judiciary.

The Clerk of Parliament then calls members to take the Oath of Allegiance or make a Declaration of Allegiance. The Constitution Act 1986 (section 11) requires members to take the oath or make a declaration before they can participate in Parliamentary business. Members now have the option of their oath or declaration being in English or Maori. Maori members sworn in for the 48th Parliament tended to take their oaths in Maori, but not all made the same declaration.

The House then elects a Speaker.

The Clerk presides over the House for the election of a Speaker.

Any member can nominate himself or herself for election. There is no debate. If a vote is needed, the bells would be rung for seven minutes and members would vote in the voting lobbies for each candidate. Abstentions are permitted, but not proxy votes.

When a Speaker has been elected, the Speaker-Elect takes the Chair of the House and the House adjourns until the date determined by the Governor-General for the State Opening of Parliament to take place.

The Speaker-Elect is required to report to Government House for confirmation in office by the Governor-General..

State Opening

The State opening of Parliament is performed by the Governor-General in the old Legislative Council Chamber. The Governor-General sends Black Rod to tell the members to come to the Council Chamber from their Chamber to hear the Speech from the Throne.

Speech from the Throne

The Speech from the Throne is prepared for the Governor-General by the Government.

This Speech is a statement of the issues which the Government wishes members of Parliament to consider. It usually contains a reference to important bills which the Government intends to introduce into the House.

Following the conclusion of this Speech members return to the Chamber of the House.

The House may then (it does not have to) appoint the Deputy Speaker and up to two Assistant Speakers. Ann Hartley and Ross Robertson, Labour nominees, were named by Dr Cullen in his announcement the week before the 48th Parliament assembled. These appointments are debatable matters and would be decided by votes if need be.

The House may also determine that any business before the previous Parliament that lapsed on the dissolution of that Parliament be reinstated.

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Updated 8 November 2005


Speaker Margaret Wilson

Margaret Wilson was elected Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament for the first time in early 2005, succeeding Jonathan Hunt

The title of Speaker derives from the original British House of Commons spokesperson who, on formal occasions, had to speak for and on behalf of the House of Commons to the House of Lords and to the monarch

The Speaker must never display favour or disdain for one party or side of the House