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Study recommends more MPs and longer parliamentary terms

27 June 2019

A report from the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies suggests the number of MPs be increased to 150, from the current 120 (or 121 in the case of an overhang), and for four-year terms.

The “Foresight, insight and oversight: Enhancing long-term governance through better parliamentary scrutiny” report written by Jonathan Boston, David Bagnall and Anna Parry also suggests changing the way subject committees organise and conduct their activities; a written, entrenched constitution with the status of supreme law; and amending the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to enhance protections for future generations.

The authors says the small number of MPs reduces Parliament’s capacity to undertake detailed scrutiny and oversight activities. “Most democracies with a broadly comparable population to New Zealand have a larger legislature (eg, Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Norway),” they say (p 184).

They note that the size of the House has not been increased since the introduction of proportional representation in 1996 even though the population has risen during the ensuing years from about 3.7 million to over 4.9 million.

However, they say a referendum would be required on the issue.

The suggestion to increase parliamentary terms is based on the premise that it would provide more time to address major, long-term issues and seek cross-party agreement on possible solutions. “In terms of parliamentary scrutiny, it would enable select committees to undertake more thorough and detailed investigations of important issues and governmental performance” (p 183).

If the parliamentary term were extended, even by a year, it would “almost certainly” reduce the turnover of MPs, “thereby enhancing the length of their tenure”, leading to the expansion of the depth of experience and expertise of members.

By international standards, New Zealand’s parliamentary term is short. Research found that, of 190 lower houses and unicameral national legislatures, only nine have a term of three years or less, 74 have a four-year term and 103 have a five-year term.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019