24 May 2017

An owner's manual for Parliament

From The House, 10:35 pm on 24 May 2017

In the parliamentary chamber, just below the Speaker’s position, is a table where the Clerk of the House sits. The table has a clock, a control panel for the buzzer that tells MPs to end speeches, and a bookcase for handy reference volumes of Speaker’s Rulings, Standing Orders and, usually, a well thumbed and much highlighted volume referred to as McGee.


No caption

Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox



McGee is Parliament’s owner’s manual. It’s a weighty tome that outlines how Parliament is meant to work. The Clerk is the person who, along with many other responsibilities, is the ‘keeper’ of that expertise, and offers advice to MPs and the Speaker about how things should run.


The book's proper name is Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand. The shorter title is the name of the book’s original author, David McGee, who was Clerk of the House from 1985 until 2007 and wrote it in the weekends, by hand.


This week in the Chamber, there is a clean, new edition of McGee in that bookcase. The staff at the Clerk’s table may be a bit lost for a while until it too becomes familiar, dog-eared, and festooned with post-it notes.


The fourth edition of McGee was launched this week at Parliament and I took the opportunity to chat with a hat-trick of Clerks, about the book and the job. They are David McGee, Mary Harris (who succeeded him), and the current Clerk, David Wilson.


All three of them have had a major impact on the volume and were excited to see it in print. Listen to the interview.

Get the new RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to The House

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)