Generally, as a State servant, you should respond to any approach by a Member of Parliament (regardless of their political affiliation) in the same way as you would respond to an approach by a member of the public.

Any requests for information or services over and above what would normally be provided to the public must be referred to your chief executive, who will generally advise the responsible Minister and agree with the Minister what response (if any) is appropriate.

Questions to make you think

  • Is an MP asking you to go beyond what you would provide to any member of the public?
  • Is the MP asking for something that could be for ‘party political’ business?
  • Is the approach during the pre-election period?

Guidance

State servants must take care in dealing with MPs, because of MPs’ legitimate political role and the need for State service impartiality.  

MPs may be acting on party business, on behalf of their constituents, or in a private capacity. All enquiries by MPs to State service agencies should be managed in a strictly impartial way.

All agencies will have guidance about how these matters are dealt with.  If you are in doubt about the nature of an approach, or it cannot be addressed as if it were a query from a member of the public, you should check with your manager, who may refer the matter to your chief executive and/or ask SSC.  

Unless the request has been made by the MP in a personal capacity, or there is another reason to maintain privacy (e.g. it is necessary to maintain the privacy of a constituent), the chief executive will generally inform the responsible Minister, and the request will be met only as agreed with that Minister.

Contact with MPs or Parliamentary candidates may increase during an election period.  At this time, an MP will have the dual role of advocating for their constituents and campaigning for re-election.  However, the same general guidelines apply, any requests by MPs (or Parliamentary candidates) for information or services over and above what would normally be provided to a member of the public (e.g. a visit to agency premises or a substantial briefing) must be referred to your chief executive. 

Our Code of Conduct

The Standards of Integrity and Conduct (the Code) requires staff and their agencies to be fair, impartial, responsible, and trustworthy.  When considering approaches from MPs.  You must:

  • remain impartial
  • maintain the political neutrality you need to work with current and future governments
  • carry out the functions of your organisation while remaining unaffected by your personal beliefs
  • respect the authority of the government of the day.

Scenarios

Request to visit a local branch of a State services agency SSC guidance

An MP wants to meet with an agency’s regional manager during the pre-election period
The MP has provided no details of the visit, whether it is within his or her Parliamentary capacity or is an electioneering visit.

Is this appropriate?

There is no right of access by MPs to agency premises or to agency resources beyond what the general public enjoys. The purpose and details of a proposed visit must be provided with any request. Requests by MPs or by parliamentary candidates to visit State services’ premises should only be accepted if the agency has obtained the prior approval of its Minister. It will be important to ensure that the visit can be accommodated without compromising the agency’s impartiality.

Agencies should decline requests from MPs or candidates to visit, if they consider that impartially will be compromised.  Agencies should be particularly careful about any publicity that could accompany a visit. Activity that can compromise the political neutrality of the agency, or the privacy of staff, such as an MP bringing along media, taking photographs of or interviewing staff, will seldom be appropriate.

Request for agency information that is not publicly available SSC guidance

A District Health Board receives regular queries from a local MP. 

The requests are for information that is not publicly available, and often an immediate response is sought.

The MP’s request must be treated as a request under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) and the agency’s OIA processes followed.  Whether a request requires an urgent response should be assessed in a case-by-case basis.

While MPs have the same rights to make OIA requests as members of the public, MPs’ requests for information may carry political implications for the agency.

Agencies’ OIA guidance should ensure that MPs’ OIA requests are appropriately handled and any political neutrality risks effectively managed. OIA requests from MPs may be notified to the Chief Executive and, on a no surprises basis, to the Minister.

 

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