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Our House: A house of representatives should, ideally, be ...

International perspectives on democracy: Commonwealth heads of government leaders said in their ...

Electing Parliament: The MPs and the political parties in New Zealand's Parliament are elected ...

Members of Parliament: In the 27 July 2002 general election, Labour gained 52, National 27, New Zealand ...

Forming the government: The Labour and Progressive Coalition Parties in Parliament have agreeed ...

Composition of Parliament: New Zealand's Parliament is a place where more and more sections ...

The New Zealand Business and Parliament Trust: The New Zealand Business and Parliament Trust was formed in 1991 to bridge ...

The role of the speaker: The Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives is the highest officer ...

Who drafts the laws? To make sure laws ar written correctly, Parliament has ...

The Office of the Clerk: The position of Clerk of the House of Representatives is one of the oldest ...

Parliamentary Service: The Parliamentary Service is one of two parliamentary agencies providing ...

What MPs do: Conventions, not job descriptions, guide what ..

MP's pay: Members of Parliament currently receive a ....

Living two lives: John Key, aged 41, National MP for Helensville, was an investment ...

From Youth MP to youngest MP: Darren Hughes, at 24 New Zealand's youngest ...

Government and Opposition: There is a tradition of thinking that asserts that ideas change with ...

How laws are made: Parliament is New Zealand's supreme law-making body. It's members study ...

How a bill becomes an Act

Select committees: After a bill is introduced to Parliament and has been given its ...

Select commitee members

Petitioning Parliament: Every New Zealand citizen or resident has the right to petition Parliament ...

Visiting Parliament: People come for many reasons to tour New Zealand's Parliament ...

150 years: The New Zealand Parliament celebrates its 150th ...



How laws are made

Who else makes laws?
Common law
Making and changing laws
Government business
Crossing the floor
Other business

Parliament is New Zealand’s supreme law-making body. Its members study proposals for new laws, debate their likely consequences, and decide whether or not the proposals should become laws.

Proposed laws are introduced into Parliament as bills. When passed and given the Royal assent by the Governor-General, they become Acts. Acts can cover almost any subject, such as which crimes are punishable by prison, how much money the government is allowed to spend, and where people are allowed to fish. Acts may be public (of general importance) or private (limited to particular bodies, groups or individuals).

Who else makes laws?

Parliament can delegate its law-making power to the Executive Council, Ministers, government departments, local authorities and other bodies. These subordinate bodies can then also make laws, but only within the limits decided by Parliament.

Local authorities are an important example of bodies that have delegated powers. Decisions about stray dogs in Taupo, about building new stormwater drains in Dunedin, and about which rugby league club gets to use the local football field on Saturday afternoon, are best made by local people.

Parliament also delegates many powers to Ministers. These powers cover things such as motor vehicle safety regulations, setting salaries for civil servants, and appointing ambassadors to foreign countries. If the government had to ask Parliament about every day-to-day detail of running the country, Parliament would become bogged down. Only the most important issues (such as the Budget) are reserved for Parliament.

Common law

Parliament is not the only source of law. Parliament makes statute laws, which are called Acts of Parliament. The courts decide how existing laws are to be interpreted and applied. The decisions of the courts create what is called common law.

Common law is based on precedents – decisions which are used as a guide, or as an authoritative rule, in later, similar cases. Judges extend the law by applying the fundamental principles of the law to specific disputes between parties. If similar disputes occur in the future, the previous case is used as a guide. This helps to ensure that the law always treats everyone equally, without favouritism.

If Parliament disagrees with how the courts interpret its laws, it can pass new laws which clarify what it wants.

Making and changing laws

While Parliament creates many new laws every year, much of its work is to change existing laws. These can be repealed (cancelled) by a new Act, or changed by amending Acts. These developments will often be in response to changing economic or social conditions, or to cases where the law has proved to be unworkable or difficult.

Parliament is always careful to follow precise and proper procedures for making and changing laws. These ensure not only that all MPs can have a say in making laws, but also that the public can have a say too. The process by which a bill becomes an Act is shown on page 31.

Members of the public can lobby MPs and parties at any time to create or change laws. They also have the opportunity for direct input into select committees, which are a vital part of the law-making process. Their role, and how the public can have their say, is explained in detail on page 32.

Government business

Most of the time that the House sits is set aside for Government business. This means consideration of bills that the Government wants enacted.

The MPs from each party in Parliament have regular meetings of their members. Such a meeting is called a caucus. Members of each caucus discuss bills, and often decide on a common position to take. When these laws come to a vote in the House, all members of a party then usually vote the same way.

Normally, the Government will only introduce a bill if it has already consulted its members and other supporters and therefore knows it will be passed.

Crossing the floor

Occasionally, an MP will vote for or against a bill in opposition to the decision of their caucus. This is called crossing the floor. Most parties think it is embarrassing if their members cross the floor, so this is discouraged.

While it may often seem that opposition parties always oppose whatever the government proposes, this is not always so. Many Government bills deal with issues that are not controversial, and these are often passed with wide support from many parties. However, because they are not controversial, these bills seldom make news headlines.

Other business

Not all of the bills that come before the House are Government bills. Every second week that Parliament sits, time is set aside for Members’ bills. These are bills promoted by individual MPs, not by the Government.

Often, these bills are promoted by Members of the opposition parties and are opposed to Government policies. Such bills are seldom passed. However, some Member's bills deal with matters on which the Government has no policy.

Bills dealing with moral issues such as selling wine and beer on Sundays, and what kind of information should be available to adopted children about their natural parents, are usually decided by a conscience vote. This is where MPs vote according to their own conscience, and parties do not decide how their members should vote.

Find out more!

Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives
Parliament Buildings, Wellington
Tel: (04) 471 9999 extn 8194
Fax: (04) 473 2439



Photo of room with a large table and chairs for a committee.

The Maori select committee room.