Ideas for law changes come from many places. Ministers may wish to make changes to current settings to meet Government policy. A crisis may highlight a previously unknown gap or problem with laws. Innovation or change in markets or technology may mean existing laws no longer work as well as they did. The department may generate proposals from its ongoing stewardship assessments of the law and systems it monitors.
The department analyses the idea to develop the policy proposal. This can
be a long and complex process. The department is likely to need to consult
the public and within government, prepare a regulatory impact statement (RIS),
and engage with the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee (LDAC).
Tips: It’s a good idea to assess the following early: the purpose of the
policy proposal, whether legislation is really necessary, who needs to be consulted (and when), and your timing. Good project management is essential. Bring your legal advisers in early.
PCO team managers are happy to help at this policy development stage ‒
even before you get Cabinet decisions. We can:
Alert: If your proposal is urgent or timing is important, talk to us early
for good advice on timing and so we can reallocate drafting priorities or resources in advance.
The department may seek the Minister’s views on the policy and timetable through a number of briefings, or with a draft Cabinet policy paper attached.
Tips: It is essential that you build into your timetable adequate time for
ministerial consultation – it can be protracted and may result in changes
to the proposed policy.
The department needs to ensure the Bill has a priority on
the legislation programme. Under the Cabinet Manual, the PCO drafts
only those Bills that are on the programme (Cabinet Manual 7.51–53).
The Cabinet Office coordinates the Government’s legislation programme.
At the end of each year, the Cabinet Office requests legislation bids for
the next year’s programme. Departments put draft bids to Ministers.
These are submitted to the Leader of the House for the legislation
programme. The Leader of the House seeks Cabinet’s approval of the
legislation programme. Cabinet can also add Bills to the legislation
programme during the year.
Departments need to send draft bids to the PCO for our advice,
particularly on timing. If the PCO advises that the proposed
timetable is not realistic, then indicate this advice clearly
in the bid. There are standard rules of thumb for estimating
timing and complexity of Bills that help with the bid. See below.
The department prepares the Cabinet paper for the Minister’s approval.
The Minister consults with colleagues before submitting the paper to the appropriate Cabinet policy committee. This consultation is important to ensure a smooth legislative process.
Consult your PCO team manager before you submit a paper to Cabinet seeking approval to issue drafting instructions.
Think carefully about policy approvals: are they sufficient but not too
detailed? Do you need a delegation for the Minister to approve detail or minor changes?
The department prepares drafting instructions to implement Cabinet’s policy decisions. Instructions should create a bridge between the policy intent and the changes needed to the law to concretely achieve that intent. Involve legal advisers in the process.
Good instructions set out the policy to be implemented, the legal arena for the proposed legislation, and an analysis of the legal changes that are required. They are one of a number of key building blocks for turning policy into law. See the Instruction Kit for these key building blocks, as well as for instruction templates and other practical tools to help you.
The department sends instructions to the PCO team manager. The team manager will allocate them to 1 or more drafters and send you an email confirming their contact details.
It is often really useful to meet your drafter early to discuss your overall policy intent and context, clear up any initial queries, and discuss process.
Drafting is an iterative process. It requires a number of versions to develop the legislation so that it fully implements the policy and is legally effective.
The PCO tests and develops the instructions into draft legislation. Expect the PCO to ask questions about your policy so we can make sure we understand it and that it will result in workable legislation.
The department reviews drafts, checking them against the intended policy outcomes. Often the lead instructor needs to coordinate comments from multiple people at the department.
Don’t just answer the PCO’s questions. Be ready to read drafts critically, check against instructions, make sure it implements your policy, and check nothing is missing. Read it for internal consistency and readability. Try to respond promptly so that momentum and understanding of issues is not lost.
When the draft is settled, either the PCO or the department consults other government departments and appropriate Crown bodies on the draft legislation (CabGuide). This can be done at the same time you consult departments on your paper that will seek approval to introduce the Bill from the Cabinet Legislation Committee (LEG). However, you need to discuss tricky issues early with key departments.
If the PCO does the consultation, we will use the list of departments you consulted on the policy decisions. Let us know if there are others who should be consulted.
The PCO carries out peer review processes to ensure legal workability and minimise the risk of errors.
Allow 10 working days on a standard Bill – but timing can vary significantly according to size, complexity, and other priorities.
You need to allow time for peer review in your planning, although it can often be done in tandem with other processes like departmental consultation. Check with your drafter about when this needs to be factored in.
Sometimes peer review can result in new issues being discovered, which can be frustrating. However, this is a key opportunity to test the workability of a Bill.
All draft legislation is proofread by editorial staff at the PCO to minimise errors.
Allow 10 working days on a standard Bill.
You need to allow time for proofreading in your planning as it is a key quality assurance step. In practice, it can often be done in tandem with other processes like departmental consultation.
You may want to include an exposure draft process in developing a Bill. Exposure drafts are a useful opportunity for departments to test the draft legislation with stakeholders and the wider public before introduction. This can reduce the scope of issues at select committee. However, they add significant time to the process of developing legislation (usually at least 3‒4 months to allow for the consultation period, analysis of submissions, instructions on changes, and drafting those changes). You will also need to seek approval from your Minister and the Attorney-General (or your Chief Legal Advisor) to carry out this process. So you need to consider these factors carefully before committing to this process.
Make sure you liaise with the PCO on planning if you are considering a public exposure draft.
The department needs to give final minor comments on the policy of the Bill, leaving sufficient time for the drafter to adjust the legislation to reflect these comments and carry out final checks.
This draft is generally the version on which the final checks and Bill of Rights Act vet are done.
The things that you need to have provided to the PCO by this time, if not earlier, are:
The drafter (or sometimes, the department) sends the near-final Bill to the Ministry of Justice
(to the Bill of Rights Act contact at email@example.com) for the vet at least 2 weeks before LEG.
Although this is the formal 2-week period required by the Cabinet Manual,
in practice it is better to discuss any known issues with the ministry earlier.
Give them as much notice as possible of the Bill and allow enough time to work
The PCO often uses the period of the Bill of Rights Act vet to do final checks. It’s critical that policy changes are finished at this point so that we only need to deal with final drafting checks.
Ministerial offices carry out consultation on behalf of the Minister with Ministerial colleagues on the near-final Bill and LEG paper. This is an important opportunity to identify and resolve any residual issues before the LEG meeting.
The PCO prints copies of the Bill and delivers them to Cabinet Office by the deadline for the relevant LEG meeting. The PCO will also provide a copy to you, and a copy to your Minister along with a note that the Bill is being sent to LEG.
You need to prepare and deliver a Cabinet paper for LEG to consider that seeks
approval to introduce the Bill. The deadline is usually 10am on Thursday before LEG.
You need to contact the Cabinet Office if your LEG paper is likely to be late.
The Cabinet Office attaches the Cabinet paper and draft Bill.
LEG meets at 9.15am on Thursday of most sitting weeks.
This is the opportunity for Ministers to ensure that the legislation meets the policy approvals given by Cabinet. It also provides an opportunity to update LEG if there have been minor changes in policy.
Departmental officials attend the LEG meeting so as to answer any Ministers’ questions. However, LEG will often deal with each item on the agenda without calling officials into the room. The drafter does not attend (but the Chief Parliamentary Counsel or Deputy Chief Parliamentary Counsel attends all LEG meetings).
Typically Cabinet meets at 1.00pm on Monday of sitting weeks.
Once LEG (or another policy committee) approves
the Bill, Cabinet will consider it the following
week (or in urgent cases Bills can go directly to Cabinet).
Once Cabinet confirms that the Bill has been approved for introduction,
either you or your Minister’s office need to advise the PCO to print the introduction
copies. You will also need to provide 40 printed copies of the disclosure statement to the House Office.
Once the department or Minister’s office confirms that the Bill has been approved for introduction, the PCO arranges for the Bill to be printed and delivered to the House Office. The House Office will collate the printed copies of the disclosure statement with the printed copies of the Bill.
The PCO sends PDFs of the introduction version to the offices of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, and your Minister, to alert them that the Bill is printed and ready to be introduced.
If timing is tight, remember to let the PCO know as soon as possible that the Bill has been approved for introduction so we can print it for the House.
The Leader of the House (LoH)’s office is responsible for taking the copy of the Bill to the Clerk of the House to be introduced.
If it is a non-sitting working day, the LoH’s office must advise the Clerk before midnight for the Bill to be introduced on that day (although in practice, the Minister’s office would need to warn the Clerk before 5pm if the introduction copy of the Bill was not going to be ready until after 5pm).
If it is a sitting day, the LoH’s office must advise the Clerk before 1 pm for the Bill to be introduced on that day.
The Bill is introduced when the Leader of the House informs the Clerk of the House that the Government wishes the Bill to be introduced. The Office of the Clerk will then notify the PCO that the Bill can be published.
The Bill is available for first reading as follows:
This debate consists of up to 12 x 10-minute speeches.
In this debate, the Minister sets out the reason for the Bill and what it is intended to achieve. At the beginning of the speech, the Minister must nominate the select committee to consider the Bill and indicate any special conditions (for example, an early reporting date or the ability to meet outside normal hours). If a reporting date shorter than 4 months is set, it is a debateable motion.