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Row over children in MPs' chairs

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 27/10/2012
Lockwood Smith
LOCKWOOD SMITH: "No staff, members' guests or visitors are to sit in the seats in the chamber at any time."

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A row has broken out over school children being allowed to sit in MPs' chairs.

Speaker Lockwood Smith wrote to all political parties yesterday saying there had been complaints about unruly behaviour during private tours. MPs often show school children and other guests around the debating chamber when Parliament is not sitting.

In the edict, Dr Smith said he had "a number of issues and concerns raised by the Parliamentary Service about the behaviour of members' guests".

He wants party whips to remind MPs: "No staff, members' guests or visitors are to sit in the seats in the chamber at any time . . . desk phones are not to be used and guests should not handle the microphone."

But Labour whip Chris Hipkins has hit back, saying the ban was "unnecessarily draconian".

He said that when he returned from a trip to the United States he would take it up with Dr Smith.

"What many of us have done in the past is say: why don't you all go and take a seat. If I am taking a group through I'll get them to sit in Labour's seats, not National's.

"No-one has really got a problem with that - none of my Labour colleagues are concerned.

"I think he was being unreasonable. If it was a different party's seats, then it would be more of a problem - but I'm not sure this is a problem here. He's getting a bit uptight about something that isn't really an issue."

Strictly speaking, the rules say guests should not sit in MPs' chairs. But Mr Hipkins said: "It's a nice thing to be able to do.

"If they are accompanied by an MP, then we can have some confidence that the dignity of the place is going to be preserved."

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said the note came "out of the blue".

Dr Smith has long been expected to be appointed High Commissioner to London.

In recent weeks Opposition parties have grown increasingly frustrated with him in Parliament.

NZ First leader Winston Peters moved the House have no confidence in him for what he called "abuse of his power as Speaker".

MPs were flummoxed by Dr Smith's decision this week to overturn a 100-year convention and permit the word "hypocrisy" to be used in Parliament.

His office did not respond to a request for comment.

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