Inside the New Zealand House of Representatives

Like its Australian counterpart, the New Zealand House of Representatives’ debating chamber is arranged in a horseshoe shape. The Chamber measures 19.3 by 13.12 metres, which is  smaller than the Canadian  and UK Houses of Commons. As in the other chambers, the Speaker sits at one end, on a dais, and the Clerk and other Table officers are seated at a Table in front of and below the Speaker’s Chair.

The Members sit at desks arranged in three to five tiers. The MPs who are members of the Government side sit on the Speaker’s right, with the members of the executive nearest to the Speaker. The members of the Opposition parties sit on the left, with the members of the shadow cabinet nearest the Speaker, as we can see in this image from Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand:

The Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and deputy to the Leader of the Opposition sit facing each other in recognised front bench seats. Their respective whips are seated immediately behind them. Other Ministers and members are allocated seats within the area of the Chamber occupied by the party to which they belong on a basis determined by the party. As far as practicable, each party occupies a block of seats in the Chamber, so that its members are seated contiguously. It is also a recognised practice that, if at all possible, every party leader should have a front-bench seat. Because New Zealand uses Mixed-Member Proportional voting rather than First-Past-The-Post, coalition government is the norm and so the government side of the House will include all of the parties forming the coalition.

In this image, we note that the horseshoe shape of the Chamber is divided at three points by gangways. One gangway at the far end of the Chamber leads beyond the bar of the House to an exit. The other two gangways are on either side of the Chamber. The one on the Speaker’s right leads into a lobby known as the Ayes Lobby, and the one on the left leads into the Noes Lobby. New Zealand MPs used to use these lobbies for divisions as is done in the British House of Commons, but since adopting MMP voting in 1996, the lobbies are used only for what are called “personal” votes. Party votes – which would be the equivalent of a whipped vote in other parliaments – don’t even require that all MPs be present. If a party indicates that is it voting in favour of a bill or motion, then a number of votes equivalent to the number of MPs that party has is attributed to the Ayes. Because of this, even the Speaker votes in New Zealand, which is not the case in other Westminster-style parliaments. The Speaker’s vote is included in any party vote cast and the Speaker votes in a personal vote, though without going into the lobbies personally – the Speaker’s vote is communicated to the teller from the Speaker’s chair. Because the lobbies are rarely used for divisions, they are now set aside for the exclusive use of members while the House is sitting as a place where they can go to relax.

Ministerial advisers are able to converse with their Minister from a bench situated immediately to the right of the Speaker’s chair (not shown in the diagram). Immediately to the left of the chair there are seats available for former members of Parliament, heads of diplomatic missions and visiting members of overseas parliaments.

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