Media Briefing: Review of Civil List Act
MEDIA BRIEFING – LAW COMMISSION R119 REVIEW OF THE CIVIL LIST ACT 1979 MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT AND MINISTERS
The status quo
1. In 2007, the Government asked the Law Commission to review the Civil List Act 1979. The Act had not been comprehensively reviewed since 1979, and many of its provisions were seen as out-dated and confusing. This is the Law Commission’s second report in this review: the first report resulted in the Governor-General Act 2010, which was passed into law in November.
2. The Civil List Act 1979 forms part of the complex legislative framework that governs salaries, allowances and other entitlements for members of Parliament and Ministers. In summary, the various provisions result in the following arrangements:
(a) the Remuneration Authority determines salaries and allowances for members of Parliament and Ministers.
(b) the Speaker of the House of Representatives determines the entitlements of members of Parliament to travel, accommodation, attendance and communications services. (Communications services are landline rentals, fax machines, and internet and cellular services). These entitlements are administered by the Parliamentary Service, and are not currently subject to the Official Information Act 1982.
(c) the Prime Minister is responsible for setting any additional or alternative travel, accommodation, attendance and communications services for government Ministers. These entitlements are administered by Ministerial Services, and are subject to the Official Information Act 1982.
(d) funding made available by Parliament to support members and parties in carrying out their parliamentary responsibilities (generally referred to as party and member support funding) is administered by the Parliamentary Service in accordance with the directions of the Speaker. It is therefore the Speaker who effectively decides how that money is allocated and what it may be used for. For example, the Speaker’s directions currently set out the amounts allocated for funding leaders’ offices, whips’ offices and research operations, and individual members (which presently depend on electorate size, whether the electorate is Maori or non-Maori, and whether the member is a list or constituency member of Parliament). The
Speaker also determines administratively the services that must be provided in kind to members such as staff support and office accommodation in Parliament.
(e) the Speaker’s Directions also set out travel entitlements for former members of Parliament who were elected before 1999.
3. The Law Commission is concerned that the current framework is unclear and lacks independence and transparency. These three principles: clarity, independence and transparency, underlie the recommendations set out in Report 119. The rules and the statutory framework should be as clear as possible. Decisions about entitlements to funding and services should be made by a body independent of the people who stand to benefit from those decisions. The Official Information Act 1982 should extend to the administration of all entitlements to funding and services, not just those administered by Ministerial Services.
4. The Law Commission recommends that an independent body should determine travel, accommodation and communication services for members of Parliament and Ministers, and entitlements to other services to support parties’ and members’ parliamentary operations (which currently come within the party and member support funding and staffing entitlements referred to above). The Commission’s recommendations are reflected in a draft Bill attached to its report.
5. Similar recommendations by other reviews have been rejected in the past on the basis that an independent body will not understand the needs of Parliament.
6. The Commission agrees that Parliament is a unique workplace. Those who have not been involved in the parliamentary environment may not fully appreciate the services and support members of Parliament require to perform their roles. But this concern is not insurmountable. It can be addressed in the membership of the independent regulatory body, and the design of its consultation processes.
7. The Law Commission recommends that the independent body determining these entitlements to funding and services should be an enhanced Remuneration Authority. It should be made up of the members of the Remuneration Authority, with the addition of two new members: a former member of Parliament with no less than nine years’ experience, and a person with appropriate skills and experience in the administration of Parliament.
8. The Remuneration Authority already determines salary and allowances for members of Parliament and Ministers. If the Law Commission’s recommendations are adopted, the Remuneration Authority would have oversight of the whole package of support for members of Parliament. This would enhance independence, and reduce the risk of confusion that can arise when members claim entitlements under more than one set of rules.
Official Information Act
9. The Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) does not apply to the Parliamentary Service. This means that payments to members of Parliament which are administered by the Parliamentary Service are not subject to the OIA. Since June 2009 the Parliamentary Service and the Office of the Clerk have provided information on members’ travel and accommodation expenses on a quarterly basis. While this is commendable, voluntary disclosure is not the same as a statutory entitlement to information. The Law Commission considers that there should be greater transparency in this regard. The report recommends that the OIA should apply to the Parliamentary Service.
10. However, the OIA should not apply to proceedings in Parliament, or to information held by members in their capacity as members of Parliament, such as correspondence with their constituents.
11. The report considers the question of deductions in pay for members who are absent from the House for prolonged periods without leave. At the moment the Civil List Act 1979 only allows for the deduction of $10 a day from a member’s pay, and only after the member has been absent for 14 days. The Law Commission recommends that if a member of Parliament is absent for more than nine sitting days in a year (which is effectively three weeks of Parliament), the sum which can be deducted from his or her pay should be significantly increased, to 0.2% of the annual salary of an ordinary member for each day of absence. (This would currently equate to $262 a day.)
Former members of Parliament and Prime Ministers
12. The Civil List Act 1979 provides the authority for the provision of travel entitlements for former Prime Ministers, and for former members of Parliament elected before
1999. Former Prime Ministers currently receive unlimited domestic travel, and the use of official cars. Former members of Parliament who were elected to Parliament before 1999 are entitled to rebates on a limited number of domestic and international air fares. The level of rebate depends on the number of parliamentary terms the member has served, and is calculated according to a schedule set out in the Speaker’s Directions.
13. In relation to former members, the report recommends that if travel entitlements do continue, they should be set out in legislation so they cannot be increased without parliamentary scrutiny. The report suggests a review of the unrestricted nature of travel entitlements for former Prime Ministers might be timely, and that in the interests of transparency, the cost of travel and transport for former Prime Ministers and their spouses should be included in the annual financial statements of the Department of Internal Affairs.
 As a former member of Parliament elected before 1999 and a former Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer receives travel entitlements under the Civil List Act 1979. (He does not receive an annuity as a former Prime Minister, as he held office for less than 2 years.) Sir Geoffrey has disclosed his interest according to the terms of the Crown Entities Act 2004 to the Minister Responsible for the Law Commission, and received his permission, by letter dated 18 August 2009, under section 68 of that Act, to continue as Commissioner in charge of this review, on the condition that the review would not consider the amount of payments made to former members of Parliament and Prime Ministers, but would seek to clarify the legislative framework and improve transparency.