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New Cabinet Manual reflects modern environment

9 April 2001 Media Statement

New Cabinet Manual reflects modern environment

Prime Minister Helen Clark said the new, revised Cabinet Manual ¡V which sets rules and procedures for Ministers ¡V reflects the changed environment with MMP and coalition governments.

"Changes to the Manual were signalled in the coalition agreement between the Labour Party and the Alliance. We said then that the procedures needed updating to facilitate the management of coalition government.

"The revised Manual contains significant new material. It amends the doctrine of collective responsibility to allow coalition partners to express differentiated positions, within an agreed framework.

"There is a completely new chapter covering elections, the post-election transition period and government formation. There are also amended provisions regarding consultation between coalition partners, and between the government and other parties represented in Parliament.

"The text of the Manual has also been reviewed and updated so that key constitutional and administrative procedures appear with greater clarity," Helen Clark said.

The first edition of the Cabinet Manual was issued in 1979. Since then, it has been amended from time to time, most recently in 1996. This is the first major review for a decade.

The 2001 edition of the Cabinet Manual is available on the Cabinet Office website, at



Chapter 1 : Governor-General and Executive Council

„h Procedures for meetings of the Executive Council: The procedures for meetings of the Executive Council have been considerably streamlined (much of this material will be in the Cabinet Office Step by Step Guide).

Chapter 2 : Ministers of the Crown: Appointment, Role and Responsibility

„h The appointment and role of Prime Minister: The role of the Prime Minister is now more fully covered.
„h The Deputy Prime Minister: A section on the role of the Deputy Prime Minister has been added.
„h Section 7 of the Constitution Act: A section summarising the effect of section 7 of the Constitution Act has been added. Section 7 allows for a Minister to act for another Minister.
„h Acting Ministers: These paragraphs clarify in practical terms the relationship between the absent portfolio Minister and the acting Minister.
„h Resignations and dismissals of Ministers: these paragraphs summarise the principles and procedures relevant to resignations and dismissals of Ministers.
„h Ministers¡¦ interests: A number of changes have been made concerning the following issues: dealing with conflicts of interest, constituency interests, the interests of family, whanau and personal friends, association with non-public organisations, conflicts relating to Bills in the House, and inaugural flights.
„h Legal proceedings involving Ministers: This existing material has been moved from chapter 5 and updated.
„h The role and conduct of the public service: Some general introductory material concerning the role of the public service has been added to provide some context for the guidance that follows. Where detailed guidance is duplicated by the State Services Commission, it has been removed.
„h Chief executives: This material has been expanded to provide a better overall summary of the role of chief executives, and their relationship with their Ministers.
„h Crown entities: This section is new and is based on the work that has been undertaken over the last few years. The text is based on the principles set out in Cabinet Office circular CO (99) 13.
„h State-owned enterprises: This section is new, and provides a brief overview of the relationship between Ministers and State-owned enterprises.
„h Non-departmental advisers to Ministers: This section picks up comments made by the Auditor-General over the last few years and fills a gap in the previous Manual.

Chapter 3 : Cabinet Decision Making

„h The role, powers and membership of Cabinet: Existing material has been expanded to clarify the nature of Cabinet and the fact that it regulates its own procedure.
„h Items for consideration by Cabinet: The list of items that must be brought to Cabinet has been consolidated.
„h Consultation between Ministers: These amended provisions emphasise the importance of effective consultation between coalition partners.
„h Collective responsibility: The new paragraphs on collective responsibility allow coalition parties to express differentiated positions, within an agreed framework.
„h The exercise of Ministers¡¦ statutory powers in the collective Cabinet context: This section is new. It reflects guidance developed over the last four or five years.
„h The Budget cycle: These paragraphs are new, and fill a gap in the previous Manual.

Chapter 4 : Elections, Transitions and Government Formation

„h Elections: These paragraphs provide introductory information about the term of Parliament and the mechanisms by which Parliament is dissolved and elections held.
„h Mid-term transitions: This section reflects the widely accepted constitutional principle that during a mid-term transition, the role of the Governor-General is to ascertain the will of the House, and that it is for politicians to resolve political uncertainty.
„h Caretaker convention: This section incorporates the current circular on the operation of the caretaker (CO (99) 5) with no substantive changes.
„h Government formation: This section explains the constitutional principles that govern the government formation process. These principles, which were identified and explained by constitutional experts and by the Governor-General before the introduction of proportional representation, were applied without any controversy in the 1996 and 1999 elections and are now widely accepted and understood.
„h Provision of information by the public service to negotiating parties: This section reflects guidance provided to the public service during the 1996 and 1999 elections, and refers readers to more detailed guidelines issued by the State Services Commission.
„h Briefing an incoming government: Existing guidance has been amended to allow the public service to respond more flexibly to requests for briefings during the post-election period (with the consent of the incumbent Prime Minister and the Prime Minister-designate and with the knowledge of the State Services Commissioner).
„h Incoming and outgoing Ministers: The technical guidance concerning incoming and outgoing Ministers reflects advice that has previously been provided by way of Cabinet Office circular in the pre-election period.

Chapter 5 : Legislation and the Executive

„h Officials and select committees: Most of the detailed guidance on this issue has been removed, because it is provided to the public service by the State Services Commission.
„h Presentation of international treaties to the House: This section reflects the guidance currently in CO (98) 4, as amended by Cabinet earlier this year.

Chapter 6 : Official Information: Protection, Availability and Disclosure

„h Unauthorised release of official information: A new paragraph outlines the options for responding to leaks.
„h Requests for Cabinet papers: Previously the Manual required Ministers and officials to notify the Cabinet Office when Cabinet papers or minutes were released. This requirement has been replaced with a requirement that those releasing Cabinet papers or minutes are responsible for keeping a record of those releases.
„h Production or discovery of official documents in legal proceedings: This existing material has been moved from chapter 5 and updated.
„h Disclosure of documents by former Ministers: These procedures have been reviewed to ensure that they are consistent with the Official Information Act. The Manual now states that if former Ministers wish to disclose information dating from their time in office, they should contact the Cabinet Office, which will arrange for the relevant department/Minister to assess the information under the Official Information Act. This procedure will mean that appropriate considerations (in terms of the Act) can be taken into account before a decision is taken on the release of the material.
The convention on access to documents of a previous administration: This procedure has been streamlined and clarified, but remains essentially the same. The requirement that departments/Ministers¡¦ offices transfer requests for documents of a previous administration to the Cabinet Office has been replaced with a requirement to advise the Cabinet Office of the request, so that the Cabinet Office can manage the consultation with the Opposition.


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