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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]

General Assembly

page 87

General Assembly.

New Zealand enjoys representative Government in the widest sense of the words. In no country in the world are the ideals of Democracy so practically focussed into a constitution which embodies the expression of a “Government of the people, for the people, and by the people.” But the liberties and privileges people of the Colony now enjoy were not granted to the early colonists for many years after its settlement. In common with all dependencies of the British Crown, New Zealand owes its constitution mainly to Edward Gibbon Wakefield. He possessed a genius for systematic colonisation, which first exhibited itself in 1838, when, as secretary to Lord Durham, a scheme of Government was drawn up for Canada, then in a discontented and backward condition, and the crux of this scheme was to put the Government as much as possible in the hands of the colonists themselves, giving them the power to both make and execute the laws. Lord Durham was an able man, and the difficulties to be surmounted in Canada required high ability to overcome them, and it rested with him and Mr. Wakefield to make or mar the country by the constitution they framed for it. Lord Durham's mission made Canada, and it gave Gibbon Wakefield a further insight into the science of building colonies. He may be said to have been the parent of systematic colonisation, and was the real founder of New Zealand, though he did not visit it himself until 1852. In the struggles for representative institutions in the Imperial Parliament, and with the Colonial Office, Mr. Gibbon Wakefield contributed to its success more than anyone else.

The Imperial Government, finding that the New Zealand Company had entered upon a vigorous colonising policy, was compelled to find some machinery for governing the new colony, and the machinery employed was of the despotic form invariably used by the Colonial Office in these days—a Governor and a Council of three officials. These were Captain William Hobson, R.N., Governor; Mr. George Cooper, Collector of Customs and Treasurer; Felton Matthews, Acting Surveyor-General; and Willoughby Shortland, Police Magistrate. Two other clerks, a sergeant, and four troopers accompanied the Administration, and on the 30th of January, 1840, the Governor hoisted the British flag at Kororareka, read his commission as Governor, and New Zealand became a Colony. This form of Government lasted, under Governor Hobson, Lieutenant Shortland as Administrator after his death, and Governor Fitzroy, until 1845, when the latter was recalled in disgrace for incapacity for government. His greatest fault appears to have been in starting a State Bank and issuing “Assignats,” or State notes for sums as low as 2s. each, and declaring them a legal tender. In the light of the advanced thought of the present day this cause of disgrace might be excused on the ground that he was perhaps half-a-century before his time. His offence and recall opened up in the Imperial Parliament the whole question of representative institutions in the colonies, and Sir Robert Peel, then Prime Minister, said, “I am strongly inclined to think that representative Government is suited for the condition of the people.” A long debate took place, with the result that the Colonial Office despotism was doomed, and that every British colony would have that self-government for which New Zealand, through her colonists here and her friends at Home, had fought the advance battle and had gained the victory. Previous to this debate in the House of Commons in 1845, no other colony except Canada had raised its voice for representative Government.

Captain Grey followed Captain Fitzroy. Naval men had been tried as administrators, and now an experiment was to be made with a military officer; but Captain Grey had already surmounted some difficulties in South Australia, and he was empowered to establish Representative Government. Consequently, he was warmly welcomed; page 88 but the right of the colonists to govern themselves was yet far distant. Lord Stanley, the head of the Colonial Office, forwarded instructions to the new Governor to form municipal bodies with power of taxation for local purposes, such municipal councils to be invited to suggest the name of a proper person to become a member of the Colonial Legislature, and if the Governor approved of the “proper person” he would hold a seat instead of one of the nominal Justices of the Peace who then sat in the Council. This was far short of what the colonists expected, and in the following year Governor Grey recommended Lord Stanley to divide the Colony into two districts, one to be
Photo by Wrigglesworth and Binns. Houses Of Parliament—Northern Aspect.

Photo by Wrigglesworth and Binns.
Houses Of Parliament—Northern Aspect.

ruled by him and a Legislative Council composed of equal numbers of nominated and official members, and the other should be governed by a Lieutenant-Governor and a similar body, this latter one to be subordinate to the Governor-in-Chief, and any ordinances made by it to be amended by him as he saw fit. By the time this recommendation reached England, Lord Stanley went out of office, and Lord Grey held the seals, and he got an Act passed which gave a far broader basis of representation, but was somewhat complicated. It provided a franchise by which the occupant of a tenement could vote for a member for the Municipal Council. The councillors, when elected, could choose one of their own body to sit in the Provincial Councils, and the Councils also out of their own body were to elect members of the House of Representatives. The Legislative Assembly was to be nominated by the Government out of the members of the Provincial Councils. Governor Grey decided that he would not adopt this Constitution, and he reverted the former idea of dividing the Colony into two provinces—the northern one, New Ulster, which was bounded very much as the provincial district of Auckland is, and New Munster, which took in the Cook Straits Settlements and the Middle Island. In the Northern Province he proposed to keep things in the old groove, and for the Southern one he established a Lieutenant-Governor, with three official members and nine page 89 nominated by himself. There was not one elected representative in the whole Colony. The Southern Council met once, and then six out of the nine resigned, and the Council was never called together again, and the revenues were collected and expended without any Appropriation Act. This naturally incensed the colonists, and a “Settlers' Constitutional Association” was formed to protest against the absolutism of Governor Grey. In spite of the efforts of its members, among whom were Sir W. Fitzherbert, Sir W. Fox, and Sir F. Weld, Earl Grey supported the Governor's action, and “an Act to suspend for five years the operations of the Constitutions Act” was passed by the Imperial Parliament. Then the colonists became furious, and Mr. Godley, the founder of Canterbury, joined the Association, and the Governor, feeling that something must be done to mollify the growing discontent, summoned a Council to meet in Wellington. This first Parliament, held in the present seat of Government, numbered fourteen individuals, the Lieutenant-Governor, two secretaries, two Attorney-Generals, two Land Commissioners, the Commander of the troops, a Collector of Customs, a Treasurer, and four unofficial colonists nominated by the Governor. This Council passed an ordinance to create a Provincial Council, of which one-third should be nominees of the Governor, and two-thirds elected on a property franchise. The Imperial Government ruled that this ordinance was ultra vires, and it was cancelled and things went on as before.

During 1849 the colonists went systematically to work petitioning the Imperial Parliament for representative institutions to be granted to them without further delay, but Governor Grey had the ear of the Colonial Office, and matters went on in the old way for a few years longer. The Canterbury Province in the meantime was making rapid strides, and there were members of the House of Commons who had interests there, and they took up the question, and finally, in 1851, Sir William Fox went Home, and, in conjunction with Gibbon Wakefield, Lord Lyttelton, and other prominent statesmen interested in the colonies, the question of Representative Government, through their efforts, came before English statesmen. Many months went by; Lord John Russell's Ministry resigned and Lord Derby took office, and Sir John Pakington became Secretary for the Colonies. He introduced a Bill to give New Zealand a constitution. Sir William Fox and Mr. Gibbon Wakefield interviewed all the leading men of the House, and the Bill finally passed on the 16th of July, 1852. Its receipt in the Colony was notified just six months afterwards, on the 17th of January, 1853, by the Governor, six weeks after he received it. When the fact was made known, every town, village, and settlement in the Colony celebrated the glad news by public rejoicings. The people had so long felt degraded at having no voice in the Government they lived under or the levying of the taxation they had to pay, that they had almost lost all hopes of ever possessing the rights which are inborn in every Briton. But Governor Grey did not at once give the people the privileges the Imperial Parliament had conceded. He received the Constitution Act on the 17th of January, but he did not issue the writs for the election of members of the General Assembly until the 7th of July, 1853, and after the elections were over he did not call the representatives together, and when he left the Colony in December, a year after the proclamation of the Act, there had been no meeting of the Assembly.

The first General Assembly was called together at Auckland on the 24th of May, and consisted of nineteen members of the Legislative Council, and thirty-seven members of the House of Representatives. Mr. W. T. L. Travers had been elected for two seats, Waimea and Nelson, and resigned the latter, which Mr. Cantley filled. Chief Justice Martin administered the oaths, and members raised an objection to his opening Parliament under delegated powers, and the House proceeded with the preliminary routine work of framing standing orders and regulations. Mr. W. Swainson had been appointed Speaker of the Council by the Governor, and Mr. (Sir) Charles Clifford was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. The first debate in both Houses then took place, and it was on the question as to whether the business should be opened with prayer by a clergyman. Objections were raised that such a course would lead to the Assembly being turned into a conventicle, and finally it was resolved “That it is fit and proper that the first act of the House of Representatives should be a public acknowledgment of the Divine Being, and a public supplication for his favour on its future labours.” A similar motion was carried in the Council, and this pious resolution was the first to be introduced and agreed to by the representatives of the people. Three days later, on the 27th of May, Lieutenant-Colonel Wynyard, Administrator of the Government, opened Parliament in person. He went very fully into the difficulties Parliament would have before it owing to the isolated nature of the settlements, no facilities for inter-communication, planted as they had been by different founders on different systems page 90 each dependent on the other, but with no common sympathies, and, previous to the granting of the Constitution Act, without any common bond of union. Seeing also that each province had been invested with large powers of local legislation, it rested with the General Assembly whether New Zealand was to become a great nation exercising a commanding influence over the Southern Seas, or a collection of insignificant, divided, and powerless states. These remarks displayed considerable prescience as to what the Colony might be in the future, considering the then sparse and scattered population, as the following statistics quoted by the Governor will show:— Auckland— Population, 11,000; Customs, £30,811; exports, £125,902. New Plymouth—Population, 2000; Customs, £3811; exports, £8613. Wellington—Population, 7400; Customs, £20,740; Exports, £95,380. Nelson—Population, 5148: Customs, £5511; exports, £45,779. Canterbury—Population, 3895; Customs, £5839; exports, £14,395. Otago— Population, 1800; Customs, £2276; exports, £6344, And the general and territorial revenue was estimated at £200,841. Before closing this record of the first days of the General Assembly, it will be interesting to relate how the debates were reported in the early days. Until 1867 there were no shorthand reporters employed, and the following rules were adopted for compiling Hansard. Every member of either House was requested to furnish the editor of Hansard with corrected reports of his speeches. Files of newspapers were procured, and their reports of the speeches carefully collated, and those which appeared to be most correct were selected. Some speeches were recorded with remarkable fulness and accuracy, but many great speeches in the House and most of those in the Council were wholly lost or very brief notices of them given in Hansard. Some members whose speeches were dreary beyoud belief and almost unintelligible as delivered in Parliament contrive to figure with rounded periods and flowing oratory, while Sir William Fitzherbert, with his powers of illustration and sarcasm, Mr. Sewell, who spoke much and often, and Sir William Fox, who delivered his pungent home thrusts at railway speed, have very scant notices in early Hansards.

The first Ministry consisted of Mr. A. Shepherd, Colonial Treasurer, and Mr. A. Sinclair, Colonial Secretary, neither of whom were members of the Assembly, and the Hon. Wm. Swainson, M.L.C., Attorney-General; and Messrs. J. E. FitzGerald, H. Sewell, F. A. Weld, T. H. Bartley, all without portfolios, Mr. F. D. Bell joining them about a fortnight later. With these appointments the General Assembly of the Colony of New Zealand may be said to have been launched on its career.

Parliament House, Wellington is one of the most extensive wooden structures in the world, and its situation is admirably chosen, being on the rising ground enclosed by Sydney, Molesworth and Hill Streets, at the Thorndon or north end of the City. The buildings are exclusively used by the Legislature, and were erected in 1873 from plans prepared by the colonial architect, Mr. Clayton. Previous to this the General Government Buildings were inadequate for the requirements of the time, and a number of departments had their offices within the buildings. During the session of 1870 Mr. Gisborne, then Colonial Secretary and Leader of the Legislative Assembly, made a statement to the effect that it was necessary for the Legislature to put its house in order. It had been reported that the roof of the buildings was in such a precarious condition that an earthquake or a gale of wind might bring it down. Mr. (afterwards Sir W.) Fox gave similar information in the Lower House and a joint committee of both Houses was appointed to report upon any alterations or new elections which might be thought necessary for the accommodation of the Government and the Assembly. At that time the present departmental buildings had no existence, and the whole of the General Government staff was accommodated either in Parliament Buildings or in rented offices in the neighbourhood. This was so inconvenient as well as costly that arrangements were made about the same time to erect special buildings for the permanent occupation of the departments. No definite action was taken until 1872 when Sir James Hector and Mr. Clayton both reported on the ravages made by dry rot in the roof, and recommended the immediate re-construction of the buildings as soon as the session of that year terminated. Plans were prepared and the work proceeded with, and in the following year the General Assembly was held in the present buildings. The contract price of the re-construction was £5218 for the House of Representatives, and £6230 for the Legislative Council, and there have been considerable sums expended annually since then. Recently, in the recess of 1893-1894 extensive alterations were made. The Legislative Council furniture was removed, the grounds re-arranged, a thorough system of ventilation established by means of fans driven by electric motors, and special appliances laid on to purify, heat, and distribute air throughout the building. To provide for this a chamber had to be excavated under the buildings, and the necessary page 91 inlets constructed, and at the same time an installation of electricity for lighting the buildings was laid on throughout and the acoustic properties of the chambers improved. The accommodation provided in the Legislative Council consists of two rooms for the Speaker, one for the Clerk to the Council, a reading-room for members, a stranger's reception room, two for messengers, a storeroom, and the Chamber itself on the ground floor. This latter is decorated, furnished and upholstered in the most effective modern style, and contains portraits of the late Lieut-Col. Richmond, Sir William Fitzherbert and Major Richardson, who have acted as Speakers of the Council. Above the Chamber are the galleries, separate accommodation being provided for strangers, Hansard reporters, the press, ladies, Members of the House of Representatives, their wives, and the wives of Members of the Council. On the first floor are two committee rooms, the Chairman of Committee's room, two bill offices, the record office, a room for the interpreter and a dressing-room
Photo, by Wrigglesworth and Binns. Houses Of Parliament—Eastern Aspect.

Photo, by Wrigglesworth and Binns.
Houses Of Parliament—Eastern Aspect.

for the clerks. Access to the corridor is gained from the Upper Chamber. This is a handsome room 101 feet in length by twenty-five in width, lofty and lighted from the top, and the walls are covered with portraits and photos of members, past and present, singly and in groups, and views of scenery and the show places of the Colony. There is also a magnificent painting of Her Majesty, presented during the session of 1895 by Sir John Hall. The corridor is handsomely furnished with easy chairs and lounges, and being the common property of both Houses, is a favourite meeting-place where affairs of State can be discussed in an unofficial way, and without fear of May's Parliamentary Practice, bringing legislators to book by the Speaker. These doors lead from the corridor to the library, which is one of the best selected and most complete in the colonies. To the late Alfred Domett, C.M.G., statesman, poet, and ripe scholar, is due the title of father of this grand collection of literature. He commenced his labour of love while Premier page 92 in 1862, and continued it during his residence in the Colony until 1871. The library at present contains over 40,000 volumes, besides vast files of colonial newspapers, and an extensive collection of cabinet photos of members since 1867. To accommodate these there are first the entrance room, then the reference, reading, smoking and private writing rooms all shelved and crowded with books. A gallery also with shelves, loaded with literature runs round the block set apart for the library, and there are four rooms containing the books of reference. On the opposite side of the corridor are the quarters devoted to the comfort of members, and known as “Bellamy's.” These consist of the large dining-room which is capable of accommodating 100 persons; the bar is at one end, and underneath is the cellarage, sixty feet by forty and the bonded store. On the first floor is the kitchen, connected with the ground floor by a lift, and above that are the bedrooms of the cooks and waiters, of whom there are ten. These, of course, are only employed during the session. The custodian of the buildings has an apartment near the entrance to “Bellamy's.” From the corridor,
Speaker's Chair, Legislative Council. Photo by Mr. T. Pringle.

Speaker's Chair, Legislative Council.
Photo by Mr. T. Pringle

Corridor, Houses of Parliament. Photo by Mr. T. Pringle.

Corridor, Houses of Parliament.
Photo by Mr. T. Pringle

and nearer the House of Representatives, access is gained to the coffee room, and the two Whip's rooms and the lavatory. The accommodation provided in that portion of the House set apart for the popular assembly includes forty-eight rooms. The ground floor of the south wing provides three rooms for Mr. Speaker and three for the clerks. On the first floor are three committee rooms and three clerk's rooms, and on the top floor four committee rooms, one record, one temporary clerk's and one committee reporter's room. In the centre of the building are three Cabinet rooms, one of which is private, two waiting rooms, two for the Sergeant-at-Arms, one press reporter's, one interpreter's and one messenger's room, besides the room known as the Bill-room; these all being on the ground floor. Above them are the committee rooms, the press reporters' room, private bill room and two ladies' rooms. The north wing contains four committee rooms, two rooms for the accommodation of the whips, four rooms for Ministers, and the Chamber page 93 itself. At the north end of this is the Speaker's chair, on his right are the Ministerial benches, and on his left the Opposition; the rest of the members being also provided with well cushioned seats, each of which accommodate two members. These are ranged three deep in horse-shoe form for the seventy-four members who represent the electors of the Colony, seventy being Europeans and four Maoris. Of the Europeans the North Island returns thirty and the Middle Island forty members. On the floor of the Representative Chamber there are, besides the accommodation for members, seats for Undersecretaries behind the Ministerial benches, and at the opposite end of the Chamber two rows of benches to which admission may be gained by the public through a member. The galleries surrounding the Chamber are usually well filled during the session. Over the Speaker the pressmen are not too well provided for. There are chairs for ten reporters and a couple of sofas behind them, and, although considerable pains have been taken and alterations made to improve the acoustic properties of the Chamber, the reporters find a difficulty in following the average speakers. Such practised orators as Sir Robert Stout and Sir George Grey can be heard, and every syllable reaches the gallery, but few are possessed of so resonant a voice or the knowledge of how to use it. Members, as a rule speak with a view of being reported, but it not infrequently happens that some bon mot which has provoked a hearty laugh among the members is lost to the reporters, much to the chagrin of the author of the joke. The Hansard reporters are also provided with accommodation in this gallery, but are partitioned off from the newspaper reporters. The Hansard staff is a very efficient one, and its annual cost is about £2400, and the printing of the debates another £2700. The gallery on the west side of the Chamber—the Speaker's gallery—can only be reached by a ticket to be obtained from the Speaker, each member being entitled to apply for one. Opposite the reporters' is the ladies' gallery. This is a favourite resort of the grand dames of the Empire City, and is almost always filled, some of the habituès providing themselves with needlework or knitting to fill up the time during a dull debate and laying it aside when matters became interesting, and it has been remarked since Women's Suffrage became the law of the land, how often members turn their faces to the ladies' gallery and their backs to the Speaker as soon as they have delivered themselves of the necessary and preliminary “Sir,” which introduces a speech. The strangers' gallery occupies the fourth side and is open to the public. It is usually well filled, and the countenances of its occupants show how deep an interest the general public feel in the legislation going on year by year for their welfare. Sir George Grey notified to the people of New Zealand on 17th of January, 1853, that he had received the Constitution Act from Her Majesty, and that the Colony for the future had the privilege of governing itself, and the first parliament met on the 27th of May, 1854. Since then the cost of the Legislature has been a constantly increasing one, as the following quinquennial comparisons will show:—1860-1861, £8479; 1865-1866, £13,288; 1870-1871, £19,600; 1875-1876, £31,632; 1880-1881, £38,493; 1885-1886, £46,627.

The annual cost of the permanent staff of the Legislative Council for salaries is £3270 which includes the Speaker, £600; Chairman of Committees, £420; Clerk to the Council, £600; five other officials, extra assistance during the session, reporting and incidental expenses absorb the balance. In the House of Representatives the cost is about £8000. The general expenses common to both Houses is about £2000. The librarian's department averages £1400 which sum includes the purchase of new books and periodicals. The members of the Upper House receive £150 per annum, and of the popular chamber, £240, the total cost in this respect being upwards of £26,000. The grounds surrounding Parliament House and the drives are well laid out and maintained with commendable neatness, and at night are lit by a powerful electric arc light in the centre of the lawn. During session time only members are allowed access to those portions of the House not specially set apart for the public, but during the recess the buildings may be visited and inspected on an order from the proper authorities.