UK House of Commons drama, impartiality of Speaker questioned

A report from Missy in the UK:

More drama in the House of Commons today after PM Questions.

Background: In December Parliament passed a motion on the Meaningful Vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. In this motion it was stated that if the Agreement did not pass the Government had to go back to Parliament within 21 days with a further proposal for leaving the EU. This motion is what is referred to as a forthwith motion. Forthwith is a technical term used, and means that a motion must be put forward for a decision by the Commons without debate or amendment. For this particular motion, whilst it is a forthwith motion it was agreed by the Commons that no amendment could be made to it by any member except a Minister of the Crown. Essentially this motion can only be amended by a Minister and not a backbench or opposition MP.

Today Conservative MP, (and former Attorney General), Dominic Grieve put forward an amendment to this motion changing the 21 days to 3 days. This was signed by MPs from across the House. The clerks advised the Speaker that this amendment was not selectable, and should not be selected for vote. The speaker had previously told another MP that amendments could not be tabled to a forthwith motion. However, despite it being precedent that the speaker takes the advice of the clerks and despite this being an amendment to a forthwith motion, the speaker selected it and tabled the motion.

For over an hour Government MPs raised Point of Order after Point of Order regarding Parliamentary precedent, and the Speaker not taking the advice of the clerks. The Speaker was asked several times what the advice of the clerks was, he refused to say (a journalist was told by a source in the clerks office which is where the information came from that they had advised against it).

The speaker admitted that he had not taken into account Parliamentary precedent, or given any thought to the implications of his decision, he was only interested in the here and now. The implications, however, could be serious in the future. He has set a precedent where the Speaker can change the rules of the debate whenever he likes, and he has also sent the message that precedent doesn’t matter in Parliament, despite it being one of the fundamental Parliamentary Conventions which is part of the uncodified British Constitution.

A bit on the Speaker himself. Last year allegations arose of the Speaker bullying staff in the Commons, and that he had been doing it for any number of years. Some in the Commons called on him to resign. Labour MPs, and some Conservative MPs who support Remain, resisted attempts to force the Speaker out, noting he has openly stated he voted Remain and does not support Brexit.

This has been raised again today as some wonder if the Speaker allowing Dominic Grieve’s amendment to be tabled is his way of paying back those MPs that have kept him in his position, I am not sure that is quite right, but over the last year or so his impartiality on matters pertaining to Brexit has been called into question.


Nick Smith in Housing debate

Hapless Housing Minister Nick Smith with the opening speech in the Third reading of the Housing Legislation Amendment Bill last night (the Bill passed eventually after a lengthy debate).

Draft transcript:

Third Reading

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): I move, That the Housing Legislation Amendment Bill be now read a third time.

This amendment bill will get more houses built. This bill will get houses built more quickly, and it should be getting the full support of this Parliament. It will do so by ensuring a smooth transition to the Auckland Unitary Plan.

It will do so by allowing more land to be available for housing more quickly in other parts of New Zealand, and it will do so by providing certainty over the Crown land housing development programme.

The parties opposing this bill have shown they are far more interested in wallowing in the stories of hardship over housing than actually getting more rooves built over the heads of Kiwi families.

The greatest irony is that Labour has called for a state of emergency across New Zealand, over housing, but it opposed urgency in this House for the very bill that will make a difference.

Let us be clear about three things in respect of housing.

The first is on the demand side. It is at record levels, because New Zealand is doing well. Our economy is growing strongly, unemployment is low and falling, we are a safe and well-governed country, interest rates are at the lowest level in 60 years, and so housing demand is at record levels.

The second is that construction is booming. Statistics New Zealand has just reported the highest level of building activity ever in New Zealand, topping $18 billion in the last year. Residential building has grown nationally by 20 percent per annum for every one of the last 5 years.

I have checked the records all the way back to 1922, and there has never been such a period of long, sustained growth. Independent reports show we are on track for this boom to continue until 2021. In Auckland we are on schedule to build the equivalent of a Whangarei in Auckland in this term of Parliament, and another Whangarei in the next term of Parliament.

My third point is that land-use policy is the single most important public policy issue affecting housing supply and affordability. The Productivity Commission says so, Treasury says so, and the OECD says so.

We also know, from our own experience in Christchurch where we are using the special earthquake provision powers and freeing up land. We have a well-functioning market. Thousands of good, new homes, with three bedrooms, are available on the market at $450,000. We have got house price inflation in Christchurch of only 2 or 3 percent, and we have had rents in that market drop by 8 percent over the last year.

Let me turn to the detail of this bill. It will allow eight greenfield special housing areas (SHAs), totalling 762 hectares in Auckland, that are well advanced in the planning and design processes, to enable 7,900 homes to be built. This is significant. It amounts to $4 billion of additional housing investment that will be able to be facilitated and ensure it progresses.

The simple question for Parliament is this: do we want to send those seven developments, $4 billion of housing, back to square one?

Members on this side of the House say that no, we do not. Members opposite, who have voted against this bill, are voting to block those housing developments.

The bill also allows the extension for 3 years of the housing accords and special housing build in other parts of New Zealand. The original Act was very focused on Auckland, but the growth pressures are now being felt more widely.

The National Policy Statement on Urban Development will take time for councils to free up land. The national policy statement requires that to be done over 3 years, and so it makes sense for the SHAs to be able to be used in the interim, to be able to free up more land.

These measures are supported by Local Government New Zealand. I have received letters from a number of councils that want access to this flexible tool.

The second part of this bill is the part that Labour has got in a lather about. The amendment makes plain what is already in the 1955 Housing Act, that the Government can approve housing development schemes and sell the houses. It is what Government has been doing for years. It is what we are doing in Hobsonville, where over 1,000 houses have now been completed.

Ironically, it is what we have done in Weymouth, where Mr Little visited and said that we should be doing more of those types of schemes.

Labour has caused this huge commotion in the House, saying that these are very significant changes that affect people’s property rights. Let me read exactly what Treasury’s independent regulatory impact unit said on these changes, long before this controversy, in an email dated 3 October.

I will quote, word for word: “The minor avoidance of doubt provision in the Housing Act doesn’t need a regulatory impact statement. It is minor, and it doesn’t change any rights. It is simply a clarification of existing legislative intent.”

Let me quote it again: “It is minor, and it doesn’t change any rights.” So there it is, without political spin, straight from a Government official. It is why the Government is wanting to make the change. It is to provide the certainty for business.

We are wanting to get on and sign contracts for significant developments of land, and understandably, if we are going to get the best deal for the taxpayer and the most houses, we need to get certainty in the law.

If there is something that members on this side of the House understand, it is that certainty is everything for business, particularly when they are going to be investing tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in building the houses that this country needs.

People who are wanting to delay this minor clarification of the law are actually wanting to make it harder for the Government to get on and build houses on vacant public land. Remember, it is on these vacant blocks of public land that the Government is able to put quite tough requirements to ensure the houses that are being built are in the medium price range, and also to deliver at least 20 percent of social housing.

The greatest irony is this. For all the debate over the last 2 days, I have not heard a single cogent argument against any of the three provisions. Here is the irony. Labour members are out there, saying that Labour is going to build tens of thousands of houses, under its KiwiBuild policy, on vacant Crown land. Are they saying that when they have built those houses they are going to offer them to the former landowners and not to ordinary New Zealanders?

If Labour really believes its opposition to this bill, it will promise to repeal it. It will not because its members know in their heart of hearts it is the practical measures that are required to ensure this country gets on and builds as many houses as is practicably possible. This bill is a sensible measure.

It sits alongside our Resource Management Act reforms, the work to develop an urban development authority, changes to the Building Act, and changes to the Unit Titles Act, because there is not a single magic bullet to this housing challenge.

We need to do a whole lot of things well, and this bill is part of what will make the difference and ensure that we maintain that record growth of housing construction in New Zealand.

Dunne’s speech on the GCSB Bill


Draft transcript:


In Committee

Hon PETER DUNNE (Independent—Ōhariu):

The one thing that most people agree on about this bill, the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill, is that there needs to be an effective regime to govern our external intelligence agency. That is the starting point for this debate.

The second thing I wanted to say is that this bill has nothing whatsoever to do with the recent, unfortunate experiences of the Henry inquiry. That set of circumstances could happen under any situation. It is nothing to do with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) legislation.

The third thing I want to say by way of a preliminary comment is that this bill as it stands, as reported back from the Intelligence and Security Committee, is not satisfactory, and that is why I am moving a series of amendments that will need to be passed by this Committee and by this House if I am to support the bill further.

The reason why I am moving those amendments is that they strengthen the accountability provisions of the bill, they actually make it much easier in terms of transparency, and they address all of the major points that were raised by the witnesses who attended the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Mr Grant Robertson spoke earlier and expressed a lot of concern about section 8C , in clause 6 of the bill, and I agree with him.

What section 8C says, effectively, is that by regulation or Order in Council, any variety of existing Government agencies could be added to the provisions whereby the powers of the GCSB could be applied to them in the pursuit of their objectives. I think that is wrong; I agree with him entirely. That is why I am moving an amendment to delete section 8C in the bill, which means that if there needs to be additional entities added to the purview of this legislation, they will have to be added by way of separate legislation.

So, Mr Robertson, you should be supporting the amendment that I will be moving in this Supplementary Order Paper that is before the Committee at the moment.

We will also be changing in that Supplementary Order Paper the warrant provisions to ensure that when a warrant is issued, it is put on a register, so that people actually know what warrants have been issued, particularly when they relate to New Zealanders, and so that the GCSB will never be in the position again of having 88 cases of dubious legality, because every year the number of warrants will need to be recorded, as will the number of occasions when the GCSB has cooperated with other agencies—information that is not known at the present time.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, which currently has a very perfunctory oversight role, has its powers changed by my amendment to ensure that when it conducts the annual financial review of both the GCSB and the SIS , that hearing has to be held in public. At the moment it is held behind closed doors.

Members opposite, who want accountability, are presumably now going to vote against an amendment that says that when it comes to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s operations in reviewing the performance of the security agencies, it has to do that in public. Those members are against that, and yet they want more transparency and more accountability.

And they talk about a review. They want to have a review of our intelligence services. Under the amendment contained in my Supplementary Order Paper there will be a review early in 2015, and not only then but every 5 to 7 years thereafter, of both the SIS and the GCSB. So the cry for a review again falls flat when these members have the opportunity to vote for one and they decide to vote against it.

Now let us talk about one of the other issues that have been raised throughout this whole debate and that is of critical importance. It is the definition of “private communication” and the issue of meta-data, and Dr Norman made some good points in respect of that.

The reality is that every witness who appeared before the Intelligence and Security Committee raised it as an issue. Every witness said that it was important to get a solution. No witness offered a solution. I made a point of ringing a number of them to say: “Have you got a definition? Have you got a way through this?”, and the answer I got universally was that, no, it needs to have a lot of work done on it.

It needs to be worked through very carefully, and that is why, as part of the agreement I struck with the Prime Minister, there will be work done on the Law Commission’s 2010 report, which deals with this whole issue of the definition of “private communications”, not just in the GCSB legislation but also in the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act , the Crimes Act , and the criminal surveillance legislation.

So I simply wanted to make this point. I listened to the major points made by all of the witnesses who attended the statutory committee. I read their submissions and I noted that no one said: “We do not need a GCSB.”—no one, not even Mr Dotcom.

Everyone said we wanted to have tighter accountability, more transparency, more openness, and a better process. I have crafted amendments that deliver those things.

So it will be very interesting during the course of this debate to hear those who cry for all of those things vote against them, when they have the chance to do so.

I started on the point that everyone agrees that we need to change the current situation. The consequence of these members’ actions would be to preserve a most unsatisfactory status quo, where you have a GCSB that effectively has no accountability, where you have potentially 88 New Zealanders spied upon illegally over the last decade, with no record of that. That is appalling.

The consequence of opposing this legislation is simply so that that intolerable situation would continue, and no New Zealander deserves to be treated that way.

This bill, with the amendments that I am proposing, will ensure that those days are well and truly days of the past, and that New Zealanders can have a fresh sense of confidence in the way their security services operate.

While the Green Party strongly oppose the bill Russel Norman said they will support Dunne’s amendments:

I would also like to make a comment on Mr Dunne’s amendments, which we will be supporting because they do provide minor improvements to the bill and we will vote for minor improvements.

That’s a practical decision typical of the Green approach, taking everything on it’s merits. The Greens have also proposed amendments.

In contrast Labour speakers strongly attacked Dunne. And they didn’t propose any amendments except one SOP that would scrap the bill after a review.

Refer to: Dunne’s SOP on GCSB Bill amendments

GCSB Amendment Bill submissions

Links to any bill submissions I can find (accessible from the menu above).
If you know of any more please email or comment on this post.

Submissions to the GCSB bill:

Mixed Ownership Model Bill – 51% ownership amendments

In a Supplementary Order Paper No 42 – proposed amendments change 51% voting rights to 51% ownership.

Hon Tony Ryall, in Committee, to move the following amendments:

Explanatory note

The Bill currently contains 2 ownership limits for mixed ownership model companies: a 51% Crown control requirement and a 10% ownership cap for non-Crown persons. These ownership limits currently apply to voting rights attaching to shares and other securities of the company. This Supplementary Order Paper extends these 2 ownership limits so that they apply to shares of the company (including non-voting shares), as well as to the voting rights. The effect of doing so is that—

  • the Crown must hold 51% of every class of shares in the company, as well as 51% of every class of the voting securities (which are voting shares and other securities with voting rights); and
  • no person (other than the Crown) will be able to have relevant interests in more than 10% of any class of shares in the company or more than 10% of any class of the voting securities of the company; and
  • if a person has relevant interests in shares or voting securities that exceed the 10% limit, as well as the person not being entitled to exercise voting rights attaching to the shares or voting securities in excess of the 10% limit, no dividend or other distribution may be paid in relation to them. So as to enable the company to act with certainty (eg, to deal with complicated shareholding situations), the company may determine which are the excess securities, in accordance with the constitution, in implementing the consequences of exceeding the 10% limit.

In addition, it is clarified that the current prohibition on sales of shares by Ministers that would result in the Crown ceasing to have 51% control applies also to other types of voting securities that the Ministers may acquire.

I’m more than just pleased about this. 51% total ownership was something I and United Future campaigned on, and it was agreed to in the United Future/National Confidence and Supply agreement, so this holds fast to that stand.

It also shows that United Future can act as a moderator on National.

Regulatory Impact Statement

Providing for greater controls over Mixed Ownership Model companies, by including non-voting shares in the 51% floor and the 10% cap Agency Disclosure Statement

This Regulatory Impact Statement has been prepared by The Treasury.

This RIS provides an analysis of options to ensure that the Mixed Ownership Model Bill (MOM Bill) includes economic interests in the 51% floor and 10% cap, to ensure consistency with the Confidence and Supply Agreement dated 5 December 2011 between the New Zealand National Party and United Future New Zealand (UFNZ) (the Confidence and Supply Agreement), specifically around introducing “statutory limits on the sale of public assets to no more than 49% of shareholding to private interests including limits on the extent of single entity ownership.”

This RIS has been informed by discussions between the Office of the Minister for State Owned Enterprises and the Office of the Leader of UFNZ. Those discussions have prescribed the nature of the regulatory response, particularly in the context of the MOM Bill.

Full Regulatory Impact Statement PDF