07 June 2013

Recognition of United First

Now that the United First Party has been de-registered - and is seeking re-registration - as a political party with the Electoral Commission, should it still enjoy recognition as a party in Parliament?
Clearly, opposition parties think that it should not have recognition, and that Peter Dunne, leader of United First, should be treated only as an independent MP, and thus have his parliamentary funding as a party leader removed.
My first reaction was to agree with the opposition parties, but a closer look at the Standing Orders of Parliament is warranted. Registration as a party with the Electoral Commission (to stand for the general election) is administered independently from the Speaker's recognition of a party in the House. United First was presumably legally registered for the 2011 election, and Peter Dunne, its leader, was duly elected as a member. After the election, the Speaker recognised United Future as a party 'for parliamentary purposes' under standing order 34(1). To spell it out more fully, though: 'Every political party registered under Part 4 of the Electoral Act 1993, and in whose interest a member was elected at the preceding general election ..., is entitled to be recognised as a party for parliamentary purposes.'
Note that this recognition by the Speaker is for parliamentary purposes, and not for electoral purposes.
The Standing Orders are silent on what should happen if a party de-registers with the (independent) Electoral Commission in mid-term, thus jeopardising its eligibility to stand at the next election (as distinct from 'the preceding election').
But the phrase 'registered under Part 4 of the Electoral Act 1993' in standing order 34(1) is crucial. It was introduced with the 2011 amendments to the Standing Orders. Part 4 of the Electoral Act deals with the registration of political parties and the Electoral Commission's duties in that process. And 34(1)'s requirement of registration seems to apply in the present-tense, and not just for the (past-tense) purposes of 'the preceding election.'
So, if United Future is not presently registered with the Electoral Commission as a political party, then it cannot (for the time being) be recognised as a party for parliamentary purposes. This has consequences for the parliamentary funding that United Future may be entitled to. Even though the time that elapses between United Future's de-registration and its (probable) re-registration may only amount to a few weeks, a deduction from its MP's parliamentary funding could be called for.


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