The House of Representatives of the Colony is a copy of the British House of Commons. At present it consists of seventy-four members—seventy European and four Maori representatives. By Proclamation dated the 5th of March, 1853, the number was fixed by Sir George [unclear: Gre]y at thirty-seven, and it is somewhat curious at the present day to note the distribution of the seats and the relative importance of the districts at that period. Auckland returned twelve members, three for the city and nine for the country districts; New Plymouth, one town member and two for the country; Wellington, three for the town (it was not then a city) and five for the country, as follows: two for the Hutt, one for Wellington country districts, one for Wanganui and Rangitikei, and one for Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay; Nelson town sent two, and the country districts, including Marlborough, four; Dunedin sent one, and all the rest of Otago and Southland two. Before the first Parliament met in May of the following year there had been three resignations, so that there were forty names on the original roll of the House. There have been frequent alterations and distributions in the number and names of the electorates as one portion of the Colony made more rapid strides than another, the most remarkable alterations having been due to the stimulus of gold discoveries, through which Otago took a leading position and the West Coast came into existence as a centre of population. From 1881 to 1890 the House consisted of ninety-five members, and was in the latter year reduced to the present number, seventy-four, each of whom represents an average of about 9000 of the population. The four chief cities, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin, return three members each, all the others being single electorates. The elections are triennial, unless a dissolution takes place. The qualification for a member is simply registration as an elector, and not coming within the meaning of section 2 of the “Public Offenders Disqualification Act, 1867.” Contractors to the Public Service of the Colony, when for any sum exceeding £50 in any one year are ineligible, as are also Civil Servants. The qualification of electors is fixed on the broadest basis. Every man or woman in the Colony of twenty-one years of age or upwards can register if resident one year in the Colony and three months in one electoral district; the same privilege applies to the Maoris, who, however, need not register, and no elector can register in more than one electoral district. Members of the House receive £20 per month as payment for their services, and travelling expenses to and from Wellington are allowed, This scale of payment came into force on the 1st of January, 1892; previous to that it was £210, and in the earlier days it was £150. Twenty members constitute a quorum, and the regular sitting days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and towards the end of the sessions Monday is often taken as well. The House meets at 2.30 p.m., and sits till 5.30, resuming at 7.30 p.m., and sitting generally till midnight, and frequently till daylight.
As regards the functions of the House of Representatives, they are of a wide and all-embracing character. It is the indisputable right and privilege of the representatives of the people that all grants and subsidies or parliamentary aids begin in their House and are first bestowed by them, although their grants are not effectual to all intents and purposes until they have the assent of the other branch of the Legislature. The general reason given for this exclusive privilege is that the supplies are raised from the body of the people, and therefore it is proper they should tax themselves through their representatives, a reason which would be unanswerable if they did only tax themselves. The act of the majority of the House binds the whole, and this majority is declared by votes openly and publicly given. The Speaker never votes unless the votes are equal, when he has a casting vote. The course of procedure in legislation is as follows:—A Bill originating in the House is brought in on a motion to obtain leave for that purpose. The Bill is then read a first time, and ordered to be printed, and, after a convenient interval, read a second time; at that stage, if successfully
opposed, it must be dropped for that session. After the second reading it is referred to a Committee, which is either selected by the House specially, or else the House resolves itself into a committee of the whole. The Speaker quits the chair, and the Chairman of Committees then presides, and the Speaker may sit and debate as a private member. The Bill is debated clause by clause, amendments made, and blanks filled up. Sometimes the Bill is entirely remodelled, and emerges from the Committee stage in an entirely different form from which it entered it. Then the House considers the whole Bill again, and when it has agreed on all the clauses, the Bill is ordered to be reprinted. It is then read a third time, and if no new amendments are made the Speaker puts the question, “That this bill do now pass.” If this is agreed to, the title of it is then settled, and it is sent to the Legislative Council, and there passes through the same forms. If amendments are made there, it is sent back to the House of Representatives to receive the concurrence of
Photo by Mr. T. Pringle.
Interior—House Of Representatives.
members, and if the House disagrees with them, a Conference takes place, an equal number of managers being appointed from each branch, and they generally settle and adjust the differences, but if both Houses remain inflexible the Bill is dropped. If it finally passes, it then receives the assent of the Governor, and becomes an Act or Statute. The conduct of the House is guided by Standing Orders, of which the Speaker is the exponent. In cases of emergency such as arise when it is expedient to carry a Bill through all its stages at one sitting, Standing Orders are suspended. This has been done in recent years with regard to banking legislation; and it is usual to suspend the rules when any change is made in the Tariff, although such a course was not adopted with the two Tariff Bills of 1895, to the great disorganisation of the trade of the Colony. Parliament may be adjourned, prorogued or dissolved. An adjournment is the continuance of the session from one day to another, and this is done by the authority of the House itself. A prorogation is the continuance of the Parliament from one session to another; both Houses are necessarily prorogued at the same time. A dissolution is the civil death of a Parliament, and may come about by the Governor, on the advice of his ministers,
declaring it dissolved, or it may expire by the effluxion of time. Ministers may apply for a dissolution if they are defeated on a policy measure which they have reason to believe is the desire of the country, and on that, the Governor, if he sees fit, grants a dissolution and a fresh election takes place. If ministers secure a majority they continue in office, if they are defeated they resign, and the Governor sends for the Leader of the Opposition who then forms a Cabinet to conduct the affairs of the State. Such in brief is the nature of the Constitution the Colony enjoys, which is one of the freest in the world.