Committee of the Whole House
After a Bill has been reported back, the department and the PCO both need to review the Bill to check whether any further amendments are needed. There may also be changes in policy thinking or political objectives that mean an amendment is needed to the Bill.
Tip: Standing Orders limit the nature of amendments that can be made to a
Bill: amendments must be relevant to a Bill’s subject matter, consistent with a Bill’s
principles and objects, and otherwise conform to Standing Orders. See Standing Order 310.
Amendments that are very significant may (even if permitted under Standing Orders) raise the question of whether the Bill and SOP should be referred back to the select committee for further consideration.
There are a number of key workability issues that both the PCO and the instructors need to check (this is our last opportunity). See below.
The size and scope of SOPs range widely - from minor technical amendments to broad policy rewrites of the original Bill. As a result, the process needed to approve and develop an SOP differs widely. At its simplest, the PCO may prepare an SOP addressing minor or technical changes without the need for policy approval and the Minister may approve that SOP. However, SOPs that make substantive policy changes need to go through the usual Cabinet approval process.
An SOP is either prepared as a document that amends the original Bill or as a “revision-tracked SOP”, where the Bill is presented with proposed changes marked up. Presenting the amendments as an RT SOP makes the effect of the changes easier for MPs to assess. However, it may not be justified, for example, if there are only a few amendments.
If the need for a policy amendment is identified, the department analyses the idea to develop the policy proposal. It is important that you consult your drafter on policy proposals, particularly for their advice on workability.
If the policy amendments are significant, the policy needs to be approved by Cabinet before the PCO can draft the changes. More minor policy amendments can be approved by the Minister for drafting.
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.
Very significant policy changes may raise an issue of whether the SOP should be referred to the select committee for its consideration.
It is important that you consult your drafter on policy proposals, particularly for their advice on workability.
After policy approval is obtained, the department instructs the PCO to draft the amendments to implement Cabinet’s policy decisions.
The best method for instructions at this stage depends on the extent of amendments, their policy content, and the timing of the Bill. But if you have a significant policy SOP, PCO’s template for instructions (.docx 22KB) may still be helpful to guide you through the issues that need to be covered.
The department sends instructions to the PCO drafter already assigned to the Bill.
As always, stay available to explain your policy intent and any context to your drafter, clear up any initial queries, and discuss process.
Depending on the size and complexity of the SOP, a number of versions of an SOP may be needed to ensure it fully implements the policy and is legally effective.
As at the pre-introduction stage, don’t just answer the PCO’s questions. Be ready to read drafts of the SOP critically, check against instructions, make sure the SOP implements your policy, and check nothing is missing. Read it for internal consistency and readability. Remember to check that the SOP changes don’t require consequential changes in the rest of the Bill.
When the draft SOP is settled, depending on whether the SOP is relevant to other departments, either you or the PCO may need to consult other departments and appropriate Crown bodies (CabGuide).
The PCO carries out peer review processes on SOPs to ensure legal workability and minimise the risk of errors.
The amount of time needed to peer review an SOP varies widely depending on its size and complexity, so check with your drafter if timing is critical.
Sometimes peer review results in new issues being discovered, which can be frustrating. However, this is a key opportunity to test the workability of an SOP.
All draft SOPs are proofread by editorial staff at the PCO to minimise errors.
The amount of time needed for proofreading an SOP varies widely depending on its size and complexity, so check with your drafter if timing is critical.
It’s critical that policy changes are finished at this point so that the PCO only needs to deal with final drafting checks at this stage.
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.
If an SOP is substantive and needs to be approved by LEG, the PCO prints copies of the SOP and delivers them to Cabinet Office by the deadline for the relevant LEG meeting. You need to prepare and deliver a Cabinet paper for LEG on its decision to approve the SOP. Cabinet Office attaches the Cabinet paper and draft SOP.
If an SOP does not need approval by LEG, the PCO provides a copy of the SOP to you for the Minister to approve printing for the House.
If the SOP only needs approval by the Minister, you may need to liaise with the Minister’s office to ensure that approval is obtained and communicated promptly to the PCO.
LEG meets at 9.15am on Thursday of most sitting weeks.
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 an SOP for printing, the SOP is referred to Cabinet the following week to confirm that decision. (In urgent cases, SOPs can go directly to Cabinet for approval.)
If the SOP is not substantive, the Minister’s approval of the SOP is sufficient for the PCO to print the SOP for the House (without going to LEG or Cabinet).
After Cabinet or the Minister has approved the SOP for printing, the PCO prints the SOP. The Office of the Clerk holds the SOP until the Minister authorises release. On release, the Office of the Clerk distributes printed copies to MPs and authorises the PCO to publish the SOP to legislation.govt.nz.
Tip: It is good practice to release SOPs at least 24 hours before a Committee stage to enable the House, and broader public, to be informed before the debate.
It’s important that the Minister’s office lets the PCO know as soon as possible once the SOP is approved for printing, as delays at this stage can impact on the timing and smooth running of the Committee stage.