Cabinet and Cabinet committee procedures

 

Preparing and submitting Cabinet papers

5.36 Papers are submitted to Cabinet committees and Cabinet to enable Ministers to make collective decisions based on sound information. Good papers reflect sound policy development and consultation processes, and are succinct yet sufficiently comprehensive to provide Ministers with all the information they need to reach an informed decision.

5.37 Ministers submit papers to Cabinet or Cabinet committees on issues concerning their own portfolios. Where possible, all papers to Cabinet or Cabinet committees should be signed by the relevant portfolio Minister. If necessary, however, any Minister (including a Minister outside Cabinet but not a Parliamentary Under-Secretary) can sign a Cabinet or Cabinet committee paper on behalf of another. Ministers are responsible for the papers they submit to Cabinet and are expected to be fully conversant with them.

5.38 Associate Ministers may submit papers to Cabinet committees or Cabinet within their designated area of responsibility, provided that the paper clearly indicates that the portfolio Minister has been consulted and agrees with the submission of the paper. This requirement may not apply if responsibility for the matter has been transferred to an Associate Minister because of a conflict of interest. (See paragraph 2.70(c).)

5.39 The Cabinet Office sets standards for the quality, preparation, and submission of papers for Cabinet and Cabinet committees. These standards are set out in the CabGuide.

Deadlines and late papers

5.40 Cabinet and Cabinet committee papers must be submitted to the Cabinet Office before the relevant deadline, which is usually several days before the relevant meeting. See the CabGuide for the current deadlines. Submitting papers on time ensures that Ministers have sufficient time to read and seek advice on papers, and to discuss them with colleagues if required.

5.41 If a Minister wishes to submit a late paper for Cabinet or Cabinet committees, the Minister concerned should, by the deadline for submitting the paper to the Cabinet Office, write to the chair of the committee through the Secretary of the Cabinet or the appropriate committee secretary seeking approval for acceptance of the paper and explaining why inclusion on the agenda is necessary. The Secretary of the Cabinet or committee secretary will consult the Prime Minister or the chair of the committee, and advise the Minister of the outcome.

Amendments to papers

5.42 Amendments to Cabinet or Cabinet committee papers already lodged with the Cabinet Office will not be accepted unless the change is of a minor editorial nature. If a Minister wishes to make substantive amendments to a paper he or she has already submitted, the usual practice is to withdraw the original paper and submit a new one.

5.43 The Cabinet Office will not accept changes suggested by one Minister to another Minister's paper before a meeting. The Minister should suggest any proposed changes at the meeting considering the paper.

Withdrawal of papers

5.44 Once the Cabinet Office has issued an agenda, a paper can be withdrawn or deferred only at the meeting for which it was prepared. The Minister who signed the paper should provide notice of withdrawal as soon as possible, so that the chair can be informed.

Agendas

5.45 The Cabinet Office compiles the agendas for Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings, on behalf of the Prime Minister and the chairs of committees.

5.46 The Secretary of the Cabinet is required to ensure that the agenda for Cabinet itself contains only items that have already been considered by a Cabinet committee unless there are exceptional circumstances. As a rule, only proposals requiring urgent consideration or papers proposing or reporting on overseas travel should be considered by Cabinet without first being considered by a committee. If a Minister wishes to submit a paper directly to Cabinet, the prior agreement of the Prime Minister must be obtained.

Oral items

5.47 In cases of particular urgency or confidentiality, or to test preliminary support for a proposal, a Minister may wish to raise an oral item at a Cabinet or Cabinet committee meeting. Oral items for Cabinet will be accepted only with the prior approval of the Prime Minister, and should be notified to the Secretary of the Cabinet. For Cabinet committee meetings, the office of the Minister raising an oral item must inform the secretary of the committee so that the secretary is able to give the chair prior notice of the Minister's intention.

5.48 Oral items at Cabinet (preceded by a letter to the Prime Minister) are also the means by which Cabinet's agreement is sought for a Cabinet committee (or specified group of Ministers) to have power to act on a particular item. (See paragraph 5.9.)

5.49 Detailed guidance about the requirements for oral items can be found in the CabGuide.

Minutes

5.50 The Cabinet Office produces and distributes minutes of decisions as soon as possible after each meeting, recording the decisions in a form that enables the necessary action to be taken. The minutes do not record the detail of discussions at the meeting.

5.51 Further information on the distribution of minutes can be found in the CabGuide.

Meetings

5.52 Cabinet usually meets in the Cabinet room on Mondays for most weeks of the year. Special Cabinet meetings may be held at other times and other places, if necessary.

5.53 Cabinet committees meet on a weekly or fortnightly basis, usually on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Ad hoc committees meet as required. The Cabinet Office provides information about Cabinet committee meeting times to Ministers' offices and the public service.

Chairs of meetings

5.54 Meetings of Cabinet are chaired by the Prime Minister (or the next most senior Minister present, if the Prime Minister is absent). Cabinet committees are chaired by the designated chair (or, in the chair's absence, the most senior committee member present).

Attendance of Ministers

5.55 Ministers in Cabinet must attend every meeting of Cabinet, unless the Prime Minister has granted prior written approval on the required form in the Ministerial Office Handbook.

5.56 Ministers are expected to attend all meetings of the Cabinet committees of which they are members. If Ministers (including those who are not members of the committee but have papers on an agenda) are unable to attend, their senior private secretaries must advise the committee secretary before the meeting. This process enables the chair to be advised, and necessary adjustments to be made to the agenda.

5.57 A Minister who is unable to attend a Cabinet committee meeting may wish to brief another Minister (or his or her Associate Minister) to speak to a paper, or to ask for it to be deferred in his or her absence. Ministers who are members of select committees are expected to give priority to attendance at select committee meetings over attendance at Cabinet committee meetings.

5.58 When a Cabinet committee is to discuss a matter within the portfolio responsibility of a Minister who is not a member of the committee, the Minister will be sent the relevant papers and may attend the meeting for the item(s) concerned.

5.59 Arrangements for the representation of coalition partners at Cabinet committees, and the attendance at committees of representatives of parties supporting the government, are determined by the Prime Minister in consultation with other coalition/support party leaders.

Quorum

 

5.60 A quorum for Cabinet meetings is half the full membership of Cabinet, plus one. The chair of a Cabinet meeting may vary the quorum requirements, if necessary.

5.61 There is no formal quorum for Cabinet committee meetings, although it is usually regarded as being three members. The quorum is decided by the chair of the meeting, taking into account the importance of the items under consideration, the presence of appropriate Ministers, and the advisability of taking decisions if few Ministers are present.

Attendance of officials and visiting dignitaries at Cabinet

5.62 The Secretary of the Cabinet and the Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet, who provide secretariat services to Cabinet, are the only officials to attend Cabinet meetings regularly. Occasionally, senior public service officials may be invited to give a special presentation to Ministers in the Cabinet room.

5.63 Visiting dignitaries may occasionally be invited to meet with members of Cabinet in the Cabinet room. Such invitations should not be issued until the Prime Minister's approval has been obtained and arrangements made with the Secretary of the Cabinet and the Visits and Ceremonial Office of the Department of Internal Affairs (see www.dia.govt.nz).

Attendance of officials at Cabinet committee meetings

5.64 Relevant officials are required to be available to assist Ministers at Cabinet committee meetings. For detailed information about attendance at Cabinet committee meetings, see the CabGuide.

Financial matters and Cabinet

 

Government spending

5.65 Government spending must always be based on statutory authority. The government must have authority from Parliament to spend money before expenditure is incurred. This means that departments should check that proposed spending has been authorised by either:

  1. an Appropriation (Estimates or Supplementary Estimates) Act; or
  2. a Cabinet minute authorising expenses or capital expenditure to be met under an Imprest Supply Act pending passage of an Appropriation Act.

Expenditure should never be incurred on the basis that legislation will be introduced later to validate that expenditure.

The Budget cycle

 

5.66 Wherever possible, government spending should be planned and agreed by Cabinet during the annual Budget cycle. The Budget cycle has several phases, starting late in the calendar year before the start of the financial year. In broad terms, these phases are:

  1. Establishing high-level Budget priorities:Under the fiscal responsibility provisions in the Public Finance Act 1989, the government must indicate the high-level financial and policy priorities guiding the preparation of the forthcoming Budget. These priorities are agreed by Cabinet and published in the annual Budget Policy Statement, which is usually published in November or December. Cabinet also agrees to the Budget timetable and process (which are usually promulgated by way of Cabinet Office or Treasury circulars).
  2. Making detailed Budget decisions: Cabinet then considers more detailed Budget proposals for each Vote, in line with the priorities set out in the Budget Policy Statement. Budget baselines, which set out the funding levels for existing policy over the next four or five financial years, are determined by Cabinet or by joint Ministers under authority delegated by Cabinet. Cabinet also considers proposals for new policies or changes in the size or cost of existing initiatives.
  3. Presenting to the House:Once Cabinet has completed final Budget decisions, the Budget documents are finalised, printed, and presented to the House, usually in May or June. The parliamentary processes are set out in the chapter on financial procedures in the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives (the Standing Orders).

5.67 The office of the Minister of Finance or the Treasury can provide further information on any aspect of the Budget cycle.

5.68 Outside the Budget cycle, practical or political considerations may require Cabinet to take decisions with financial implications. Special arrangements (including a requirement to consult the Minister of Finance) are in place to ensure that individual proposals do not run counter to Cabinet's decisions on Budget financial and policy priorities.

5.69 The details of these arrangements are set out in the CabGuide and Cabinet Office circular CO (02) 17 Guidelines for Changes to Baselines.

The Crown's financial veto

 

5.70 Some parliamentary initiatives may have an impact on the government's fiscal aggregates or the composition of a Vote. Departments, other agencies with policy responsibilities, and Ministers' offices must have processes for identifying such initiatives, which may require the exercise of the Crown's financial veto in the House. The financial veto is discussed in more detail in paragraphs 7.123 - 7.125.

Regulatory impact analysis

5.71 All policy proposals submitted to Cabinet that result in government bills (or a government decision to support or adopt a non-government bill), or disallowable instruments must be accompanied by a regulatory impact statement, unless an exemption applies. Full information about regulatory impact analysis, and the requirements and exemptions for a regulatory impact statement are set out in the CabGuide.

Constitutional issues and Cabinet

5.72 Any proposal that will affect New Zealand's constitutional arrangements must be submitted to Cabinet. Where significant constitutional change is contemplated, issues of process and appropriate public participation must be clearly and fully addressed in the Cabinet paper.

International treaties and Cabinet

5.73 Any proposal to sign an international treaty or agreement or to take binding treaty action must be submitted, with the text of the treaty, to Cabinet for approval. Binding treaty actions include ratification, accession, acceptance, definitive signature, approval, withdrawal, or denunciation of an international treaty or agreement.

5.74 Where a treaty or agreement is to be presented to the House of Representatives before binding treaty action is taken, a national interest analysis must also be prepared and submitted to Cabinet. Details of the approval process relating to international treaties and agreements are set out in paragraphs 7.112 - 7.122, and in the CabGuide.

Cabinet and the Resource Management Act 1991

5.75 Cabinet has agreed processes for consultation and decision making to be followed for ministerial interventions under the Resource Management Act 1991. Cabinet must be consulted when a Minister is considering or proposing certain interventions under the Act. Guidance on the procedures to be followed is set out in Cabinet Office circular CO (06) 7 Ministerial Interventions under the Resource Management Act 1991.

Referral to Cabinet of decisions taken outside the Cabinet process

 

5.76 Decisions taken by Ministers at ad hoc meetings, and proposals to implement policies arising from manifesto commitments or coalition or support agreements, need to be referred through the Cabinet process if they concern matters that would usually be considered by Cabinet. (See paragraph 5.12.) This process ensures that:

  1. the proper consultation process is followed;
  2. decisions are taken with the authority of Cabinet;
  3. departments and the Parliamentary Counsel Office have clear instructions;
  4. the financial implications of decisions taken outside the Cabinet process can be taken into account.